Finish your drafts! Three rules to make writing for your audience easier

This post was written by 30×500 co-teacher and my bootstrapping partner in crime, Alex Hillman. Oh, and don’t miss the homework challenge at the end. Enjoy!— Amy

Step 1 – Decide, “I’m going to write a blog post about ______________”.

Step 2 – Sit down to write that blog post.

Step 3 – Stare at the blinking cursor. Debate my angle. Write, erase, and rewrite my opening at least 3 or 4 times.

Step 4 – Walk away from the computer, frustrated. Grind teeth.  Curse at myself.

Step 5 – Come back, write a few wandering paragraphs. “It’s okay, I guess.”

Step 6 – Hit publish, apprehensively. Or…not.

If this excruciating cycle sounds familiar, it’s because I know exactly what it feels like. That red arrow above is pointing to a count of MY old, unpublished drafts.

I used to put myself through this wringer almost every time I sat down to write, hence how I ended up with 134 posts in the graveyard of my drafts (and that’s just in WordPress…I’ve got countless others scattered elsewhere).

I was recently coaching my colleague Adam, who also happens to be a 30×500 alum, and he was struggling with this exact problem while he was writing his first few Ebombs.

Wait, wait, what’s an Ebomb?

By now you might know that 30×500 has three “cornerstone” processes, two of which we talk about quite a bit here on the Unicorn Free list: Sales Safari  & PDF Pitchwriting.

But there’s a third process that Amy and I have only barely talked about outside of class, so I’m going to crack that wide open, right here, right now.

Fact: You can’t bootstrap a product biz without an audience, and in 30×500 we have a process for connecting with and reaching an audience through actionable educational content marketing pieces. Since “AECM” is the world’s worst acronym, we call these “Ebombs.”

Ebombs come in dozens of formats (from code samples and templates to live presentations), but for today, we’re just talking about their simplest format: blog posts.

Or, in this case, unfinished blog posts.

My 134 unfinished drafts = lot of wasted time, and a lot of wasted energy. And those are the two things that NO bootstrapper can afford to waste.

Why is it so hard to finish a simple blog post?

I asked Adam how he was choosing what to write, and he said:

“I’d have a concept, something that I could imagine myself saying aloud.

But there was essentially no structure to the way the concept came out, so I’d slip into explaining as much as I could.

And the entire time while writing, I have this notion in my head like I have to teach something, which meant I was trying to force a lesson from what started as a totally loose concept.”

Adam was learning the hard way that when you start a blog post “about” a topic, it can go anywhere… which means your blog post is most likely to go nowhere, in every sense of the word.

  • Blog posts “about” a topic are harder to finish. There’s always “one more thing” to add.
  • Blog posts “about” a topic are far less likely to be shared by the reader.

How I avoid the graveyard of “Drafts”

For many people, there’s a big mental hurdle that comes with writing for an audience.

First and foremost, it’s really difficult writing for an unknown group of people.

You don’t really know who “they” are, what “they” are thinking, or what “they” already know. You’re tempted to overstuff your posts with extra information, just in case “they” need it. And your posts aren’t actionable because you’re unsure what lesson “they” want to learn or what problem “they” want to solve.

My solution is to sidestep the situation entirely. I don’t write a blog post “about” something to a faceless crowd.

I learned to write my Ebombs in response to one specific person asking one specific question.

I said to Adam:

“You answer peoples’ questions in person and over email all day long. People love your answers, even if you’ve given the same answer 1000 times. How is writing an Ebomb any different?”

Almost instantly, Adam saw what he had done wrong and more importantly, his new path forward.

The goal of a great Ebomb is results for the reader/listener/watcher/user. There are as many ways to do that as there are problems people have. But when you’re stuck, you don’t want to focus on infinite possibility.

When you’re stuck, apply these 3 ground rules to get unstuck:

1. Don’t force a lesson. Great Ebombs answer real questions from real people.

When you set out to build an audience from scratch, it’s a totally normal instinct to “puff up” to impress readers. Big ideas and hand-wavy “lessons” are everywhere.

You can easily set yourself apart from the pack by answering real, specific questions.

The best “real” questions are the ones that people ask on their own with little to no provocation. You don’t want to lead people with “What questions do you have about _______?”  Questions from Q&A sites like Quora and Stack Overflow aren’t ideal either, since they tend to force questions in certain directions rather than invite freeform discussion.

The BEST questions are the ones that are asked in discussion lists, forums, and comment threads, live events (outside of Q&A sessions), even Twitter.

Even our newbie 30×500 students are able to do enough Sales Safari to find specific questions and answer them. You certainly can.

A question takes you out of the realm of wondering, “What should I write?” — all about you — and into the realm of “What does this particular person need to know to solve this specific issue?”

2. If one person asks a question, chances are good they’re not the only one.

If someone is in enough pain to ask even a small question to strangers on the internet, you’d better believe that pain is a) strong and b) not unique.

The exact way multiple people ask the same question might differ, but any underlying problems are very likely to be shared with others.

Because profitable audiences travel and communicate in groups, if your Ebomb is able to help just one person, it’s very likely that that person will recommend your posts to other people they know.

And the next time you spot that question in the wild, you can link the asker to the Ebomb you already wrote.

This saves you time and energy — and builds your reputation as someone who already gets their problems, and knows how to help them solve it.

3. Write like you’re responding to an individual person.

Another major component of writer’s block is voice.

Is your written voice different on your blog than it is over email? And is it a major struggle?

If so, it’s probably because you have an unclear picture of whom you’re writing for.

One you’ve got over what to say, the question remains: how should you say it? The answer isn’t to fret about your personal style so much as fake it.

That specific question you found? Answer it specifically. Pretend you’re writing an email directly to the specific person who asked it. Stop imagining that you are performing on a stage for a large and unknown audience, and instead focus on helping just one person.

And watch stylistic writer’s block disappear.

When you apply this method, your readers might even get the feeling, “Wow, it’s like they wrote this just for me!”… even when they read your Ebomb long after you wrote it.

Your Homework Challenge!

Remember how we defined Ebomb way up at the top? Actionable educational content marketing. What makes this a great ebomb is that we’re going to help you take action right now… just like if you were a student in our next 30×500 Bootcamp.

We’re assigning you homework.

Yeah, it may seem dorky to do “homework” from an blog post… but what matters more to you, feeling cool, or getting results?

Here’s how to apply what you just learned:

Find ONE question from your audience “in the wild” and answer it on your blog.

Following the guide above, you can ship the most basic kind of Ebomb.

  1. Find a specific question in a watering hole where your audience hangs out — forums, mailing list, even Twitter. Don’t overthink this step. It doesn’t have to be a “huge”, “important”, or even an unanswered question, but you do want your ebomb to be something that the reader can do.
  2. Address an answer specifically to that person.
  3. Ship it, by posting it on your blog.
  4. Share the link with them.

It’s really that simple to get started. Sure, you can get fancier… and yes, Ebombs can & should be written with an eye towards a bigger goal… but you don’t need to start that way.

Start with just one blog post. One simple question, one simple answer.

Ready to take the next step to keep growing your audience, and build a bootstrapped product business?

It all starts with our 7 core bootstrapping lessons, tailored to creative folks like you.

Drop your name in the box below, and you’ll get all 7 lessons straight to your inbox for free (plus more upcoming how-did-you-do-it interviews and case studies!):

Get our 7-day no-BS guide to avoiding common startup mistakes