Webinar: Write like a Pro — Tips from Veteran Journalist Dr. Kenna Griffin

Watch the replay of this free webinar sponsored by Content Journey and Digital Marketing Kitchen, as we learn from Dr. Kenna Griffin.

About the Event

Writing is one of the few things that you can simultaneously love and hate. It feels good to have written, but it can be dang difficult to get those words on the screen. It’s the same way a lot of us feel about exercise. We dread it and hate it during the process, but we’re so glad to have done it.

In this free webinar you’ll learn how to exercise and strengthen your writing muscle with tips from a veteran journalist.

You’ll learn:

About the Speaker

Dr. Kenna Griffin has been a writer, editor, and educator for more than two decades. She is a self-proclaimed word nerd.

Griffin is the content director for Content Journey, an Oklahoma-based content marketing company. She also is an adjunct journalism professor. She was a full-time professor and college media adviser for nearly two decades, following a career as a professional journalist.

Griffin has a Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. She researches the relationship between emotional trauma, journalism professionalism, and organizational support.

When she’s not doing nerdy word things, Griffin likes to read (more nerdy word things?), swim, or just be outdoors in the sunshine and spend time with her family and their four dogs.

Contact Dr. Kenna Griffin

About Cory Miller, Host and Sponsor

Cory Miller at Content Journey

Cory Miller is a passionate entrepreneur who believes in finding and maintaining work happiness while challenging you to do great things with your life. In 2008, he started iThemes, a pioneer in building cutting-edge web design software and training, which he grew into a multi-million dollar enterprise, and sold to Liquid Web in 2018. In addition to being a regular leadership speaker, trainer and writer, he is the co-author of WordPress All-in-One for Dummies (Wiley, 2011).

Contact Cory Miller

About Digital Marketing Kitchen

Digital Marketing Kitchen is run by Co-Founders Cory Miller and Rebecca Gill. Their aim is to make business owners’ lives awesome by helping them find, connect, and communicate with their tribes through SEO, content, and email marketing.

Their courses and live events combine over a decade of real-world experience to teach you how to be successful in search, content marketing, and email lead generation. Join them to learn what they focused on, what they did, and how it helped them create profitable and sustainable businesses that were grown through their digital marketing efforts.

Machine Transcript

Cory Miller: Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Digital Marketing Kitchen. This is a special webinar we’re putting on today in conjunction with Content Journey. I’m so pumped to have a longtime friend and my, my, one of my first colleagues at my first newspaper job out of college. And when I say out of college, meaning I just quit college and went to work professionally in the industry that I loved.

[00:00:27] This thing called newspapers, if you’ve heard of them. My guest today is an expert and friend Dr. Kenna Griffin. We’ve known each other for a long time. We said we wouldn’t say how long, but gosh, you have had this amazing career. We got to catch up, I think, six months ago or so, or maybe longer.

[00:00:46] And just seeing what you had been doing, it’s so awesome. And I thought, no one else better to talk about writing tips than you. You’re the director of content at Content Journey. Could you tell us a little bit of more about yourself and your background.

[00:01:00] Dr. Kenna Griffin: So we started all those years ago at that little as suburban newspaper. I went there straight out of college as well. I was there for three months before I became the managing editor and I was the youngest person in the building. And I’m pretty sure I screwed it up really badly. Because I did not know much about management. I knew a fair amount about journalism. But then I was recruited from there to go work in our major Metro and I worked there for several years until I was recruited again, to go teach journalism and advice, student media and my Alma Mater. And I was there for 16 years during which time I got my PhD in journalism and like I said, I advise student media, I taught journalism, I taught public relations. I taught a little bit of marketing. And then it was just time for me to make a change. So, I took a little bit of time off and I applied for a lot of jobs because COVID happened. While I was taking a little bit of time off, I did not expect that. And then you and I just happened to reconnect, and I met Lindsey who I had not met before. And it was just that perfect opportunity all over again.

[00:02:10] So I am living my best life working in a job that is absolutely perfect for me, with a team that I adore and the majority of the writers who I manage are former journalists and there’s definitely something to be said about, and for that right, coming from the journalism industry and to any type of marketing or any type of writing at all. The thing that I love about journalists and Lindsey, and I have talked about this and you and I may have talked too before, is that journalists are not afraid of any type of content. They’re not afraid to tackle any story. They’re not afraid to dig into something that they don’t understand and really be able to pare it down so that people get the gist, so I love them.

[00:02:55] Cory Miller: That’s So good. I never thought about that, but I can totally see that. So many times when let’s say at my former company, iThemes, when we’re getting ready to send an email to 600,000 people, everybody would be like, okay hold on. Should we check it like three more times? And I’d be like push publish. And I think it was that thing of journalism, that fearlessness you’re talking about it. And I’ve tried to take that unique value or whatever into different businesses, but you’re absolutely right. I think that’s instilled in this. We’re the, what is it, Fourth Estate, and our job is to keep accountability. At least the way I was trained and I know you were too, but we’re supposed to write, just report the facts, not inject ourself in it. But we’re the ones that are often with the first responders to the disasters and destruction and the hard things in life. And I didn’t think about that until you just said that, but you’re absolutely right. Fearless.

[00:03:45] Dr. Kenna Griffin: One of the greatest compliments that, you know, something I learned in J school and then our former editor, David one time said to me, you are not afraid of any story. And it was one of the greatest compliments that I’ve ever received, because that’s what I was taught.

[00:04:00] You go out and you figure it out. You talk to people until you understand. And gosh, we didn’t really have now I’m really going to age myself, but we didn’t have the internet. Like we didn’t have Google to just go learn about anything when I first started in reporting. And so now it’s you can just learn about anything at your fingertips. Access to information is incredible and why be afraid?

