So you think you can write!

“The two kinds of people are those who think they can write, and those who think they can’t. (And too often both are wrong!) – Ann Handley

Even if we aren’t professional writers, most of our professions require us to write, every day. We write to communicate, to persuade, and with the advent of the internet, simply share. Yet we pay little or no attention to improving our writing skills. Most likely because we think we can write well enough for the person at the other end to understand what we are saying and we can get by our jobs (mostly the ones which are not linked to professional writing) without any real need to improve.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s not.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, I decided to blog from this year (2015). So I figured, if by the off chance, people stumble upon my ramblings, then I owe it to the unfortunate reader to allay the horrors that may come his/her way. With that in mind I recently devoured a highly recommended book by Amazon – Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide To Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley.

I recommend it too (not highly) if you are looking to improve your writing, for professional purposes or otherwise. She covers 75 very very practical tips that cover how to write better, grammar and usage, telling a story, publishing, social media writing tips and content tools that you can use.

But then I know that you are too busy, which in my parlance is lazy, to read 282 pages of what you think you already are a master at. So in my attempt to earn ‘good karma’ brownie points, I’m sharing my top take away and learnings, (which I shall also try to apply bit by bit), for the good souls who want to improve but are too lazy, er busy to learn. After all, she argues that “writing is a habit, not an art.”

  1. Quality content means content that is packed with clear utility and is brimming with inspiration, and it has relentless empathy for the audience. “Start with empathy. Continue with utility. Improve with analysis. Optimize with love.”
  2. Follow a writing GPS – Good writing takes planning and preparation; it doesn’t just emerge, fully formed, out of the head of Zeus. Or your own head, for that matter.
  3. Organize – Good writing is like math: it has logic and structure. (There’s no single way to organize a piece of writing though)
  4. Swap Places with Your Reader – Good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It isn’t self-indulgent. Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they’re reading a piece, and it answers them.
  5. Develop pathological empathy – Use a customer/audience-centric POV. Replace ‘I’ or ‘we’ with ‘you’ to shift the focus to the audience/customer’s point of view.
  6. Put some extra thought to writing a good lede (Opening). Some ideas are –
    1. Put your reader or someone just like your reader into the story.
    2. Describe a problem your reader can relate to.
    3. Set a stage.
    4. Ask a question.
    5. Quote a crazy or controversial bit of data.
    6. Tell a story or relay a personal anecdote.
    7. Other options – Start with a quote. Use an analogy. Make a bold statement.
  7. Place the most important words (and ideas) at the beginning of each sentence. Hence, phrases to avoid at the start of a sentences – (You can tack them onto the end, or insert them somewhere in the middle—if you must use them at all.)
    1. According to…
    2. There is a…
    3. It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on]…
    4. In my opinion…
    5. The purpose of this [email, post, article] is…
    6. In 2014 [or any year]…
    7. I think [believe] that
  8. Ditch Weakling Verbs – Instead of: In his anger, he accidentally cut his finger. Try: In his anger, he accidentally slashed his finger.
  9. Limit moralizing or preaching. So avoid phrases or words like –
    1. Don’t forget…
    2. Never…
    3. Avoid…
    4. Don’t…
    5. Remember to…
    6. Always remember to…
  10. Break some grammar rules (these 5)
    1. Never start a sentence with and, but, or because.
    2. Avoid sentence fragments. It’s perfectly fine to sparingly add sentence fragments for emphasis. At least, sometimes. (Like that.) (And that too.) (And this.)
    3. Never split infinitives.
    4. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.
      1. One big unless: “You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing if you left off the preposition,” Grammar Girl notes. “That means ‘Where are you at?’ is wrong because ‘Where are you?’ means the same thing.
    5. Never write a paragraph that’s a mere one sentence long.

If you’re still curious for more… social media writing advice, tips like ideal length of FB posts, Tweets, Blog lengths, writing headlines or landing pages or even a repository of content tools to simplify your writing process, you’ll have to take that little bit of extra effort to go through the 282 pages of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide To Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley.

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