Last week, we explored how to take a story from your own life and shape it into a narrative that bolsters your visibility or furthers your business. The goal is a simple one: connect to the reader through a description of a personal experience and then offer some useful or inspiring content that makes the reader the hero.
Essentially, invert that high school essay writing funnel: go from the narrow personal tale to the more universal message that speaks to the interests and concerns of your tribe.
I devoted two posts to this Art of Using Personal Stories In Professional Writing. One was a basic “how to” and the other was devoted to modeling the process.
Part of me hates that advice and part of me stands by it… because I am about to do it again.
Note: I’m defying the form I just offered you and inverting the “personal to universal” funnel. I may switch to another metaphor completely.
Since this post is about identifying and defying rules - as well as owning up to the pain of the online writing process and honoring the needs of your own creativity - funnel nixing and metaphor mixing seems acceptable.
But first, let’s establish some more rules - just so we can have the pleasure of breaking them. And so we can admit how we all feel a little broken by all these bloody rules.
Five “rules” for writing for the web
When you’re trying to follow typical internet writing conventions, you make sure that every web page or blog post is:
- Focused - Devote yourself to one central question or theme. Go deep rather than broad and realize that most of your big ideas are actually the foundation of dozens of different articles.
- Brief - This isn’t just about word count since important, “substantial” posts of 1500 - 3000 words can be highly successful. Be sure to break ideas into bite sized pieces so that the distracted reader can digest what you’re trying to say.
- Clear - Even if the goal is to raise questions for the reader rather than simply dole out a bunch of overly simplistic “shoulds,” don’t muddy the waters with your own ambivalence.
- Actionable - Every post should be the beginning of something - an ongoing relationship because the reader signed up for your list or the first step in the buying journey. You’re missing a huge opportunity if you don’t invite your reader to take a next step when they reach the end of the piece.
- Fascinating - Well, at least be interesting... The previous four rules are pretty irrelevant if you're boring the reader.
You and I will ignore those writing for the web rules (is that ok?)
Rules are made to be broken, of course, and you can point to a zillion successful articles that annihilate these conventions. Such posts compel you and even go viral because they’re aimed right at the collective sense of concern, outrage, or “awwww, so cute!”
One thing about those rule-breaking posts though? Readers may comment and share them, but they probably aren’t spending any money based on the content they've just consumed. It’s hard to invest in a writer or a company who rambles about their own confused state of affairs....
It’s important to remember - the “be focused, brief, clear, and actionable” aren’t just guidelines that exist “because the internet.” They’re just good business sense.
If “the confused mind does not buy,” then the confused entrepreneur does not attract buyers.
But what if you don’t feel focused and clear in your writing (or in your thinking)?
As I said, I kinda hate the advice I gave about using your personal stories to frame a bit of useful business information - but I believe in it enough to do it again (and again).
Telling you about my ambivalent, nuanced relationship with the blending of personal storytelling and forwarding a brand doesn’t make for focused, brief, clear, actionable prose. So, most of the time, I keep the existential angst to myself.
I tell part of my story about storytelling, hit publish and feel just good enough that I offered my readers something authentic and worthy of their time.
But then I stew. For days.
I fill a couple dozen journal pages, questioning the role of entrepreneurship and storytelling in my life. I analyze my place in the entire capitalist venture. I long to abandon business and blogging and all the well-meant advice so I can hole up with a word processor and a dream of being a novelist.
Ok, so I don’t do this every week (I’d end up in alone, likely in a van down by the river), but when I do get myself into this state, I write headlines like:
For I Will Go Mad If I Write Only for the Marketplace
I long to spool out meandering paragraphs that go on for pages, expecting the reader to stick with my muddled quest for clarity simply because she loves being along for the artist’s journey…
Invariably, I swing the other direction, glad that I’ve given up dead poets and all that opaque academic writing for the vibrant, immediate world of the creative entrepreneur.
I trust that there’s room in my life for the personal writing, the fiction writing, and the business writing.
I hate tangling my creativity in business goals and online writing rules. (Except when I don’t hate it.)
This, my friend, is not the stuff you blithely toss on the blog and share to LinkedIn with the expectation that new clients will start tying up the phone lines.
Why am I revealing all this anguish? Anguish I cooked up by publishing my own useful, business-focused blog posts? Because I think you’re going through something similar.
This writing-for-your-business stuff doesn’t always feel good. What’s the source of the pain?
Your writing process is often a burden or an unanswered "should." Let’s be honest about why all this blogging and guest posting and website content creation is hard - or even painful.
Here are 5 reasons that the creative entrepreneur resists the writing-for-your-business process (at least some of the time).
- Creativity doesn’t like serving a single-minded master - particularly when that master is concerned with doing what’s necessary to sustain a viable business
- Storytelling is an art in and of itself, and sometimes it feels like you’re selling out when you use your own stories to sell a product or service
- There’s only so much creative juice in your glass, and when you drain it for something as ephemeral as a blog post, you resent how the “real” creative projects suffer
- Certainty isn’t part of the creative journey - and you don’t want it to be… asserting your in-process vision as fact because the skimming online reader doesn’t see shades of gray feels reckless
- You want to believe that stories matter because they matter, not because they’re a means to an end
Some of these are pulled right from my own fevered journaling sessions. Others come from conversations I’ve had with creatives who struggle with their online writing chores. All of them resonate with me, but I think, collectively, we could go even deeper.
Please share your reasons for resisting or resenting the writing-for-your-business process in the comments or on your favorite social media post (please do tag me and share this post!)
Why wallow in "writing is hard!"?
We're not throwing a "woe is me, the connected creative with a business and a following and a commitment to my art" pity party here. Instead, we're owning up to our resistance and our periodic crises of faith in the whole endeavor of building an online platform.
In a world where ambivalence or being "in process" is seen as a weakness, we must take a stand for the very real state of "becoming" and embrace the clarity as well as the mess.
Dare to follow the rules of writing for the web - sometimes. Put out posts that are focused, brief, clear, actionable and tell enough of the story to meet your own Sovereign Standard.
Other days, allow yourself to defy those conventions and just write into "fascinating." Write what you must write, not what the marketplace seems to demand.
But, do me a favor - breathe deep and pause before hitting publish. Some ideas must be allowed to marinate in the mind and in the journal for a while... even if you are dedicated to making this whole online writing thing work.