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Ideas are essential for any writer. But how do have ideas on a regular basis? How do you keep coming up with strong ideas in a professional environment, where they are needed every day, not just now and then?

There is no one easy answer, although there is a formula. The five step process outlined by James Webb Young in his book ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ is outlined in my original post on how to have ideas.

I’ve now developed two further steps, to create a ‘7 steps to creativity‘ formula, which I’ve set out in a guest post on Write to Done.

WTD is a great site for writers, so if you’ve not been there before, be sure to check it out.

My seven steps are:

  1. Gather the information
  2. Sift it
  3. Let it percolate
  4. Let the ideas flow
  5. Shape and mould the ideas
  6. Share them with others
  7. Put the feedback into the loop; and repeat the process to strengthen your ideas.

There’s more detail on the guest post. Let me know what you think, here or over there on Write To Done.

Photo: Brain scan by Reigh LeBlanc

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Does your writing lack the one vital ingredient?

Whether you’re writing blogs, advertising copy, a novel or a sales letter, there’s one essential element you must have: without it, your words will fall flat, and no amount of editing will be able to reanimate the lifeless corpse.

The key is enthusiasm. If you’re not enthusiastic, it’ll show. It’s hard, if not impossible, to fake it. Without it, your words will do no more than trudge along, a pale imitation of more passionate writing.

Your words will do no more than trudge along, a pale imitation of more passionate writing.

Enthusiasm, as they say, is infectious. If you are enthusiastic when you write, it will transfer to the reader. You will probably write fast, with an urgency to get the words down before the moment passes, before anyone can interrupt, before you lose your flow.

This is good. As John Caples points out, in his copywriting classic ‘Tested Advertising Methods’:

‘The human brain is like an automobile engine. It works best when it is hot.’

So how do you get your brain warmed up? How do you get into flow? How do you get enthusiastic and fired up?

1) Start writing – write anything
Get writing something, anything. If you’re writing an advert or piece of marketing copy, just start putting down thoughts and words around the product. If it’s a blog post or chapter of a novel, start out with practice copy or dummy copy. Write for the trash can. Tell yourself you’ll write for ten minutes and then throw it away.

2) Don’t start at the beginning
The start of any piece of writing is critically important because the opening sentences have to be good, or you’ll lose your readers. That makes is intimidating to start at the beginning. So flesh out the middle sections first, or even start at the end. You might just come up with sentences or paragraphs good enough that they can later be used in the introduction.

3) Write fast and furious
Write fast and furious with little thought to how good it is, then go back later and edit, edit, edit – while making sure you keep that enthusiasm and energy within your writing.

4) Forget critics
Forget about other people and critics. Don’t worry about anyone who might be judging your copy at a later date: clients, editors, account managers, and so on. Forget about them, and write with style, pizzazz and enthusiasm.

5) Forget rules
Forget about you can and can’t say, what you must or musn’t include. Write fast, let the words pour out of you.

The big benefit of writing in this way is that you’ll include more emotion in your copy. And it’s emotion that will stir a reader into action.

It’s emotion that will stir a reader into action.

Remember, if you write with fire in your belly, you can always tame the copy later, taking out any excesses, correcting any errors. But if the beast is dead to start with, you’ll never breathe life back into it.

If you’re faced with zombie copy, it’s time to break out the shotgun, chainsaw or old vinyl LPs, and put it out of its misery.

Then get fired up, and try writing it again, this time with feeling.

Photo by hep-cat via Flickr
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Story goals – a tale of three horses

Three horses are grazing in a paddock: a brown horse, a black horse, and a grey one.

Which one would you cheer for?

Why would you cheer a horse that’s doing nothing but eat, you may say.

It’s a good point. So let’s say they spark into life and set off on a race across the paddock. Now it’s going to be a lot easier to cheer for one or the other, isn’t it?

You might still need a good reason to pick the grey over the black, but at least they have a goal, they are in motion, there is a reason to cheer.

It’s the same in life. If a person has a goal, if they are trying to get somewhere, do something, achieve something, they become interesting. It’s hard to take an interest in the person who has no goal, nothing they need to get done.

And, as it is in life, so it is in fiction too. If you are writing any kind of story, from a novel to a corporate case study, your characters must have goals.

Without goals, the reader won’t find the character interesting. They won’t have anyone to cheer for, and they won’t keep reading.

If you know your main character, and you know their goal, then you pretty much know your story.

Photo by Walraven on Flickr
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There’s one thing about writing search engine optimised copy that people just don’t seem to ‘get’ – and I’m including here some people who make a living out of SEO.

I have clients who ask me to write SEO pages for them, to promote their business. Some use ‘expert’ SEO advisors, who come up with dozens of search terms they want included on a particular page.

I keep telling these people, you can’t do this. You can’t optimise a web page for that many different keywords and phrases. It just doesn’t work like that.

If you’re going to create an SEO webpage, you need to optimise it for just one keyword or phrase. Just one. Not half a dozen others tagged on alongside. Just one.

Let’s discuss bananas for a moment. Say I wanted to optimise a page for the phrase ‘Hawaiian bananas’. But because I also have other varieties of bananas for sale, I decide to mention them as well. I add some details about Costa Rican bananas, and Jamaican bananas.

Pretty soon, that webpage isn’t optimised for Hawaiian bananas at all. No. It’s optimised for bananas. But that’s not going to do me much good, since bananas is a very competitive search term.

