You’re probably wondering what value you can possibly get out of a book on writing.
In part, the answer to that question lies in Ann Handley’s title to her Wall Street Journal Bestseller: “Everybody Writes.”
Yep. Even you.
Even though you assume you’re a bad writer and swear that you’d never dare to put your words on a page, much less in front of an audience, you’re wrong.
How do I know you’re wrong?
Because you’ve emailed people, posted publicly on Social Media, and sent text messages.
Whether you like it or not, all of that counts as writing.
So the question isn’t, “Do you write?” Everyone writes. The question is “Do you write in a way that positions yourself and your business well or poorly?”
Of course you want to position your business correctly, but doing so isn’t as simple as desire.
Luckily, Ann Handley’s tips are as good a place to start as any.
“In an online world, our online words are our emissaries; they tell the world who we are.”
1. Start by giving a f*ck about your writing.
Sounds obvious, right?
Well, then why don’t most people do it?
In our case, not many people give a f*ck about their writing. Of course, they wouldn’t tell you that.
It’s the secret I-don’t-give-a-shit sauce they put into their writing when they hit the publish button. They force themselves to believe that they don’t care about their writing so that when the naysayers roll their authoritative dooby’s and shed them on the comment thread, they can simply look the other way.
But you know better than that, right?
You can’t get good at anything if you don’t start by giving a shit.
Want to become a better writer?
The first step is easy. Start caring about the words you put on a page and stop pretending like you don’t care. We all know you’re lying.
“The truth is this: writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.”
2. Write an ugly first draft… like really ugly.
For those of you who cringed at the first point, you’ll probably like this one better.
Don’t give a shit about you’re writing.
At least, not at first.
Instead, allow yourself to write horrible first drafts of whatever it is you’re writing. Just get your thoughts on the page. Turn side-notes, main ideas, and clarifiers into words.
Don’t give a damn about the flow, grammar, punctuation, style, voice, or other cute elements that your weird cousin who swears he finished that fiction book told you to worry about.
Think about it this way. You can’t edit, improve, or publish a piece of content that doesn’t yet exist. So start by creating something, anything.
Remember, no one will see your first draft (at least, I hope not), so have fun with it. Allow yourself to be irreverent and explain things in bizarre ways that makes sense to you. You’ll edit your work later. But for now, you’re writing.
“So now that you’ve figured out what to write — and generally how it’ll go — just write. Or, rather, write badly and create a first draft.”
3. But don’t stop there…
Having said that, please don’t hit publish yet. For the sake of your reputation and everyone else’s intellect, edit your damn writing.
Most people stop at the last phase. They allow themselves to write and then they’re too lazy or nervous to edit their work.
Ann Handley explains in her book that the best writers are often the worst first-drafters — they’re just really good editors of their own work.
So after you’ve created that horrific frankin-beast, edit it for flow, run it through a spell checker (I highly recommend Grammarly), and ensure that the ideas transition well.
If you’re struggling to edit your own work, either ask an honest friend to help or hire someone to do it for you.
Keep in mind that the words you put into the public sphere are your “emissaries.” They tell a story about how intelligent you are, how disciplined you are, and how likable you are.
Put out a poor piece of writing and people immediately form a poor opinion of you.
Save your reputation and take the time to edit your work or have someone else do it for you.
“Very often, the people you think of as good writers are terrible writers on their first drafts. But here’s their secret: They are excellent editors of their own work.”
4. Use details that make stories come to life.
When it comes to storytelling in your writing, details are the gravy.
They make the story delicious to listen to, captivating, and worth reader’s attention.
Without details, stories fall flat and stale like an overcooked turkey.
Consider this story:
“I arrived at the store and, when I was checking out, the grocery clerk was rude to me.”
The question on the top of your mind is, “Well, what did they do that was rude?”
And without an answer to that question, the story isn’t compelling. Instead, it actually frustrates the reader because they assume you’re incapable of determining what they want to know about.
Now, consider this story:
“I went to the grocery store and picked up a bag of coals for the BBQ, but when I was checking out, the grocery clerk said, ‘What are you making for dinner?’ So I told her that I was going to cook chicken. And she responded, ‘So you don’t really care about animals suffering?'”
Now that story is more tangible. I can almost taste the tension as the clerk spouts off her passionate opinion. I can feel the protagonist’s throat go dry and eyes twitch from side to side.
Also consider this storytelling example from Man Crate:
When you’re telling a story, whether it be in your content or on your landing page, make it specific.
“What matters now isn’t storytelling; what matters is telling a true story well.”
Note: It was totally unintentional that all of the examples under this point involved food. I’m hungry and I’m sorry.
5. Set ruthless deadlines.
How many writing projects across the world sit in folders — digital or otherwise — unfinished and unloved?
The writer promised to return to them, saying things like, “When I have some extra time, I’ll come back to you,” or “You just sit right there. I’ll be back soon.” But alas, it’s weeks, months, or even years later and that project is still a project.
It never got prodded, pitched, or published.
Because, let’s admit it, you quit.
And what’s the cure for writer’s evasion?
In a word, deadlines.
Set deadlines for your writing project and hold yourself accountable. With Booktrep, most of you know that I publish my posts every Thursday. Just that public knowledge is enough to keep me in line.
Maybe, for you, it’s accountability with your writing buddy, an audience that demands content at a certain time, or a job that requires it.
Whatever the case, you probably won’t get anything done if you don’t set realistic but honest deadlines.
“Do the best work you can by the deadline you’ve set, and then consider your writing project finished.”
6. Hijack trending topics for your content.
This one is a powerful content marketing trick.
In fact, don’t tell anyone I told you, but you could use this trick for video content, infographics, or social media posts. Not just writing.
But you didn’t hear me say that.
Here’s the trick: Go to Google Trends and search for what’s popular in the world of search engines. As I write this, something about Kenall Jenner, Tesla, and tuition payments are at the top of the list.
Then, since you know these topic are already getting a lot of attention, create content where you riff on that trending topic.
Here’s a few examples:
- What Game Of Thrones Can Teach You About SEO
- How ‘House of Cards’ Changed the Content Marketing Game
- The Steve Perry Guide to “Believin’” in Your Business (Even When You’ve Lost Faith)
If you create a piece of content that surrounds an already compelling subject, people are likely to read (or listen or watch) your stuff — simply because the trending topic interests them.
“If you have a web site, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing. And that means that we are all relying on our words to carry our marketing messages.”
7. Start with a realistic word count goal.
Everyone’s writing capabilities are different.
Some people, like myself, are comfortable writing 3,000 to 6,000 words every day (no, that’s not a joke. I’m a sicko). But don’t be intimidated by people like that. Chances are — especially if you’re just starting — that your daily word count is going to be less than that.
Oh. Yeah. I said daily.
Wait. Were you thinking that you could just write once a week and be good?
Oh. This is awkward. I forgot to mention that you need to write consistently, not just write a lot.
In fact, if you’re serious about becoming a better writer for the sake of your business, you need to write everyday. That’s the bad news.
But the good news is that, to start, your word count might only be 50 or 100 words. It’s far better to practice the quality of your words than the quantity.
“I’d rather produce 500 awesome words than 10,000 terrible ones.”
Oh! And one more thing… if you hate writing and want to digitally tear up this post and throw it in the full trash can in the corner of your room, then just hire someone to do it for you.
Shit. I can’t convince everyone to become a better writer.
But I might be able to convince you to pay someone to make you not look like an incompetent giraffe trying to give birth while bystanders silently gawk online (And yes. That actually happened. So it could happen to you).