[00:04:25] Cory Miller: I’ll tell ya, my journalism skills have served me so much, even if I’m not in the field or haven’t been in the field for very long time. I’ve used those skills of a journalist so many times, but you just nailed it again.

[00:04:36] I’m having a hard time getting past that because the fearlessness that’s part of it. It’s like If you make a mistake, it goes to a bunch of people and it’s not like the internet where maybe it gets cached on the internet, but you can push the link real quick or edit it. But on print, back in the day, it was out there.

[00:04:54] And also that you would be publishing maybe a unpopular opinion or not even an opinion, even asking the question about a particular event could be very unpopular for a lot of people and make it very uncomfortable for you too.

[00:05:10] Dr. Kenna Griffin: So, doctors put their mistakes in the grave. Lawyers put their mistakes in the jail, journalists, put their mistakes on page one for the whole world to see.

[00:05:17] And you’re right. The fastest way to find your error is to click publish. It is. If I can tell a little story, my sister-in-law also my best friend is a physician. And one day we were on the phone after work, doing that thing you do. Like, how was your day? How was your day? And my students had done something that day that I was complaining about. I said why did you have a bad day? And she said I had to tell one of my favorite patients that he has terminal cancer and I thought first of all, you win the bad day at work award, like that’s terrible. It really puts everything in context.

[00:05:51] And I’ve used this story so many times with my students and other writers who I train, no matter how badly Cory Miller screws up that email, that’s going to a whole ton of people, no matter what type of embarrassing typo it, has in it, nobody died. The stakes are not that high in this work. They’re high, but they’re not that high.

[00:06:10] So let’s not get so caught up in the details and perfection of it. There’s no such thing as a perfect email. There’s no such thing as a perfect blog post. There’s no such thing as a perfect newspaper. We want to get as close as we possibly can. But at the end of the day, when and if we make that little mistake that probably no one is going to notice but us, nobody perishes as a result of that. We learn from it and we get better next time.

[00:06:38] Cory Miller: Okay. I love that because the last two weeks I started my own little journey on clicking publish again. And it’s been good because I feel like at the heart and soul, I’m still that little 18… no, I wasn’t 18, I was like 23 or something, journalist. And so passionate about, when we say journalism, I think it’s a standard of writing that is unparalleled in any other occupation I’ve seen related to what we do. But that whole fear and profession you just hit is so key and the reason why I haven’t published very much. Beyond time, I could say I’m busy busy, but let’s dive into that.

[00:07:19] The things that hold us back from clicking publish and I think it’s a perfect segue with this fearlessness quality of journalism. Kenna so much, I know you probably battle it yourself, but also your students, now team and different people is, what do you see as the biggest thing that holds people back from writing in the first place and clicking, publish.

[00:07:39]Dr. Kenna Griffin: Putting their rear in the chair and putting words on the screen. Somebody tweeted yesterday something about what I love about writing is how clean my house gets. So you’ve experienced that, right? There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Let me just put that out there. And that’s a really unpopular opinion, but there it is. What it is, is procrastination because you’re afraid.

[00:07:59] And what you’re afraid of is uncertainty usually about your topic. So for me, What I tend to do is sometimes clean your office, organize your calendar, whatever. But for me, I tend to research and research way more than I need to. Instead of just starting you’ve got to get words on the page, you can’t edit nothing.

[00:08:21] But a lot of times, once you get started, you will see that it might be painful. Maybe you’re not in a flow state. Maybe it’s not going as well as you thought it was. But then you look back on it and you’re like, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was. Or at least I have something here to work with. Like you got to start. So, for me, it’s put your rear in the chair and make yourself write. Also, of course the deadline, the great motivator is the deadline. So those are always helpful, but also like embracing your time, like figuring out when your best writing time is. And you said something about not having time to write and you’re never going to have time to write.

[00:09:05] Nobody’s going to say, Cory, take this hour every day and write this thing. Nobody’s going to say that. So, you have to figure out when is your most productive writing time? When are you more likely to be in a flow state? For me, it’s first thing in the morning I’m just fresher. My head is more clear.

[00:09:23] So if I know I need to write that day, I sit down with my coffee, first thing, and I start to write. And I don’t do or look at anything else until the writing is done. For some people it’s at night. But just figuring that out and then book that time with yourself and guard it. Keep it as if you had an appointment with somebody else, because no-one’s going to give you that time.

[00:09:44] Cory Miller: So, book the time.

[00:09:48] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Book the time and give yourself some time to think too. So oftentimes, and I’m real guilty of this, I’ll do without thinking, okay, what is this really about? What is the problem that we’re really trying to solve for the reader? Or what is it that we’re really trying to communicate? Or how is this piece going to be better than what’s already out there? Because there are no new ideas in it. It’s how am I going to write it differently? How am I going to put my unique voice on it? How am I going to do it better than someone else has done it?

[00:10:22] So, a lot of times when I was a reporter I would pull over to the side of the road on my way back to the office from an interview and write my week, because it was going over in my brain and if I didn’t write it down, I was going to forget it. A lot of times I’ll do that with content pieces now. So, I’ll start thinking them out, thinking about the keyword, thinking about that intro, right? Because it’s everything to whether or not someone’s going to keep on reading or not. And just kind of mull that over in my brain until a light bulb goes off.

[00:10:54] Now it’s not too long because then you’ll procrastinate. It’ll become that block or whatever.

