11 Things I’ve Learned from Creative Writing that are Essential for Creating Content

I have been writing nonstop since I learned how. When I was eight, I wrote plays and had the neighbourhood kids perform them with me in the driveway. (“Sara, I want to play baseball.” “But you have to REHEARSE.”)

I received my undergrad degree in English, I have a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, I have taken countless workshops and completed a playwriting apprenticeship at Horizon Theatre in Atlanta, and I even teach graduate online writing courses for Southern New Hampshire University. I’m also an active author and playwright.

Writing is my life.

After I graduated from grad school, I was shocked to discover I couldn’t just publish books, write plays, and make a living. As I searched for a way to get paid for writing, it was natural to fall into digital marketing. I wrote web content, blog posts, and social media content, both as a freelancer and with marketing agencies (where I currently work).

As I continued to work in digital marketing, I discovered that I loved it. Over the years, I have realized that every day, I use so many of the things I learned in my studies of creative writing. Here are eleven creative writing rules content marketers can use as well.

  1. Show, don’t tell.

This is one of the first things you learn in a creative writing class. Whether you’re writing poetry, plays, or fiction, it’s much more powerful to show the reader/audience an image or conversation that evokes sadness, for example, than it is to say, “this character was sad.”

Antov Checov put it this way. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass.”

Excellent poetry is all about imagery. Superb scripts are all about dialogue. Brilliant fiction is all about narrative. There are so many ways writers can show instead of tell:

  • Use the five senses – You want to make the reader feel, taste, smell, see, or hear the scene. You want them to feel like they are there.
  • Use strong verbs – A writer should use active verbs more than passive verbs. Active verbs often imply movement. They can create a complete image in a reader’s head.
  • Use dialogue – Don’t tell us what another character said. Show us the exact dialogue that was spoken.

Content marketers need to follow this rule as well. When you’re providing tips on a new marketing tool, for example, it’s much more effective to provide screenshots or a video tutorial than it is to simply write a blog post telling the reader what to do.

Providing screenshots to show someone how to do something is more effective than telling them.

If you’re introducing a new product to your customers, of course it’s essential to provide images. But even if you’re writing a blog post about something more abstract, you should always offer examples, case studies, and photos that illustrate your points.

Don’t just tell readers what they need to be doing; show them how to do it.

  1. If it’s possible to cut a word or phrase out, cut it out.

Whether you’re writing a poem, a short story, a play, or a screenplay, every word counts. You don’t want to have an excess of flowery description or filler language that doesn’t have a point. If you can retain the meaning of a piece cutting out a word or phrase, you should.

This rule applies to content as well. Whether you’re writing web content, blog posts, or text on an infographic, get to the point. People don’t have a lot of time to waste on filler words.

There are certain words you can almost always cut out: just, then, very, really, totally, completely, definitely, and certainly. These words don’t add to a sentence. You can retain the meaning without them.

  1. Don’t use clichés. 

There are a lot of fiction clichés to be avoided. “It was a dark and stormy night.” “It was raining cats and dogs.” “Her love was like a rose in bloom.” I write young adult fiction, and one of the favorite phrases for YA authors seems to be, “she let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.” That’s overused so much, it’s become a cliché.

The world of marketing has its own clichés that should be avoided. “Content is king.” “Go above and beyond.” “It’s a paradigm shift.” Get creative. Come up with new ways to say what you want to say.

  1. Don’t overdo exclamation points.

Exclamation points are like hammers in the writing world. They’re there to express big emotions like excitement, passion, and anger. Used sparingly, they can be effective. It’s easy for writers to overuse them, though.

Exclamation points imply you expect the reader not to know how a phrase should be read. If the writing is sharp enough, you won’t need exclamation points to emphasize words and phrases.

The same is true for any sort of content. I know it’s easy to get excited when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about. And if you’re in the marketing world, hopefully you’re passionate about it. But don’t overdo the exclamation points. They come across like you’re shouting or being abrasive.

  1. Read writing aloud when editing. 

This is essential for plays and screenplays which are full of dialogue that’s meant to be heard rather than read. But it can also be true for fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Reading your work aloud allows you to see it in a different light. It will be much easier to catch errors, awkward phrasing, overly long sentences, or clunky writing when you read it out loud.

Whatever kind of copy you’re writing—whether it’s for a blog post, a website, an infographic—it’s helpful to read it out loud as you edit. If you’re not in a place where you can do this, you can even use a text-to-speech feature in many programs (like Microsoft Word) to get your computer to read it out loud.

