One of the questions that I’ve been asked from interviewers, teachers, classmates, and even friends, is my writing process: how do I come with an idea and develop it into a polished, written, document. In thinking about this process and reading writers’ responses to it here, here, and here, for example, I thought I’d document how I wrote my marketing pieces and university papers. It will not offer anything new, but I hope that it will encourage you in whatever way you feel you need encouragement, and help me grow as a writer.
Ideation. Many times I’m handed a topic and asked to run with it. That is one problem solved. But when you have to come up with your own ideas, it can get messy. Not because there aren’t ideas – ideas are everywhere! Read articles, books, and blog posts on marketing communication, public relations, content creation and distribution, marketing automation, writing and editing, market research, email marketing, online search, persona, etc.; observe people and places; listen to what they say; and Google stuff! Go down the Wikipedia rabbit hole! – There are plenty of ways to generate ideas, but it is choosing the one idea to work on that I think is the challenge. Try to keep a notebook handy and – if you are very lucky –note down at least 2 or 3 items that you found interesting about your idea.
The “Why” to What You Are Writing. In business writing it is imperative to understand and define the who, the what, and the why, of your writing, as well as a set of criteria to measure the success of the who-what-why. Who is your audience? What are you writing about: is it relevant to their needs, is it relevant to your space? Why are you writing on this particular topic in this particular medium: do you want to educate your readers on a new product, do you want to share a news item, do you want to help them solve a problem, do you want to write a white paper or an infographic? How will you distribute the item? How will you define your success criteria and how will you measure it: have you reached your target audience; has your piece been opened and shared; how many times; has it generated new leads and customers?
Research your subject. Know what you are writing about. There are so many, many, easily available resources that it is no longer an excuse to be uninformed about your topic. Read about what other people are saying, question their ideas (a catch-phrase from a professor: question everything!), form your opinions, and then back them up.
Outline the paper. Think of the outline as a blueprint. I like to outline my paper, especially the longer pieces, because it helps me focus and remember all the points I want to make and where I think they belong. Most of the time the final work is not what I started with, but that’s the joy of writing. You learn new things as you go along. But the outline makes sure I will capture all of my preliminary ideas and whether they belong in my paper.
Pre-write. Here is guiding principal I learned at university: start writing, and your paper will develop in your exploration. When I wrote The Guide to the Top 16 Sales Enablement Solutions for the Enterprise, we knew we wanted define and differentiate ourselves in the sales enablement space, but we didn’t know what that definition was until I started researching and writing what I understood, and realized that it was a holistic endeavor that involved the entire company. Our marketing VP’s original 3 line definition finally became a short, single sentence. Consider this as draft one.
Write your first, working draft. If pre-writing creates the first draft, then writing that first working draft is actually writing the paper into unified whole. The introduction should be fleshed out, the main body and its sub-headings should begin to be defined, and there should be a working conclusion.
Proofread and re-draft. This is exactly what it says. Your first draft is not polished, refined, or complete. It is however, mostly there. This is what you re-read, clarify and make your choices: have I answered my questions; does everything flow in a logical manner; what can I elaborate upon; what can I remove; does it make sense; is it interesting; is it clear; etc. This is –hopefully – the working copy you can begin to polish.
Edit and proofread. Again, read what you write and edit the words, sentences, paragraphs, and essay. Shorten your sentences and paragraphs, and use simple words. If you can shorten and simplify without jeopardizing the integrity of your article then please do so. If you can give it to someone to edit, please do so. I have an editor friend who will make sure the word, the sentence, and the paragraph is important to the document as a whole. I have another friend who reads the entire document and simply tells if it makes sense or not. My point is that any new set of eyes will help you refine your work just a little more. You do need to set a limit on the number of editing round; if I had my way, I’d be editing and refining my papers to the nth degree because you can always make it better. My usual is 3 rounds and then I have to stop.
Have a good copy of the dictionary. The United States uses the Merriam-Webster, but my personal preference is for the Oxford Dictionary. Have both.
Have a good copy of a style guide. I have both the MLA and the Chicago Style handy, and I am also familiar with APA.
Make notes. Jot ideas down. Buy a good-looking, portable notebook and a pen you would snatch out of your best-friend’s hand. You want to enjoy the act of writing as much as the process of writing.