We’ve written prose for 10,000 years to express our deepest longings, to whip men into frenzies, and to be understood1 These little orange numbers are my thoughts that are tangential to what I’m writing or are a little too eccentric to put in the main body of the article. You can click or mouse over to read them and click anywhere on the page to close them. .
The written word is easy to understand but almost impossible to master. There are rules on top of rules on top of rules. Some of them make your writing more powerful while others only clutter it.
As a blogger, a marketer, or an entrepreneur you understand the power your words have on the people who read them.
How do you create exceptional writing?
How do you unleash powerful writing that motivates and convinces?
A perfectly timed period can be the difference between action and apathy.
The right comma or em dash can be the difference between understanding and confusion.
The ideal phrase can be the difference between a successful seduction and violent repulsion.
As someone who writes, someone whose fortunes are made or broken by the written word, you understand. You understand more deeply than others how important it is to write well — to write with power. Understanding is only a very small part of the battle.
In fact, it’s the very first step.
After you’ve had your epiphany one of two things can happen.
If you’re in the first camp there’s nothing for you. I have no words of encouragement, no quick tips, and no insights to impart.
If you’re in the second camp then I want to share the little knowledge I’ve gained over the years. It’s the knowledge I’ve gained while working late at night, the knowledge I’ve gained while struggling to meet deadlines, and the knowledge I’ve gained when my work falls on deaf ears.
In short, it’s the knowledge I’ve gained while practicing my craft. It’s nowhere near complete, but it’ll serve you well.
The days of using flowery speech and checking the thesaurus for synonyms are gone — dead. We’ve moved into the digital age. When you publish online, you need to draw your reader in and hold their attention like a sponge holds water.
“If you can’t explain simply it’s because you don’t understand it well enough.”
We read words to understand and we write to communicate. There’s no greater gift you can give your tribe than to write what they can easily understand and assimilate. Bonus points if you make it actionable.
I’m by not advocating you dumb your writing down. Put your reader first. Instead of using the biggest word or best synonym, use the simplest one.
“Use the word you want to use, not its distant cousin.”
Become meticulous in your selection of words. Your reader gives you a limited amount of time and attention before bouncing.
Think of it as a seduction. Your only job is to get them to read the next word. My only job is to get you to read the next word.
If I can’t do that then I can’t convey a message. If you can’t do that then you can never consummate the seduction.
Words hold power.
Choose words wisely.
Your first draft can always be improved. Your first draft sucked yesterday, it sucks today, and it’ll suck tomorrow. That’s why it’s a first draft.
I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them – without a thought about publication – and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.
– Anne Taylor
Don’t worry. First drafts are meant to be this way. They’re like the basement of a skyscraper. It doesn’t beautify the building, but it’s indispensable to its stability.
On the second draft, you’ll erect scaffolding that’ll hold the walls, pour the concrete that’ll form the floors, and install plumbing for your restrooms.
Approaching the third draft, your prose — the skyscraper — is starting to take definite shape. Here, you can finally fit your walls in place, polish your floors, and roof the damn thing.
Each and every draft of your writing has a special place. Each one builds on the last to unleash powerful writing. On the final draft, all that remains is to paint the walls, arrange the furniture, and make sure the light fixtures are working.
You’ve built a skyscraper.
You’ve written a masterpiece.
Good things come to those who practice. Great things come to writers who write. Ira Glass, one of my favorite storytellers, says it very simply.
“In order to create amazing work, you must first create a huge volume of work.”
Everyone starts at ground zero. Even Leo Tolstoy had to learn to write. It’s what came afterward that separated him from the rest of the world.
The write life isn’t as glamorous as people make it seem. False starts, broken dreams, and late nights come with the territory. Only those who pass through the fire can emerge on the other end stripped of their impurities.
The ability to write with power, purpose, and clarity develops like a beautiful patina2 I have an old pair of leather shoes that look better now than when I bought them. A patina refers to the slow changing of materials like leather, copper, iron, wood etc because of exposure to oils and chemicals in the environment. This is an example of a leather patina. .
Constant use hones your skill as a writer.
When you want to write. Write.
When you don’t want to write. Write
When you’re tired of writing. Write.
When you have something to say. Write.
When you don’t have anything to say. Write.
When writing intimidates you. Write.
When you’re confused. Write.
Unfortunately, there’s no eureka moment that’ll let you know you’ve become a great writer. When you’re in the trenches honing your craft, you’ll get the occasional email appreciating your words, relating to your voice, and asking how you do it.
In between all of that it’s just you, your pen, and your thoughts.
Whoever told you great writers started with a style all their own have lied. It’s the worst kind of lie because it holds you back.
Powerful writing doesn’t come in a day and isn’t created in a vacuum. It borrows influences from everything you’ve read, seen, and appreciated.
No one will argue with me when I say English is a unique language. Even though it’s unique, it’s not entirely original. Look through the English lexicon and you’ll quickly notice German, Latin, Phoenician, Greek, and countless other languages have influenced it.
As you collect, refine, and add the different influences to your work, a style uniquely you will emerge. Don’t rush it, your development as a writer is a joy all its own.
It’s a joy that can only be experienced when two sentences come together just right.
It’s a joy that can only be experienced when you articulate your deepest thoughts.
A joy that can only be experienced when your readers tell you they love your writing. Your writing — not the influences you blended — your writing.
Blend and create.
At The Experiment, we don’t believe in writers block. We don’t believe in it because writers block means you’re an empty vessel with nothing to enrich the world.
It means your experiences are irrelevant, your expertise is useless, and your thoughts are subpar. Rather, we feel that if you’re having trouble writing you’re really having trouble creating associations between information.
Sometimes, it’s not easy to draw those associations, but you can always read a book.
Your experience is the root of your writing. Powerful writing draws from your life in a way that allows others to live it with you. The brain reacts to stories the same way it reacts to things happening in real life.
When you read, you enrich your life and add to your storehouse of knowledge and wisdom. That means you have more opportunities to create associations and build a rich narrative.
For every word you write, you should have read at least 10 words. With every tweet you send out you’ve read at least one blog post. For every blog post you bang out, you’ve read a short novel. For every long form sales page you write, you’ve read two medium size novels.
Read like your writing depends on it, it does.
When you clicked on the title of this article, were you looking for a get good quick scheme? They don’t exist. Sure, I could have given you some ways to format your writing to improve readability, but that wouldn’t help you become a better writer.
I could have given you a few exercises to do, but who knows if you’d do them?
I could have given you a strategy, but writing is too creative for that.
You have the foundation upon ever writer is built:
With these five things, you can conquer the writing world.
Let me know what you’re doing to unleash powerful writing in the comments and don’t forget to share.