Sometimes people ask me this question: Is writing a skill?
Just because I produce content for multiple channels and am unafraid of venturing out into unchartered territory? I get frightened too.
With a thumping ready heart to force its way out of my throat, the skill I tell them that is much needed today is actually the ability to fall flat on your face, get up, and keep going.
So, I thought about it for a while – really, is content creation is a skill or an inborn talent? Was I born with this ability to regurgitate my thoughts or is this a skill?
Although for most parts, I would say it’s an acquired skill, toughened by determination and criticism, and discipline, I would also say it’s a talent.
It’s a skill because I know of some people who were not born to write but write reasonably well. They can produce enticing content without using confusing jargon and metaphors and I’ve also worked with people who produce META tags for SEO (thousands of them…every…single…day…one…by…one. Very unsexy job.
I also know writers who write a blog or produce social media updates for businesses regularly who did not necessarily fit into my predetermined square-meter mold definition of a ‘natural’, ‘in-born’, ‘gifted’, ‘talented’, ‘skilled’ writer or content creator.
These people’s got a one-up because they’re willing to give it a shot, to acquire that skill and discipline.
So, if you’re wondering if you’re ever going to make it as a writer or content producer/strategist, let’s just start where you are. It matters not whether you’re at the starting point or struggling through your career wondering if a mid-switch is going to fly.
Before I go on, I would like to reiterate that I am no Guru and there’s no Masterclass under my name. Only that I have been doing this for a very long time and I want to help you see that creating content is not magical. It can be a little scary (and make you cry), but not impossible.
Ideas are Everywhere, Note them All Down
Any writer can tell you the same thing…knowing where to start and what to write is the biggest obstacle. There are multiple ways to go about it although my go-to method would be to build things up small and then get my ducks in a row in bullet form or just notes.
Other writers will do it differently which includes:
- Starting right in the middle – as in getting started right in the mix of the big explosion. When the idea hits you, don’t wait to BEGIN. Instead, start where your thoughts are.
- Start small – This works if you already have a short summary of what you want to write about. Say, you’ve been chatting with a friend about how many potholes there are in your neighborhood, start there and built it up
- Start with an incentive – Some readers are not….really readers. They’re skimmers. They make up their minds whether to continue reading the entire article or not based on the first few paragraphs. So, some writers start with the incentive. For instance, ‘this article will totally change the world you care for your organic plants at home without busting your budget’. This way, readers know what they’re in for right from the get-go.
- Start with the title – I don’t start with a title but I start with a list of POSSIBLE titles. I don’t commit to any of the possible titles but use them as a guide so that I know where to head back to when I get derailed. Which is…too often. #lol
- Write horribly – You know when an idea hits you in the head when you’re in the middle of a shower and you have to just GET…IT…OUT…OF…YOUR…SYSTEM? OK, start there. You’ll write horribly but you’ll be writing. Trust your instinct and just keep going until every last drop of your enthusiasm is drained. There’s time to go back to the start (or anywhere, actually) to pick up the pieces. Too many people are daunted by starting out perfect. I say forget about perfect. Just get it out of your system.
- Make it up as and when – I am hell-bent on doing my research before I embark on something. Like, I have an idea and would hammer at the draft and skeleton before I write anything. But word has it that some people work better when they allow themselves to make things up (and do their research) along the way. Give it a shot and see if it works for you.
- Think opposite – It’s mind-boggling how much content there is out there on the internet-verse. I don’t envy Google or other search engines. Some writers have this little nugget of advice for those who wish to stand out just a little which I kind of agree with which is to think the opposite and argue with yourself. Be controversial. Create something crazy. Another way to think about it is this – if you hate how a story or article (written by another person) ended and you know how to make it better, do it. Oppose the idea and start arguing your case.
Sharpen your Skill in Looking for Loopholes in Other People’s Articles/Content
The lawyer in me just put on its thinking cap. Finding loopholes is what some lawyers are paid to do. You have this set of rules and a client asking for help. Your job, as a lawyer, is to find as many loopholes as you can and maneuver your client out of a mud pit.
As a writer, you can do the same thing. If you are reading an article that you really like (and wish you wrote it yourself), find loopholes in the articles where you can assert your own brand and voice. Think like a reader…what do you wish the writer covered too? You’re not reading the article or watching the video as a mere audience member anymore but you’ve got to dissect the article and get inside of their writer/editor’s head.
As a reader, what do you wish the writer covered that you think other readers like you wish was there?
E.g. If the article was about cooking Christmas cooking, did you find yourself wishing the writer included alternative ingredients? Did you wish you didn’t have to Google ‘buy garam masala around me’ manually? If the article was about the latest fashion trends, did you wish that the article was funnier or more entertaining? Did you wish the writer had included more illustrations or images?
Can you do it better? If you can, do it.
Apart from finding loopholes is one thing, finding out more about questions people are asking all around the world is another.
