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.”
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. 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, 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.