[00:10:59] Cory Miller: So, when we talk about journalism, for most part, it was reacting to me, it was reacting to something that had happened, which was a good prompt for me, when we’re talking about writing and often the space and the work that you do and I do in the world, it’s not necessarily reacting all the time. It’s trying to put something out that is good and worthy and practical and helpful. Entertaining, perhaps even. And that’s a distinction I’ve just realized there too. But when we go back to the afraid part for a second, it is all those things. And I think I have a higher quality level internally that keeps me from publishing, which is why I did the click publish, and I was like, no SEO, I’m going to write a cool title and try to get my point across and be as clear as possible. But for me it just takes time. I have to put ideas out there and then refine them with good feedback. Good editors or good people interacting with whatever idea or thought that I put out there. And that’s so critical for me to make it better. Like first version of the sculpture goes out and it looks just like a kind of muddy mess, but with time, thought all that kind of stuff… That’s just about how I do it. But I love your point about just pick the creative time, get in front of the computer. Start typing. Start writing.

[00:12:16] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Yeah, I think Stephen King calls it the writing habit. And it’s ‘On Writing’ is the name of his book, he calls it the writing habit. He’s an incredibly productive writer, regardless of what you think of this genre, just the amount of publishing he has done, it’s impressive. And that’s his thing. He has an office space that he goes to every day, and he sits and he writes whether he feels like it or not. Whether he’s afraid to publish or not. I don’t think there are any writers out there, and I was saying this before, I don’t think there are any writers out there that aren’t afraid of writing. That don’t think it’s difficult or who aren’t a little bit concerned when someone else goes to read what they’ve written. I could identify for you people I think are great writers and I would not identify myself in that category, because I don’t think that any of us think our writing is good enough ever. And so it’s that minimal shippable product that you hear of a lot in business, is it good enough to go?

[00:13:21] Cory Miller: I can do this for other people Kenna, and I did it for my team, but it’s tough for myself of going okay Cory, I have to be my own coach in my head. I’m like, I’ll get tripped up on those things.

[00:13:30] But you just said something, we were talking about this in the pre-show. I want confession time. I’ll go first.

[00:13:38] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Okay.

[00:13:39] Cory Miller: You’ve already hinted at it, and you said in the pre-show, writing is the hardest thing I do professionally. And I did it for a while, a fair enough time. And it was brutal. In retrospect. Like getting in front, trying to write something that you think is clear, getting your point across. Even when I was doing reporting, hardest thing I did. That’s my confession. Even as a journalist. I love it. Love the skillset. I used it prolifically in my business. But it is the hardest thing that I do professionally.

[00:14:13] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Absolutely. I love writing. And I also hate it. But I love having written, always. But some days it is just brutal isn’t it? And as a journalist, that deadline coming. So you don’t really have a choice, but to sit down and write every day.

[00:14:32] Now as a content writer, it’s a little bit different because there are some days that I come into the office and I think, gosh, I really don’t want to write today. And I don’t necessarily have to, but if I don’t there’s going to be this ripple effect where I’ll have a day that I have to write like a whole bunch. And so you do have to get into that writing routine. But sometimes it just flows, and you just feel like everything you write is beautiful. And then other days it is just sitting down at the typewriter and bleeding, to borrow a quote.

[00:15:06] But gosh, yeah, it can be really tough. One of the things that some people ask about is this format. And I see this on Twitter sometimes, I love my Twitter. But on Twitter, where people say, if you’re writing as a format, you’re doing it wrong. And I absolutely disagree. Because all writing is a format or a formula, and journalism, we use that inverted pyramid. The most important information to the least important. You go intro, nutgraph, first great quote, body, and then it just ends.

[00:15:41] In content it’s no different, right? You got to have that great intro with your keywords, right? So that’s where your creative thinking comes in. How do I get my keywords into this introduction that pulls somebody in, right? Then you essentially have a nutgraph. You put it into context or introduce the client depending on what you’re writing. And then for me, instead of that first grade quote, it’s that fact. That thing that puts it all in context. Like, why do we care? In journalism we call it the whogas, who gives a shocking, right? Why should I care?

[00:16:17] And then you go through the body of your information, which in content is a lot of times your H2s. It could be a number of lists. It’s your bullet points or whatever. And then instead of just ending, you summarize and call to action.

[00:16:31] And it’s all a format. And so people who are like it can’t be a format. And I’m like, of course it’s a format. The difference is how you use the words and approach the issue. We would call it a frame or focus in journalism. That’s the difference. And I can write a news story start to finish in 30 minutes max with interviews. Because it’s all about plugging stuff into that formula. And the same thing is true in content writing. It’s all about using your unique words. Thinking about the client, right? What do they need to know? It’s really teaching, like you’re solving their problem. You’re teaching them, you’re helping them, you’re educating them. But you’re still putting it into that formula.

[00:17:15] Cory Miller: I love formulas. Lindsey and I were just talking about this. I said, I didn’t just wake up one day and go I’m a great writer. Like I said, it’s been a struggle forever and I’m the same way, I never think the things I’ve written are very good. And that’s my own negative self-talk. But what journalism gave me was that formula that you talk about. When you just laid out your rough formula there for a second it’s so interesting, because at the end, that’s the difference between news reporting and what we do now, content marketing, content writing for the web, but we’re still trying to get them to something. Like you said, the call to action.

[00:17:49] And I’ve been thinking about that more and more. Tell me if I’m on base to me. It’s okay, headline should hook them. Hey, this is me. And I just saw Cory, this is for you in the headline, somehow. Something that I’m trying to learn or do, and then I get into it. And what you’re trying to do, I think is persuade me, convince me, educate, teach me into doing that final call to action. I read about this subject Dr. Kenna Griffin has published. I go down interesting intro. Okay. And it should deliver you to the action. Am I off base or what do you think about that?

