In this episode, we officially kick off the content writing training with Tara Struyk. Tara Struyk is the VP of Content at Janalta. She has contributed to starting a number of verticals from the ground up, including content research, selection, hiring, editorial guidelines and oversight, and setting up social media and content marketing.
In this introductory episode, she discusses;
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Name: Tara Struyk
What Tara Does: VP of Content at Janalta
Noteworthy: Tara is a writer and editor with several years of experience in online media. She specializes in writing about personal finance, real estate, and health and wellness.
Connect with Tara;
💡The Importance of Reading for Writers
Tara shares that becoming a better writer requires not only writing but also reading. She explains that reading helps writers observe, learn, and stay updated with industry trends. It allows writers to notice what works in content and what doesn’t. She suggests that reading both relevant and high-quality content is essential for improving as a writer.
💡Intentional Reading Practice.
She recommends setting aside dedicated time for reading, just like any other commitment, and having a reading list. This intentional practice helps writers stay immersed in their field, build good habits, and continually improve their knowledge and skills.
💡Selecting a Niche
When asked about choosing a niche, Tara suggests considering personal experience, deep understanding, and passion for a particular area. She also emphasizes the value of building relationships and contacts within the chosen niche. Being genuinely interested in the content makes it easier to connect with others and succeed in that niche.
💡 Thinking Like an Editor
Tara discusses the concept of thinking like an editor, where writers learn to assess the format, style, and structure of content. This perspective is valuable, especially for freelancers, as it helps them produce content that aligns with what editors are looking for. Tara stresses the importance of understanding how content fits into a publication and its target audience to impress editors and streamline the editing process.
Tara Struyk 0:03
Okay, so this is content writing 101 or content writing for everybody that’s joining by video.
Tara Struyk 0:10
So I’m just going to share my screen again. Right? Okay. So we’ll just zoom through this. So here’s kind of where we’re starting, we just did some introductions. But where we’re going to start may be kind of surprised everybody, because you’re all here to be a better writer. But I’m going to start somewhere really simple, around how to become a better reader. Improving your writing really takes work and practice and time. And you do need to write to improve as a writer, but you also need to read. And the way you read really impacts how much you’ll learn. And reading is something you can start doing, you know, right now just to start improving the way you see writing.
And that means both your writing and other people’s writing. I’m kind of talking about this as an editor, having been on the editor side, a lot and kind of seeing the mistakes that people tend to make as writers. And I think a lot of it comes down to how observant they are and how well they read and assess the work of the publications, they’re writing for the publications they want to write for, and even their own work. I also think, if you want to be really good at what you do, and it sounds like, that’s what all of you want, you’re looking to improve, it really helps to stay immersed in the space. Know the way writing is changing.
A few of you mentioned SEO, that’s something that’s always evolving. So it’s really important to have a good practice around reading. And staying on top of those things, it can help you figure out some of the areas you’re weaker in as a writer, or some of the things that you don’t know, or just kind of that saying you don’t know what you don’t know, if you aren’t sort of immersed in that space reading, looking at what’s happening in writing and content marketing and SEO, there’s going to be a lot of blind spots, spots for you that you just aren’t even aware of. So that’s where reading can really help you.
And for me, it also helps me keep me feeling kind of fresh and motivated in my work. A lot of you mentioned both today, and in the survey you sent out that, you know, staying motivated, staying really interested and kind of absorbed in the work you’re doing is hard. And that’s hard for anybody. So I think kind of reading can help. So what I’m going to kind of talk about today is how to start reading like a writer, and how to make a more deliberate practice around that, because that’s what’s really going to help you kind of move forward in your writing and in your career. So first steps to becoming a better reader should say reader.
Tara Struyk 3:15
So, first to start noticing how what you read impacts you. So when you read something that really grabs you, and I know everyone’s reading on the internet, whatever it is like a movie review, or, you know, whatever you’re into, start looking at it more like a writer or an editor like how did the writer do that? Why is it so interesting? Why is it getting your attention? Why, especially on the internet, why are you reading to the end of it, because that’s actually pretty rare, you know, we skim things we move on. So when you find things that really keep you, you need to start thinking about that more critically, and what that writers doing and how they’re doing that.
These are all skills that that that writer has learned and that you can learn as well and that you can absorb by taking notice of those things. And as you get good at that you’ll be starting to read more like an editor you’ll be start becoming aware of the formats and the style and the structure. And as a freelance Freelancer that’s really important because that’s what the editor who’s going to hire you is going to see. This is the person that you’re gonna want to impress. And the first the first step to doing that and helping give them what they want is just simply noticing that the way people read and write has really changed a lot over the years now that we do a lot of reading online paragraphs have become shorter and formal introductions are starting to disappear and a lot of SEO writer read a lot of SEO content. So just these are just things that you can and start to notice.
