No matter how bad (or good) your writing is today, it’s possible to improve it overnight.
Here are seven quick “tricks” that can improve the very next piece you write.
- Know your reader.
- Know your objective.
- Use short words.
- Use short sentences.
- Use short paragraphs.
- Use active language.
- Write recklessly, re-write ruthlessly.
This means more than knowing a few demographics (how old they are, their average income, etc.). To know your readers means you understand their fears, frustrations, and aspirations. Writing from the reader’s perspective will dramatically change the way you write.
Every piece you write (blog post, press release, video script, or anything else) must have only one objective. I call this objective the Most Wanted Result, or “MWR.” Knowing your MWR forces you to write with crystal-clear focus.
To persuade, you must be easy to understand. Using short words is one of the best ways to do this. Don’t show off how many big words you know.
Your thoughts come across more clearly in compact sentences. An added bonus: short sentences prevent you from confusing your readers.
Imagine you come to a webpage filled with a large block of text. There are no paragraph breaks. Are you likely to read it? Most people would say no. Make your writing skimmable, scannable, and scrollable. Use short paragraphs.
Active language is vigorous and interesting. Passive language is boring. How do you know which is which? In an active sentence, the subject is doing the acting: “Bob fixes cars.” In a passive sentence, the target of the action becomes the subject of the sentence. For instance, instead of saying, “Bob fixes cars,” I might say, “The cars are fixed by Bob.”
Passive language presents your idea poorly. It feels “backwards.” It’s also more difficult for many readers to understand. Write with power. Use active language.
When you write your first draft, it’s okay if it’s awful. In other words, right recklessly. After you have your first draft on paper (or hard drive), filled with power and energy, you can clean up any “messes” you might’ve made. Be ruthless when you re-write.
3 “Bonus Tricks”
I know I only promised seven, but here are three more “tricks” that can make a big difference in the quality of your writing. Think of them as bonuses.
- Have a writing routine.
- Let your writing “age.”
- Finish writing before getting feedback.
You already have a “recipe” for writing. You may not be conscious of it, and it may not be very good, but you do have a general procedure you follow when it’s time to write. The elements of that recipe can include where you write, what time of day, with what tools, etc.
Why not consciously engineer your recipe, or routine, for writing? Here’s a link to a good writing routine you might use as a model.
I learned this technique from Stephen King’s book On Writing. After you’ve completed the first draft, put it away for a week or two. Let it “age.” When you come back to it with fresh eyes, potential improvements will practically leap off the page.
Write the best first draft you’re capable of, let it “age” for a week or two, then revise it. Only then should you share your writing for feedback. Only get feedback from a “trusted reader.” Teach them how to give you good feedback.
I like using the “C.U.B. Formula” (from Michael Masterson and Mike Palmer’s book, Copy Logic). Tell your trusted readers to highlight anything they find Confusing, Unbelievable, or Boring. Then weigh their feedback and decide if you need to make changes.
Use these simple techniques, and I practically guarantee your writing will improve.
Question: what are some high-leverage techniques you have used successfully to improve your writing?