[00:18:26] Dr. Kenna Griffin: That’s exactly it. So, in journalism as we get further down the page, and then we just end because we’re done right. More of what we would call a funnel, in content marketing, because we’re trying to lead them, as you said, which is that action that we hope that they will then take. And we’ve established throughout this, our resource. So that when they get there, they think, oh, I do, would this organization help with XYZ.

[00:18:53] And so I should reach out or ask a question or post a comment or whatever it is that we’re trying to get them to do.

[00:19:00] Cory Miller: So, when you start a piece, do you think about that call to action first? Or where does that come in? Cause you’re writing the piece to take them on the journey, but ultimately you want them to decide to do whatever you’ve called them to do in your CTA call the action. When do you think about that?

[00:19:18] Dr. Kenna Griffin: I know what it needs to be when I’m writing the piece. But to me, that introduction is the most important thing, because we know that the average reader doesn’t get beyond the first, and we’re not talking about paragraphs in a novel, we’re not talking five or more sentences and depth, we’re talking about paragraphs that might be two or three sentences each. So, most people don’t even get to our first H2. So, knowing that, we got to figure out how to entice them from the very beginning, or we’re never going to get them to the end.

[00:19:52] So it ties them there. Then they’ll probably going to read our H2. Hopefully the content, maybe not, right? And then get to our call to action. So, I just the lead is everything. The intro is everything to me.

[00:20:06] Cory Miller: Yeah. It’s like in the newspaper days with print, you had enough of the story and the headline needed to hook them to learn more, and then it was like, okay, continued on page four. Whatever you’re doing, you had to hook them enough to keep them going. It seems like every element’s like a domino. It’s like headline, okay, nutgraph. How do you keep them going all the way to the end? And then for the difference with journalism and content writing for the web, like we do is deliver them to the action that you want them to do.

[00:20:35] I like that frame a lot. Okay. Hey, everybody is, I’m talking to Kenna you’ve already started to post questions. Thank you so much. Keep doing that. I want to cover a couple things and then I want to make sure we get to your questions.

[00:20:46] Okay, Kenna, there’s a bunch of things we could be talking about here, but we talked about writer’s block and perfectionism. I’m trying to get around that, but a lot of the questions that came in were around two themes and you were so helpful to say this, how do I get ideas? And how does the process work? Which one do you want to tackle first process or ideas? Because I’m so curious.

[00:21:07] Dr. Kenna Griffin: We got to get ideas before we can go anywhere.

[00:21:09] Cory Miller: Okay. So many people ask and I’m curious about it too. This morning, when I was getting ready to click publish, I’ve got my little idea log and I get tripped up on which one should I pick to write about? And usually it’s the easiest one, but I’m curious. Okay. So how do you get ideas? And by the way, you blogged for solid year, every single day or five days a week, workdays a week, for a solid year. So, you’ve been through this, not only professionally, but you’ve done this kind of thing of publishing every day. How do you get ideas to write about?

[00:21:39] Dr. Kenna Griffin: So, when I was writing for my blog, like you said, five days a week for a year, I used the content bucket philosophy. And so I had certain things that I would post on certain days.

[00:21:50] On Mondays I posted a list of media jobs because I thought it would help students. On Fridays I posted internship. On Thursdays I posted some kind of quote or writing. And then Wednesdays I’m sorry. On Tuesday I posted the quote. Wednesdays and Thursdays were like my more long form things.

[00:22:06] And so I would try to do something on Wednesday about writing and something on Thursday about leadership or management, because I have a student media staff that I advised. So, looking at those content buckets I think is super helpful. Not just, I’m going to sit down and write every day.

[00:22:21] But what does my audience need to know or want to know from me? And putting yourself in their shoes, right? What is it that I can provide? Where does my expertise help them. And that’s, if you’re Cory Miller right on your site. If you’re writing for a client it’s different, right?

[00:22:40] Because then you’re looking at what are the keywords that have been identified and the SEO research. And then based on that, what do people need or want to know who are going to be looking at our site or looking up those words? So you really have to get to the mind of the audience and think when they’re looking, when they’re Googling, what are they searching for and how do we best help them?

[00:23:05] One of the things… so go ahead.

[00:23:08] Cory Miller: Oh, I just wanted to, but you’re sharing so much gold I want to make sure. So, one thing is you said, map out the days, essentially. Mondays do that. Tuesdays do that. If that’s your intention to go 30 days. I really like that because mine is free form. I have to show up and every single day I got this pressure of what the heck am I going to write about. You planned that beforehand. You say Mondays you should do this. Tuesdays you should do that. Thursdays have that. That’s like going back to the newspapers again. It’s like the old days. Every Friday there was a column or something like that, and here was the topic of the column. Okay. I like that. Keep going, please. I just want to make sure I emphasize…

[00:23:41] Dr. Kenna Griffin: That’s the classic story budget, right? Here’s what we’re going to write about this week. On Monday we’re going to write this. On Tuesday, we’re going write this. I can see how that would be a little bit paralyzing Cory to sit on every day and go, okay, I’ve told myself I’ve got to blog today. What the heck am I going to write about today? Instead, I would have it out for the week and I would go Monday I’m going to write about this. Tuesday I’m going to write about this.

[00:24:05] Cory Miller: Tell me more about story budget. Tell me what you mean there.

[00:24:08] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Just the list of stories that we would put in any issue of the paper, right? This is what we’re going to cover for this particular edition.

[00:24:16] Cory Miller: So maybe I could frame it as: every week I’m shipping something like in magazine newspaper, and I know these topics are in my story budget.

