Weekly writing prompt #6

An image from Una and the Red Cross Knight

Take your favourite fairytale or legend and have a go at modernising it.

  • What are the modern equivalents of the people and objects in the story?
  • What are the characters like? What drives them?
  • Will you go for a realistic setting or choose a genre such as sci-fi or steampunk?
  • Will you keep the entire story or just use elements of it?

Let yourself really delve into this week’s challenge. Take as much time as you like! If you’d rather use a faster prompt, try this quick character creation challenge from a few weeks ago.

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

5 Web Writing Tricks Every Blogger Should Know

A man doing an egg balancing trick

Writing for the web is very different to creating copy for other media. A study by Jakob Neilson – one of the fathers of online usability – found that only about 20% of web copy is read.

Don’t let this stat get you down, though. There are a few tricks you can use to ensure that users find the information they need and keep returning to your website.

1. Use bold text

But don’t use it all the time! Pick out the most important point in each section of your post. Users scanning your post will be drawn to bold text.

You’ll need to make sure that the text you use makes sense in isolation, and only use it once in each paragraph. That way you’ll ensure that it has impact.

2. Break up your text with sub-headings

Splitting up your work with sub-headings will also give readers scanning your text a sense of what it is about and where the information they need may be. Try to avoid using puns – it’s less fun, but will help your users more!

It’s very important to use HTML header tags (<h1>, <h2> etc.) as these improve your site’s accessibility for users with screen readers.

3. Never use ‘click here’ for links

In my view this is one of the cardinal sins of web writing in terms of usability. Instead of using vague terms such as ‘click here’ or ‘visit our website’, try to ensure that your link text describes where it will take the user.

This is helpful for a number of reasons:

  • Users can instantly where the link will take them and the information they could receive
  • Longer linked text provides more of a target for mobile users (although, you should still keep it to under 6 words)
  • It improves accessibility for people using screen readers

Additionally, make sure that linked text is underlined, and that you never underline any text that isn’t a link.

4. Include a summary

Another characteristic of web users – particularly in an age with more mobile devices – is that they like to scroll. This means that the areas of your page with the most views are the top and bottom.

So, in order to have another shot at drawing users in, summarise the points covered in your post at the bottom of the page.

This could be in the form of sentences or bullet points – it’s up to you!

5. Keep it short and simple

Digital writers tread a fine line between giving users enough information and keeping their attention.

Make a note of the points you need to cover and ensure that you don’t repeat yourself or go off at a tangent.

Why not check out my post on taking the pain out of the editing process for more advice on this tough area of writing.

Summary

Web users often come online with a specific goal in mind, and therefore tend to scan posts instead of read them. However, there are a few tricks your can use to ensure that they find what they need and return to your website in future.

  • Highlight your key points using bold text
  • Use sub-headings to break up your posts
  • Make it obvious where links will take your users
  • Summarise your main points at the end of your post
  • Keep your posts short and to the point

New to blogging? Read my article on the best advice for new bloggers from around the web.

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

 

 

Weekly writing prompt #5

Jazz trumpeter Henry Allen playing in 1946

Music can be a wonderful source of inspiration, as well as creating a vast range of emotions.

Pop on either your favourite song or one chosen at random and create a short story, play or poem based on it.

Like my last prompt, this can be as long or short as you like. Try setting a timer for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to find the time to write

Typists working hard during 1915.

Fitting writing around a hectic schedule can be as much of a challenge as the work itself.

I have a full-time job, a blog to keep up with, classes to attend and an active social life. Yet, this month I hit my book’s 10,000 word milestone. I’ve been working on it for 3 months, so at this rate I should have a full draft ready within a year.

The same tips have been equally useful for writing blog posts and articles.

How did I do it?

Planning

When it came to my book, I used to love free writing – any other method looked stifling. This was odd, because in my other life as a journalist/copywriter I plan meticulously.

Then I met Sam Hawksmoor of Hackwriters who suggested I create a road map for my book in order to improve the plot and writing style. I’ll never look back.

Not only does a brief outline of the plot (I’m talking a single A4 sheet of bullet points, here) mean you have a clear idea of where the story is going, it also saves a lot of time. It enables you to jump straight into the story from wherever you left off, or even jump around within the timeline, writing whichever part you feel you can manage at the time.

Habit

As I said in my post on overcoming writer’s block, writing becomes more productive when it’s a habit. You’ll find you no longer have to get into the ‘zone’ – it’ll start to happen naturally.

So, pick a time that’s great for you and try to stick to it. It doesn’t have to be long – if all you can spare is half an hour then that’s better than nothing.

Keep it short

Although the odd writing marathon feels fantastic, they are far harder to fit in around your life, so keep it quick. Even half an hour of writing a few times a week will make a big difference, without causing you stress.

