This time last year I didn’t know who Ann Handley was.
What do you mean you don’t either?
In fairness, my friends may have been mentioning her name for a while but it took time to sink in.
I met her at Social Media Marketing World, I bought her book and now I’m a fan.
6 Things I learned from Ann Handley
As a blogger I’m always looking to hone my writing skills and that’s exactly what Ann has helped me with, both through her book and through her conference presentation.
I thought this podcast would be a good way to share some of her wisdom with you. So here goes:
1. Come up with 5 ideas a day
I jotted this down on my things to do list at Social Media Marketing World but even as I did I knew it would be a tough one.
Have I done it? I’m not there yet, but I will get there. I’ve had an ideas diary since I interviewed Eamonn O’Brien back in episode 3. All I needed to do was jack up my idea productivity.
Luckily, I don’t have to pull those ideas from anywhere. Ann recommends lots of places to look.
My current favourite is to search Google for a specific search term followed by the word ‘research’ or ‘study’. It only takes a minute or so and you’ll get a bundle of ideas.
See below for the search results for ‘small business marketing study’.
It’s also important to give yourself some blank space. With so many distractions it’s hard to find a few spare minutes but find them and you’ll be surprised what will happen.
Where do you gather those ideas?
You may have noticed I’m a bit of a Mark Schaefer fan, but I found myself cringing reading one of his posts recently. It turns out that his process for collating ideas is to start a new draft post in WordPress, for every idea.
Oh my, the idea of it, all that clutter on my blog!
This just goes to show that different methods work for different people. The WordPress system works for Mark, I prefer tools like Evernote and most recently Trello.
What really matters is that you have a single space to collect your ideas. If you do and if you expand on the idea as much as you can when you have it you’ll never be short of blog content.
2. Write The Ugly Frist draft
I’m a re-drafter. I’ve re-written and redesigned this post over and over again and I’m only on point two. I’m trying, really trying to get into the Ugly Frist Draft but it’s harder than I thought.
Ann’s Ugly First Draft means throwing your words onto the page, don’t correct spelling errors, don’t redraft as you write. Just get it out of your system. The editing will come later. (See point 5).
3. Keep asking ‘So What’
The first idea you have about something is the same first idea everyone will have about it. You’re going to need to try harder if you want to get your message out.
Ann’s advice is to keep asking “So What”
Below is a passage from her book ‘Everybody Writes’ outlining the process of how you get from the features of your product to the benefits.
This is one piece of advice I’ve managed to put into action already. I’ve been putting my clients through their paces asking them… “So what”
4. Don’t get all fancy with your words
George Orwell wanted his books to be accessible to everyone. So he used simple language. He used simple words but when you read them you don’t feel like he’s talking down to you, his words just make the text and the ideas easier to grasp.
Ann advocates for the same. There are lots of tools that will give you a reading level score. Hemingway is one I use frequently. But one that Ann mentioned in her Social Media Marketing World talk was Upgoer Five.
It challenges you to write using only the ten hundred most used words in the English language. (Note it says ten hundred not a thousand – thousand isn’t one of the allowed words).
I cut and pasted my first draft of this post into it. Let’s just say I’ve got some work to do.
I’ve been a premature publisher too many times. You really should give yourself time between your draft and your editing.
Even an hour away from your words will help.
Ann recommends three edits:
- Chainsaw – This is the first pass. Ask yourself if each paragraph deserves to be there.
- Surgical – You’ve sliced paragraphs out of your text. The next job is to get more intricate. Study each word, each sentence. Do they all belong, do they need to be there? If not cut them away.
- Voice – Does it fit your brand voice? Does it sound like it’s unmistakably you?
According to Ann’s SMMW speech, your voice should be:
Recognisable, communicate who you are, why you do what you do and what you are like to deal with.
6. ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy’
Nothing to do with blogging but… am I the only one who didn’t know that the real lyrics to Purple Haze were ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky’?
Don’t take my word for it. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Ann’s book ‘Everybody Writes’ (affiliate link). You’ll find far more than six amazing tips there.
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