[00:24:26] Dr. Kenna Griffin: I know I’m going to write about leadership on Thursday. I’m going to write about writing on Wednesday. I’m going to do a book review on Tuesday, right? Whatever it is that you’re going to do. And then, if something comes up or you feel passionate about something in any given day, you were watching the Olympics and suddenly this idea for a blog post came to you, like just happened to you. You can always push that other thing when something comes up and you feel really passionate about it or you just start to flow. I’ve opened the notes on my iPhone before and written a blog. Sitting in the car, sitting in a waiting room, sometimes in bed, something just comes to you.

[00:25:06] Cory Miller: Yeah, you got to capture it. I keep a notebook with me at all times and the portable mobile. So okay, if I’m framing this for other people listening to this, it’s saying, okay, as a company, you could say, my audience is this: professionals, lawyers, let’s just say. And my story budget could be I want to make sure I hit these topics. And then put that into a publishing schedule. That’s the way I interpret what you said. Am I on base off base there?

[00:25:33] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Yeah. Putting it into an editorial calendar right here are my keywords. So, they’re my content buckets. They’re basically the topics I’m going to write about. Now what does my audience need to know? Within these content buckets. And how am I going to write it differently or better than what’s already out there? Because you probably, again, you’re probably not writing something that no one’s ever written about before. So how are you going to write about it differently or better instead of just repeating what’s already out.

[00:26:04] Cory Miller: The one-on-one dimension. When you said that earlier to somebody just I’ve read it somewhere. And I don’t know how to attribute it. Remember off the top of my head, but it’s do the unexpected. Is everybody writing 2,000 word posts here? Or 300 words or whatever that is, do the unexpected because you’re right, everything has been done before under the sun. All right. So we’re putting in buckets, we’re thinking about those things and then we’re reverse engineering. How often maybe the question could be, how often do we want to ping our audience, customers, prospective customers? I say Kenna on broad prescription I give most organizations is two times a month minimum. If it meets the criteria of it’s helpful, it’s helping them move. They’re trying to get from A to B. The customer, the audience, the prospective customers, and your content should help them on that journey in the kind of like niche or theme of the business that you’re trying to do.

[00:27:07] And then but you would reverse engineer and go, okay, this is what my audience needs most. And then go to schedule that.

[00:27:13] Dr. Kenna Griffin: And, I think four times a month, this is actually perfect once a week, but the most important thing is choose the schedule that best fits the needs of your client. And stick with the schedule so that they know if I show up to CoryMiller.com at 9:00 AM on Wednesday, there’s going to be a new post. So, they begin to rely on you and know when they can find new information.

[00:27:38] Cory Miller: Consistency. Show up.

[00:27:40] Dr. Kenna Griffin: You always have your notebook. And I think that is so important. Never assume when you have a great idea that you’re going to remember it because you think this is the best idea I’ve ever had, and there’s no way I will forget it.

[00:27:52] And you will not remember it five minutes later. You have to write it down. That’s another tip for always having ideas is keeping an ongoing list of things that your audience needs. So, for me, if students ask a question a lot, or something came up in the newsroom or in the classroom, I would write that down because I would know that’s a blog post later, because if my students need to know other ones do.

[00:28:13] Cory Miller: Yes. That’s how I started. I know you know this story, but in 2006, I started my first professional blog. And it was the same thing, it was about my work, and I was trying to help people that didn’t have a full-time me in this organization. And when somebody from my team would come up and ask me a question, I’d go, great blog post. Cause I’d have an answer in my mind and I would share it. And I was like, huh. Go over there, click blog post, start writing.

[00:28:36] But here’s the difference, and this is part of my own block that I put my own way, is for some reason that transition from just helping somebody that has a similar question get the answer, to, oh Cory it has to be 1,500 words. You have to make sure you research it. Does it go into your SEO plan? And that has, probably it’s my own fault and responsibility, but tripped me up so many different times. When the purpose of our writing is to help somebody get mostly from A to B. Whatever, trying to persuade them or show them or teach them, it’s so that they’re transformed at the end of that in some even seemingly tiny way.

[00:29:15] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Yeah. And I’ll tell you, I hate the word counting, for me is the problem. I hate word counting. My students would say, how long does this need to be? And I would say write until you’re done. Because in journalism, when you’re done. And that’s still my advice to the writing team. We don’t want it to be super short. We also don’t want it to be super long. But we provide them with an outline and resource links. So right until you’re done, it’ll be there. Don’t use words, just use words. That’s not going to offer your client or your reader, any value. Instead, you want to choose the best words and put them in the most sensible order. Not just write words.

[00:29:52] Two other things for ideas that I think that’s super important. And I think this might help you too, with your, like you said, you’ve got your SEO list and now have all this pressure. Number one, childlike curiosity. And you have children. So you know when you’re with a two year old, right, what does a two year old asked you nonstop? Why?

[00:30:12] Cory Miller: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:30:13] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Why about everything. And this is where that, because I said so comes in, right? Because you get so tired of answering the why, but you just like, because I said so, I don’t know. But that is not a good enough thing. So, ask the why behind everything? The other thing that I am a huge proponent of that I think helps with so many ideas is really you got to read everything you get your hands on. It doesn’t matter what it is. I tell students I don’t care if you’re reading Playboy or the New York times. I hope you’re reading both, at least something. Because everything that you read is going to give you ideas. Gonna bring you value, and it’s going to make you a better writer, whether you’re critiquing it or at admiring.

[00:30:54] Cory Miller: Yeah. Now, would you nuance that and say, read good writing? You talked about I don’t like horror, thrill type things that Stephen King is, but his book is incredible. And the book that we were talking about, I know you recommend is ‘On Writing’. If I just reread that book, that is amazing, concise, brief. I’m like every word feels like a treasure and that makes me better because I’m Ingesting that continually. So, would you nuance it and say, read good writing? Or try to read good writing or just read?

