A writer friend of mine told me this story a few years ago and I’ll never forget it. In fact, I purposely call it to mind whenever I want to charge myself up into writing mode.
When she was 19 and a freshman in college, she was at the library one evening studying with a male buddy of hers. Male buddy had a crush on a pretty red-haired girl who happened to be studying at a table, across the library.
My writer friend was encouraging male buddy to go ask the girl out. He was reluctant.
So she said “If I can finish this Philosophy essay we’re working on in the next 30 minutes, then will you ask her out?” He laughed and said, yeah, sure thing. He told her there was no way was she going to be able to crank it out that quickly.
But she did! 30 minutes later she had a written an essay she was surprisingly pleased with. She tweaked and edited it a bit while male buddy – good to his word – nervously approached the girl. And she agreed to go out with him! (Apparently they even ended up dating for a long time.)
Romance aside, something even dreamier happened after she wrote that paper. The week after she handed it in, the professor asked her to stay after class. She was nervous, understandably.
He then quietly asked her if she had copied any of her essay from a certain Philosophy textbook. She was shocked, scared and vehemently defended herself, saying she’d never even heard of that book.
The Professor believed her and told her that he had to ask because he was surprised an 18 year old could have written something so compelling. She got an A+ and a few important lessons about what fuels good, engaging writing.
She had put herself under a bit of pressure, for a reason other than her own self-gain. She pushed herself to write fast. She trusted her own instincts and listened to the voice in her head. She uncorked the stream of consciousness and just let…it…flow.
Great writing can come when you stop contemplating and just start writing. Like crazy. Now this is all inspiring and hopefully it’s revved you up to try it yourself. But good writing can also be broken down into some basic tips as well. I’ve given you 10, below to help you write more engagingly.
Note that some of these take place in the mad writing just-getting-it-all-down phase. Others should be performed on the second pass, when you are whittling and editing your work down. I’ll break them down into two mini lists:
The Writing Phase
1. Tell A Story
See what I did there, above? I told a story. Made it personal, made it detailed. People love a good story, so tuck one into your next blog post, article, email newsletter. Try to open with it or at least place it in the first third or so of your piece. Stories are a compelling way to ‘suck the reader in’ and keep their attention.
2. Get Specific
Whenever possible, sneak a little specific detail into your piece. Mention where the story takes place (like in the example above, the library) or a detail about one of the people in the story. The red hair on the girl wasn’t a mistake or an irrelevant detail. It was one more way to keep the reader’s imagination engaged and wanting to find out what happens.
3. Take A Stand
Mamby-pamby won’t do. No one likes reading middle of the road, uber-safe opinions. You have to take a stand and voice your opinion. Don’t worry about offending people (within reason, of course!) and don’t worry about alienating anyone who might not agree with you.
The point of your article is not to placate and please. It’s to get people reading and engaging. Most people will appreciate your opinion and even agree with you. And if the ones who vehemently disagree with you start arguing with you in the comments, better still. They’re reading and interacting! That’s a win.
4. Write Like You Talk
One of the ways our Philosophy friend above was able to whip that essay out in 30 minutes was because she didn’t really “write.” She told me it was more like she dictated the thoughts she was having in her brain.
She recorded not just what she thought about the topic, but also the way she thought it. This results in not only faster writing, but more conversational and engaging tone as well.
The Editing Phase
5. Breaking Blocks
Keep things short, punchy and simple. This is along the same lines of being strong in your opinion and being specific. Let each paragraph be about one thing and one thing only. If you start to address another topic, chop that paragraph in half and start a new one.
Not only will your readers tend to absorb your information better but also they’ll be more likely to read it in the first place. There are no readers online these days. Only skimmers! Make it simple for them to skim over it and pick out the parts they want to read.
6. Abbreviations and TXT talk
This should go without saying but please, for the love of emojis, don’t ever use any kind of Internet or text speak. It’s good – even great – to be conversational and casual in your tone. It’s not great to write like a 12-year-old girl on her candy-colored phone.
7. Same Perspective
Once you have written something you like, start combing through it a few times. I recommend each ‘pass’ be a lookout for a typical kind of mistake. So for instance, the first pass could be about making sure that the perspective of your piece, especially if you successfully added a story, never switches.
For instance. in my Philosophy friend story above, this would be wrong: “When she was 19 and a freshman in college, she was at the library with a male buddy of hers. Male buddy had a crush on a pretty red-haired girl who was studying at a table, across the library.
My writer friend was encouraging male buddy to go ask the girl out. He thought about it and remembered how his hands shook the last time he tried approaching her.”
See how the viewpoint is all about my friend and then – bam – suddenly you’re hearing the thoughts of the male buddy? Keep it from one viewpoint, all the way through.
8. Same Tense
The second pass could be about tenses. Not tension, tenses. Don’t switch all over the place from present to future to past. Another example to illustrate what I mean. Don’t do this: “When she was 19 and a freshman in college, she was at the library with a male buddy of hers. Male buddy has a crush on a pretty red-haired girl…”
It needs to be had, not has. We opened in the past tense and the past tense is where we must stay or you risk confusing your reader.
9. Proofread…The Day After
Sometimes it takes you a second to catch a typo. If you’ve been writing and editing like crazy, you’re likely to be in a more creative – and less critical – mind frame. So give it a rest, literally. Write, edit, proofread…then put it aside until tomorrow.
Now proofread it again. You’ll be surprised how many times you find stuff and think “How did I miss that yesterday?”
10. Second Set of Eyes
And finally, the best way to ensure great writing is to have someone else look at it before you publish (or have someone proofread it on Fiverr.com for $5). They can catch any typos and they can also serve as your very first ‘reader.’ Ask them to be very honest and tell them to let you know if any word or phrase didn’t make sense, or if they had to read it more than once to understand it clearly, etc.
And then if they tell you something didn’t work for them, listen to them! Put aside your pride and fix it. If they’re snagging on something as they read it, your readers will have the same experience. The only difference is that unlike your friend, the average reader might just leave and never come back!
So…did I keep your interest in this piece? Agree or disagree with any of my pointers? Do you have any writing tips or tricks you yourself employ? Let me know in the comments below!
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