Nothing is more intimidating than a blinking cursor on a blank page—especially if writing is not your thing. And yet, if you have a small staff without the luxury of a copywriter, you may be the one stuck in front of that blinking cursor, desperately willing the right words to appear on the screen.
Don’t worry; I’ve got you. I’ve been writing professionally for over 30 years, and you’re in the right place—I’m going to give you some advice that will make the writing process go more smoothly.
The first thing to know is this: Like going to the doctor, a lot of the dread and intimidation connected to writing is anticipatory—we don’t want to, don’t want to, don’t want to . . . until we actually do it, and then we realize, “That wasn’t so bad.”
So, the first step is to get rid of any preconceived notions that “you’re not a writer.” Everyone can be a writer. And you can be a good one if you follow some basic tips and principles, like these:
1. Write like you talk.
Put away the $10 words and write as if you’re talking to a friend. You may have developed this notion in 7th-grade English that big words equals better writing, but that’s not true. Conversational content is so much easier to flow through, plus it’s personable and relatable. You’re not trying to impress your English teacher anymore—unless she happens to be a donor. And even then, you want to appeal to her donor side, not her teachery side. She’s no longer grading your work.
2. Write one-to-one.
Even a magazine ad or a billboard that reaches millions of readers is seen by only one person at a time. People always read as individuals, not as a group. One of the most common mistakes is writing as though you’re addressing a room full of people. Instead, imagine a one-on-one conversation as you write—actually picture an individual in your mind. That will keep your messages personable.
3. Write for your audience.
If your audience is not into slang, don’t try to be too hip; you’ll be sus, they won’t dig your vibe and then you’ll be canceled.
Or, in non-slangy terms, you’ll come across as fake, you’ll turn people away instead of engaging them and once you do that, it’s hard to win them back. The key is to know your audience and write in a way that appeals to them. One way to do this is to create marketing personas, a fun and helpful exercise for your nonprofit.
4. Use AI/Chat GPT to get you started.
I’m going to say this very carefully, because in no way do I want you to hear, “Use AI to write stuff for you.” Do not do that (I’ll explain why in a minute). But I am going to say that Chat GPT can be a good tool to give you ideas and get you started on whatever your writing project is. Oftentimes the most difficult part of writing is figuring out where and how to start. Chat GPT can help you with that if you use the right prompts.
But don’t let it do all the work. Chat GPT does not know how to create anything new; it simply sources from what’s already been created. Neither does it know how to empathize, a distinctly human characteristic. And most of what it spits out sounds more robotic and wordy than compelling and engaging. You’re writing to connect with humans, and Chat GPT doesn’t know how to do that—at least not yet. Use it as a tool, not a replacement.
5. Format your writing to make it easy to consume.
For example, emphasize important points by bolding key messages. Just don’t overdo it. If you bold too much, then nothing looks important; it’s just overwhelming. Using bold or italics sparingly makes it easy for readers to scan and hit all the high notes, though, and it helps you identify the message that you really want to get across.
Along the same lines, break up your content piece with subheads and bullets. A study from the Nielsen Norman Group found that 79% of readers skim, while only 16% read every word on a page. Breaking up your page with subheads and bullets will make it easier for people to digest the content and understand your message. It also helps you during the writing process to organize your thoughts.
And embrace the line break. Even complex content can be made reader-friendly with the use of lots of white space.
Feature one idea per paragraph, and keep them short. Three or four sentences at most. Big blocks of text are intimidating, and people will skip them.
And try writing some paragraphs with one sentence only.
6. Enlist others to edit, proofread and provide feedback.
I know—this can be almost as intimidating as a blinking cursor, but it’s necessary. Even the most talented and seasoned writers have editors and proofreaders. I like to use both people on my team (coworkers, colleagues, etc.) AND, if possible, someone who’s in my target audience. Coworkers can edit and proof for grammar, spelling, etc., and your target-audience person can tell you if your writing resonates, how to make it more compelling/engaging and what it might be missing.
One more important tip: Grow your confidence. If you have a mental hangup about writing or a voice inside your head telling you that you’re a “bad writer,” that’s a huge roadblock to becoming a really good one. Here are some things you can do to overcome this:
- Take an online writing course on MasterClass or Udemy.
- Join a local book club or writers group (being an avid reader helps you become a good writer).
- Find a mentor who is skilled at writing and is willing to coach you.
- Use tools when you write, like Grammarly and spell check.
- Write. Then walk away to give your brain a break. Then come back to edit it yourself. Embrace the process of rewriting and find what works for you—every good writer knows that the first draft of anything is not a good final product.
Putting the right words in the right order can wield a lot of power as you try to connect, engage and inspire both donors and prospects through your writing. Learning to write well is a valuable skill, and one that I’d encourage you to develop, not only for your professional life, but for your personal development as well.
But if you’re like, “Thanks, but no thanks—I’d rather stuff a dirty sock in my mouth and pour hot sauce in my eyes,” okay. I get it. You’d rather outsource.
Good thing for you, I know just where you can go—tap our copywriters here at Firespring, who have been helping nonprofits connect with their audiences through the power of words for over three decades. Put the dirty sock and hot sauce down, and let our seasoned writers help you out with your next headline, blog, website content, white paper, brochure or whatever you need written.