[00:31:25] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Just read. Because even if you’re reading bad writing, you can go, oh wow, that’s really bad writing. What would I do differently? That’s good. What’s good writing. And what’s bad writing. It depends, there are probably books that you loved that I hated and vice versa. So, I think I don’t want to put limitations around people because the truth is the average person doesn’t even read a book a year. I just want you to read, I don’t care what you’re reading. I don’t care if you’re reading about your blog posts and a niche blog that has nothing to do with your work. If you let reading it, read it.

[00:31:58] Cory Miller: Okay. All right. Any other takeaways for ideas? Cause I want to make sure I take as much good time to talk about process next.

[00:32:04] So on ideas front, anything else that you have that you wanted to share?

[00:32:10] Dr. Kenna Griffin: I have so much I could share on ideas. I made some notes let me look. Oh, observing things around you. And not being afraid of what’s already done. I think we covered it pretty well. We did pretty well.

[00:32:23] Cory Miller: And the muses are really good that you mentioned too, is the beginner’s mind, childlike mind?

[00:32:27] I actually have gotten ideas for posts, just talking with my kids. I’m like, oh, this is a great takeaway for entrepreneurs actually. Okay. So, we just talked about ideas. Now let’s talk about process. So, we talked a little bit, we got into some process about having an idea log or somewhere where you’re writing things down and how you said what’s the creative flow state for you just getting started. But anything else on process that you might think about sharing?

[00:32:52] Dr. Kenna Griffin: One of the things that we do at Content Journey that I think is a little bit unique to us just based on other places that I’ve written, is we provide that great brief. So having just a little bit of an outline before you get started, so you know where you’re going. Because again, when we write content for marketing purposes, we are trying to get to a specific place. You can’t just meander around. You want it to be very linear where you’re going. So even if you grab a sticky note and you just say my intro, here’s basically what I’m going to cover. Here are my H2’s. Here are some sources I’m going to use. I think that the brief process, no matter how detailed it is, or isn’t, it’s super helpful.

[00:33:39] Cory Miller: I know you all have such a great process at Content Journey and Lindsey actually was on months ago with Digital Marketing Kitchen talking about writing briefs as a way, I love the way you do that.

[00:33:50] And it seems so interesting as a way to get past those stumbling blocks and things like that, but also not meandering like I’m prone to do if I don’t have some kind of outline. Now, when you say H2’s, I know you’re talking about the code HTML, H2’s, but what do the H2’s mean to you? Are they the major points that you’re trying to get across? What are those when you say.

[00:34:11] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Yeah, because I’m a journalist, right? I still say my headline, my read my subheads, but yeah, your H2’s are essentially the main points that you want people to take away. The key takeaways written in a way that’s creative so that it again makes them want to keep reading.

[00:34:27] Cory Miller: Even the skimmers.

[00:34:32] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Yes, because most of us, as much as people like us hate to admit it. Most of us don’t sit down and read, especially online. We’re on our phones and we’re scrolling. So, a friend of mine calls them the thumb stoppers. What is it that you’re going to have there that’s going to make the person stop their thumb. They’re going to stop scrolling. And they’re going to start to read that. If you can just outline. And you don’t have to have them perfect when you’re doing your outline. Just here’s the concept I want to make sure and get here. And then you can go back and rewrite them and finesse them.

[00:35:02] But yeah the main points that you want to make and then your sourcing is so critical. So just in journalism, some people are just these incredible interviews. The people who are always going to give you the great quote, and the person who never completes a sentence.

[00:35:17] The same thing is true in content writing. You have now got the entire internet at your disposal. What are you going to choose to use to back up your facts? And for me as a former journalist and a college professor, you can imagine that I’m pretty dang picky about what I’m going to link out to, or what I’m even going to consider for a statistic. You want to make sure that you’re spreading truth, not ignorance. And so, you want to be sure that what you’re writing is really well founded in fact.

[00:35:51] Cory Miller: So we’ve talked about ideas. We’ve talked about process. There’s some great questions and I want to make sure I get to Kenna, and I know you’re such a fount of wisdom for these types of things.

[00:36:02] Tina, and hi, Tina Cook, it’s good to see your name here. How do you suggest becoming a freelance content writer? So, someone’s ready to start making that jump. They’ve got some skills and have done some writing and they’re trying to take first steps to becoming that brilliant content writer. What thoughts do you have for them?

[00:36:24] Dr. Kenna Griffin: So, the toughest thing is that you have to be able to show that you’ve written in order to get a job writing. And so that can be very difficult. Obviously, I had a benefit of having been in journalism. So, I at least had some clips to show. But I will tell you after being in higher ed for so long, making a transition into content marketing, people would talk to me and they would say, why do you want this job? Like you’re a college professor. Why do you want to come do this thing? Or what clips do you have? Nothing at that point in time, really? I would say, think about starting a blog or offering to write for someone’s blog, that’s in a niche that, you know, and understand. Just so you have some clips that you can share.

[00:37:07] So, thinking about what it is that you really want to write, where your expertise, if you will, is. And then finding the people who are writing in that space already, or launching your own. And so, you have some things to show. We were talking about clicking publish, right? When I posted on my blog five days a week for a year, it opened up so many opportunities for me. Not only speaking or doing stuff like this, which I love, but also writing opportunities. So, finding content agencies like ours, like Content Journey that are looking to hire writers for specific niche topics. Like my goal is always to find the perfect writer for our client, right?

[00:37:53] Because we want to make sure that each client has an assigned writer that really knows their topic or their area. For me, I knew that in my next step in my next career, that my ideal situation would be to write about mental health, because it’s something that I have an expertise on and that’s really important to me. So just finding the right place for me to be able to use my skills together. In the beginning you can’t be as picky about what you’re writing. But I don’t love writing for free unless you’re going to get a lot of good experience out of it. You’re going to get some good by-lines out of it.