Lunch breaks

If you’re lucky enough to be able to take a lunch break, these can be the perfect time to lose yourself in your writing. Find a comfy spot to sit with your notebook and set a timer for half an hour or so. Then, once a week/fortnight sit and type them up and watch how quickly your work grows – it’s a fantastic feeling!

Don’t have a lunch break? If you’re an early bird, then try getting up half an hour early and have a quick writing session.You could also pick a set time each evening and set an alarm so that you know it’s time to start.

Learn what motivates you

You might be motivated by the act of writing itself, or maybe its the feeling of achievement when you publish a post or hit a word count. Either way, knowing what pushes you to keep writing is essential for keeping up the habit.

When you hit a milestone, consider giving yourself a little reward. It could be your favourite chocolate bar or a trip to see a film. The main thing is to keep yourself going when fitting in writing seems tough.

Summary

Writing a book or a blog when you have a busy lifestyle doesn’t have to be stressful, and there’s plenty of tricks you can use for maximising your time:

  • Try to plan in advance
  • Set regular writing times in order to form a habit
  • Keep sessions short
  • Use free time such as lunch breaks
  • Learn what motivates you

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

 

Weekly writing prompt #4

A view of some islands from a plane

Imagine that you find yourself trapped on an island.

  • How did you get there?
  • What does it look like?
  • Who is with you?
  • What can you hear, see and smell?
  • How will you escape?

This prompt can be as brief or in-depth as you’d like. Try setting a timer for around 20 minutes and let your imagination run wild.

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

Interviewing: 6 ways to improve your technique

Photographer taking pictures of a journalist during the 1930s

Interviews – whether they are face-to-face or over the phone – are a fantastic way of gathering information. Not only are they handy for journalists, but copywriters, authors and bloggers will find them a gold mine of information.

People are fascinating creatures and often have stories to tell that you’d ever expect. But making the most out of the short time you have to speak to them is essential to get the information you need.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

1. Research beforehand

This won’t apply to all cases, but if it’s possible to gather a bit of background information then do so.

If they have an online bio, a company website or a LinkedIn profile then have a look and make notes on anything that may be of interest.

Similarly, if the interviewee is an author, artist, songwriter or film maker, try to have a look at some of their work. Refer back to elements of it during the interview – an artist may be more willing to answer your questions if they know you’ve made the effort to look at/listen to their work.

2. Jot down some key questions

Have a think about the essential information you’ll need to write your piece. Then, write down a few questions that cover those key points.

You don’t need to read them like a script, but they’re handy for ensuring you’ve covered everything you need to.

3. Start with an easy question

Ease your interviewee into the session by asking them a question that they won’t have to think about too much.

This could be something like:

  • How did you start…?
  • What does your role entail?
  • Can you tell me about your latest…?

4. Ask open-ended questions

Try to ask questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”. This will help to ensure that less chatty subjects give fuller answers.

Open-ended questions normally begin with:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • How

If your subject’s answers are still too short, don’t be afraid to say something like “tell me more about…” or ask further questions around their answer.

5. Engage with your interviewee

Interviews tend to work better if they’re like a conversation, so try to ensure that you engage with your subject.

Avoid staring at your notebook/keyboard. You can still scribble notes, but try to look up every so often to react to what the other person is saying.

  • Make eye contact
  • Nod
  • Smile/frown (depending on what they’re talking about)
  • Make noises of agreement

You can always practice by making notes when you’re watching TV or conduct a mock interview with a friend, family member or partner.

6. Follow up on the interview

Ask your interviewee if they’d like you to pass them the finished piece for fact checking. It’ll ensure that there are no embarrassing errors in your copy and also give them a chance to let you know if there’s anything that they don’t feel comfortable with.

More information

If you fancy learning more, Poynter has a great set of interviewing tips from Pulitzer Prize winner Jacqui Banaszynski.

Summary

Interviewing skills take practice, but these tips I’ve picked up along the way may help you to get enough information to create a winning story:

  • Do your research
  • Come up with key questions beforehand
  • Start with an easy questions
  • Reduce the risk of one-word answers
  • Treat it like a conversation
  • Follow up on the interview

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

 

 

Weekly writing prompt #3

UFO sightings chart from 1969

As it was Star Wars Day earlier this month, I thought that this week’s exercise could be something a little more fun.

Your challenge this week is to explain the concept of one of the following to an alien from outer space:

  • Tupperware parties
  • Stamp collecting
  • Lost socks
  • Clubbing
  • Soaps (TV or bathroom – it’s up to you!)
  • Snowmen
  • Tea
  • Your favourite film

I recommend that you time yourself 5 minutes for this one. Get creative and have a laugh while you do it!

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

The best advice for new bloggers

A child learning to skate using a chair

Although I’ve been writing professionally for a fair few years now, setting up a personal blog has been a new experience.

