How to turn your idea into a spectacular story your audience will crave
Fact: Most of your time creating a blog post is spent not writing. You research, you make pictures, you create headlines, you outline, and then you write. After that, if you have any energy left, you edit. And then you share on social media.
My friend Kristofer H, asked me how do I take an idea and not fizzle out? In other words, you have a great idea, you begin writing about it, and then you can’t grow it into something. What do you do?
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Before I answer Kris’s question, I’d like to stay in touch with you. Every week I send out five helpful articles and open myself up for questions. I’m not selling anything, just looking to stay in touch. Drop your email here.
Question: What’s the biggest mistake writers make? They begin by writing. Wrong!
- Bloggers make 2 million posts every day.
- 80% of readers don’t click past the headline.
- Of those that click, 38% close the article immediately.
- 5% of those remaining don’t scroll down.
- Good news: most scrollers make it past 50% of your article.
- 2% of all readers click hyperlinks.
- I included a Rick Roll in one of my hyperlinks here.
Rule #1 – Don’t begin by writing
2 million posts appear online every day. Of the people that even see the posts, only 6% open it and scroll past the article’s halfway point.
A great statistic for you is having over 50% of your articles open and read, and another 50% of people reading it leaving a comment or liking it.
What’s the lesson here? Your headline is more important than anything else you write.
If you spend five hours writing an article and 1 minute on the headline, your article will never find an audience. I don’t care if you have 50 links, 20 pictures, an infographic, and a documentary video. No one will read it if the headline doesn’t make them open it.
I know you hate listicles, but numbers create curiosity. You need to make your headline build curiosity and make it audience-facing. There are only three reasons people are looking to engage with your content:
- Does it instruct?
- Does it inspire?
- Does it entertain?
Anything else beyond that is self-indulgent. All writers are guilty of writing a self-indulgent piece and then wondering why people don’t read it. Readers will only click on something that will instruct, inspire, or entertain. Ideally, it will be a combination of two or all three of those things.
Write a headline that builds curiosity but also tells the reader exactly what to expect.
Rule #2 – Make it visual
5% or less of the people opening your article read all your words. Use your words to tell the story visually. Have something for the reader to climb onto next. As they scroll, make them pause:
- Include pictures, infographics, or videos
- Make lists or bullet points
- Break up your paragraphs
- Use headers
Once I have an article idea and create a headline, I’ll make the article’s picture. This is why I believe Instagram will make you a better writer. If you can get your story’s idea into a single picture or two, then you are better prepared to tell your whole story.
Some people may read posts for their content. I don’t. The NPR crowd can get their stones off at the New Yorker. This isn’t the New Yorker. But even that group probably only reads the comics. Does anyone actually read all the articles in the New Yorker. Highly doubtful.
Remember the three rules of headlines: instruct, inspire, entertain? The same goes for your content visually. Get your point across in multiple ways and formats. A writer’s job is MUCH MORE than writing. You’re an artist, goddamnit.
Rule #3 – Hook them at the opening
You have 8 seconds to hook your reader. Once someone clicks to open your article, an average of 42% will click off without scrolling down. Can you tell me, besides your title and visual appeal, what is the next most important thing of writing your article?
Here’s an article of 20+ writers that talk about their tips for writing a strong opening paragraph. Some of their advice include:
- Write the opening paragraph after you write the entire article.
- Use questions, stories, quotes, or facts.
- Stick to a formula that works for you.
Remember, your headline builds curiosity and tells your reader what they can expect. The opening paragraph sells the rest of the article. Once they open, why should they stay?
Rule #4 – Have a plan
Before you write, have a plan. This is what I HATE:
- Supporting paragraphs
Barf!!! Nothing will kill your writing faster than making it academic. A formula for writing your articles can reduce your time or make it easier, but it also turns the process into a machine. The machine requires energy. That energy is your soul.
Do you want your soul sucked out by an energy-draining writing machine?
This is where visual planning comes into play. You have a topic, now what do you want to say? What do you want readers to walk away with? Find various things that will fill in the picture you want to paint. Grab some infographics, or other articles, or make more pictures.
You don’t have to stick to a certain outline or format. You can decide how to carry the story. But have a plan! Knowing your plan ahead of time will keep you on point. It will also make it easier to write.
Double bonus: having a plan makes it easier to write AND it makes it easier to read. A plan will keep you focused and engaged. A plan will keep your readers focused and engaged. Win-win!
Rule #5 – Did someone say engagement?
It’s one thing to keep someone on the page; it’s a whole different skill to get them to engage.
Here’s what I did for this article:
- I know most people don’t scroll past the 50% point.
- I put a fact, a question, and a CTA (call to action) at the beginning.
- I included informative graphics and asked questions throughout.
- At the end of the article, I’ll include a Jerry Springer moment.
What about the purity of writing? I see this question a lot. Writers think that they are here to write. However, do you remember the biggest mistake writers make? They begin by writing.
Anything else you use is a gift to the reader. You can highlight and summarize and use various tools to engage them in your writing. Online writing is NOT novel writing. It’s okay to use GIFs. It’s okay to use videos. Take advantage of the internet’s tools to engage your audience.
Stephen King also said he is the Big Mac and fries of the writing world. Good thing I like McDonald’s because I also enjoy Stephen King! When I write, I want to have fun; when I read, I want to have fun.
Summary: how to transform an idea into a fully-engaged article
Before you even begin to write, craft a headline that will build curiosity and tell the reader exactly what to expect. This will set the tone of your entire article.
From there, find or make a picture and create a plan (or for you boring types, make an outline). Go back and make sure you include elements for engagement and an opening hook.
Here’s a bonus: this person’s blog post talks about how to test your idea before you write your first draft. It is meant for writing a book, but it is great for blog posts two. They break it down like this:
- Write a quick storyline.
- Write the elevator pitch.
What quick tip do you have?
What is one piece of advice you’d have for Kris or another writer? What helps you take something from an idea and turn it into a full article?
Oh, and before you go, hit me up on social media. I’d love to connect with you.
What story do you have to tell?
You can email me or connect on social media here.