How to proofread: advice from a looser

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The two habits of highly fast writers

I am a fast writer. Fingers flying, I can dash through a post or other assignment.

While I’ve always suspected that some of my speed at writing, talking and much more may come from a genetic neurological blip, I know that much of it comes from some habits that have evolved from pressures at work to crank out quality content quickly.

Let me call them the two habits of highly fast writers, sort of like the famous seven habits of highly effective people.

1. Before you start writing, think about who you’re writing for, what you want to say and whether you’re to write it in tips, a story or other approach. You will more than make up the time spent on this quick thinking from the faster writing it makes possible

Thinking doesn’t have to take much time, though people writing long treatises about complex subjects may wish to prepare an outline. Most of the time, I simply spend a minute or two thinking, sometimes jotting down a few notes.

If I don’t think things through, I can still write quickly. But the results are not pretty. I spend so much time rewriting that I waste scads of time, which defeats the whole purpose of writing quickly.

Writing without thinking first is like going on a road trip without first studying a map. You will miss out on the most scenic route and the sites worth stopping for. You will have no clue about short cuts. You will get lost.

What’s more, because you remember the route from reading the map, you will be free to concentrate on the road ahead, which brings me to my second habit.

2. Focus on what your brain is telling your fingers to type.

Do not be distracted by checking back with your research. Often I paste the research notes I know I’m going to need in the document before I begin. Other times, I work from memory, where the most important ideas are stored, and check back when I revise.

Do not answer the telephone, check emails, listen to music, tweet or do anything else during this enthralling time.

If you work in an office, put a “Do not disturb” sign on your door. Better still, work from home if you can when you have something important to write.

Some people have the steely discipline that allows them to concentrate in the midst of chaos. But most of us need to exit that scene.

Like pushing away intrusive thoughts when you’re trying to meditate, you will have to actively resist inner distractions. Silence any inner critics who try to tell you to write properly, whether it’s your high school English teacher and some vaguely remembered rules or the jargon that everyone at work seems to speak.

The more you focus, the easier it is. Thoughts of your mean boss, that nagging pain, the chocolate bar in your drawer, the dry cleaning, space and time will also fade.

The only drawback to writing quickly is the greater need to revise. You have to revise anyways. It probably won’t add significantly to your revising time to ferret out the typos and word fog that may sneak in. Fixing these mistakes is a small price to pay for the gain in speed, quality and fun.

Yes, I said fun. Once you’ve thought through your main ideas, you can switch off the logical side of your brain and turn on the fun creative side. It’s exhilarating.

That’s my two cents, think and focus. Do you have any more habits that help you write quality content quickly? Please share.

Boost interest by writing like Conan dissing NBC

1. Fear of writing is second only to fear of public speaking, studies confirm.

2. Joe is one of those guys who would give you his sandwich if you forgot your lunch. Too bad sharing his expertise on x protocols doesn’t come so easily.

Sorry about the tricks, but I wanted to make some points about how to be an interesting writer at work.

My first draft head was straightforward but boring until I added the bit about Conan, to demonstrate how to add interest to a title by relating it to a controversial, magnetic celebrity. If you came here for dirt on Conan, you can stop reading, though I must confess I enjoyed his rant the other night.

The Conan-NBC showdown also highlights how conflict makes life–and writing–more interesting. Do not try the celebrity hook too often, unless it’s relevant. Or you’ll anger the Google gods.

As for my leads, I made up the study about the fear of writing. I wanted to point out how dramatic facts can make for an interesting intro.

I also made up Joe, though I know many people like him, who need to learn how to share their knowledge through the written word. The quick anecdote was intended to attract people who can relate to his dilemma.

Of course, there are other ways to lift your writing from dull to dazzling. We hear many of them in scintillating conversations.

Greater talkers:
*use colorful phrases
*provide me with new meaningful or exotic information
*talk about me
*express ideas clearly
*paint vivid pictures
*employ pleasing rhythm and pacing
*challenge my point of view
*tell stories well
*are funny
*compare and contrast
*push controversial opinions
*pick fights
*make dramatic or outrageous assertions
*touch hearts

Any more you can think of?

Unlike writers, talkers can add interest through voice tone and gestures. For writing, think of the equivalent, such as using bolding to emphasize a point or an ellipsis to indicate a pause…

The advantage of writing over talking is that you can write things in your first draft that you would be embarrassed to say out loud. Unlike talking, you get to revise and tone it down if you’re not comfortable.

So next time you’re getting bored with your own writing, try going over the top on the first draft. Have some fun. Have sober second thoughts when you revise.

There is no way around the need to create interest through your writing. Most of us compete for readers’ attention many times a day, whether it’s an email inviting people to your meeting a proposal that must stand out from the crowd.

If you don’t generate interest at the starting line, few people will read you. If you don’t continue with interest, fewer will trudge through to the finish.

You cannot sound like a dentist in the middle of a cleaning and wonder why no one seems to have read, understood or acted on your email, report, post or other written words. Besides, writing for interest is a lot more fun.

Answer 3 questions to plan for writing success

You’ve cleaned your closets, lost a few pounds and paid your bills. Yet somehow you don’t feel as geared up for the new year up as you’d like.

Could it be you’re not prepared to live up to your new year’s resolution to publish posts or newsletters more frequently?

Then it’s time to plan. I don’t mean writing a full year’s supply in advance, as some pundits advise.