Thankfully, there are plenty of people sharing brilliant advice for new bloggers!

I’ve compiled the best information out there on the web to help you transform your website.

Use images

This advice will be familiar to anyone who has done social media marketing, but it’s worth repeating. Images provide interest for your blog – people love to look at pictures and are more likely to share posts with images they find attractive.

If your photography skills aren’t up to scratch or you don’t have the time to take a library of pictures, then help is out there. I find Flickr’s copyright-free image search especially helpful for finding quirky pictures that stand out from the crowd.

Source: Blogher – Top 10 Blogging Tips for Beginners

Be concise

Online readers prefer shorter posts – something they can dip into and easily understand.

This is because people reading online often have a goal in mind, so you need to capture their interest to make them read until the end.

Source: Writer’s Digest – 8 Things Every Blogging Writer Should Know

Tell people about it

If you want people to come and read your perfectly crafted posts, then you need to let them know they exist.

Chat to friends and family, set up social media accounts and get promoting! The SocialMS’s website is packed full of useful tips for getting your name heard, and their Twitter cheatsheet is a must-read.

Source: The SocialMS – 12 Awesome Ideas To Drive More Traffic To Your New Blog

Update your favicon

A favicon (or ‘blavatar’ in WordPress-speak) is the small image displayed next to your website’s name in the tab at the top of your browser.

Having the WordPress logo displayed screams “newbie” at potential readers, so if you want to look professional it’s a good idea to amend it. If, like me, you’re a WordPress user, just log into your WP Admin dashboard, head to ‘general settings’ and upload a blog picture.

Similarly, be sure to amend your URLs to avoid them appearing as strings of random letters and numbers. Better for readers, better for SEO.

Source: WebHosting Secret Revealed – 5 Ways to Avoid Looking Like A Newbie Blogger

Assess your progress

Finally, my own nugget of advice – analytics are your friend. You can use stats to judge the best headlines to use, the most effective hashtags and the themes that people enjoy.

Google Analytics is not only one of the most effective tools, but comes with a series of fantastic free online training programmes. Check out Google Analytics Academy to boost your knowledge.

If you’re on Twitter, I find that bitly.com is an extremely useful tool for monitoring clickthroughs. Plus, you’ll find its URL shortening service fantastic for cutting down on character count.

Every so often take a step back, read through your site and think about possible improvements. Then make them one small step at a time. If you can get a friend or colleague to have a glance through – even better!

Summary

There are hundreds of articles on improving your blogging skills out there, but my favourite pieces of advice are:

  • Use images
  • Keep your posts concise
  • Spread the word
  • Amend your favicon
  • Use analytics

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

Weekly writing prompt #2

Five people in a car

Look around the room you’re in and pick out an object.

Think about the person who might own that object.

  • What is their name?
  • How did they come to own this object?
  • What do they use it for?

Either write a set of bullet points, a short story or a monologue from the point of view of the character.

I recommend giving yourself 15-20 minutes to complete this task.

Why use writing prompts?

Writing exercises can be a useful chance to try out techniques or inspire new ideas.

That’s why I’ll be posting a new one for you to try out every week.

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

The secret to writing a news story

Drawing of a pyramid

Writing news articles is a useful skill for any blogger or aspiring copywriter to learn.

Sadly, I can’t take full credit for this tip – it was given to me by my newswriting lecturer whilst I was studying at university.

It’s called the ‘inverted pyramid’.

The inverted pyramid

Imagine a triangle with its point facing downwards. The wide base represents the most important information, and the point is the background details.

When you write your news story, always put the most important piece of information first.

triangle

The inverted pyramid

The first line will normally include details that answer the questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?

For example:

A serial jelly thief [who and why] has been given community service [what] following a hearing at a magistrates court [where] this morning [when].

The following lines then provide additional details and colour to the piece.

Then, finally, you add in any extra background information.

Why is this used?

It enables your readers to understand your news story by just reading the first line. They can then stop reading the article at any point and still have all the information they need.

Additionally, it draws people in. The most important point is usually the most interesting or exciting, and your reader may be intrigued enough to want to find out more.

Picking the most important points

There’s a couple of tricks you can use to shape that important first line.

The first is to write down the questions listed above and note next to each them the relevant pieces of information.

Alternatively, my lecturer had a brilliantly creative way of weeding out the crux of the story. He asked us to draw a picture of what our stories were about. The subject that you choose to draw is normally the most important bit of information.

Summary

The trick to writing a good news story is to imagine an inverted triangle:

  • Put the most important point first (who, what, where, when and why)
  • Follow up with other important details
  • Finally, add in the background information

This enables your readers to skim read and still pick up on the important details.

Created your news story? Great! It’s time to start editing.

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting