If you’re a creative writer, you probably get a lot of questions—everything from “What’s your genre?” to “Where can I read your work?” to “Do you actually expect to make a living off of that?” to that all-too-familiar, glazed-over look that’s generally followed with something like, “But what do you actually do?”
And while your well-intentioned family, friends, and fellow patrons of the craft will always do their best to ask questions that support and perpetuate your content writing career, there will be those who can’t fathom why you’d pursue writing or how it translates financially.
Graduating with my MFA in creative writing/poetry was an exciting accomplishment, and a great next step on my journey toward a Ph.D. While I was thrilled when I completed a draft of my full-length manuscript, I’ve certainly struggled with those kinds of questions, both from others and myself. What am I going to do? The question was often at the back of my mind.
I hadn’t originally considered content writing as a good outlet for my skills. It seemed too far a cry from what I was reading and writing. It occurred to me, though, that while the two crafts are certainly different, well-written marketing content shares many aspects with creative writing. I realized that applying and honing my skills on a content-creation level could be a great way to keep myself agile. On mornings when I’m having a hard time producing creatively, content-related prompts have helped me work out some of the kinks in my system, freeing up my mind to write what I’m most passionate about.
So, which skills translate? Here are three:
When you’re writing creatively and presenting your work, either through publication, with a speech, or even reading aloud, you’re creating work for an audience. For some writers, that’s children. For others, it’s for people looking to sit down and experience some fabulist work or magical realism. Poets may be drafting toward an audience of classicists, or a modern generation of peers. Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem, “Howl,” makes direct references to several people, but when he performed the piece to a greater audience, he was able to truly rock the world. And those submitting short stories to literary journals are seeking to publish their work in a place where it can resonate with readers.
Branded content, too, speaks to an audience. Depending on the content, that audience could be athletes looking for new sneakers or people seeking ways to maintain their appearances on a budget. No matter who your readership is, it’s important to remember what they need.
Strike a balance with your content—ensure that what you’re writing is smart but doesn’t speak over the heads of the people you want to reach. As with many poems or short stories, initiating some level of deeper research on your readers’ behalf is OK, but try to keep your piece’s inside jokes to a minimum so they’re acknowledged and appreciated (rather than overlooked or, worse, accidentally interpreted as patronizing).
Put yourself inside the minds of your readers and ensure that what you’re writing is something you’d want to read. And, as with any writing you do, find a peer who can review your piece and help you address things that are ambiguous or otherwise nonsensical.
Often, poets and writers take on a voice of their own. From George Saunders to Erica Dawson, and even with foundational writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, it’s always feasible to take a snippet of a writer’s work and, given some level of familiarity with him or her, identify its origin.
With content marketing, the goal is to balance two voices. Every brand you write for has its own larger voice, based on the audience it’s speaking to. A lot of technology brands, for example, are speaking to young, hip, savvy readers who embrace the future and want to be part of the social revolution. Health-related brands might adopt a softer, more informational voice, as they seek to be sensitive toward people who are looking for solutions to health-related issues. Once you identify the correct tone, consider it as you write your piece. Maintain your individual wit and sense of self while accentuating those aspects of your voice that are important to your brand or organization.
In school, we learned about iambic pentameter as we discussed how Shakespeare would use rhythms that jived with natural speech patterns. That’s one small aspect of flow, but it’s one that resonates within all genres of writing.
Rhythm and syllabic structure may be less significant with longer prose than poetry, where sound is such a heavy piece of the equation, but that doesn’t mean they’re not impactful. Having a few sentences’ worth of choppy syntax or an illogically structured piece can be detrimental to your credibility as a writer. Anything that disrupts the natural flow and unintentionally rips your reader from the world you wrote can cause him or her to turn away from you, set down your collection or novel, and walk away.
The same is true for content writing. If you have errors, disruptions in your flow, or things that bore your readers, they’re likely to navigate elsewhere. This is another time when a second reader or trusted editor can be important, as s/he can help you look through your work and challenge things that you, as the writer, may have taken for granted. Never underestimate the merits of good flow.
These are a few skills that are applicable to content writing, but there are plenty of others you can use to work your creative muscles and become a stronger writer and content creator. Do you have any practices that help you with creative and content writing alike? Share your thoughts below.
If you’re a creative writer looking to hone your talents by writing content for top brands, join Skyword’s team of contributing writers.