Want your big idea to matter?

Something I’ve wanted to do on this blog for a while is write a little bit about what I do, which is…writing. It’s a bit of a departure from the usual topics discussed here – namely, Gabe’s daily fashion interactions – but I think it would be interesting to start a weekly (or bi-weekly?) feature about writing, and some of the other topics I write about elsewhere like leadership, networking, and being great at your job.
I’d love to hear feedback in the comments, both on this post in particular and the idea of doing more posts like it. Hope you guys like it!
_____________________________

Writing Makes Your Big Idea Matter

There are a lot of big ideas out there. There’s a whole world of people thinking big ideas out there and those people are anxious to share them. Everyone knows by now that putting those big ideas into compelling writing on the Internet turns out to be really important if you want your ideas to matter, so more and more, good content is seen as the key to making a huge impact for businesses, social causes, and just about everything else.

Having engaging, interesting writing to share with your customers, clients, peers, and visitors has become expected and is part of building a trustworthy presence online. And why shouldn’t it? Good writing has the power to convey not just your company mission, but your personality, your values, your sense of humor, and your interests. Good writing lets you get to know someone. Good writing makes something unknown into something familiar.

Two years ago, I quit my job and decided to take my own big idea of being a professional writer seriously. I started to see my work published in places other people were actually reading it and sharing it, and I got better at writing the kind of stuff that gets readers to take notice and take action. I’ve cleared a lot of hurdles but am learning more all the time.

I was inspired to turn some of what I’ve learned into a post about how to become a better writer, and couldn’t think of a better way to start than with this quote from a memo David Ogilvy sent to all of his employees at advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather in 1982:

“People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.”

Want your big idea to matter?Learning to Write Well

Learning to write well takes practice. Anyone can write, because everyone has a point of view – it’s just a matter of getting into the habit of writing that point of view in a way that other people want to read. What does this mean? Usually, it involves breaking some bad habits and picking up some good ones. Here are some of the biggest hacks and tips I’ve picked up over the last few years to improve my own writing.

  • Write like you talk.Β  When you’re writing for an audience – especially an easily distracted, fickle audience – you’ve got to make them care about hearing from you. We can all use Google and find 100 different articles on any subject, but people come to your website for a reason. That reason is you, and your readers get to know you through your writing. So be yourself.

Read your writing out loud. It feels silly, but you’ll be amazed at what kind of perspective it gives you on how your stuff sounds to someone else.

  • Feel something while you’re writing. Anything. Readers can feel your emotion (or lack thereof) in your words, so whether you’re angry or excited or amused, make sure you’re thinking about what feeling you’re conveying with your writing. [This is another great reason to read your writing out loud!] A lot of people,Β in an attempt to sound professional, end up actually sounding kind of robotic.

You can inject feeling into your work by using the active voice whenever possible. This means choosing “Head to our website!” over “Customers can access our website by…” and focusing on action. Be lively. Be funny. Be cranky. If you want your reader to feel something, you’ve got to too.

  • Don’t stop to edit. You’ll be so much more efficient if you can get everything you need to say written down first, and then edit for clarity, spelling, and common sense second. The first sentence and paragraph in particular can hang you up and stall your writing for hours if you let it. When you first start writing, though, it doesn’t have to be good. It’s better to just write something, so you can move on and write everything else. You can make it pretty later (and it’ll be easier then too).
  • Always give a preview. I don’t care how awesome it’s going to be once you let the beat drop; if I have to wade through 10 paragraphs of buildup to get to your first point, the odds are I’m not going to make it that far.

Tell your audience what they can expect up front. That way, people who are just scanning the article (and that’s most people) will know what to scan for and be sure to hit your biggest points. The people who are going to read it all the way through will likewise appreciate knowing what to expect so they can get the most from it in one read-through.

  • Everything you write can be shorter. I used to write sentences and paragraphs that were ten miles long, but that is a big no-no if you want people to read and understand your piece. Almost every sentence you write can be shortened, and anything you’ve explained can be simplified. Get in the habit of shortening everything when you give your pieces a final read-through. It makes things easier to read and ensures that every word is there because it adds real value (not just taking up space).
  • Throw it away. At any point, you need to be prepared to completely scrap what you’ve written. This very blog post has already gone through about three iterations before it became the thing you’re reading now. And that’s because the first two posts I wrote just weren’t that good. When you can look at your own work objectively, realize when it’s not working, and then let it go – that’s when your writing will really start making an impact.

We all get attached to things we’ve written and it sucks to think about deleting all of that work, even when we know this or that paragraph really isn’t adding value to the piece. I sometimes find it helpful to cut-and-paste writing that I’m really attached to into another document, rather than just deleting it. This way, I get it out of the picture (which needs to be done) but I don’t have to go through the painful process of deleting what was likely several hours of work.