And also, as you’re kind of connecting with other people in the space, you’ll see discussions around that as well. And that’ll kind of just deep deepen your knowledge and understanding and thinking around those things. And maybe you’re already a reader. And you’re and you’re already reading all kinds of content. And that’s a good start. It sounds like some of you are, and I know the FCDC has some really good resources and Slack channel where you know, there’s a lot you can learn. But I think the next step, and what I’m kind of going to talk about here is reading content that’s relevant to the kinds of content you want to write.
So some of you talked about a niche, if you want to be writing in tech, or I know there’s a lot of people want to get into kind of writing for software as a service. Start reading the websites you want to be published on and start following the writers you want to learn more about our work kind of become, that’s what’s really going to start helping you hone your skills, improve your writing, and improve it in the right direction. So I wanted to pick an example. And I kind of struggled around. What kind of example do you choose when you have so many different people who want to write in different areas, what I decided to do is pick an article that the Chima wrote, because I think, you know, we know she’s a very good writer, but she’s also had a career trajectory, trajectory that I think a lot of you would like to have for yourselves.
So I think she’s a great person to choose. So I just pulled up this example. And I’ll put the link in an email after the class as part of the homework. But I think I’d like everyone to kind of read this and look at it. You know, there’s some good strategies for LinkedIn marketing, and those might be helpful to you. But then read it again, kind of that second layer more as a writer more as an editor. Why is this article interesting? Why would someone want to read it? Why is it good enough to I think it was on the SEMrush rise? Why is it good enough to be published by SEMrush? Let’s, we’ll dig into that in the next class. But we’ll kind of start learning how to look at this, more like an editor more like the writers that you want to become. And I think you can all start doing that on your own time in the content that you’re writing as well.
So when I’m talking about thinking like an editor, I’m an editor. I’ve been one for many years. And, you know, once you’ve been through a lot of content worked with a lot of different writers, you see a lot of the same things. And editors like everybody, they want to streamline their work, they want to avoid unnecessary hassle. And as a writer, you can really help them do that by reading a lot of the content they’ve published before submitting anything to them, so that you really understand what they like, and how the content should look.
And and who is reading it. I mean, the audience is really key. So what editors want is content that fits in with what they publish content that won’t require too much effort to publish. I mean, editors job is to edit, but we don’t want to have to rewrite rework, we don’t want to have to do more work than is required. And the best writers typically bring a piece to an editor that is pretty close, like at least we can look at it and see, yep, this is gonna fit, you know, a little bit of work, a little bit of polishing, a little bit of improvement, but this is something that I can see fitting in on the site.
Tara Struyk 9:06
So that, that kind of starts with reading
Tara Struyk 9:11
and formatting it, you know, style and structure. And a lot of you talked about style, too. So we’ll, we’ll do some work on that, but in a style and structure that, you know, fits with what they what they want. What editors get often is content that misses the mark, in terms of style tone are the target audience content that’s unpolished or unformatted. Basically, content that just doesn’t look like it belongs on the publication or getting it from. So I think that’s just a really, it’s a skill you can learn and it’s a bit of an easy win in just developing that sharp eye, how to how to make something that that fits in that publication. Kind of the next layer is something original, something high quality. And we will spend a lot of time on that. Because that’s something that’s especially important now with AI that’s really kind of changing on the internet.
But even before that level is, does that content fit on the site. So I think that’s really something that everybody can learn to see better. So reading, so we’re talking about reading, reading seems really easy. But I think like everything in life and career development, there’s so much out there. There’s only so much time in a day, there’s only so much motivation. So it really needs to happen with reading and in anything that you really want to do to move your career forward or, you know, anything in your life forward really, is intention is to do it with intention, and to have a real practice around it.
So I will talk about that a little bit. So the first thing we’ll kind of touch on is what to read and why. And we have kind of touched on this a little bit. But it’s, it’s good for you to start thinking about this. And just getting yourselves immersed in those communities, to figure out what some of these publications people that you want to read. If you make if you want to make money writing in a certain area or style, you should really first off be focusing on reading the kind of writing you want to produce.
So start looking for those publications that you would aspire to write for, start following the people who write for them on Twitter or LinkedIn. And then you can also follow kind of leading writers and editors and, and leaders in the areas in which you’d like to be publishing. So some of you mentioned SEO, there are some really great people working in in SEO, content marketing, who do a lot on social media, or blogging, those can be great people to read to just learn more. But again, you can’t really do this haphazardly, you want to go into it with intention. So kind of step two here, is to set up a reading schedule. And I really, you know, advise that for anything you’re writing as well. If it’s something that’s really important to you put it in your calendar, just like a dentist appointment, or something that you would never miss.
