I break content creation down into 4 stages:
Think of ideas as titles
Titles need to be very strong in this day and age. Great titles get through massive amounts of marketing and internet noise. Great titles get clicks. Great titles get upvotes. Great titles get traffic. Great titles get customers.
I am constantly shopping around for new titles. And when I have the seed of an idea, I spend about 30 minutes researching the topic upfront with the goal of determining a title. Sometimes I draft more than 22 titles for a single post. Whatever I do, I do not move beyond the outline stage until I am rock solid on a title.
Various ways to successful titles
Great content succeeds for various reasons. Successful content can be entertaining. It can be relevant by tying in a specific company, influencer(s), or social event. It can be informative and optimized for popular and relevant searches.
My ideas for content often come from one of the above angles. Others simply apply a title or format from a similar post I’ve seen or build towards a larger narrative.
Know your takeaways
You are writing a post to help a specific audience. On the Appcues blog, our audience is SaaS people focused on user engagement. Each post should have one to three major takeaways that they can apply to their strategy. Those takeaways might not all be monumental, but they must be the driving force of my post’s purpose.
Think about the process
Some posts require a lot of research up front. Others require surveying or interviewing experts/influencers in a field. Before I start outlining the post, I ask myself, What's the best way to execute this?
Subheaders are super important
My next move is to spend a lot of time focusing on my paragraph subheaders. Subheaders can come from research and reading. Or they can come from thinking out a process. No matter the inspiration, they have to be super tight before I move forwards.
By super tight, I mean they have to be in the same tone across the board. They have to be exactly what a reader will expect after reading the title, and they have to drive me towards the main takeaways.
Research and add evidence
Evidence is key to make a post stand up, and most of your evidence comes out of your research phase. Evidence helps ground an idea or a strategy in reality. It’s the proof in the pudding, and you need for your piece to have impact.
I capture screenshots, links, and quotes while I research my idea. Before I move on from outlining, I make sure to have one piece of evidence per section. Adding evidence can also lead to the opportunity of reaching out to influencers for additional shares.
Use motivation as momentum
It’s human nature to avoid things that are hard. And generally, writing is a hard exercise for the brain. Knowing my own limited tolerance for hard exercise, I start my drafting in the paragraph that I’m most inspired to write naturally. Jonathan taught me this [Aja's note: Jonathan Kim is the co-founder of Appcues.]
It makes sense to start where your passion is strongest, and then use that momentum to move onto the next paragraph.
I write my paragraphs in 60-minute slots and make sure to take a break after each. I like to write each paragraph all the way out with evidence and images pasted into my google doc before moving on.
As I write my draft, I focus on the direction of each paragraph. I don’t focus on making the piece sing or sound elegant. Wordsmithing comes last.
Once done, let the piece rest
Once I’m done with a piece, I like to let it rest for at least 12 hours. As it rests, I think about what it might be missing and what might make it stronger. Sometimes there’s nothing, but most often something pops into mind.
After giving it a second revision, I let it rest again. I go through this cycle as much as I can afford.
Read out loud when it’s quiet
One thing I like to do when wordsmithing is read a piece out loud. I don't like to proofread when there are any distractions. My best proofing happens early in the morning.
Before publishing, I like to go through the post enough times to where I’m confident each line has been combed over. Once I’m satisfied, I queue it up for publication and then start the distribution process.