[00:38:34] Cory Miller: Oh, yeah. Oh gosh. Yes. So many good things there. And one is, if you’re learning it, like some here have been saying, is start blogging about what you’re learning. That’s an excellent way to start sharing your expertise. And actually, I think it’s one thing to read something the other is to try to impart it or teach it to someone else.

[00:38:53] That just really solidifies the learning too. So, I love those tips. Laurence says, and I love this question, doesn’t have a background in journalism or writing or all that kind of stuff. And doesn’t know the formulas. How should Laurence or others that are trying to start blogging and things like that, should they take a couple of courses and dive in? What should they do? What are your tips for just starting to learn this craft that we are all honing continually, called writing.

[00:39:22] Dr. Kenna Griffin: So, read good books. ‘On Writing.’ if you want to go to ContentJourney.com to our blog, I actually made some recommendations in a blog post just a couple of weeks ago about books for writers. Reading great blogs out there on the type of writing that you want to do. Webinars like this. There are also certification courses online. But going and taking a formal course, honestly, I don’t recommend that, which sounds terrible coming from a journalism professor. But you’re going to learn more about writing by writing than anything else. So, Cory was saying before the show started exercising that writing muscle and that’s absolutely the truth. Like the more you write the faster you’re going to get and the better you’re going to get.

[00:40:06] Cory Miller: Do you remember those old water pump. They were down into that, but then you had to hand crank them. It feels like that. You got to start cranking that water and something will come up and they’ll be like dirty. If he didn’t grow up, like around a farm, like probably, But, you keep doing it and you eventually started getting like really nice water out of it. But it takes cranks on the pump to do it. And I love your advice cause it’s so much comes back to read great work is what you said and just get writing.

[00:40:32] See what people resonate with. I just discovered that from doing my click publish exercise several people honed in on just me, the process of pulling up the pump, trying to get water out. Somebody’s like that right there, that was good. So now I kept that and go, I might expand that into something more, but by putting myself out there and doing that and having written now I know that little step.

[00:40:59] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Sorry, they’re here to do something on the lawn so the dogs are being distracted.

[00:41:07] Cory Miller: Okay. So, Drew asks a great question. Do you have guidelines about choosing the target audience for content writing? Is it better to dumb it down or to write for the people that know about the subject already? What’s the appropriate level of writing? I think is what Drew’s trying to ask here.

[00:41:23] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Totally depends on the client we’re writing for and their audience. So, understanding the client and their audiences needs. But in general, I would say it’s best to write as simply as possible. So that a person who’s not an expert in any given area can learn from your writing and to be able to solve a problem that they have.

[00:41:42]The average reader in the U.S. Is that about an eighth grade reading level. And so you want to write to the common person. The expert is probably not Googling looking for your help. The expert already knows. So, I would write more for an average person. But again, it’s totally dependent on if you’re writing for a client and what they need.

[00:42:03] Cory Miller: I usually try to think about that too, is what’s the lowest common denominator. But what helps me so much in super return, by the way, through this exercise is writing with a specific person in mind. Like my first blog series I ever did was writing to Dr. Mark Devine. And I would actually, as I recall, fire up an email and start writing and it flowed so much easier when I was writing to that person, but also, I’ve even asked where’s the story budget, earlier is that common denominator where jargon might come in and going, okay do I need to unpack that in my writing?

[00:42:38] Dr. Kenna Griffin: I smiled when you said that, because I would choose the students every year who was usually one of my student editors.

[00:42:44] And that would be who I wrote my blog to that year.

[00:42:48] Cory Miller: This is so much better when you’re writing to an actual person. Even if you’re writing it for everybody, you don’t say dear Emily, dear Dr. Mark Devine.

[00:42:58] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Right. Yeah. Because you know what their needs are and we call it writing for the ear versus the eye, right. In television you write for the ear, and print you write for the eye. But in content marketing, you write for both, because you write more the way you speak. Even though someone’s reading it. So, if you’re talking to Maria, what I did for a year, then you’re writing for Maria.

[00:43:23] Cory Miller: Okay. Tina asks a really good question. What about when you’re writing for sales pages and I don’t know how much work that you do in this when you write for a sales page type thing, but long form still considered getting good results, and you’re welcome to say, Hey, this is not the bag I specialize in, but what’s the formula for successful sales pages. You have any thoughts about that? The blog posts that you do, even from an eBook standpoint that you do, I know at Content Journey, but it’s all meant for that person, audience to take a next step. Do you have any thoughts as it would translate to a sales page?

[00:43:58] Dr. Kenna Griffin: I’m not as good at this. I will tell you I’m not as good at sales copywriting as I might be other types of writing. But I think a key point would be for it just not to sound super salesy, right? You still want it to be like you’re talking to that person and attempting to lead them to a way to solve their problem. And so that’s what I would focus on the person and the problem. And then, no offense to anyone’s profession, but I don’t ever want to come across like I’m trying to sell you a car. I always want to come across like I’m trying to help teach or educate you.

[00:44:36] Cory Miller: There’s a great book by Daniel Pink, ‘To Sell is Human.’ And it’s so good because it really comes back to what you said is you’re trying to teach somebody something. You’re trying to educate them about a subject, bring them along, moving from A to B.

[00:44:50] Laurence says, idea buckets are great if you’re writing for yourself, but what about your writing for clients? I find it impossible to drag stuff out of clients. And most of the time on my own to come up with content that I’m not an expert of. So here, it seems like Kenna that you’re freelance writer or otherwise you’re writing on behalf of the client and I know you do this every day at Content Journey, but you’re more of a reporter in a sense, I would think. But what’s your thoughts about that quick?

