The Entrepreneur's Guide to Writing Faster (and Better)
Among all the hats you must wear as an entrepreneur, the storyteller hat is one of the most vital to your venture's success—to attract the right customers, talent, and investors to your business.
But what if you've never really thought of yourself as a good writer? How can you improve your writing skills—and make the process easier and faster—to craft compelling stories that sell your products and ideas?
Develop a system that instills structure and discipline to your writing process so that you can feel confident that your writing will produce the results you want.
Systems Can Help You Feel Safe to Create
But wait a minute!...Won't systems actually stifle my creativity as I write?
I know. It seems counterintuitive. But to do high-quality creative work on a consistent basis, it really helps to have confidence that if you do X actions that you can reasonably expect Y results. And that's what a good system is designed to do—to help keep those crippling feelings of uncertainty and anxiety at bay when you're engaged in the creative process.
How exactly does a writing system help?
A system provides a fence that allows your creative mind to feel safe—to push the boundaries, explore new angles, and ultimately discover your unique writing voice. Without that fence, your mind gets preoccupied with protecting you from potential dangers—criticism, shame, inferiority complex—that keep you from sharing your ideas with the world.
Developing Your System
So, what does a good writing system look like?
That's up to you. All I can do is share with you a system I've developed and honed for more than two decades as a professional writer. Yet, the system I'm about to share with you might look different a month or year from now, as I continually look for ways to tweak and improve it to achieve greater efficiency and quality.
And that's o.k. Your writing process should evolve as you gain more experience and master the craft. The point is to have some sort of system to serve as a guide to help you eliminate writer's block, make progress, and produce great work.
I've broken down my writing process into these 27-steps—divided into 7 phases.
Phase 1: Strategy & Scope
Step 1. Create a new project "note" in Evernote.
This is where I store all my notes, research, links, interview recordings, transcripts, and excess content (that might be repurposed for other content) that pertains to that project.
Step 2. Confirm project objectives, audience, angle, requirements/ specifications, deadline.
Step 3. Crack the code that unlocks my audience's mind and heart.
When you can think and feel as your audience does, you'll be more effective at connecting with them at a level where they're more receptive to your message.
To accomplish this, I use a storytelling framework that I call the H-A-G-S model—Hero, Adversity, Guide, Stakes. This helps me empathize with my reader in a way that I can understand her story, giving me insight into how to make a connection on both a logical and emotional level.
- I cast the reader as the Hero who wants to achieve a certain goal.
- But this hero must confront Adversity that could derail her mission.
- My role as a writer is to serve as her Guide—her Obi Wan Kenobi or Yoda—by creating content that helps her navigate and overcome the challenges that stand in the way of her goal.
- And the Stakes are high. If she succeeds and gets what she wants, she'll experience a major break through; but if she falls short, she'll be dealt a big setback.
When I think in these terms, I feel the hero's fears and aspirations which gives me greater perspective to write in a way that truly connects with her.
Here's a worksheet I use to flesh out the HAGS Model with each writing project.
Who exactly is the audience? (Demographic, industry, etc.)
What does the audience want as it relates to the topic/ focus for this project?
What problem (related to this topic/focus) is opposing the audience from getting what they want?
What can we do to help the audience overcome this problem?
What are the stakes? What will the audience’s life look like if they…
a. do get what they want:
b. do NOT get what they want:
Bottom line: Why should the audience care about this project?
Step 4. Conduct initial research to gain enough understanding of the topic to determine precisely what research I need to complete the project.
Step 5. Determine the main points this project should communicate. (These points may change later in the process, but they'll at least help give you some direction during the early stage.)
Step 6. Based on the main points, craft questions the content should answer for readers. This will help you focus your research, so you don't waste time with extraneous stuff.
Step 7. Identify resources, including any "live" interview sources who can help answer your research questions.
Step 8 (If necessary). Contact potential sources to schedule interviews.
Phase 1 Bottom Line: When you invest the extra time in Phase 1, the remaining steps will flow much faster, with less stress.
Phase 2: Research
Step 9. Research topic, including competitive content via the Internet and other sources.
Step 10 (If necessary). Complete any scheduled interviews.
Step 11 (If necessary). Transcribe interviews.
You can eliminate this step if you conduct interviews via email or hire a transcription service. I use Rev.com to transcribe my interviews.
Step 12. Identify and obtain any additional research needed to begin the drafting process.
Phase 2 Bottom Line: Be careful at this stage to strike the right balance—to get the optimal amount of information you need without going overboard.
Phase 3: Structure
Step 13. Read through research/ transcripts and begin noting the "big ideas" on my mind map.
Step 14. If necessary, look up any additional research/ stats to strengthen the work, fill in gaps.
Step 15. Refer to my answers in Step 3 (under Phase 1) for inspiration to help me write the lede (intro) in a way that quickly grabs my audience's attention and gives them compelling reasons to continue reading.
Step 16. Write "rough" lede with a corresponding kicker (the closing section of the article) to solidify direction of the work before I begin writing the main body of the content.
Step 17. Begin arranging and organizing the big ideas on the mind map.
Step 18. Convert the mind map into a linear outline and prep for Draft #1.
Phase 3 Bottom Line: With this structure, you've essentially created a mold, which helps give shape to your message in the drafts moving forward.
Phase 4: Draft #1
Step 19. "Pour" research and other rough content into appropriate sections in the outline.
Phase 4 Bottom Line: At this point, the draft is very rough. But that's ok. The goal here is to have all the "puzzle pieces" I need in front of me so that in Draft #2, I can just focus on sorting those pieces into a cogent draft.
Phase 5: Draft #2
Step 20. Pick any section in the draft to start editing.
Step 21. Consolidate and pare down research that is not absolutely relevant.
Step 22. Keep moving. If stumped, skip to another section in the piece.
Phase 5 Bottom Line: The draft is still rough, but it has clear shape and direction.
Phase 6: Draft #3
Step 23. Start with the lede and edit one section at-a-time, in sequence.
Step 24. Smooth rough areas, correcting any grammar/ stylistic issues.
Step 25. Complete fact-checking and fill in any blanks that I left in the previous draft.
Phase 6 Bottom Line: The draft at this point is solid but needs one more review for polish and style.
Phase 7: Draft #4
Step 26. Look for any remaining "rough patches" and polish them. Tighten grammar; trim the fat.
Step 27. Finalize headline (or title), using the following four questions as a sanity check. (I use a rough working headline up to this point.)
Is the headline compelling and congruent with the body content? Make it interesting but avoid the hype that would set up false expectations for the audience, undermining our trust and hard-earned credibility with them.
Does the headline speak to the needs, pains and aspirations of the audience? Refer back to answers under Step 3 in Phase 1 to confirm alignment of headline with the content's value proposition.
Can you make the headline appeal to both the head and the heart? Logic will get the audience to agree; emotion will compel the audience to act. Push both buttons simultaneously to improve odds that the audience will want to consume the content.
Can you shorten the headline without weakening it? What words are not absolutely necessary to make your point? Remove them.
Phase 7 Bottom Line: Get the piece ready for prime time.
Fear is the enemy of creativity. So silence the fear by developing a writing system that instills the discipline and focus you need to produce great stories.
Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that helps entrepreneurs tell their story in a way that grabs attention, garners trust, and grows their business.
The Next Step
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