The secret to writing engaging content quickly

Quit writing

Chances are you’re among the 94% of marketers who actively publish content, including newsletters, blog posts and articles. But here’s the thing: almost all of that 94% admit to not publishing regularly enough. They say their biggest challenge is coming up with engaging content worthy of publication. 61% outsource their writing. And let’s not forget, 6% of these marketers, marketers, don’t publish at all.

Writing engaging content is hard

Everybody writes. But not everybody writes well. This might explain why so many companies hesitate to publish regularly. Great content often demands great writing, and great writing is hard to come by.

The solution from the advice market is that you can learn to write better. They’re half right. Coming up with a good topic and getting it seen is doable. But writing in a magnetic way that gets customers to read, learn and fall in love with your brand, that’s rare.

You can keep grinding away, refining your skills, investing more time, digesting every new writing tip, trick and commandment. But if you happen to be a marketer who’s not a writer by trade, there’s a simpler option. It’s an epiphany I stumbled upon years ago — a way for writers and businesses to work together to create engaging content quickly.   

The day I quit writing and started revising

One slushy Chicago morning in 2005 I sat down to grind out yet another freelance writing contract — a proposal to write several marketing pieces on retainer for a fairly well-known company.

I dreaded what would follow. Meetings, interviews, rambling conversations … compiling notes, spending days piecing them together. Then the endless critiques, edits and revisions. I’d get paid. The writing would be published. But nobody would feel great about it. The client wouldn’t feel connected with the verbiage. And the reader would sense that it was ghostwritten. It would likely be an exercise in futility. Maybe it was the gunmetal sky and sub-zero temperature, but I was SO done with this crap.

I did something crazy. I called the client and gave HIM a writing assignment. I told him that while I’m happy to come up with ideas and write them from scratch, the ideas might be more powerful if they came from him. He resisted, but I held my ground. I told him: “You’re a visionary in your industry.” That got his attention.

Then I said: “You know WHAT you want to say. Just dash it off. Don’t worry about HOW you say it. I’ll handle that part for you. That’s my job.”

Every visionary needs a re-visionary

He wrote a rough draft and sent it to me within an hour. The substance was profound. It contained informed, mavericky, hard-won insights, predictions and relevant anecdotes I couldn’t come up with if my life depended on it.

And it sucked. Boring, long-winded, disjointed, full of jargon, clichés and profanity. No intro, no transitions, no ending. In fairness, he did it in a few minutes, so of course it wasn’t well-written. But it didn’t matter. The ideas were there. He was a visionary.

What he needed was a re-visionary. I went line by line, followed my copywriter’s intuition and editorial experience, and made the piece sing. I didn’t bother making a word doc. I wrote the revision as email text and hit send. Within five minutes I got a reply.

I have never seen so many exclamation points. He was ecstatic. The right messages were being expressed — his, not mine — but in a way he knew would impress and delight all kinds of readers. The whole process took something like minutes. I didn’t know what to charge because it was so effortless. Fun even. Ten years later, it’s still fun.

Write bad rough drafts, quickly

Writing Engaging Content

You don’t have to be a visionary in the romantic sense, like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, to come up with a great “bad rough draft.” But in the words of Swiss philosopher Henri Amiel, “we are all visionaries, and what we see is our own soul in things.” Keep that in mind as you generate rough ideas.

If the Marketing Institute is right, odds are you need help making your rough ideas engaging. That’s where great writing comes in — it has to be refreshingly appealing, readable and professional.

Freelancers who write from scratch are slow and expensive. Editors clean up grammar, but they won’t strive to make your voice sparkle or your ideas hit home in ways that impress and delight your audience. Only revisionaries do that.

Your revisionary doesn’t have to be a high-paid guru. It can be anyone, as long as it’s not you. Your job is to generate as many bad rough drafts as possible.

Ask your co-worker. Ask your mom. Ask your dentist. Ask your guest-blogger. Just ask. And start dashing off bad rough drafts today. It’s easy. Just write what you know. Be honest. Try to be helpful. Have a point. Care about what you’re saying. The rules end there for engaging content.

Now for the anti-rules. Kill the killer intro. Avoid avoiding clichés. Instead of cutting unnecessary words, cut yourself a break. Close the book on involved storytelling; instead write a one or two sentence synopsis. Focus on WHAT you say, not on HOW you say it.

And don’t worry about a clever last line!


1. 2015 B2B Content Marketing Trends—North America: Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs

Rob Lubow
Rob Lubow is Founder of CopyRevision.com, a pay-as-you-go service revising web copy, blog posts, articles, emails and more. He lives in Los Angeles.