My niche web page about Hawaiian bananas just lost all its SEO juice, and now it’s having to compete with every website out there that mentions bananas. All 14,200,000 of them. Whereas, there’s only 2,200 pages that mention Hawaiian bananas.

Actually, make that 2,201.

Picture by Jason Gulledge via Flickr
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Ebook launch: SEO for writers and bloggers

Ladies and gentlemen your attention please: I would like to announce the launch of my first ebook. It’s called ‘SEO for Writers and Bloggers‘ and it is on sale now.

It’s a thorough, easy to understand and clear explanation of how to write search engine optimised copy, for blogs, websites, articles, hubs, whatever. It focuses mainly on on-page SEO (the stuff you write, the stuff you control) but also looks at ways to boost your off-page SEO (your popularity or reputation on the internet). It is designed to be the only book you’ll ever need if you want to write effective copy that ranks well in the search engine without sacrificing readability.

If you can’t be bothered to read the whole book, or don’t want to buy it, here’s what it says: [click to continue…]

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Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve just met some incredibly attractive person, someone you’d really like to get to know much, much better.

Would you rush up to them, blurt out all your strengths and qualities, give them your entire life history, and invite them back to your place?

Or would you try to be more subtle than that? [click to continue…]

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How to master the craft of writing

To master the craft of writing, you need the right approach, the right mindset. It’s no different to mastering archery or martial arts, or tennis, or yoga.

You don’t dabble at it, jumping like a monkey from one project to another, never settling down for the long haul. The dabbler doesn’t finish things, doesn’t see them through. Once the initial thrill has worn off, once that first enthusiasm has gone, once the excitement has given way to hard work, they get bored and restless and mooch off to something else that has caught their attention.

The way to succeed is to master the process. That means practicing the fundamentals, every day.

The dabbler probably has dozens of books they almost started, or got going but never finished. Or they might have a string of blogs they own, but hardly ever post to. (I know, I know, pot and kettle. Be quiet at the back).

They want to learn, but in the end they hit the plateau where they are working hard but they don’t seem to be making breakthroughs or getting any better. They look at the short term and they don’t see anything happening there.

The dabbler is always looking for a breakthrough, the next big thing, but will probably never master the craft of writing – or any other craft for that matter.

Unless they have a change of mindset. [click to continue…]

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For most writers, finding ideas and inspiration is always a challenge. If you write a blog, then you will likely be trying to come up with a regular stream of posts.

You may have started out thinking there was lots to write about in the niche you have chosen, but after a while, you find the ideas drying up.

Each of these five ideas could give you at least one post a week, every week, for the rest of your blogging career.

The answer is to get the old brain-cells whirring again. Inspiration doesn’t come to those who sit and wait for it. You have to go out and hunt it down.

The suggestions that follow aren’t intended to be one-off ideas, but ways to regularly find inspiration for your blogging.

1. Read books around your niche

No matter how well you know your subject, your niche, there must be more to learn. It pays to keep reading widely as a way to pick up new ideas and inspiration.

Re-reading books that you know are useful is especially beneficial. You’re already familiar with the ideas, so you should be able to convert some of them into your own content easily. [click to continue…]

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Persuasive writing: 1 way to rule them all

Name one of the three musketeers. I bet you said d’Artagnan.

Bear with me on this one….

He’s not one of the three – they are Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Old d’Artagnan is the fourth member who joins them, the one people remember most, the hero of the story.

“This is leading to something about web 2.0 and persuasive writing?” I hear you say. Fear not. We’re getting there. Persuasive writing here we come.

Persuasive writing – the old thinking

You see, there were, in classical thought, three styles of persuasive writing, as defined by the likes of Aristotle: ethos, logos, and pathos.

(You can see now why the three musketeers hook got lodged in my head).

  • Ethos is the style of persuasive writing that appeals to credibility
  • Logos is the style of persuasive writing that appeals to logic
  • Pathos is the style of persuasive writing that appeals to emotions.

I am going to suggest to you that, when it comes to persuasive writing, there is a ‘fourth way’ – one that trumps the other three completely, one that knocks every other ‘sales’ technique and copywriting method into a cocked hat. It’s the one technique of persuasive writing you really need to make sales and influence people. [click to continue…]

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There are many ways to approach the writing of blog posts and this is only one of them. But if you always cover off these 12 essential steps, you should reach blogging heaven in short order.

1. Have an idea

OK, this is the tricky part, I admit. What you really need is a clear idea, a focused idea. Blog posts can be about many things, of course. A popular theme, however, is solving problems for your readers. Let’s use that as an example. Get clear in your mind exactly what the problem is. What is your focus in this blog post? What is your subject?

2. Find your keywords
If your reader was going to state their problem – what would they write down? That tells you what they would search for in Google (other search engines are available…).

Using a few keywords or phrases in your post is useful to bring in lots of search engine traffic. Keep an eye out for a post on how to search engine optimise your blog posts in the next few days. (There’s a subscribe button top right – to be sure you don’t miss it…)

There are ways to get very serious about your keyword research, and again it’s a topic I’ll be coming back to soon. In the meantime, you can find out more about how to use and research keywords here and here and here.

3. Create a hook
A hook is a creative idea, usually in the headline and possibly backed up by a photo. It serves to give some personality to the post. Here, I’ve used the idea of ’12 easy steps’ to illustrate the post. [click to continue…]

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