Being a masterful writer, someone who creates content that compels and cajoles the reader into taking action is a skill developed over time. It’s a skill you develop deliberately and with constant work. It’s a marathon.
At The Experiment, I lead a team of content creators and we write. A lot. We’re running a marathon that’s full of potholes, hills, and detours. At the same time, it’s full of rest stops, good laughs, and euphoria.
Although I can’t give you a shortcut to stringing words together in a way people crave, I can point you in the right direction with these delightful articles about writing. Learn from them.
“The root of the problem lies in our desire to impress. Thesaurus carpet-bombings and long-winded sentences are commonly mistaken for fine writing because they feel authoritative and intellectual. But they’re just masks; effective writing is lean, clean, and easy to read.”
You’ll sweat, you’ll edit, and you’ll wonder, but the process is worth the outcome every single time.
Today, more than ever before, we’re writing. We write emails, we write on twitter, and we write to gain traction for our businesses. Although they say we’re moving to a world that’s going to be dominated by video, writing will always have a place.
“Communication is a mix of vision and conversation. Having noticed something interesting, you now seek to direct the attention of the reader so that they might see it with their own eyes. What you choose to write is for the use of someone else. Always choose selflessly.”
The writer is someone who’s been imbued with a solemn charge, to give life. To give life to words. To string together words, sentences, and paragraphs that convey the human spirit and our surroundings. Richard Bausch chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare to Illustrate that Solemn Vow.
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Your writing shouldn’t be about trying to improve your fellow man from the heights of Olympus. Rather, it should be about sharing the experiences we all hold so dear. It’s only then you can truly hope to influence your audience.
I wish we could just brain dump every time but certain writing takes more than that, much more. Kira Kuik outlines a process that’ll help you write powerful content that builds credibility and allows your audience to take action on what you write.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for great content, but I think all too often brands find themselves unable to define and create “awesome content.”
The power of writing goes beyond being able to move men to action. It can heal wounds, both physical and mental. It can energize you, help you think, and allow you to discover the charms of expressing yourself fluently. It’s not the realm of the recluse banished to stew in his thoughts. No, it’s so much sexier and beneficial than that.
But writing is so much more. Prose is thought put to page, which makes all of us writers—even if we don’t have the chops to tangle with Faulkner. In most cases, writing is most useful as a tool for thinking, expression, and creativity; cabin-dwelling novelists be damned.
If you’ve spent time creating a masterful piece of writing, you owe it to yourself to create a masterful headline. A headline that catches the attention of your reader, compels them to open your work, and rewards them for doing it. The headline is only the first step in the battle, but arguably the most important.
The job of a headline is to get people sucked into your ad/article in the first place.
The written word should be as easy to understand as the spoken word. If not, you give tacit permission to your readers to ignore you. As stated earlier, easy reading is damn hard writing.
If you want people to read and understand what you write, yes. Written language is more complex, which makes it more work to read. It’s also more formal and distant, which gives the reader’s attention permission to drift. But perhaps worst of all, the complex sentences and fancy words give you, the writer, the false impression that you’re saying more than you actually are.
The essay as we know it, the one taught in school is a shell of its former glory. Instead of teaching our youth to express themselves, to write what moves them to action, they’re stuck with writing analyses on Homer.
Don’t get me wrong, we should all read Homer, but should we write about him? No, we should only write about what moves you and allows you to paint a picture with your words.
Paul Graham eloquently explains the evolution of the modern essay and the profound impact it’s had on the way we express ourselves through the written word.
With the result that writing is made to seem boring and pointless. Who cares about symbolism in Dickens? Dickens himself would be more interested in an essay about color or baseball.
Sentences come in many shapes and sizes. You have the long ones, the compound ones, the interminable ones, the ones that confuse you, and the ones that convey a message. There’s nothing like putting a profound piece of information in just a few sentences. It’s even more powerful when you put it in just a few words.
Short sentences are powerful.
“Now, I must give him credit for this,” said Mr. Wolfe “If you ever have a preposterous statement to make … say it in five words or less, because we’re always used to five – word sentences as being the gospel truth”
It’s a daily struggle, looking at the white screen of death and pushing yourself to write, create content, and then make it beautiful. It’s not the loud struggle you’ll see in The Avengers or any other multi-million dollar blockbuster. No. It’s a silent struggle within only a writer, a content crafter, or a creative can understand.
But for writers, early on, other kinds of failure demand attention. There is the logistical failure of getting to your desk. Then there is the failure of not being able to stay there. John McPhee once famously tied himself to his chair, which strikes me as a good way to deal with the torpor that overcomes many writers when faced with the blank page or screen.
Hardwired. We’re hardwired to love a story. A story that sucks you and refuses to let go. A story that ignites emotions in you s if you were living it. Few can do it. Even less can make a career out of it. Those who do, those who understand storytelling on a visceral level have a few qualities in common.
But the Master Storyteller has gone a step beyond just being able to tell stories well. He or she is able to live them in their mind’s eye.
A good story doesn’t give you all the details, that may bore you. A good story tells you what you need to know to derive a lesson from it. A good story will take you from zero to hero with your clients and customers. They do this all while creating an experience your audience loves.