And there’s just one more thing to add to this list…

  • Write content that’s as good as your headline. When I see a lot of other people writing about writing, their focus tends to be on driving traffic and making your work go viral. We all know that getting views is important, but I think something else important gets undervalued a lot of the time, and that’s having something good underneath that shocking, gotta-click-on-it headline. When someone clicks on your page, they do it because they want something from you: information, entertainment, cat videos, whatever.

So make sure you back up your attention-grabbing headline with something worth paying attention to. Share links and analyses of other blogs you find valuable, and write the kinds of posts you like to read. Otherwise, you’re just accumulating viewers who click on a link to your page but immediately click away. Those page views really aren’t valuable to you in the long run. Instead, focus on producing high-quality content that will get your readers excited, engaged, and ready to come back for more.

_________

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s hopefully a good start to improving your writing and making your content more engaging. What are some your suggestions or methods you’ve learned for improving your own writing? It’s something that can always be improved upon, and the more ideas we share, the better.

Advertisements

24 comments

  1. Tricia Drammeh

    “Throw it away” is good advice, but often hard to do, especially when writing a novel. Writers get attached to certain scenes, but if it doesn’t move the story forward or create tension and conflict, we have to get rid of it, even when we think it’s some of our ‘best’ writing.

    • Kate Stull

      Agreed! Sometimes the parts you have to get rid of are the things you’re happiest with individually, even when they aren’t working for the piece overall. It’s always a challenge.

  2. Jill Weatherholt

    I also agree with, “Throw it away.” I’m very close to throwing away last years NaNoWriMo project. I loved the experience, but I’m just not into the story and dread going back to complete the story and begin editing. I feel like I want to write something totally different.

    • Vegan Flavorista

      I totally relate to what you are saying, Jill. I completed the NanoWrimo challenge and decided not to look at the folder again for at least a year–I was so sick to death of the project. It’s been over a year now…and still no desire to return to it.

    • Kate Stull

      Sometimes leaving a piece of writing alone is the best thing you can do. Maybe when you come back, maybe you’ll like it more – or you’ll have enough perspective to go through the editing process or start something new. Good luck! πŸ™‚

  3. flyingscribbler

    As you say, and it’s the best advice to remember, it’s all and always about the quality and never mind the page visits. I try hard to improve the quality of my posts and your pointers are all useful. And written with quality.

  4. suzywordmuser

    An excellent piece of advice! I think your article on writing tips is the only sensible one I’ve read so far in the last few months of blogging! I’ve come across some extremely long-winded unhelpful writing tips before. The worst,and most offensive one was from a young woman of 19 who spent the entire article telling the reader what not to do, no content on how to do anything! And when I went through her blog I found it didn’t contain any writing, but pictures of her and her boyfriend – mm – I left before I was tempted to say something rude about her wonderful advice!

    I like what you said about giving people a preview, I may use that idea as I have some slightly longer short stories to post at some time, and I am worried about anyone feeling they’ve got the time to read them, because of all the other posts they need to read! Hopefully a preview may draw them in, and a good reputation for writing stories that have been worth reading of course!

    And the cutting and saving of writing that would otherwise be deleted is really good idea, and I’ve been doing that for a few years now with various written work I’ve done. I often find those bits of writing can be reused or the ideas can be, in another piece of writing altogether (a handy bank of ideas!)

    I also notice that a lot of people are beginning to post more and more in any one day, sometimes up to 5 or more posts a day, most of them short, but I think over time this will wear readers down, and the quality of the writing isn’t so good either because they’ve barely had time to edit it properly before posting!

    So really well done on this article, it was a relief and a pleasure to read something that makes perfect sense!
    Suzy πŸ˜€

  5. Liz

    What a well-written post! I write daily and was still inspired by what you wrote. You have a great voice. Appreciate your Likes on foodforfun (last you checked in we were making caramel:-)). Thanks,

  6. bensbitterblog

    I do like the throw away principle too. Often I will start a blog post and get halfway through and it just doesn’t fit well with my theme. At some point I stop and read it through and the voice just doesn’t fit, so I throw it away. My instincts are usually right. Thanks for the article!

  7. Pingback: Sea legs. « kate stull
  8. Eddy

    Really good advice, all of it! I’m relatively new to blogging, and I find that when I write my posts and then go over them again, I realize that many of the sentences could be more clear and concise. After rewriting it always sounds so much better than it did the first time. You’re totally right, we should ask ourselves all the time: Would I like to read such a post? Reading it out loud also helps a lot.
    Thanks for this article! I’m sure it’s going to help many writers – me included. I should print it out and put it next to my desk while I write my posts. πŸ˜‰

  9. Pingback: Finger wag. | kate stull
  10. Pingback: Finish What You Start | Creativity Rulez

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s