If you’re gunning for search engine ranking and have a bunch of trending keywords you want to target, you can always use Google Trends which pretty much tells you what the market sentiment worldwide or by segment.
Flesh Out and Angle your Article
Once you’ve got:
- A rough draft or skeleton for your article
- A summary of what you want to write about
- One or a few temporary titles
- A couple of reliable sources
…it’s time to dive in.
I know how easy it is to go off of the tangent and prattle on towards a crescendo like in a long-running drama but I would keep three to five important key tentpole points in the article. While fleshing out your article or video content, keep in mind who you’re writing or publishing the content for.
It’s easier to write for people when you have an idea of what they’re looking for.
If you’re reading something in a magazine, website, blog or social media post, don’t just read. Analyze it. Do you have something to say here that you can add to the article? Do you agree or disagree with it?
I am going to go a little further here because I think this is where internet marketing and SEO is heading…can you use this article you’re writing for a video, slideshow, or podcast? Is there a way for you to either lengthen, shorten, or modify your article for an Instagram, a Facebook, or Linkedin post?
If you angle the article well, the same content can be used on MULTIPLE platforms!
So, is content creation a skill? Yes, it is. But the skill can be learned, practised, and improved on over time. You must be a willing participant, an eager learner, adopter, and flexible.
With that content creation skill, you can create content that can be revamped, reused, and repurposed for multiple channels which will save you time, effort, and MONEY.
Video Content Creation Skill
Let’s start off with I KNOW how to create videos but it’s at noob level. It’s unimpressive and embarrasses me to no end. This is a content creation skill I am still learning together with you if you’re also at my level of ‘expertise’. #lol #highfive
Hey, no one’s perfect, alright?
But I know what works and can bring a script to life.
Google and many other search engines have been upping their game on not just trying to decipher video and audio, they’ve moved the goal post for content creators and basically said, ‘hey, words are great but…yeah, videos, maybe?’.
These internet mega movers are also going headfirst into image, object, location, place, and face recognition too.
Granted, they’ve been at it for quite some time but things are starting to get really serious. I can feel it in every bone in my body.
I am a writer and words mean everything to me. Whatever I churn out has everything to do with grammar, usage of words at the right time, titles, subheadings, flow, readability, and, of course, SEO. So, why is and how did video content become so much more important today than, say, 10 years ago? The answer is = videos are so much more versatile and comes with variables that written content can contain.
You know that extra mile you said you’re willing to walk for your customers? Search engines are basically calling you out for it. You said you would walk the miles? Now walk.
More than half of the internet users surveyed say that they spend less than 15 seconds (I personally think that’s pretty optimistic as it is) looking at a single written content. #sadface
I personally don’t have the patience for long videos, especially when I am on the run. The same goes for podcasts, although it’s slightly easier with podcasts because I tend to listen to them when my mind is idle. With videos, I want to learn something or be entertained. If it takes more than 60 seconds to get to the point, I’m outta there.
So, if you’re not educating, entertaining or engaging with your readers via multiple channels and methods, there’s a big chance they’ll click away.
So, what kind of content creation skills do we need to learn if we’re just writers?
- Team up with people with video editors and producers, graphic designers and voice-over artists. OR you can pick the content creations skills up yourself. Just be ready to feel absolutely rubbish sometimes but pick yourself up, force yourself to go through it again, and repeat until you’re like ‘I think this should do it‘.
- Written content often use images interspersed throughout the article to keep readers engaged. Keep doing it because it is working. Humans continue to be really visual people.
- With music, personality, awesome editing, strategically placed copy, they work in synergy to power up your content more effortlessly.
- Personally, I prefer videos that are captioned and last no longer than 2 minutes. However, on average, 73% of business videos last 2 minutes or shorter, 1/3 shorter than they were the year before
- Podcasts can sometimes drone on for hours but as a consumer (and test-podcaster), I prefer podcasts that are between 18 to 30 minutes long. I know I don’t have the time and patience to listen to anything beyond that.
- You can even take a few awesome points from the article and turn them into either a demo or sales video!
The content creation skill you need here is how to dissect, reassemble, and disseminate (pretty much) the same content into various channels. I’ve learned that for businesses, shorter videos and audios tend to fare better. The numbers stand at 2/3 of videos perform better when they’re less than 60 seconds.
I wasn’t really convinced about video content creation until I’ve recently had to Youtube a how-to video on how to fix a damn WACOM tablet stylus.
It hit me like a truck.
I just watched a video on how to replace the nip of a WACOM tablet stylus on Youtube (approx 2 to 3 mins long) instead of READING about it. What led me to this precipice? It’s a revolution I can no longer ignore as a content producer and strategist. The zombies are upon us. #lol
Video content that works hand-in-hand with your written content helps get those on-the-fence people off of it. It builds trust, especially with consumers who are still a little iffy about who-is-who on the internet.
And besides, 86% of college or university students have an online presence on Youtube, as revealed by a study done by the University of Dartmouth. And according to Forrester, embedding or linking to a video in an email increases leads by a whopping 200% to 300%.