And do it every week or twice a week or whatever works for you. If you really want reading to help your writing and career growth, you have to set up an intentional practice. I usually set aside some time, every Sunday, when it’s quiet in my house to kind of do some of this reading in and read all of the things that I’ve found over the week that I’ve set aside. And then I’ll also kind of pull out my reading list when I’m sitting around an appointment, wasting time, anything like that. So just having a real intention around it can be really helpful. This is a quote from a book called atomic Habits. Habits are the compound interest of self improvement. I mean, a lot of people have read this book, it’s it’s a good book, the message is really simple.
It kind of says that the habits you set dictate your success and your and the trajectory of your life. And that’s, that’s really true. So if you if the trajectory that you’re looking for in your life right now is to be a freelance writer, to be a content writer, the first thing you can do is set up habits and systems that will help you improve in that direction. Especially for people in the group who have mentioned like motivation as being an issue, something that’s holding them back. Think setting up that practice will really help you stay on top of that and it’ll build momentum because every week or every couple of days, you’re improving yourself, you’re seeing yourself improve, you’re seeing your knowledge, improve your learning new three things. And that’s really going to help you move forward.
I’ve also really seen myself in the people among the people that I’ve worked with And then the sort of higher level people that I’ve had an opportunity to work with is that you will not find a person at the top of their field, who doesn’t have really good habits and systems set up to help them achieve their success. They usually have a pretty organised calendar, and have a lot of habitual things that they do to ensure that they are constantly improving in the direction, they want to prove the way in which they want to improve. So in this case, I’m arguing if you want to write better, you have to make a commitment to stay on top of what’s happening in your field, and set up a system to continue to do this on an ongoing basis over time. So in addition to setting up some time, in your schedule, I have some tips on how to do this.
So kind of touched on this a little bit. But the first thing is make a reading list. So probably when you’re surfing the internet, maybe working, especially if you’re looking things up you find you might find content, articles, things that interest you things that you think you need to learn about. But when you’re on deadline, writing something for somebody, you know, reading a 3000 word article on, you know, backlinking or something is probably not the best time to do that. And if you don’t set it aside, you may not do it. So what I recommend is throughout the week, as you find these things, to set them aside for your reading time, right? You you find this article on backlinking, put it aside and have it there ready for you. When you when your reading time comes up, this, this will really help you you’ll have a good list of things to dig into. And
Tara Struyk 16:56
then you can set up a schedule.
Tara Struyk 16:59
So what have on your reading list. websites and blogs, as I mentioned, you’ll probably come across a lot of good resources, just as you’re working, or maybe links in FCDC chat. There’s some great webinars in there that you could definitely put in, it’s not strictly reading, but it’s kind of along the same lines of improving your knowledge, social media accounts of people that have the skills you’re looking to gain or some of the knowledge that you’re looking to gain. And there’s also a lot of really great free newsletters out there by you know, probably a lot of the same people that you would be following. And there’s some great content there that you can store and set aside. And, and save for your reading time. So take some time to do it.
Take some time to find find people and then you can always add new resources and things along the way. And then make sure that you’re actually doing that reading every week. Okay. So we’ve talked about setting a time and place to read each week, put it in your calendar, stick to it, whatever you can manage, just make sure it’s a time that you’ll actually be able to, you know, keep and be available, and then set up a system for storing your materials. So this has been really helpful for me. If you just kind of, you know how the week goes, if you just find something and you kind of say I’ll read it later, but you don’t really put it anywhere intentional, you’ll probably lose it and forget about it. So I’ve set up a few different systems over the years to kind of work through this. And I’ll share these with you.
But Google bookmarks is a good one. So you can literally have a folder in your bookmarks for reading and put everything in there that you want to read. Save it up for your reading time. And then you can kind of clear it out or move it to an archive. When you’ve read it. There’s a couple of good apps that are free that you can use. I’ve been using the matter app. And it’s actually really helpful because you can archive everything there as well. So you never really lose any of your reading. You can always go back, which I find useful. Sometimes when I’m working through something, I’ll think, okay, I read something about that. I need to revisit that. Because I’m actually going to, you know, implement something that I learned I’ve learned there and I can go back and find it in the app. And there’s also the pocket app. So I think the pocket app works on Android and iPhone matters only iPhone and desktop.
But there are some good options and there’s probably other ones out there. It doesn’t really matter how you implement it. The key thing is you just need to do it right in a way that works for you in a way that will continue to work for you in a way that you can replicate week after week. Social media is a really good one, too, I think we all we often look at social media as a bit of a time suck, you just start scrolling, you get into the kind of scroll hole, they call it and, and you just keep running through in a way that’s maybe not very productive or even motivating. But I think social media can work the other way too, if you if you set it up that way.
