I have all the WD-40 I need, thanks

The demand for more and distinctive marketing content chews through a writer’s time and energy like a cloud of grasshoppers devouring a wheat field. Calls for tweets, blog posts, LinkedIn updates, landing pages, emails, flyers, ads, RFP responses — they ride in on the west wind and take bite after bite until the content calendar is shredded.

The agriculture industry has learned how to fend off grasshoppers. Marketers? Still learning. When not writing, marketers can often be found reading about writing. We check tweets, blog posts, ebooks and courses that promise to help us advance in our craft.  Instead of giving us powerful tools to hold back the swarm, much of the advice goes like this:

  • create awesome content
  • create jaw-dropping headlines
  • create out-of-this-world images
  • capture the “wow” factor

The west wind keeps blowing in the grasshoppers, so we need resources that will help us write faster, better, more consistently. Fortunately, there’s good material to be found. Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes fills an important need and should be on every active marketer’s reading list.

Everybody Writes delivers well-organized chapters in a reference book divided into six parts:

Part I. Writing rules: how to write better (and how to hate writing less)

Part II. Writing rules: grammar and usage

Part III. Story rules

Part IV. Publishing rules

Part V. 13 things marketers write

Part VI. Content tools

The book is notable for its generous spirit. Ann Handley not only shares her own experience and advice but shines a spotlight on other resources. In doing so, she has created a reference book that artfully serves as a springboard for writers eager to learn more about their craft.

I turn to Part V often. It provides useful tactics for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, email, landing pages, infographics, blog posts and annual reports. A copy of the chart “The Ideal Length for Blog Posts, Podcast, Facebook Posts, Tweets, and Other Marketing Content” sits beside my keyboard.

In every book, there’s a passage or idea that flashes a green light to continue or a red light to set the book aside. The green light began flashing in Chapter 28, “Deadlines are the WD-40 of Writing,” when I read :

Do the best work you can by the deadline you’ve set, and then consider your writing project finished.

Over the years, I’ve learned that no matter what type of work I’m called upon to do, the same rule applies: deadlines are the ultimate constraint. Usually, deadlines are imposed by an external party.

  • In politics, issues have to be dealt with in time to head off bigger problems.
  • If RFP responses aren’t delivered to the purchasing agent by the deadline, the response won’t be opened.
  • In the printing industry, the customer’s deadline sets the scheduling in motion.

If left to create their own deadlines, undisciplined writers are doomed.  The urge for perfection undermines their schedule. Their writing seizes up like a rusted piece of farm equipment. The grasshoppers swarm the field and leave behind devastation until the WD-40 puts the equipment back into the field. In Handley’s words, “… give yourself a hard deadline. And then strictly adhere to it.”

[Ann Handley. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014. Follow Ann Handley on Twitter: @annhandley.]


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