What 5 simple tips can make you a much better writer?

 

1) “Nobody wants to read your shit.”

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, reduces it to one short sentence I wholeheartedly agree with:

Nobody wants to read your shit.

Let me repeat that. Nobody–not even your dog or your mother–has the slightest interest in your commercial for Rice Krispies or Delco batteries or Preparation H. Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchopotoulis.

Pressfield’s not being cruel. He’s saying you need to give the reader a reason to care. Don’t assume they will. Be fun or informative.

 

2) Before you try to be clever, be clear.

Don’t get fancy until you’re sure you’re getting your point across.

Research shows things that are easy for our brain to process feel more true than concepts that require work.

It’s also why small words are more effective than big ones and trying to sound smart actually makes you seem stupid.

 

3) Tell stories, not stats.

Stories are a fundamental part of life. Want your writing to be memorable? Forget the statistics and tell stories.

Via Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die:

In the average one-minute speech, the typical student uses 2.5 statistics. Only one student in ten tells a story. Those are the speaking statistics. The “remembering” statistics, on the other hand, are almost a mirror image: When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63 percent remember the stories. Only 5 percent remember any individual statistic.

 

4) Consider your audience.

You are powerfully attracted to and influenced by things you have something in common with. Think about who your intended audience is and make sure you’re making an effort to connect with them. 

It’s as simple as thinking about what words they use. Research shows mimicking another person’s word choice smooths negotiations.

James Pennebaker, author of  The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, has done research that shows similarity in word choice can predict who will fall in love.

 

5) Your words matter. Your metaphors matter.

In Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear Frank Luntz breaks down the ten main lessons he’s learned from years of writing political messages. The key takeaway from his book is actually part of the title:

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Some words and metaphors may seem interchangeable to you but people aren’t always that rational.

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

Back in the mid-1990’s, a majority of Americans (55 percent) said that emergency room care “should not be given” to illegal aliens. Yet only 38 percent said it should be “denied” to them.

Same end result but “denying” feels more harsh than “not giving.” When crime is described as a “beast” people favor police and jails, when it’s a “virus” the public supports social reform.

Don’t just think about what you’re literally trying to say, think about how the reader will emotionally interpret your words.

 

Again, the five are:

  1. “Nobody wants to read your shit.”
  2. Before you try to be clever, be clear.
  3. Tell stories, not stats.
  4. Consider the audience.
  5. Words matter. Metaphors matter.

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About Eric Barker