Do you remember when you first learned to write? You may have honed your skills or forgotten since then, but at some point a teacher forced you to sit in your desk and write a paper. Maybe this wasn’t so traumatic and memorable, if you’re like my husband, who spent his Chanukah money on 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary. Or maybe you’re like me, and you cried through every single one of Mrs. Denney’s ninth grade honor’s English assignments.
When I heard the expression “break your teeth over writing,” it resonated because that’s how it felt.
Until I got to the memoir unit.
Memoirs for most 14 year olds are full of teenage angst. Just read my kids’ high school literary magazine as proof. I had the typical angst and more. I wrote about not making the ninth grade cheerleading squad. And I wrote about my dad’s death that summer.
Writing was hard. It also proved to be a balm.
Later I learned that writing opens doors. This is the lesson I always tell my kids. Writing gets you into college, helps you snag that selective internship and is how you convince your boss to let you work from home after your first baby–even when it’s against company policy.
You might have thought you were done with writing days after college. Who would have guessed you’d be writing up to 3000 character LinkedIn posts–essentially blogs–to one day promote your healthcare organization? Your writing is literally opening doors–to new patients and thought leadership opportunities.
And yes, you can and should outsource your social media, blogging and newsletter writing. But that initial take on the matter–your subject matter expertise and personality? Nobody can capture that quite like you.
Your marketing content will turn out better if you have a go at it. Because no writer can perfectly capture how what your patients need to hear as well as you.
Here are some writing tips from some of the experts to make that first draft easier. Then, if you have the means, hire someone to clean it up and do the rest.
Make writing easier with these 7 tips for better writing
Have your target reader in mind
Don’t know what to say? No problem. Picture your very favorite client or patient. What do they need to hear from you today? Write about that and then write it LIKE that. Unless you’re writing a white paper or for an academic journal, most of the day-to-day writing you need to do is informal. Use contractions. Use second person (as in “you” for those of you who blocked out ninth grade English). Speak to them and everyone else in your ideal audience will take what they need as well.
Use a dictation tool
Before you throw your hands up and say you don’t have time to write, ask yourself: can you talk? If the answer is yes, then pull up a dictation tool on your phone (I like the Microsoft Word app for this). Press the mic and then speak. These days, this counts as writing. You can either clean that up later yourself or send it off to someone else.
Make a list
A blog post can be as easy as making a list. Is writing a grocery list hard? Of course not. (Remembering to bring it on the other hand…). A blog or social media post can just be a list of tips around a specific topic that matters for your audience. Lists work nicely for SEO content too. Make a list and then the items you list can be your headers. Fill out the body for some content, and you've got a blog.
Never start with a blank page
This advice comes from Laura Gale, whose job is to help business leaders write their books. I interviewed Laura on my Sparks of Marketing podcast, and her advice for avoiding writer’s block is to never start from a blank page. This means keeping a log of writing ideas. Then, start from there. Don’t worry how it sounds as you regurgitate the words. Just get words on paper (or on screen). Ann Handley in Everybody Writes calls this TUFD: The Ugly First Draft.
Start in the middle
The opening and closing can be the hardest part of writing a blog or article. So follow what William Zinsser recommends in On Writing Well and start in the middle instead. Once the middle’s done, you can write an opening that coaxes your reader to read a little more. This is especially important for a social media post, where all your reader sees is your first few lines. Your conclusion can be just a few lines that wrap up your idea. For a marketing piece of content, you’ll want to include a call to action in there to tell your reader exactly what they should do next.
Share your stories
In The Storyteller’s Secret, Carmine Gallo reminds us: “Storytelling is not what we do. Storytelling is who we are.” Telling stories in your marketing content is what works. I recommend breaking up stages of your life in periods of five or 10 years. Then, list everything you remember from those years. Do the same for your professional years. Find the lessons you can glean for your practice or healthcare business in those stories. You don’t have to get personal. A story on the way to work or an incident with your toddler, dog or garden can be a relatable story.
Write for a fifth grader
Healthcare is complicated. Your writing should not be.
Forget the writer you were in high school or college, doing your best to impress. Your reader doesn’t time for overly complicated words or sentences. Unless you’re writing an academic research paper or for The New Yorker, keep it simple. Digital readers skim. Use short sentences. Drop the hyperboles. Ask yourself if every word is necessary. If it’s not, then hit “delete.”
The most important tip when it comes to writing is write. Writing is a muscle. Get going, and you’ll get better. The hardest part is starting.
By the way, I never became the person to read bigger vocabulary books, but I collect writing books by the dozen. Here are a few more I like.
On Writing: A memoir of the craft by Stephen King
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
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