When you have a content idea library, you don’t have to spend time staring out the window, waiting for an idea to hit you — you have content ideas to draw from and can easily find something to write about.
With your content topic in hand, let’s create the backbone of your article, which consists of two parts: your headline, and your subheads.
Write Your Headline
Your headline is the most important promotional part of your content. Your headline is what gets people to click on your content and read it.
Spend plenty of time generating lots of headline ideas.
When I write headlines, I like to think of writing the first 10-20 headline ideas like clearing a clog in a pipe: once you get the “junk” ideas out of the way, the good ideas can flow. So don’t worry if your first attempts at headlines are dull, or clichéd, or boring. Just get them out of your system so the good stuff can flow through, and keep writing.
Writing great headlines becomes easier and more natural the more you do it, so keep at it. For more guidance on writing headlines, refer to the headlines chapter in this book.
Write Your Subheads
After you’ve written your headline, map out the subheads you’ll use in your article.
Subheads are like signposts that guide your reader through your content.
But they’re also signposts for you, the writer!
Writing subheads at this early stage of the game helps you to think through how you will present and develop the ideas you want to communicate in the piece.
If you’re aiming for around 1,500 words for your article, you could write five or six subheads.
For more on writing subheads, review the Subheads chapter in this book.
Tools to use: I like to keep it simple, and I tend to do everything on my laptop. But because some people strongly prefer to interact with tangible objects like pen and paper, I’ll make recommendations for both.
My writing life changed for the better when I incorporated mind mapping tools into my process. Any mind mapping software will do: find one that looks good, seems easy to use, and fits your budget (many are free).
The reason I love mind maps so much is they allow me to get ideas out of my head quickly and easily, and move them into a format where I can work with them. My ideas don’t come to me in a linear or logical order (do yours?). I don’t fret about that — I just use the mind map to record them in whatever order they appear.
When I’m done thinking, I begin moving things around on the mind map to arrange them into an order that makes sense. As I move things, I notice gaps in my thinking, and I fill those in with more ideas.
In the end — once I have my ideas arranged — I can see what subheads are needed. Some of my main ideas can be lightly edited to turn into subheads.
If you prefer to work with tangible objects, you could use index cards or sticky notes. I have a friend who makes major decisions by standing in front of a window with a pad of square sticky notes, jotting down short concepts with a marker and sticking the notes to the window, moving them around and grouping them together until she can see what she needs to do.
Some people swear by a combination of colored and white index cards arranged on a table top. Remember, you’re just jotting down main ideas at this stage, so don’t feel like you need to fill the lines on your index cards if you use them. Jot a concept across the top and that’s it.
Use whatever system works best for you. Remember, the magic isn’t in the tools you use — it’s in what you do with them. So don’t get hung up on trying a bunch of different tools or techniques: find one that works and stick with it.
Once you’ve finished writing a compelling headline and strong subheads, you are done with your rough draft.
Walk away and go about the rest of your day. Your mind will continue to work on the content — you may get ideas about it when you’re working on completely unrelated tasks. Find a way to save those ideas: you’ll need them for the next day’s work.
Here’s the sneaky thing : by the time you finish, what you’ve created is an outline of your article. But since most of us are still recovering from having to generate outlines for our term papers in English class, we won’t call it an outline. Instead, think about it as the backbone of your content.
You’ve created the main structure you’ll hang the rest of your content on. It’s the foundation of your article. Good job!