The easiest way to write engaging content? Believe in what you're writing.
From voice to concept
If you've been writing for a while, you've probably spent some time thinking about voice. This is especially true for online content writers and bloggers because the voice you settle on becomes your online persona, which is intimately tied up with your brand. What you may not realize is that even if you've never written a story in your life—or never thought about storytelling in your life—ten to one you're following basic storytelling protocol.
Do you have a repellent, nasty, cynical online persona?
Probably not. And neither do 99% of the main characters you watch in movies or read about in books. That's because voices, like protagonists, need to be relatable to engage audiences. Another way of putting that is: readers need to be able to step into your shoes.
But even if you've nailed your voice, it doesn't necessarily mean you won't face the "empty white screen" from time to time. Just like with story ideas, concepts for posts and articles aren't always easy to come up with. If you're jealous of story writers here because they have the liberty to write about whatever they want—a carte blanche on imagination—don't be. It's true that it's no accident that creative writers rarely write stories they don't want to write. But it's not true that content writers can't enjoy the same freedom.
And the way to do that is pretty simple.
Have a stake
The New York City storytelling collective The Moth has some useful tips for aspiring spoken word storytellers. Some are basic, like knowing your story by heart before performing it before a live audience. Others aren't so obvious to writers that don't tell stories for a living. Like always having the end figured out before you take the stage.
Or having a stake.
Having a stake is likely something you've never encountered or thought about before in terms of writing, but it's one of those things that will probably change the way you think about writing forever, certainly if you depend on engaging audiences with your voice.
Having a stake is simply investing in your material.
Why am I writing this? What does it mean to me? What am I learning from it?
Do you ask yourself these questions before you sit down to write your 500 words? If you don't, you should. Because if you haven't invested in your writing, don't expect anyone else to. Phrasing the conversation in terms of stake also explains why how-to posts like 8 Ways to Peel a Banana (thank you, wikiHow!) ultimately fail.
Not because they're boring and useless, but because the writer has no stake in the material, which makes them boring and useless.
This doesn't mean every article or post you write has to be deeply significant or personal for you. For creative writers, the ability to step out of their own shoes is just as crucial as being able to put their readers into the shoes of their characters. But holding an audience will be much easier if what you write about actually means something to you. And it will keep you honest.
Just ask St. Dita Von Teese.
See how stake works by listening to Falen Johnson confront racism and her own personal biases while leading a group tour of Invisible Toronto.
If you've got your own ideas on audience engagement, feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Max's writing has appeared in a number of online and print publications in the US, UK and elsewhere. He's worked as a teacher, journalist, editor and copywriter. He's the founder and director of Write CY, where he teaches creative writing and blogging. His novel Dillo is forthcoming from Shotgun Honey in December 2017. Talk to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.