Marketing is a game of inches. We tweak a headline to get fifty more clicks. Add visual interest for ten more subscriptions. Change the button on the landing page to get five more conversions. All the little gains add up over time to generate real results.
Writing more effective copy is a game of inches, too. You don’t write Twilight one week and Moby Dick the next. Instead, every day you can work to be a little bit better than the day before.
The tricky part is if you’re not steadily improving your writing, you’re actively moving backward. There’s no such thing as maintaining the status quo—it’s self-improvement or bust.
The following ten daily habits can help you make steady incremental improvement. Try as many as you can for 28 days, and be amazed at how those daily inches add up.
10 Daily Habits to Create More Powerful Content
#1: Read at Least One Marketing Article
There is a massive amount of informative marketing content out there, with more coming every day. These articles can help inform and improve your marketing, but that’s not the only reason to read them.
How It Helps: Marketing articles are really content marketing targeted at marketers. And it’s hard to market to marketers. We already know the ways copy can be persuasive. We soak in it. So effective marketing posts with thousands of shares are guaranteed to have top-notch writing.
#2: Read an Article about Literally Anything Else
As in any industry, it’s easy to get stuck in the marketing “bubble.” You read marketing content. You write it, too. Over time, it gets hard to write anything that doesn’t sound like it was written by marketers, for marketers. If marketers aren’t your target audience, that’s a bad situation.
How It Helps: Reading a good variety of content gives you different voices to try on for your own content. See how Harvard Business Review covers a story versus Mashable versus Buzzfeed. Browse Medium for hundreds of unique voices you can borrow tricks from. All this input is invaluable in keeping your writing flexible, and building your own voice.
#3: See What Your Audience Is Sharing
One way to make sure your content is worthy of being shared is to borrow tips from content already resonating with your audience. Check out BuzzSumo’s trending content for your topic. See what the top SlideShare presentations are in your industry. Even a search for the most-watched videos on YouTube could be informative.
How It Helps: You can discover what topics are most valuable to your audience and see how others have addressed them in an effective fashion. You might even get ideas for how to write a better version for your audience.
#4: Do a Free-Writing Exercise
The hardest part of any writer’s day is the beginning. The blank page is our worst enemy, sapping motivation, inviting self-doubt, and generally keeping things from getting done. A free-writing exercise eases your brain into content creation mode, while keeping the stakes low. Try these random prompts to get started.
How It Helps: Free writing gets you in productive mode faster, but it also allows you time to let your creativity flow and find new pathways for your thoughts to flow. That refreshed creativity will reveal itself in everything you write.
#5: Revisit Old Content
If I have a personal writer’s hell, it’s full of the short stories I wrote when I was 16. Or 18. Or 28. Heck, the stuff I wrote six months ago is embarrassing. It can be downright painful to look at your old content. But if you have the courage to go back and revise it, old content can help you improve.
How It Helps: First, it shows you that you’re making real progress. If an old blog post makes you cringe, it’s because you’re so much better now. Second, the act of rewriting it up to your current standards is fantastic for reinforcing good habits. And hey, you might end up with a piece you can repurpose for a new audience, too.
#6: Watch a Viral Video
It’s worth taking 2-3 minutes out of your day for the .gifs or Vines (RIP) or YouTube videos that everyone can’t stop talking about. These new cultural touchstones are fascinating. It’s a way to see what captures the attention of the widest swath of humanity at a time. And it keeps you from looking out-of-touch on Facebook.
How It Helps: Viral content got that way for a reason. Something about it compelled people to link to it. So watching a viral video or two is a window into the zeitgeist, and can contain swipeable ideas to make your content more compelling.
#7: Change Part of Your Routine
We’ve all heard about famous writers’ routines. Nabokov wrote on index cards. Charlotte Bronte wrote standing up. Ernest Hemingway wrote in a pair of pink penguin pajamas. There’s this idea that you need to find the magical combination of quirks that will produce great writing. Odds are your writing routine is nearly set in stone.
How It Helps: Hemingway wasn’t a great writer because he wore pink penguin pajamas. The pajamas were within him the whole time. Truth is, if you’re stuck in one particular routine, it can make your content start to come out routine as well.
Change it up: Stand up if you usually sit, or vice versa. Write before your first cup of coffee. Take your laptop to a different part of the office. Whatever it takes to shake you out of the status quo a bit.
#8: Drink More Water
If you work in an office building you are likely living in a state of perpetual dehydration. The air exchanges are drying your skin and throat to a papery crisp. Get a refillable water bottle and keep it on your desk at all times.
How It Helps: A lot of the headaches, fatigue, and fuzzy-headed feelings you get throughout a day can be caused by dehydration. Ditto the cravings for endless snacks even though you just had lunch (I can’t be the only one). Drink water to stay sharp, be better focused, and improve your overall health.
#9: Write the Seth Godin version
Seth Godin has the gift of getting to the essence of a topic in 250 words or less. His micro-blogs are as insanely popular as they are concise. If you’re looking to cut the fat from your writing, Seth’s is a great place to start. Take the topic you’re writing on and try to write the Seth Godin version. You can flesh it out after, but start with his get-to-the-point mentality.
How It Helps: We can’t all get away with publishing 250-word blog posts. Most of my clients wouldn’t stand for it. But writing the bare-bones version can help create better-structured, easier-to-read, more compelling content.
#10: Give Yourself Five Mindful Minutes
One of the most powerful things you can do for your marketing mind in a day is nothing. No screens. No phone calls. No email. Nothing to distract you from what you’re doing—which, again, is nothing. Unhook your brain from as many entanglements as you can, close your eyes, and let your mind wander. You may have to work your way up to five minutes, though. It’s amazing how long that seems in the age of smartphones.
How It Helps: The creativity that drives engaging copy comes in the quiet moments when you let your brain do its own thing. Most of us are adept at filling every waking minute, precisely so we don’t have those idle moments. Your brain is likely starved for a nothing break. Let it bump out of its familiar ruts and you’ll be surprised where it takes you.
Turn Inches into Yards
Becoming a better marketer is a lifelong journey, not a destination. Use these tips to continue your content creation development. Just think: In a year, you might read the post you just wrote today and be amazed at how far you’ve come.