To the nearly 5,000 of you who read my writing newsletter, thank you. I know many of you are working on writing projects both big and small. To that end, here are five simple things you can do right now to maximize the impact of your writing: Continue reading…
I was working with a client yesterday (Hi, Mike!) on some final edits of a publication-ready story. I really liked how the article turned out. But just as it was about to leave the door, Mike wanted to add the word “business” in front of “performance” in an early sentence, as in “business performance,” instead of just “performance.” I disagreed, because “companies” were the subject of the sentence, so the extra word wasn’t needed. That’s because most (if not all) readers will rightfully assume for-profit companies aren’t in the business of “philanthropic” performance or some other kind of performance. It’s all business all the time for them.
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered keyword stuffing while working with clients. It certainly won’t be the last. While “search engine optimization” has made keyword stuffing worse, I believe there is another root cause of word stuffing. Executives, marketers, and copyrighters spend the majority of their week working hard to build and promote their products and services. For them, it’s very important work. So they often view the exercise of writing as the greatest, latests, and sometimes last chance to tell their story. So rather than let their sentences breathe and sound human, they try to add every extra word they can to get the story straight. Continue reading…
When it comes to great writing, practice will only get you half of the way. To really gain an understanding of how language currently works (and how it fails), we must read often.
That’s admittedly hard for many people. One in four of you reading this didn’t read a single book last year, according to Pew Research. And the 75% who did only reported reading “at least” one book in the last 12 months, so it’s unclear what the average number of read books per year is.
In my own life, I have friends that read over 100 books a year. And I have friends that read no books. I like both kinds, but I know the former are better writers (and often communicators) than the latter. Personally, I read a dozen books per year, in addition to a similar number of long-form articles each week (via Longreads and Digg).
Wherever you are, sometimes we forget the impact that regular reading has on effective writing. This is your reminder. As we head into the holidays and new year, I challenge each of you to read more often. If you need a recommendation, read my recently reviewed books, my own two books, and/or subscribe to the above. Not only will this make you smarter, it will make you a better writer.
Need help writing anything next year? If so, I know a really good guy. Thanks for reading.
I didn’t want to become a writer until my second to last semester of college.
I was in business school at the time and wrongly assumed I didn’t like writing. That’s because I took a couple of freshman English prerequisites that were taught by crotchety old professors who were more concerned with grammar and punctuation than writing with substance. So I assumed English and writing was the study of syntax, not creative or effective communication.
That all changed when I met Clark Hammond, my professor of the mandatory business writing class I had put off until my final year of school. The specifics are foggy, but I clearly remember him giving me the green light to write about whatever subject interested me most that semester. At the time that was sports and video games. So that’s what I wrote about, and it was a blast!
Because I was writing about something that interested me, I finally made it a point to learn the proper “syntax” so my message could reach the widest possible audience. In that way, I still learned what my earlier English professors wanted to, I just did it with my heart this time because the substance actually mattered to me.
I’ve written almost every day of my life ever since. I’ve covered dozens of topics and only turned down a handful that just didn’t excite or interest me. Obviously we’re all forced to write about things we aren’t passionate about. But as long as you write about what you know for sure, what you believe in most, or the point of view that matters to you most, honesty will always come through in your writing.
You want this because readers are starved for honesty. They get bombarded with so much fakery, so much “forced” writing.
So they next time you put fingers to keyboards, try to write from the heart. And if you’re heart’s not fully in it, at least try to write from a perspective that matters most to you. Your writing, influence, and readership will be better for it.
See also: Bestselling author Blake Snow enters the Provo music scene
Fan mail is better than hate mail. As a public writer, I get a lot more of the latter than I do the former. That’s because angry people take action more than happy people.
Today, however, I received a heartwarming thank you letter from a reader who enjoyed my recent travel column. “I could feel your passion,” she wrote. “Your story is different because on top of being bright, I can feel the emotion.”
When I write, I’m significantly more concerned with helping the reader feel than any thing else. When describing something, I want them to feel what I did when experiencing it, as opposed to just describing it.
Description is important, too. That’s where I try to be as bright, honest, and accurate as possible. I hadn’t realized it until this fan mail said it, but “bright and emotional” have been reoccurring themes to my writing for nearly two decades.
Of course, there are other styles of effective writing. Dark, sterile, and intentionally ambiguous to suspend the reader. But similar to how most people try to avoid downers at a party, I believe bright and emotional stories reach a lot more people because they resonate better.
So the next time you write something, try to emote like a human and stay upbeat when describing things. In doing so, I’m confidant you’ll reach a lot more people.
Welcome to “Gutsy Writing” by Blake Snow—improve your writing in 5 minutes or less.
Not everyone can become a great writer, but a great writer can come from anywhere. The latter happens in one of two ways: they are naturally gifted like my wife, or they have to learn the hard way like I did.
For those like me, here are four certainties I’ve learned after 16 years of writing for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies:
- Say what you mean. Never mask or muck up your message with buzz words, cliches, or technical gibberish in an effort to sound smart or more convincing. Readers value clarity over all else. So instead of adopting garbage speak like “transformation,” say “change” instead.
- Mean what you say. Be sincere in your writing. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, why should the reader? Secondly, use adjectives and superlatives sparingly. This builds credibility. And if you’re writing for a business (or ultimately trying to sell something), don’t hide the fact. Own it. Readers respect that.
- Compose conversations. Make your writing breezy. Use contractions 99% of the time. Keep your sentences short. Read them aloud to ensure you’re not gasping for air. Write like you would talk to a friend. Give it to them straight with informal language they cannot call your bluff on.
- Use spicy words. These little devils delight readers, give them pause, and force them to feel your sentences instead of skimming them. If you’re nervous or embarrassed to use a certain word, that’s probably the spice for you. Some of my favorites include bodacious, skedaddle, gusto, deafening, splendid, ballsy, terrific.
Be brave. You got this! 💪
Need help writing this year? If so, I know a really good guy. Thanks for reading.