The text-to-speech feature on Microsoft Word

  1. Connect on an emotional level. 

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is as true in writing as it is in life. As writers are crafting their stories, they should make sure they give the audience a reason to care. One of the best ways to do this is to make them feel something.

It’s also possible to connect emotionally in content marketing. If you’re promoting the services of a personal injury attorney, for example, you can reach people on an emotional level telling a story about a pedestrian hit in traffic. Whatever you’re marketing, you should always ask yourself, “why should my audience care?” Make sure you can answer that question.

  1. Understand your target audience.

No story is for everyone. Readers of Stephen King may not enjoy novels by Nora Roberts. Whatever you’re writing, you’re never going to write a story that appeals to everyone. So the best thing to do is to zero in on your target audience and write for them.

There is some debate about this in the writing world. Some independent authors who are able to publish fast say you can “write to market” where your number one consideration is your audience as you’re writing. In the traditional publishing world, the journey from writing a book to publishing it takes so long, by the time you’ve published it, the market has changed. So writers wishing to pursue this route are encouraged not to focus on a particular audience as they write.

At some point, though—whether it’s in the writing process, during revisions, or even when you’re marketing your book—you need to consider your audience.

Digital marketers always need to consider their target audience. But you’re never writing for everyone. Not everyone is going to be your audience, customer, or client. You need to focus on the specific target audience you are trying to market to.

One way to do this is to create a buyer persona. Get specific about who you are targeting. If you’re marketing a product to mothers of toddlers, for example, create one specific mother of a toddler you can create your content for. The more specifically you target her, the more other mothers of toddlers will be drawn to your content.

  1. Use your unique voice.

Every story has been told. Everything’s already been done. What can a writer bring to the table that is truly new and original? They can bring all the unique experiences that have brought them to where they are by using their distinct voices.

Whatever content you’re producing, the chances are there is content out there that is like it. But no one else can be you. No one else can create content quite the same way you can. So don’t try to create content that sounds like someone else’s. It’s alright to be inspired by other content marketers, but you should always be using your unique voice.

  1. Use the power of storytelling.

Stories are powerful. Stories are addictive. Stories connect us. There’s a reason people binge watch shows on Netflix. They get caught up in the stories.

You can use the power of storytelling for your brand. There are many ways you can do this.

You can tell a story in a blog post. Open a post with a story, tell a story in the middle when the reader’s attention may be wandering, or wrap up your post with a story.

Tell the story of your brand on your website. You can tell it on the “about us” page or in a blog post. Did you have to overcome any obstacles to get your brand where it is now? People love to hear stories of overcoming obstacles. That’s one of the essential elements to a story.

Tell a story in video or social media posts. Tell a story in images. Tell a story in Tweets.

Have your customers or clients tell their stories in testimonials or reviews. You can even have them make video testimonials.

  1. Allow yourself to have bad first drafts.

Sometimes a writer needs to go through ten bad ideas before she can get to that one good one. Sometimes you need to get your ideas out before you can fix them in revisions. It’s a lot easier to revise a bad first draft than no draft at all.

This is also true of content writing. Whether you’re writing a blog post, web content, a headline, or even a social media post, don’t just go with the first thing you write. Write down all your ideas, even the bad ones. Eventually, you will find the best version of what you want to say.

  1. Understand the rules so you can break them when necessary.

Like any art form, the rules of creative writing are meant to be broken. I know I have broken most of the rules on this list at some point. I broke some of them in this post even. Sometimes you need to break a rule to be effective.

You can break the rules you need to, though, when you understand the rules you are breaking. Just like abstract art means more when it’s painted by an artist who has painted works of realism, poems can have more meaning when they don’t follow the rules of punctuation or capitalization, for example.

There are rules associated with content marketing. But you’re probably not going to follow each rule every time you create a piece of content. If you understand which rules you are breaking, however, it will make it more effective.

There are many more rules of creative writing that can be used in content marketing. As I continue to create content, I discover more and more connections between these two worlds every day. If you didn’t study marketing, have you found any connections between what you studied and the work you’re now doing? Tell us about it in the comments.

Sara Crawford is a digital content strategist for WT Digital Agency and an author from Atlanta, Georgia. She has written novels, produced her own plays, and performed as a singer/songwriter. She is passionate about the act of creation, and she adores the written word.

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