What Creative Writing Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

I read a wonderful article from Shel Holtz today called, “Fiction’s place in the content marketing mix.” The writing major within me was delighted by Shel’s insight, which explains how the elements of fiction writing can be employed by content marketers to convey technical concepts or personalize the customer experience. While Shel’s post deals with the literal implementation of fiction, it got me thinking about broader ideas regarding creative writing’s place in the content marketing world. After all, a piece of content marketing is only as good as its storyteller.
While studying for my Writing Literature and Publishing degree from Emerson College, I intended to enter what I considered the “business of writing.” Perhaps I would work in book or magazine publishing, but never content marketing — I hadn’t even heard of content marketing. “To make a long story short” (a cliché my writing professors would be ashamed of me for using), my career goals changed and I found myself at OpenView, a firm dedicated to content marketing. To say that my creative writing education has served me well in this industry would be an understatement — the concepts, skills, and methods behind creative writing as an art form can (and should) be applied to content marketing strategies. Here are ten lessons the principles of creative writing can offer to content marketers.

Consume, then Create

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” — Stephen King

Effective content marketers find inspiration everywhere, especially from each other. If we’re behind on content marketing trends or unaware of what our peers are doing, our content will suffer — it’s impossible to compete if we don’t have a finger on the pulse of our profession. I say, take what you love, leave what you hate, and create accordingly.

Fulfill A Need

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

What does our audience need to know? What are their pain points? What questions do they have? What can we give them that they aren’t already getting? Answer these questions with high-quality content and people will listen.

Avoid Clichés

“’Grand.’ There’s a word I really hate. It’s a phony. I could puke every time I hear it.” — J.D. Salinger

In the content marketing sense, I think a cliché is anything that makes us roll our eyes and say, “I’ve seen that before.” There’s nothing wrong with content recycling (we should always be thinking of ways to repurpose content), but we should avoid overusing an idea or method to the point that it loses its impact.

Maintain Purpose

“Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Ever read a blog post, reach the end, and have no idea what the purpose of it was? (I hope this is not one of those times.) If we are lost, our reader will be lost too, so let’s create content with intention. Don’t lose sight of the goal.

“Murder Your Darlings”

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” — Arthur Quiller-Couch

A bold statement that all content marketers should keep in mind. It’s easy to become so attached to content that we become blind to ways to improve it. We shouldn’t be hesitant to change a piece of content that’s not working, regardless of how much effort we put into it. While I wouldn’t advocate for taking Quiller-Couch’s advice too literally (it’s ok to be proud of our work), it is a good reminder that we often have to force ourselves to evolve.

Accept Criticism

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” — Harper Lee

Not everyone will like the content we produce. In fact, some people will hate it and make their opinions clear. Others will offer suggestions on how to improve. Listen and adapt.

Embrace Clarity

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”— Dr. Seuss

Another way of saying this comes from Thomas Jefferson: “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Verbiage usually disguises a lack of knowledge and/or direction. If we have our audience’s attention, we can’t waste their time. Let’s say what we mean.

Break the Rules

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” — Truman Capote

In creative writing, we’re taught to learn the rules of writing (i.e. grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure) so that we can artfully break them. This is true in content marketing as well. Get a grip on what people expect and then create something new.

Edit and Evolve

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” — Mark Twain

A piece of content isn’t complete if it hasn’t been edited. Most writers will say that editing is the most important part of the writing process. When we finish that first eBook draft, tear it apart! Restructure, reword, revise. This is the only way to improve, but also keep in mind the final lesson …


“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The most important aspect of content marketing is … publishing content! Editing and evolving is crucial, but published is better than perfect. We can’t be afraid to get our content in front of people. Now excuse me as I hit “Publish.”

What other content marketing lessons can we learn from the art of writing?

Megan McNeill
Megan McNeill
Marketing Manager

Megan is the Marketing Manager at Domain Companies. Previously she communicated with the firm’s portfolio and supported OpenView’s content marketing strategy.
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