I consider myself both a marketer and a writer (well, maybe writer is too generous). Still, as I sat down to develop this piece, I was locked in a staring match with the dreaded blinking cursor. Not a case of writer's block, simply the process of figuring out: how in the heck do I want to structure and deliver this message?
My approach to business-related writing is very rarely to simply open a document and see what comes out. Every writer has their own process, but it’s still a process.
When I hit my groove as a content marketer at an adtech company, writing a regular cadence of blog posts, for example, wasn’t a huge, intimidating task. That said, I couldn’t write all the content on my own. We needed diverse voices and perspectives from subject matters experts. I thought recruiting team members to contribute content would be a fairly easy task. If I found people who were enthusiastic about getting their points of view out there, that would be half the battle. If you find the people, the writing will come!
However, this was naive. What I have come to realize is that writing is its own, unique skill that requires coaching and practice. Expecting a non-writer to be able to complete a writing assignment—with minimal disruptions and delivered on time—without proper prep, best practices, and structure is a losing game.
And because I do not like losing, consider this my go-to list of 8 best practices to foster writing in non-writers – both for those recruiting the new writers and the non-writers themselves.
8 Writing Tips for Non-Writers
For the marketers and writers assigning the work, consider the following:
1. Don’t force people to write
It’s hard enough to get people who are interested in writing to carve out time in their schedules, outside of their day-to-day work, to write. Don’t sign up colleagues to write blogs just because they might be a subject matter expert (SME). For those who you do recruit, set up clear expectations so they know what they are committing to.
2. Start with small, structured pieces
Assign short pieces to non-writers as they are starting out: web copy, one-pager content, or short blog posts. If you are interested in getting input on longer-form pieces, consider interviewing the SME(s) instead of asking them to take on the burden of writing – this way you get the content while retaining control of the writing.
3. Provide templates and guardrails
Help your non-writers by setting them up for success with clear directions, templates, and examples. For example, if you have a standard format for your blogs, share that, along with word counts and style or writing guides that advise on tone and messaging standards.
4. Be a helpful editor
Be thoughtful in how you provide feedback – particularly on a first draft. Redlining edits without context is typically not helpful, especially if you’re hoping this person will contribute future pieces. Think about how you frame your feedback; instead of generic comments like “this doesn’t work” or “revise this,” be specific on what is not working and why and offer suggestions to help encourage ideas in the next iteration.
And for those novice writers, here’s what to keep in mind:
5. Start with a thesis statement and an outline
The first thing you should write is a statement that summarizes what you want the piece to convey. You may or may not use this actual sentence but it should anchor your thinking as you develop an outline. I like to think of my writing as a book: what would be the back-cover blurb, and what would be the chapters in the story to get me to my final conclusion.
6. Timebox your writing
It helps to actually block time on your calendar for writing. Turn off notifications and minimize your disruptions. I find smaller time blocks – an hour or two – are usually less intimidating and more attainable. As you start to write longer form content, it can also be helpful to set a word count goal for the day or week to hold yourself accountable.
7. Avoid editing-as-you-go
As you start, don’t be too precious about the specific word choices or else you may wind up in a vicious cycle of editing and re-editing. Instead of getting hung up on copyediting, get through the full piece and get your ideas down, and then come back to really refine and sharpen the message.
8. Consider the first pancake rule
The first pancake is usually the test pancake; it’s never perfect. Think of your first draft in the same way. Don’t strive for perfection right out of the gate. Writing is a skill you need to keep flexing, so keep flipping those pancakes!
When supported and nurtured, non-writers can develop the skills to be constructive, reliable content contributors for an organization. Invest in setting expectations and providing the appropriate guidelines, and you might just see your non-writers flourish.
If you’re looking to further scale your writers and content beyond internal resources, consider bringing in partners or freelancers. When you build trust with partners who understand your business and tone, you can drive growth through high-value content. Just ask us how that’s possible.