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How to Create Engaging Content (Even If You’re a Terrible Writer)

by Neil Patel

You might think that you’re incapable of effective content marketing, because you don’t have the chops for great writing.

Think again.

Sure, you might not be the next John Donne, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t fill up your blog with great articles that reel in visitors.

Content marketing works. Even if you suck at writing.

But how does it work?

Here are some ways that you can create engaging content even if you’re a terrible writer.

1. First, Break All the Rules

Yes, that’s the name of a famous book, but the principle in the title applies here as well.

first break all the writing rules

What does it mean? Feel free to disregard the rules of “good” writing, and simply express your thoughts as you see fit.

It’s this simple: “If you can talk, you can write” (another book title, I’m afraid).

Editors of blogs are always advertising for people who can write in a “conversational” tone. That’s the kind of writing that people can relate to. It’s readable. It’s fun.

It’s engaging.

Think about some of your favorite blogs. Are they filled with articles that adhere to AP Style writing or are they written in a more down-to-earth tone?

english class did you wrong

Take Cosmopolitan, for example. Right now, there’s an article on the front page titled: “Gelato Flowers are Here to Make Your Summer Even More Instagrammable.”

For starters, “Instagrammable” isn’t even a word. The author of that piece, Gina Mei, just made it up.

But you know what it means, right?

Mei broke a rule, but nobody cares because she was communicating effectively.

Here’s the first sentence in the article: “If you’re looking for a new way to fight the heat this summer, gelato flowers are just the thing you need to help cool off.”

Do you think you need to go to journalism school to write like that?

Of course not. She’s writing like she’s talking to somebody.

I remind you: this isn’t some blog written by Johnny-in-his-mommy’s-basement. This is Cosmopolitan.

So if you want to get started with blogging, feel free to write just like you’re having a conversation with somebody.

You might think that you shouldn’t do that because you didn’t do well in English class years ago and you use words like “ain’t” and “young’ns.” Maybe you even <GASP!> use curse words!

Don’t worry about it. Write like you talk.

revising for conversational tone

You heard it from me: Break the rules.

People who visit your blog will appreciate the genuine nature of your writing. Many of them will find it refreshing.

Even if you can’t tell the difference between a split infinitive and a dangling participle, start writing anyway. It’s far more important to write in a conversational tone than to follow hard-coded rules of English composition.

And consider this: I’ve broken several widely accepted rules within this section. I began a sentence with a conjunction. I began a sentence with a contraction. I ended a sentence with a preposition. Those are silly rules. Rules that aren’t rules. Rules that are meant to be broken.

Now let me ask you this: Did you understand what I was trying to communicate?

If so, then it don’t matter. (See what I did there?)

2. Next, Learn the Rules

Just because you think you’re a sucky writer, that doesn’t mean you have to remain a sucky writer.

You can learn how to be a better writer.

For starters, just read. Anything.

Read what interests you. Read novels. Read blogs. Read magazines.

Read everything.

dr. seuss quote

If you read enough, you’ll pick up some elements of great writing just by osmosis.

You can do more than that, though. You can specifically read about how to be a better writer.

Beyond just reading what you enjoy reading, also carve out some time in your schedule to read about how to write better.

There are plenty of great books on Amazon about how to improve your writing skills. Go through them, check out some of the reviews, and buy the best ones.

My personal favorite is Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build From Them) by Marcia Rifer Johnston. It’s not only packed with great info, it’s also an easy, enjoyable read.

word up

Source

Warning: As you’re learning how to be a better writer, it’s important that you don’t lose your own voice.

Don’t let principles of “good writing” destroy your distinctive, conversational style. Instead, use those principles to communicate more effectively in your personal tone.

3. Write Listicles

One of the best ways to quickly create some great content, even if you aren’t a great writer, is to write a listicle.

What’s a listicle? It’s an article that’s presented as a list (hence the name).

bf-screenshot

Source

BuzzFeed practically owns a patent on listicles. You can find them all over the place on that site with posts like “11 Of The Funniest ‘Secret Admirer’ Notes From Kids” and “29 Of The Most Iconic Lines From ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’”

Think about a listicle or two that would benefit people in your audience. Then start writing.

You’ll likely find that, once you have your bullet point outline, it’s easy to populate each point with a few sentences. Before you know it, you’ll have an 800-word article completed.

Go ahead and give it a shot. See if you don’t notice that writing listicles are far easier than producing content in paragraph-by-paragraph format.

4. Use Images

This point dovetails nicely with the previous one.

