Mark Twain’s Tips for Creating Content
Creating good content is a lot of art, a bit of science, and a good understanding of your reader. When it comes to creating content, it makes sense to turn to the masters – those who have created works that live on for years. One of those, in my book, is Mark Twain.
Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Twain made iconic the white suit, smoking cigars and turning a phrase into a real zinger! He has been quoted, mimicked and the subject of many movies and plays. Recently Val Kilmer gave Twain credit for his weight loss and new found health, as he prepares to play Twain in his new movie. His best known works – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – are still well known and read today.
On Creating Content…
Twain understood how to create content that people wanted to read, talk about, and share. That is still our goal today, so it makes sense to take a few tips from him, and what better way than through these quotes:
“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”
The same applies to blogs, e-books, white papers – any content, visual or written, should get to the heart of the matter. What is the real purpose for the piece? Why does the reader care? What is in it that should be left out, or perhaps turned into another piece? Editing is a crucial component of good writing, so get a good editing process, or a great editor, to ensure your pieces stay on point.
“Write what you know.”
The truth is we all have access to a breadth of knowledge, and even more so with the Internet. I think Twain would have loved Google. He also would have realized that just because it’s out there does not make it correct, so having enough knowledge to at least perform good research is critical. Too often we see statistics or articles perpetuated through various channels that are not based on the truth, or real facts. Make sure you know enough to get to good, reputable sources.
“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction…
… By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.” The power of drafts and edits cannot be overstated. It a fast-paced environment, it is easy to think of content a “throw away” piece – one that is only there for a short period of time. The truth is that it will be there forever, so take the time to be clear and concise. Create a piece that you will be proud of later on.
“My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.”
Write for the reader, which means you need to really understand your target audience. Keeping it simple, easy to scan, and relatable will go much further than a piece that comes across as posturing so one can see how smart you are, or that you really know your stuff. Authority of subject matter comes from conversations that build trust, so use language styles that support the reader or viewer. C
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
This is one of my favorites. Clients often tell me they want short content, as though that makes it easier to write. If you apply the other Twain tips, then it makes sense that the shorter the content, the more difficult to create. Why? Because you must get to the heart of the matter, drill down on the important bits, and get rid of extraneous points. That takes a lot more work.
Mark Twain still influences people today with his witticisms, works and words. Take a few pointers from one of the masters, and your content can become the stuff of genius!
Would your content be considered water or wine?
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