‘The riches are in the niches.’ ’Jack of all trades, master of none.’
I read a lot of advice from people who know about business, and the business of writing. They say the key to success is to narrow your scope, become a specialist in a particular area. However, I’m new to running my own writing business (at time of writing, I’m coming to the end of Month 6). I’ve got a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. I’m not in a position to turn down work yet. What’s more I don’t want to.
Since starting on my own, I’ve written articles about subjects as diverse as cutting-edge health tech, web design, underground house music and secrets from inside North Korea. I love the variety, but the main thing is my clients are always delighted with my work. I have a system that enables me to write articles about anything in an informed and engaging way, and you can do it too. Here’s how it works.
1 – Read your brief
If you’re lucky, your client will have sent you a comprehensive brief. Read it thoroughly, then read it again. Every word in that brief is a clue to what your client wants. Things to include, things you should definitely not include, angles to take. It should all be in there. The brief should be the framework of everything that happens after it. If later, the client takes issue with something you wrote, the brief should be your explanation of why you wrote it.
Sometimes however, you don’t get a comprehensive brief. Sometimes you just get a title, or you get nothing at all. Talk to your client and try and glean as much information as you can out of them. If you still come up empty, it’s a sign the client doesn’t know what they want. That’s good news for you. Carte blanche.
2 – Research
You’ve got a great brief, but it’s on a subject you know virtually nothing about. It’s time to do some research. This where you come up with the technical details of what you’re going to write, plus your ‘angle’. It’s possible. I’ve never been to Oman, but I managed to write a travel advertorial about it that the client loved, with no brief.
Google your subject and read the first 2 or 3 articles that rank highest. That should cover you for the important specifics of your subject. It will also give you the conventional wisdom. Now think about your stance on the subject. You could follow the crowd, or you could present the opposite viewpoint to what you’ve just read. That’s what I always try to do. Why regurgitate an opinion just because it’s top of Google?
3 – Brainstorm
I’ve read the brief. I’ve done my research. Now comes the point where I dump the contents of my brain on to a piece of paper. I scribble out everything I know about my subject. No order, no frills, I just get it out there.
Once that’s done I think about the structure of my article. For a standard 500 word article, you may want to do:
- Persuasive reason 1
- Persuasive reason 2
Roughly 50 words per for the intro and conclusion, around 135 for numbers 2, 3 and 4. Rules are made to be broken though. You don’t want to only work to templates.
I then put a number next to each point on my scribble pad, to denote which paragraph each point is going to be in. Your plan is finished.
4 – Write it
OK. Preparation over. It’s now time to write the merry hell out of this thing. I have a very direct style of writing. I’ve written about it before. It works for me. Keep sentences short. Keep paragraphs short. Use headings and bullet points. Make every word count. Use powerful words. Keep passive voice to a minimum. There are online grammar checkers to help you with this, but I don’t use them because I’m a Luddite.
Write with confidence. Don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t overthink it. Make a statement and stand behind it. Remember that every sentence is an advertisement for the next one. Make your reader want to stick with you. Finally, try to enjoy yourself when you’re writing. This is your opportunity to make a statement that will help someone, entertain someone, maybe change their life. Grasp it.
That’s my writing process all there for you. The keys to the castle. It works for me. It can work for you, or you can develop your own style. Alternatively, you can call me and I’ll write your article (wink!). Seriously though, give writing a try, you may surprise yourself. It’s good to be a jack of all trades.