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3-Step Recipe For Great Written Content

I love great content - and in particular, I love great writing. I love producing it myself and I love reading other people’s, particularly when it’s obvious the author cares about what they’ve written.

You can always tell when an appropriate amount of time and attention has gone into producing a piece of content. Writing should always be thoughtful, insightful and well-written, i.e.:

  • It should use clear, simple language and sentence structure, which shows the writer understands their subject matter. I’ve noticed that people who don’t understand what they are writing about tend to use overly complicated language in an attempt to cover up their discomfort and lack of understanding. When I’m reviewing a piece of content, I’m looking for words I can remove, not things I can add in.

  • It should say what it needs to say in the appropriate number of words. Whenever I’m asked “how long does my blog need to be?”, my response is always “however long it needs to be”. If you find you’re repeating yourself to make some arbitrary word count, then you’re probably not on-track to produce good content.

Unfortunately, there are those among us who seem to be producing content just for the sake of it. We all know of people and companies who think they can trick search engines by having pages and pages of written content that’s stuffed with keywords, but doesn’t really say anything of any value.

Tip: that’s not how Google works these days, by the way. The current preference is for content that is high-quality and reflects the intent of the user’s search. In other words, good content. Keywords are still a factor, but not the main one in determining top-ranking content.

It’s one of my great professional wishes that the days of being able to prosper by cooking up ‘junk’ content are coming to a long-overdue conclusion.

What is junk content?

I call it junk content because it reminds me of junk food - it’s:

  • Easy to come across

  • Satisfies a momentary need or desire

  • Then disappears without a trace (at best), or leaves you feeling slightly out of sorts (at worst).

I avoid junk content like I avoid junk food. It’s tough, when there’s so much of it out there. I'm not going to act like I didn't eat a large piece of my son's fifth birthday cake just 30 minutes before writing this.

However, if you make a concerted effort, you can filter out 80 to 90 percent of the bad, and fill your mind with the good.

In my experience, the easiest way to do this is by only consuming long-form content from writers and brands I know and trust. I’ve relied on some high-quality sources for close to a decade. For example, I’ll usually open and read McKinsey’s updates when they arrive in my inbox.

My 3-step recipe for great written content

As a writer, it’s hard (but not impossible) to produce content that is consistently good, if not great. I have a three-step process for getting the words out. It might seem simple, but I’ve used it for years - I know it works.

If you’ve ever cooked a curry or stew in your slow cooker, then you’ll know it always tastes better on day two, when the flavours have had the opportunity to mix and develop.

Good writing is no different. It needs time to sit and develop. If you’re sending first drafts out into the universe, then chances are you’re probably doing it wrong.

Step one

It seems obvious, but sit down and write. Get as much as you can down on the page. Don’t worry about getting it right. Just let the words come, however they want to come.

I write in blocks of 50 minutes at a time. I set a timer, put my phone on do not disturb mode and focus on nothing else. When the timer goes off, I break for 10 or 20 minutes. I might get a coffee and check my emails.

Then it’s back to it for another 50 minutes. Rinse and repeat.

Don’t ask me why 50 minute works for me - it just does. Any longer and I get distracted, any less and I can’t get into the rhythm.

Step two

Go away and do something else so your content can ‘sit’. Leave it for as long as is practicable so you can come back to it with a fresh mind.

Overnight is ideal, or at least it is for me. I often wake up with the answers to things crystallised in my mind, then do my best work before lunch.

Of course, it’s not always possible to leave it overnight, particularly if your deadline is tight. If you can even afford 30 minutes for step two and go for a walk around the block, you’ll notice the difference when you get back to your computer.

Step three

Review and refine. Move the words around on the page, make sure the ideas are flowing in the right order.

You need a super-critical eye for this step, and it’s not going to work if you haven’t had a break from your own content.

For longer and more complex pieces of writing, you might need to repeat this process multiple times.

But what if I don’t have time for second drafts?

Simple: if you don’t have time for second drafts, you don’t have time to write, full stop. Take a closer look at what you’re doing, and do less of something.

Even the best writers come back to first drafts and notice errors or things that could have been done better.

Of course, you can’t aim for perfection with every piece of writing. That’s simply not practical for anyone.

But you can and should aim for something better than junk, each and every time you sit down to write. Without exception.

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