Parachute in, don’t preamble. The best storytellers draw us immediately into the action. They capture our attention and set the tone for a unique audience experience. Avoid opening with “I’d like to tell you a story about a time when I learned…” Instead, drop us into the action and draw the lesson out later
It’s not only meant for the campfire. a story I mean. When you wield them well, whether with your pen or your voice, they can unlock any door you can dream of. It’s been known to whip tired soldiers into a frenzy, facilitate billion dollar deals, and inspire employees to “own” the company vision. The story is your ally and your greatest weapon. Use it wisely.
With a feast laid out on a great low table and the city lights twinkling in the hills below us, we luxuriated in a cascade of ideas. As the wine flowed, so did the jokes, stories, and observations drawn from the centuries’ worth of life experience in that room. And as varied as our backgrounds were, I found that we kept returning to one theme: the crucial importance of truth as an attribute of both the powerful story and the effective storyteller.
A recurring theme you’ll encounter when learning about storytelling is truth. Not the fact that what you say needs to be true, that would be pretty impossible with a fiction novel would’t it? Rather, your writing is so vivid, so captivating, and so compelling people never stop to question whether or not what you write is real.
The third aspect that struck me from Chronicles is the issue of truth. What is truth in writing? And, specifically, what is truth in non-fiction writing? Dylan writes so vividly about tiny incidents. They capture the scene perfectly. They help the reader understand how Dylan felt at that moment. They convey an accurate truth. And they are totally made up. Unless he has a freakish photographic memory, then writing like this about something that happened decades ago must be made up.
With great power comes great responsibility. we live in a connected age. an age where it’s possible to video chat with someone a thousand miles away. An age where news is instant and everyone is a publisher; we can be stupid, we can be incredulous, or we can be uplifting. Beyond all of this, the fact remains, the way information is distributed has fundamentally changed. As someone who’s writing, you have two choices. Adapt or Die.
Fifty years ago the number of journalists whose work an individual could access on a daily basis was in the hundreds or thousands at best. Today it’s in the tens of millions. A reporter for a local paper in Guam could write a story that gets read by ten thousand people in Auckland.
Writing will challenge you, writing will frustrate you, and writing will make you want to cry. Seanan McGuire has been through all the stages of a writer and has eloquently put her thoughts on paper. Or ink. Kill your darlings darling, your writing will be better for it.
Putting fifty thousand words on paper does not make you a novelist. It makes you someone who successfully put fifty thousand words on paper. You should be proud of yourself for that, because dude, it’s difficult to stick with a plot and a concept and an idea and characters for that long, and I salute you. At the same time, you’re not a novelist. Sweating over those fifty thousand words until you’re confident that at least forty thousand of them are good ones is what makes you a novelist. Good luck.
Writing is writing, but different mediums require a different approach. When you’re writing a novel you have an engaged reader that’s invested time and money into your writing. On the web, it’s a little different. Chris Lake does a good job of distilling his journey into 23 takeaways to create good looking and good reading content.
“I had to learn on the job: it was very much a case of in-at-the-deep end. I remember doing a lot of reading to understand how users read online, and how best to write. A lot of the standards set by the likes of Jakob Nielsen still apply today.”
Good writing should be stewed on, thought about, and allowed to develop. When you’ve developed your idea fully, it’s more beneficial to everyone involved. You can look at a topic and tackle it from many directions and walk through many different possibilities.
Fine wine ages and so does good writing.
Firstly – the best marinades that I’ve ever made have been when I’ve thought ahead and begun the process of putting the meat into the marinade well ahead of the time that I cook it (even the day before). I like this image because it reminds me that often ideas need time to grow and mature.
All great things start with a rough draft, from there it can be developed, edited, and polished. Don’t underestimate the power of a rough draft. Don’t overestimate the power of a rough draft.
A prototype is the cheapest way to get an idea from your imagination into a form that another person can see and feel and use. It’s not the the real thing, it’s a fake thing or a partial thing or a smaller thing.
I’ve always said it and I’ll always say it, editing is what turns good writing into the stuff of legend. I’m tired, so I’ll let Thomas Mallon take over:
I’m soon to receive the proofs of a novel I’ve got coming out this fall, a book that went through six drafts prior to editing and copy-editing by the publisher. Chapter 1 starts with Nancy Reagan listening to her husband cut down trees on their ranch, and this was the opening phrase in the first, handwritten draft: “She heard the five warm-up revs of the chain saw. . . . ” My pencilings show that the line quickly became “From the house she heard five revs of the chain saw, his signature warm-up.” Those three new words at the beginning better establish her location relative to his, I think; and “warm-up,” a confusing adjective, needed to be turned into a noun. “She” soon became “Nancy” — better not to be too deep in her well-coifed head in this initial sentence, no? And by draft No. 6, I now see, “From the house” had become “Through the open window” — more vivid?
I used to think editing was a simple process. You pour your guts onto the page, you step away for a day, then you come back and edit it. Boy was I wrong, Although, more intense forms of editing are only done when you’re publishing a longer piece of writing, it’s still a good idea to understand them. No, a great idea.