If that number is not sticking with you, here’s another – Youtube reports that mobile video has been rising steadily by 100% every single year. I am going to go out on the limb here and say that…yeah, the data took both you and me into account.
Another? OK. According to 3M Corporation, the human brain is 60,000 times better and more efficient at processing visuals compared to other forms of information and encourages a higher engagement rate.
So, it’s time to up our skills in video creation, strategizing and optimization.
Image Sourcing Skills for your Content
This is not, technically speaking, a skill. BUT…because speed, resourcefulness, and efficiency form the archipelago of success, I’d argue it IS a skill.
Include graphs, infographics (legible ones, please), customized images, embedded videos or pictures from your social media pages, entertaining cartoons, quotes, screenshots, memes (be careful with this one) and of course, if you have it, your own video.
What I did with the above picture took me approximately 3 minutes because I used Canva. Take a point from your article, use a suitable image and insert it into the image. You can also make it more powerful by searching up quotes by famous people – that’s basically what everyone else is doing these days, anyway.
But don’t forget the alt tags, please. We overlook this so much (me included, sometimes) it pains me.
It takes more effort but I believe people appreciate it.
You can use images for videos too, for slideshows. This works out well for people who are shy to speak on camera. Use the combo of images, screencaps, and voiceovers to create your video. Either way, it humanizes the content.
For images, try some of these tools and see if it sticks with you.
If you don’t have your own proprietary image, you can always use free sites like:
- freeimages.com (formerly sxc.hu, bought up by iStock)
- gratisography.com (quirky, marketing-centric, and unique)
- gettyimages.com (only embed option available, DO NOT DOWNLOAD and claim ownership. You’ll find a lawsuit coming your way)
- google.com – use their image search option and narrow it down to those which are categorized as ‘for reuse’.
In fact, embedding images or videos from social media sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook seems to give your content a credibility boost, even if the content is not yours.
I know creating videos is far more expensive, time-consuming, and daunting compared to writing them out on a piece of paper but that’s what’s floating the boat for internet users worldwide right now. But if you come up with one or two videos once every few months, I’d say you’re safe.
And besides, there are plenty of affordable or free video/slideshow creation apps and tools available today compared to a decade ago. Even your smartphone or iPad can come up with pretty simple but decent videos. The key point is to get straight to the point and use the right music/voiceover.
I personally use InShot for videos and VideoShow for image video slideshows but if you want to explore the entire list, HubSpot has a list of apps and software to check out for video editing. I am ready to download and give Magisto a shot right after this. XD
The good news is that people are not nearly as concerned by the quality of the video. Seriously. Even a mediocre video uploaded on Facebook, Youtube, Linkedin, or Instagram can make a great impact. The point is to make the video as short as possible, an explanation should be immaculate and on-point, and it tells the views exactly what they are looking for.
Just to be clear, your website or web page is more likely to appear on Google SERP if a video is embedded onto your website.
If I want to be found and seen, I’d post it straight into Youtube. Sure, it is saturated out there and you’re fighting with like only…a battalion consisting only of the whole freaking world? But that’s where you use your social media following to your advantage, people who already know you and appreciate what you have to offer.
With a video embedded into your content, you’re 53 times more likely to show up first on Google.
Scouting and Trend-Spotting Skills
Looking out for what’s trending. It befuddles me when I found the youngsters of today encapsulated with gifs.
Back in my days, gifs were no-nos because the file is bigger than a normal jpeg and people don’t like choppy gifs that take more than 5 seconds to load.
But if you look at it, gifs has made a comeback…together with memes.
These are modern trends that we need to hop back on because they’re trending and resonating with the younger generation. I was taken aback when my aunt (in her 50s) sent me a bunch of gifs one day. I was like wwhhhhaaaa…… So, you get the picture.
This might take a little longer and you’ll need the help of a resourceful assistant/writer/editor/researcher but add infographics into your content.
Honestly, the hardest part about creating infographics lies on the shoulders of the researchers and writers. Finding and verifying the information is a pain in the XXX.
But once the writer’s got the info down pat, creating the infographic isn’t a big deal. We have a whole bunch of tools out there to use and many are either free or affordable. Even the creation of animated videos has become more affordable.
- Venngage is a free online graphic-design tool ideal for the non-designer.
So, that’s all that I have today! I intended to write a really short note but, as always, I got carried away and became glued to my laptop. But I really hope that the stuff that I’ve put in here will serve you well.
I gain nothing from doing this and sometimes, I think it makes my effort all the more meaningful and worthwhile.
Have a splendid week ahead and happy holidays, folks!
Over and out,
p.s. Have a Merry Christmas and may your family and friends be blessed and happy always! In case I don’t come up with something else before the new year rolls around, Happy New Year. Here’s to a better and stronger 2020!
If you find any grammatical mistakes or errors and would like me send you some cyber love fluff for helping me out (I don’t have an editor – T.T), let me know at marshamaung at gmail or complete the following form.