NGO comms: get past content panic, and publish

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Creating and publishing content for an NGO comms blog is a pain. Blogging is, to be sure, a very powerful way of talking about your organisation and your work, but there are times that it's just hard. For me, this is usually about the fact that there are so many options. If you're not careful, the many things you could possibly write tower over you and then collapse, with a strange sort of melancholy wheezing noise, into the very few things you have actually written. And the blog still sits there on your site, where it could be showcasing your work, desperately fallow and needing to be grown.

Making good NGO comms content

So how can you actually make things?

There are as many solutions to this problem as there are writers, and ultimately you'll work out a way of doing it that addresses your particular blindspots.

I actually think that a huge part of the task is accumulating confidence in the face of self-doubt. Ultimately, the only way to silence the fear that you'll never write anything good is to oppose it with the sheer tonnage of times that you've been scared and written something anyway.

But how can you know whether you've written anything of use until you've published it? And how can you publish something until you know it will be useful?

Call this Schroedinger's Content syndrome. Or content panic.

Happily, there are a few things you can do to help you get past this, and move content out of the category marked 'terrifying' and into the category marked 'getting it done'.

1. Get your ideas in a list.

Don't rely on being inspired for a topic before you write. Have your ideas early.

The best way of doing this is to create a content calendar for you or your team, so that you've got an idea of what you want to say, and when.

Brainstorm ideas together about what you want to say and who you're trying to say it to over the next month, or quarter, or year. Right now, just keep the topics broad.

Then look at the broad story you want to tell, and break it into specific points you want to make. Plan on creating a piece of content for each point, and then for each piece of content you want to create, make a summary of the content that identifies what the topic is, what audience it is for, why they care about the topic, and why you care about the topic. This will mean that, when you're writing, you don't need to worry about going off-course - you've got a pre-made bag of navigational tools to remind you of what your content actually needs to do.

2. Draft it then leave it alone.

Draft it, in this case, meaning just write the damn thing. Look over your content summary, and then whack your ideas onto the screen with abandon.

At this point, give yourself permission to have fun. Wilfully abuse the laws of composition. Write what you want to write in whatever order it comes to you. If you can't think how to finish a sentence but the next one is going to be fun to write, put a couple of spaces in before the full-stop and then write the bit that's in your brain now. Don't agonise. Write.

Then edit it a bit - but only a bit; just enough to make sure you've got a decent summary of your main points and the way one leads into the other. Go back through it and add in all the words you missed because you were too busy having fun writing the easy bits. Read it through and make sure that the individual bits feed into each other well, and the argument is logical.

The vital thing to remember about this part of the process is that the voice in the back of your head that's telling you your writing sucks has missed the point, and can therefore safely be ignored (and, if you have the spare energy, actively mocked). Your writing's not supposed to be good yet. It's a first draft. All first drafts are terrible. I honestly believe that the first draft of Macbeth contained a dance number, and Dylan Thomas' first attempt at 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' featured at least one painfully ill-advised fart gag.

And if they didn't, they were still probably awful. That's what first drafts are about. So ignore the voice that's telling you it sucks. Its opinion of the situation is inadequately informed. Just bang it all down.

Then walk away from the fight. Go and do anything else at all. Look at the ceiling. Work on your expenses. Spend 5 minutes on YouTube. Contemplate the infinity of time. Just don't think about your writing.

3. Do not panic.

Seriously, it's not as bad as you think.

3a. Start editing.

Re-reading your work may well induce despair in you; but again, remember Shakespeare was here first and he turned out alright. Now's the time to introduce some discipline. Go into the unruly mob of words you have created, and regulate.

Start at the beginning, and make sure your opening contains a clear statement of what you want to say. Then move through your post, from intro to first example to core argument to further examples to conclusion and summary. The precise structure of your post will depend on your argument and the examples you want to use to make it, but the important thing is that your post is about one thing, and that all the ways it talks about that one thing are clearly linked to one another.

Try to make your blog follow a structure that reiterates your main point. Tell people what you're going to say; say it; tell people what you said.

Then go through again and see if you can say anything in fewer words. If you can, do it. Be ruthless with your own prose. Kill your darlings.

4. Publish it and move on.

Get it in a shape you can be happy with by editing it. Then publish it, and edit the dumb typing mistakes that invariably get introduced at this stage. But then leave it.

Chances are you'll come back to it and read it again, and because you're viewing it with new eyes, after learning new things and living for longer, you'll want to change it. But unless there's a glaring error, don't edit the post. Instead, take the things you want to say now that you're looking back at the post from a position of experience, and write a new post about them. Openly point out what you got wrong and how your views have changed or refined.

This has two benefits: you're welcoming people into your process - showing and showcasing that you have a process - and you're treating your audience as confidants. If you confide in them, they will value your work more, because they understand that it's not a con-job, it's a sincere effort to make a difference.

GleanDave Burton