You don’t want to have to trash any drafts when your world changes. And you don’t want to bypass the opportunity to respond to questions or follow your inspirations.

But I do want to stress the importance of planning themes for many, but not all, of your content, and having content on hand that you can easily publish when you get too busy. This way, you are much more likely to publish frequently and achieve your objectives.

Remember this canned content can be something you’ve prepared for another purpose that merits recycling.

Like closets, weight loss and finances, business writing that should appear regularly thrives on planning.

Simply ask yourself these three questions:
1. What questions are my customers asking? If one person is asking, there’s a good chance others are wondering too. Devote one post issue to answering each important question.

2. Are there seasonal topics I should tackle? For example, if you’re a Canadian financial planner, you’ll be advising people on retirement plan contributions then taxes.

3. What goals do I want to achieve? Maybe you want to demonstrate what an expert you are. Perhaps you are introducing a new service this spring. Some objectives will warrant their own posts or newsletters; others will be woven in throughout the year.

Answer these questions and see how many themes you have planned. Don’t worry if you don’t have them all mapped out. But remember to return to this list as the year progresses.

You’ll be happy you have a plan and happier if you have a few posts or issues ready to go.

Besides, planning your regular content themes is more fun than cleaning closets, easier than losing weight and less expensive than paying bills.

For more information, read my free e-book on newsletter planning.

5 ways to hook readers

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Tortoises, transit hubs, tiny screens and other predictions

Yesterday I read 100 expert predictions for content marketing and social media at junta42. I cannot fit so many ideas into my crystal ball, let alone my brain, but here are the three that stand out for me: (1) holistic content marketing (2) that flows through social media and (3) works with mobile.

I hope these trends mean that we’ll simply get better at using all the new tools.

The tortoise will gain on the hare
Slow content marketing will continue to creep up on fast sales tactics because of the value of educating and endearing people to create loyal customers and fans.

Because content marketing involves a clear message delivered on multiple platforms, we’ll see businesses get more bang for their buck by recycling articles, stories and other content. For example, an article in your newsletter becomes a blog post (or vice versa), a chapter of a book, a tweet, part of a live presentation and more.

Social media becomes Grand Central Station
This content will increasingly flow through the transit hubs of Twitter, Facebook and other social media. This not only delivers the content to more destinations, but also increases search engine rankings, sort of like social media frequent flyer points.

Although many people stampeded into this area this year, the number of people hammering sales messages with little added-value content will dwindle.

Instead of automating more for easy one-size-fits-all delivery, the smart ones will become adept at tailoring links to the idiosyncrasies of different social media sites and the people who use them.

More reading on small screens
With the continued proliferation of mobile, email marketers will rely less on graphics, especially if they have image-unfriendly BlackBerry readers. Those text-only, left-leaning emails will become shorter and more to the point, as marketers wake up to the fact that most people are too busy to keep scrolling to the punch line.

With all media, we’ll see fewer, better images, that enhance the content, rather than simply pretty up a page.

And don’t bet on more tiny television viewing. Most people will save that for the big screen at home.

Please save me from bad video
Many of the Junta42 experts proclaimed 2010 the year of video. Despite the explosion of YouTube, I think the poor quality of too many videos means that growth will slow.

To the people with the video cams pointed at their face, I say: badly lit, static talking head clips may be fun to produce, but they’re boring to watch. Besides, unless you have content that demands action visuals and sound, I’d rather read because it’s faster. I expect to be busy in 2010.

Wild cards
I laughed when I read the Junta 42 prediction that electricity will be in short supply and we’ll have to cart around content in wheel barrels. When I checked back later, it was gone. Or maybe I was too tired to find it.

Aside from the laugh, this prediction reminded me of the need to reserve space for wild cards in my crystal ball. You can extrapolate future trends from what you see today, but you can’t predict a cataclysmic event that will topple the electrical grid or the bird that’s going to poop on your head.

Six tips for writing warm holiday messages

‘Tis the season for writing Christmas, or should I say holiday, messages. This year the economy is making this annual rite especially challenging.

Today I’m helping a radio ad sales person compose an email holiday message to retailers who are having a rough year. Worse still, they’re in ski country, with no snow.

So how can she use an email card to spread some Christmas cheer?

Here are my six tips: empathize, don’t sell, distract from the negative, thank, personalize and offer hope.

Empathize. Tell me them you feel their pain, which is certainly true with her low sales commissions.

Distract. Remind people of those less fortunate, by offering a link to donate to the local food bank or other charity that’s important to you.

Don’t sell. Your Christmas message is about warming up relationships, not greasing the sales gears. If you have to include a sales message, keep it very subtle.

Thank. She expressed gratitude to the many customers who had sponsored her on a 200-kilometre bike ride to raise funds for cancer research. Some of these customers had spent so little on radio advertising that she would have sounded insincere if she’d thanked them all. Her bigger customers will be thanked personally.

Personalize. She told them her mother was much better after her bout with cancer and that she was praying for the many customers who had talked to her about similar strains with their loved ones.

Offer hope. She touched on business picking up with last-minute shoppers and encouragement from Canadian economists. She even saw a snow flake out her window as she concluded.

I hope I helped the sales rep warm up her many contacts. Let me know if I can help you. Drop me a line at

Now on to my holiday message from a CEO to the employees who have had pay cuts and see the vultures circling overhead. Any tips for me?