Modern-day blogging involves much more than words. You should use images as well.

Images are especially welcome in listicles (again, take a look at BuzzFeed for an example of that). So, if you’re following the advice in the previous point, why not include an image at the end of each paragraph in your listicle?

In response to that, you might be asking yourself: “Okay, but where do I find images?”

Fortunately, there are plenty of options.

For starters, consider using a reaction GIF. That’s an image that’s basically a mini-movie and is intended to convey some type of response to what you’ve just written.

For example, let’s say I just wrote about something that I think sucks. Instead of writing out “I think that sucks,” I might instead include the following reaction GIF:

face

Reaction GIFs is yet another practice that’s popular on BuzzFeed.

You don’t just have to use reaction GIFs, though. You can also use images that illustrate your point or provide further evidence that your claims are true.

Fortunately, you can see examples of that all throughout this article.

One of the best ways to find those types of images is with Google Image Search. Just type in a keyword that’s relevant to your content and browse through the images until you find one that fits.

google images

Be sure to provide proper attribution to the image as well. That’s good karma.

If you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t run afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you can filter your Google Image Search to include images that you’re allowed to copy.

To do that, just click on the “Search Tools” button towards the top of the screen and select “Labeled for Reuse With Modification” option. That will give you a portfolio of images that you can safely include on your blog.

Google image reuse with modification

Keep in mind that the other search engine, Bing, allows you to search for images as well.

5. Build a writing team.

The number one setback for many people when it comes to even attempting to write great content is overcoming the motivation required to write an entire article.

The sheer time and energy commitment alone is enough to keep even good writers from ever trying.

Knowing that you’re going to have to spend the next day and a half punching away at the keyboard is a huge emotional setback.

If you’re already starting with the wrong mindset, how are you going to ever churn out great stuff?

Well, there is a solution for this exact problem: You can build a team to help you write content.

A lot of the work that goes into writing great content comes down to:

  • Concept ideation
  • Outlining
  • Collecting images
  • Sourcing and attribution
  • Perfecting headlines
  • Perfecting subheadings
  • Formatting
  • Proof reading

By breaking up these components, you can create content much faster without it being such a time burden. Plus, the stress of dealing with each component is magically wiped off your plate!

You should structure your operation like an assembly line. Have each member of your team help you with a certain task and collaborate inside the same Google doc.

That way, by the time the article gets to you, you can focus on the part you’re actually good at – whatever that part is.

So, are you ready!?!

You don’t have to be a great writer to have a great blog. You can add content written in your own, down-to-earth style while still learning about how to communicate effectively.

Maybe you’re a terrible writer. Maybe you’re awesome. Wherever you’re at on the skill spectrum, what do you do to create engaging content?

7 Comments

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Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg and Hello Bar. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue.

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  1. Pankaj says:
    October 19, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Thanks Neil for such a great post again. This is such a inspiration post the people like me who are bad at writing.

  2. Bridget says:
    August 1, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Totally agree with conversational tone! And one way to do it is to record your post rather than write it. Even get someone to interview you. Then use rev.com to transcribe for a minimal fee, clean up if you need to and you’re ready to go!

  3. Carol Tice says:
    July 24, 2016 at 8:04 am

    The desire to compete seems to be part of our DNA. Dream up some type of challenge or contest where people compete against each other for a prize – they will like it. I’ve used apps like Challenged or the contest generator on Facebook to add a social cause component, as well as link participants to celebrities, companies or their friends to deepen the engagement. What you create needs to be clear, within reach and reflects what your audience likes.

  4. Chinyere says:
    July 22, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Thank you Neil Patel, I learned a lot from your post sir. I love writing but I’m still green to blogging and getting people to engage with my content. Found this article really helpful, thanks again

  5. ali says:
    July 22, 2016 at 3:07 am

    this is so gooooooog
    thanks

  6. Margo says:
    July 21, 2016 at 6:43 am

    I learned how to use the pics on Google in my blog so cool and my writing voice is a ok!!

  7. Lucy Thornton says:
    July 20, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Neil,

    One of the best ways to learn to write engaging content is to read it – which is why I always devour your posts (here and on NeilPatel.com, Quicksprout, Hubspot, Forbes, Buffer etc.) – of course.

    I’m hoping to absorb some knowledge through osmosis…

    But I totally skimmed the final point because I don’t have “a team” – I’m freelance so, as Clutch Powers says, I work alone.

    Is there another way to tap into that ‘team’ dynamic when you’re a one man (or woman) band?

    Thanks, Lucy

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