[00:45:14] Dr. Kenna Griffin: You still can identify content buckets because your client has things that they’re known for. Whether it be the services they offer or the concepts that they focus their business around, which also are probably their SEO keywords. So those keywords, those most general keywords or concepts begin to become your bucket. And then everything you write falls under them, and you might not be able to say, okay, on this day we write about this or on that day we write about this, but you can still use that concept to generate ideas.

[00:45:46] Cory Miller: And like you said earlier, beginner’s mind I think is so good. For the client that I work on, that you serve at Content Journey. I think it’s ideal actually, to not know all of the things, because you get to ask the questions more like probably prospective customer. They are the expert. I know, one of the clients you all have that I actually help with is a mental health treatment center. They’ll become a term and I’m like what’s your process? What’s your beliefs behind all these things. And that actually Lawrence, I would say helps, because if you listen to Kenna she’s saying childlike curiosity, start with the beginner’s mind. I think that actually helps because you’re more in the camp of the people you’re writing to because you’re not really writing to kinda the business or organization you’re writing to their client.

[00:46:29] Dr. Kenna Griffin: So what do they need to know? I keep going back to this question what’s their problem? How can you help them? How can you provide information that empowers them? And so for me, it is always discovery. Sometimes I write about things that I know a lot about, and sometimes I start from zero and honestly, I love those posts that I learned about. I say I wish that I could write for all of our mental health clients. I wish I could do all the writing cause that’s my bag. And even in editing that content, I’m just always so interested in what I write.

[00:47:01] Cory Miller: This is why I love by the way, sidebar, why I wanted to be a journalist. Sebastian Jr. came out with fire, I think it’s called. And I was like, I want a job that I get to test and pretend to be all the jobs I want to do. And the book was a compilation of all the experiences he had. And that’s why I love journalism writing is because it satisfies that sense of curiosity and learning for me. I could go tap in and learn about all these cool things.

[00:47:31] Dr. Kenna Griffin: We always have more ideas than we have time. We’re just so curious anyway. I’m like, if you don’t have ideas, I can help you. Cause I’ve got ideas.

[00:47:42] Cory Miller: I love it. Laurence said awesome. You’re getting me excited to write as opposed to being scared of it. Thanks a lot. And that’s exactly what we want to do today. I think we could spend the whole time just talking about this, getting over ourselves, our internal fears and worries, and concerns and getting out there and doing them. But I’m wondering what the last couple of minutes we have is any takeaways of inspiration.

[00:48:03] Someone wants to write and want to get better. Anything that you want to leave them with? You’ve shared so much golden nuggets along the way. But anything else you want to leave our audience?

[00:48:14] Dr. Kenna Griffin: That’s the only way. And no one feels like they’re a great writer. Cory I’m sure you’ve been told your whole life that you’re a good writer. I’ve been told since I was a little girl that I was a great writer. I still don’t look at my writing with the best critical eye. Like something that you wrote yesterday is always going to be embarrassing in comparison to something that you wrote today. One of the things that you did with your blog that I think we should praise, and we should do more often when we’re writing in our own spaces, which we don’t always have the benefit of doing, is that you got really vulnerable there. And one of the best posts that I ever saw from you was probably your most vulnerable post.

[00:48:55] When you talked about your own mental health struggles and just showing you humanity right was so moving to me. And I know you got so much feedback from it. It takes a lot of courage to do that, but if you have the ability and have the space to be able to really help people, you can even measure how many people you helped with that post.

[00:49:19] And if you have the ability that should be the goal, right? We’re not going to fill up the internet and we don’t want to. The goal, whether we’re writing for a client, whether we’re writing for ourselves, whether we’re writing for a student, should be showing up for them in a way that we can help them with some heartache. We can help them learn something. We can empower them with information, which is what we did as journalists.

[00:49:41] Cory Miller: That’s so good. I just want to leave it there. Cause that last thing, this is fantastic. Showing up as a human, putting yourself out there. Those are the posts that definitely you can feel the impact and response when you’re able to guard it and doing it really judiciously you open up. Every time I’ve shared something personal in my writing, it always gets resonance almost without a fault it gets resonance because it’s the unexpected, isn’t it?

[00:50:11] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Yeah, it is. And we got to do that for others too, right?

[00:50:17] Cory Miller: Dr. Kenna Griffin, tell us where we can find you beyond ContentJourney.com. And thank you so much again for doing this, but I’m going to put your Twitter address in here, but tell us where they can find you more.

[00:50:32] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Oh, they can definitely find me on Twitter cause I’m there way too much. Also, my blog profkrg.com. Same as my Twitter. Profkrg.com is a place where I write a lot of stuff about just really basic writing that might be able to help you learn and develop if you’re struggling with ideas or writing style. A lot of it is geared towards student journalists. Cause that’s what I was writing to at that time. And I think I’m about to pivot it. Once I feel like I know enough in this new discipline to really help. You might be able to find some nuggets there.

[00:51:03] Cory Miller: Okay. I put those two links to your Twitter and to your website. And by the way, just signed up because I can’t believe I’m not on the email list. So, know when you publish.

[00:51:11] Dr. Kenna Griffin. Thanks so much my friend for being here today and sharing your craft, the craft of writing and some excellent tips and takeaways for us to get going on clicking publish. Thank you for your time today.

[00:51:24] Dr. Kenna Griffin: Thanks for having me. I loved it. Thank you so much Cory.

[00:51:27] Cory Miller: You bet. Thank you all for being here. We’ll see you next time.

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