LinkedIn is great. And I think it’s been really improving as an amazing place to follow people, it doesn’t have the best way of kind of categorising your followers that I’ve seen, but you can save relevant posts for later. So you could, you could put that as part of your reading. And just spending some time scrolling there instead of Facebook can can be pretty useful. There’s a lot of good content. You can build lists on Twitter, I have a lot of shared a couple of them here.
But you can just take all the people in a relevant space, and you can build, build a list on your Twitter followers. And then when you’re scrolling, you can only scroll that list so I can scroll my list. The people I follow in SEO and or content marketing, and then I’ll only see their content. So instead of scrolling through anything, things that are going to take up my time maybe in a less productive way. When I’m working or doing my reading I’ll I can scroll through only those and kind of see updates that are happening in those areas, things that I want to learn maybe other resources that I can add to my list for the next week.
And then the SEO space, Reddit actually has some great, some great threads, with SEOs going through, you know, anything you could want, you can ask questions, you can just lurk and listen. But there are some really great spaces on Reddit as well for learning. Okay, those were kind of that was kind of the key points a bit of an easier one to start. But I think it’s important for just getting you set up and getting you oriented and becoming more sensitive to content, how to read it, how to understand it.
Tara Struyk 22:33
So are there any questions?
Tara Struyk 22:44
So with regards to reading, could you maybe tell us like maybe some of your favourite books that helped you as a content marketer?
Tara Struyk 22:53
You know, I haven’t read a lot of books specifically, I follow quite a few people online. Lately, I’ve been following people more in the SEO space. So like, I’m a big fan of Marie Haynes, Lily Ray. I can definitely look at some content marketers. But I guess on the book side, I struggle a little bit because things in this space change so quickly that sometimes a book, at least in online content is a little bit behind.
I can definitely recommend some maybe not off the top of my head, but I can definitely recommend some marketing books in general, but for online marketing, a lot of the time my book can can get to be a little bit behind I find so it helps to kind of be reading online.
Tara Struyk 23:54
Change. Thank you, but if you don’t mind, and you maybe could write it into the slide group, I think Yep. Great. Yeah.
Tara Struyk 24:03
Yep. And as as you are kind of building your own reading list, if you need suggestions, I can definitely give some and even you know, it helps to go into some of the other channels and stuff that I’m following. There’s probably some good ones in specific areas where
Tara Struyk 24:22
where there’s more resources.
Tara Struyk 24:26
So Philip says what things should I look at for me to choose a niche? That’s a hard question. I guess. If you have personal experience in any of the areas you want to write for, that definitely helps. Probably the next best thing is if you understand it well and can develop contacts and we can I’ll make it a section of the course on that but like the next best thing to having your own experience is to have it is having a very deep list of people in that space. And building those relationships.
So that’s just something that takes time. If you don’t have either of those things, I’d pick the area that you’re most passionate and interested in. And that’s going to make it easiest for you to start developing those contacts. And by contacts, I mean people that you can use as sources in your writing people that you can reach out to for help. So I think that’s probably probably the best, the best area because if you’re, if you’re interested in that content, personally, I think your your motivation and even just your ability to connect with other people in that space will be a lot better.
Tara Struyk 25:51
And thank you for the questions as well.
Tara Struyk 25:59
Asir says, Would you use AI to summarise a blog post, especially if there are many blogs you want to read but can’t manage the time? Um, possibly they don’t do a terrible job of it like
Tara Struyk 26:14
chat chat GPT
Tara Struyk 26:17
it does a fairly good job of summarising especially more complex, like more complex articles, you will miss a lot of the detail though. So and that can be really important. So I’d probably say if time is an issue, just choose one, just choose the one that’s most relevant, like choose that one article and just read that I think you’re better off sort of going deep and really understanding that one piece of content, then kind of summarising 10 pieces.
I would say I mean, AI can be kind of useful in that way when you have to go through a lot of content. Because Because you’re writing a piece on it, it can help you kind of like sort out some of the main areas, but I think it’s your you’d be better off just choosing one thing that you really want to understand better and just drilling into it.
Tara Struyk 27:16
Tara Struyk 27:27
Tara Struyk 27:29
Okay. Yeah, good questions. And if you have any others, feel free to send them by email, or we’ll start the next class with a few questions. So I talked about homework, the homework is to set up your reading list and schedule your reading. So I will send you some of these resources that I’ve used to set it up. But what I want to do next class is have everybody kind of go through and talk about some of the key resources that they plan to use and why. And then also read Toomas article, I’ll send the link to it. And we’ll kind of talk about looking at that from the the editor writers perspective and how that works or why it
Tara Struyk 28:13
works. Any other questions?
Tara Struyk 28:25
Tara Struyk 28:29
Then I guess we will end the class for this week. Same time next week. I’ll send out the agenda on Monday. And yeah, unless there’s anything else I’ll see everybody next Thursday.
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