Good Cooks and Good Writers Use Good Recipes

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It must be a wonderful thing to be one of those chefs in the TV cooking competitions, able to take a stack of surprise ingredients and instantly whip up beautiful, tasty dishes from them.

For most of us, if that’s what we had to do every day, it would just be overwhelming. Particularly when we are first learning to cook, startling creativity is not what we are after.

We just want good results from reasonable effort. After all, those flamboyant chefs spent a long time, years at least, faithfully following recipes until they developed the understanding and the skills they needed to pull off those creative miracles later in their careers.

Cooking Up Some Good Writing

If you dread writing, it could be because you are setting the creative bar too high. Whether you are writing an article or blog post, creating a give-away item for marketing purposes, or generating the content of your web site, you are “starting from scratch” with each item.

Unless you are fairly comfortable with writing, that can be a big deal, like asking someone who always dines out to prepare a nice home-cooked meal. It’s overwhelming, so you avoid it. And that means that marketing suffers, projects are delayed, and you experience much more stress than is necessary.

Collecting Recipes

Look at the writing you find useful and you’ll start to see some patterns. In fact, article writers talk about are “evergreen,” topics and formats that will always be popular, that will always have appeal and draw readers.

In your own experience, you’ve probably seen:

  • Case Studies: these are basically “before and after” accounts. The client had a problem, they engaged the freelancer’s services, their problem was solved, and the client lived happily ever after.
  • Common Mistakes: “The Five Common Mistakes That Are Holding You Back” or ” Seven Reasons Your Business Is Not Growing As Fast As You Want.”
  • Common Tips: “Incorporate These Six Principles into Your Web Site Design to Wow Visitors” or “The Three Key Elements of an Effective Case Study!”
  • How to Choose …: what to consider when looking for a web designer, writer, training consultant, or graphic designer.
  • FAQ: Yes, the Frequently Asked Questions approach is basically a recipe, one that just about everyone understands, whether as writer or as reader.

Find the recipes that are most common and most effective in your particular field. Then, within that type of recipe, look for differences between the examples that hold your attention and give you easy access to information, and the ones that don’t. For example, a common mistake with case studies is to make it all about the freelancer or consultant, when a case study should really be all about the client. (For more on that, read “What’s Wrong with your Case Studies” on my blog.)

Then choose a recipe and outline the content according to the formula, without being the least creative about the structure, the organization, of the piece.

Basically, you’re going to choose a generic structure that allows you to put most of your effort into filling in the “slots” in the structure with unique information about you and your business. You eliminate a lot of decisions, and a lot of creative pressure, around what you are going to write about, how you are going to organize it, and what you have to do to get good results.

After all, that’s the very definition of a good recipe: if you follow it, it will work. It might not be genius, but it will work.

Expectations On Both Sides

I’ll let you in on a little secret: your audience loves “recipes,” too.

I’m reminded of the classic Disney cartoons, from “Pinocchio” to “Snow White” to “Beauty and the Beast”. They follow a standard recipe: everything starts out very cheerfully, then things go awry and the hero teeters on the brink of disaster, only to end up living happily ever after.

Each of those films were truly great, but the story arc was hardly original. We know what we are signing up for when we enter the theater, but we are hoping it will be handled so masterfully that we will be enjoy the experience.

Let’s say case studies are easiest for you to create, if writing is not your strength. They are also easy for your prospects to follow! They know how the case study “story line” works already, they know what they are looking for, and, if the case study is done well, they will get something out of the story.

Busy clients and prospects often do not want to approach every bit of your marketing content — your articles, your case studies, your web pages — as unique creations that take careful attention to digest. They find it helpful to be able to predict very quickly how things are going to flow, so they can just follow the familiar structure and get the information they want very efficiently.

Cooking up a unique dining or reading experience is wonderful, when that’s what people want.

Serving up a familiar dish, prepared perfectly, is easier for you and, most of the time, more satisfying for your prospects and clients.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by viperagp.

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