Skip to content

What we’ve learned writing in 2020

Writer writing showing writing skills

Share This Post

Why read this? : Writing’s been a big focus this year. We’ve written and learned lots about writing. So, it’s a good time to share the top 5 lessons we’ve learned from writing in 2020. Read this for ideas on how to improve your writing going into the New Year. 

As we covered key e-Commerce lessons last week, we go more creative this week to focus on what we’ve learned about writing in 2020. We’ve written lots of blog and website content this year. Here are the 5 most useful things we learned.

Lesson #1 - Build good writing habits

First, in terms of writing in 2020, we learned the value of building good writing habits. You can’t improve if you don’t practice regularly.  

The demands of other parts of our business like our coaching and consulting and e-Commerce businesses mean we can’t write every day. Much as we’d like to. 

But, we set targets for our writing in 2020. One of which was to post a new article every week.

Writer writing showing writing skills

This is our 54th article this year so we’v passed that target. We’ve also written over 110,000 words in our blog articles alone. That makes our average post length over 2,000 words, or double the amount we targeted in one of our first posts about writing.

At that time, we were proud we’d smashed out 65,000 words across the whole website. But now, despite many writing challenges along the way,  our blogs and website copy combined are approaching the 400,000-word mark. (Update since this post first appeared – it’s now closer to 450,000 words).

Not quite War and Peace. But not far off

Far out. 

A writing habit that's like a muscle memory

When we think about how we started this blog and read some of our earlier posts, we can see we’ve built up a writing habit that’s like a muscle memory. It’s now easier and faster to write. We do our research on likely topics of interest. Automatically, we check keywords for inspiration to see what would help with SEO

Our writing style has become more direct and easier to read. We cut complex words and phrases. Barely even think about it. The habit of simplification comes naturally. It has improved the quality and clarity of how we write. Good writing habits have made us feel much fitter when it comes to writing.

Lesson #2 - Learn to draft, re-draft and edit

Writing in 2020 also reminded us writing takes a large amount of energy. That’s why being “fit” to write matters so much. It’s not the physical energy of sitting in front of a keyboard but the mental energy to generate ideas. Then, to convert those into words on the page. Your brain’s highly active when you write. You burn calories and drain energy when you write. 

We’ve learned to identify times when our writing energy is at its highest. We get as much down on the page as we can before the energy runs out. It’s hard to spend the whole day writing anyway. And to be honest, there’s always more going on in our business. 

It’s also vital not to underestimate how long it takes to write well. Writing is like the classic project triangle with speed, cost and quality. If you want to go fast, your quality level drops. Or you have to pay someone to do it for you. The longer you take, the better the quality of your writing. 

Writing takes time

Writing is a creative process. The more time you allow, the better the quality you deliver. Obviously, it’s possible to write fast. Sometimes, you have no choice if there’s an important customer deadline.

But long-term, it’s important to build in time to clear the brain and build up your writing energy reserves. 

There’s always a bunch of other jobs you need to do. That’s fine. In fact, the variety of working in a small business is a big plus for writing. 

Close-up of a clock face showing dial sitting between ten and twelve

As a team, we also spend a lot of time editing content. It’s amazing how many typos, grammar errors and logic errors you find in a first draft. And in a second draft. Despite our good intentions, mistakes still happen. 

Having a clear review and editing schedule helps to eliminate many, but not all mistakes. We make sure editing happens with fresh eyes and high energy levels. The importance of this process has been another big creative lesson writing in 2020 has given us. 

Tighten up the words

But editing isn’t just about eliminating mistakes. It’s also about tightening up the words so your meaning is clearer. More succinct. Stephen King talks about aiming for a 10% reduction in content between the first and second drafts. It’s a good target. 

We also like the writing tip that you should imagine every word you remove from the first draft earns you a dollar. Focuses the mind, right? Makes you want your writing to be tight. Editing helps you do that. 

Lesson #3 - Start with a clear structure and headline

We recently read Ogilvy on Advertising by noted adman David Ogilvy. It’s a little dated now. But it’s still a great collection of lessons from the advertising world, much of which still rings true today. And in particular on copywriting, as that was how he first got into the industry. 

He shares statistics on print advertising which shows that for all the people exposed to your advertising, only around 10%-20% make it past the headline to read the body copy. We’ve seen nothing to suggest this is any different in the modern digital age. In fact, with low attention spans on digital media channels, it’s probably even lower now. 

Having a strong headline and structure up-front, which makes it obvious to the reader what they’re getting is important. You can’t “push” writing at someone. It’s their choice to read or not. So, you have to think about how you can “pull” them in. First impressions make a difference. 

We’ve learned to write the headline first. And, then write our copy so it relates to the headline. This stops us from wandering off on tangents and including irrelevant content. Something we know we did quite often with our initial posts. 

In fact, our better-performing articles almost always have the strongest headlines and a clear story structure to them. They’re also the ones we wrote with the reader most in mind. 

Lesson #4 - Write with the reader in mind

Our most popular articles are also the ones which answer questions our audience has.

We’ve learned to really focus on writing with the reader in mind. 

Some of our early posts were about things we thought were important but which we soon learned didn’t matter to our audience.

When you start to write blogs, that’s not a bad place to start, because those are the things you’re passionate about. 

Young woman sitting cross legged on a couch reading a book in front of some bookshelves

But, your writing has more impact when it’s focused on meeting the needs of your target audience. Your audience appreciates you more when you write relevant and meaningful content which helps them. 

And it’s not just the content itself, it’s how you tell the story. It’s the way you lay out the words on the page. The simplicity of the words you choose. And even the length and layout of sentences and paragraphs. 

You need to look at the words you write on the page and imagine a reader being educated, entertained or otherwise engaged. That’s when you know your writing’s on the right track. 

Or even, the write track. 

Lesson #5 - Choose your words carefully

Our final lesson from writing in 2020 is there’s a limit to how much a reader can take in one go. 

If you have a lot of natural enthusiasm for your topic (as we do with marketing, creative and e-Commerce), it’s hard not to want to show your reader everything you know. 

But this enthusiasm usually leads to long first drafts, with too many thoughts which are difficult to follow. You risk losing the reader. 

Man writing blue shirt

You must review that draft and choose your words carefully. Cut everything that’s not needed. 

There are many more writing lessons writing in 2020 has given us. This post could have been much longer. For example, we regularly refer back to key books about writing like 50 Key Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clarke and On Writing Well by William Zinsser to remind us how to keep making our writing better.

We’ll come back to those at a future date. (See our writing about marketing article for more on this).

Conclusion - what we've learned writing in 2020

To close 2020, we’ll leave you with this thought.

When you write, you let a part of your brain, a part of your soul spill out onto the page.

That’s both liberating and slightly scary. Your thoughts, ideas, hopes and aspirations are out there for all to see. But, when you do it, and you do it well, you set yourself and your business up to create connections with people. You let people see a bit of yourself and your brand. That’s a brave, but rewarding thing to do. 

Because with the way 2020 has panned (pandemic-ed?) out, connecting with people through writing is more important than ever. 

Check out our writing guides for more on writing. Or drop us a line if you need help raising the writing skills in your business.

Photo credits

Person writing near mug : Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Clock : Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

Woman on couch reading : Photo by iam Se7en on Unsplash

Man in blue shirt writing : Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Share this content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest blog posts

Subscribe to get Three-Brains updates