Last June, I posted a little writing tip every day. I was thrilled by the reception they received, so at long last, here they all are in one place. Enjoy.
30 tiplets to make your writing sparkle!
#1 – Short sentences
Short sentences are easier to read. They’re also easier to understand. One point per sentence. No fluff.
Write shorter sentences.
#2 – Stop writing ‘very’
Mark Twain said ‘Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.’
Don’t say, ‘It was very hot.’ Say, ‘It was scorching.’
Better yet, be specific. ‘It was 30 degrees.’
#3 – Stop writing adverbs (words ending in ‘ly’)
We’re told at school that adverbs make your writing more meaningful. But when you want to get a specific message across, they get in the way.
In a sentence, instead of using an adverb to describe your verb, use a more descriptive verb.
Instead of ‘John moved menacingly.’ Say, ‘John stalked.’ Or, ‘John crept.’
#4 – Goals
When you write, what do you want to achieve from that piece of writing?
Start a conversation? Sell a product? Make your reader laugh?
If you don’t have something to aim for, how will you know if you’ve achieved it?
When you write, have one goal you want to achieve. Then, shoot for it.
#5 – Stop using weak language
The best writers write with confidence. They stand behind their writing and don’t hedge their bets.
‘This new product could make your life up to 50% better!’
Could? Up to?
Don’t tell me what your product might do. Tell me what it does.
#6 – Write every day
The more you do something, the better you get at it.
If you want to improve your writing, make it a habit.
Write something every day. Watch your skills improve.
#7 – Don’t ramble
You’re lucky that someone’s even reading what you’ve written. Don’t waste their time.
Get to the point of your writing quickly and stay there. Don’t go off on tangents.
The best way to do this is plan your piece starting with the end in mind, write it, then edit ruthlessly.
#8 – Something is better than nothing
Nothing you ever write will be perfect. Perfection in writing doesn’t exist (not since Iain Banks died anyway).
Just write something. You can always go back and edit it later. Plus, the more you write, the better you’ll get.
#9 – You can write anything
People ask me how I can write articles about SaaS sales, web hosting and building inspectors on the same day. How can I be that knowledgable?
Real talk. All I have to do is know more than most of the people who read the article.
Read 3 other articles about your subject. You now know more about that subject than 90% of people. You’re good to go!
You can write anything.
#10 – Write like you talk
Some people sit down at the computer to write and suddenly get possessed by the ghost of Dickens.
They feel the need to use flowery language, convoluted sentences, the word ‘hence’.
Don’t. When you write like you speak, your reader understands you.
Wouldn’t you rather get your message across than win the Booker Prize?
#11 – Be yourself
Your writing is a reflection of who you are. Make sure you’re actually reflecting yourself.
You read your favourite authors because you like their style. You need to develop your own style if anyone is going to read what you write.
Don’t copy. Don’t try to be like anyone else. You’ll just come across as a second-rate imitation.
If you’re funny, optimistic, sarcastic, obsessed, show it in your writing. Ignore the detractors.
#12 – Don’t fret about spelling and punctuation in 2018
It’s hard for me to say this as a fully-paid up member of the grammar police, but it’s true.
There are more important things to worry about when you’re writing than spelling and punctuation. If you’re not a great speller, don’t let it stop you writing. Clarity and content are critical.
Most people don’t care if there’s the odd comma out of place. Plus, there are apps like Grammarly to help you tidy up your writing.
Finally, if you’re writing for the web, if you see something wrong you can always go back and correct it later.
#13 – Headlines count
Your headline is what grabs the reader and makes them want to read your article. Don’t let them pass by.
Write a headline that is clear (you don’t need to be to clever with your headline).
Write a headline that promises value to your reader (and delivers in the rest of the article).
Use powerful and emotional words to get that click.
#14 – Be specific
If you want get your message across when you write, be specific.
Deal in facts, not opinions.
Why use words like ‘many’, ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ when you could use a number to quantify it?
What one person considers ‘a lot of money’ is different from what another person does.
Don’t let your readers be in any doubt.
#15 – Use simple language
What would you prefer?
Your reader to think how clever you are, or your reader to understand what you wrote?
Writing is not an opportunity to show off.
Use language that is easy to understand. Get straight to the point. Flowery adjectives and adverbs get in the way of your message.
Your reader will thank you.
‘The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat’ – Robert Heinlein
#16 – Active voice
Which sentence reads better to you?
‘Harry kicked the ball into the goal.’
‘The ball was kicked into the goal by Harry.’
It’s the first one right?
That’s because it’s written in the ‘active voice’.
It means the subject (Harry) is the one performing the action (kicking) on the object (the ball). Active voice gives a sentence clarity and power.
In the second sentence, the order is reversed. The object is being acted upon. This is called ‘passive voice’.
Try not to write in passive voice. It confuses and bores the reader.
Are you an active or passive person? Make it show in the way you write!
#17 – Leave as long as possible before editing your writing
We all make loads of mistakes when we write. I know I do anyway.
Spelling, grammar, things I’d planned to write but forgotten about.
If you want to catch these mistakes before you publish your work, don’t edit it straight after writing.
Leave as long as you can before you go back and look at your work again. At least a day, if you can.
You’ll catch more mistakes, think of better ways you could construct your sentences, think of new ideas to add.
All in all, your finished product will be much better.
#18 – Grab your reader’s attention
If you can’t grab your reader from the start of your piece, you’ve lost them. They’ll go and read something else.
Here are 3 ways you can snare your reader from the first line, and keep them reading to the end.
* Tell a story – People love to read a story, especially if it’s from your personal experience
* Get to the point straight away – provide a piece of useful information
* Hit your reader in the feels – write something that appeals to their hopes or fears
OK, go and write!
#19 – Solve a problem
Want to write something that provides value for your audience?
Want to make them keep coming back to you and tell their friends on and offline?
Solve a problem for your reader.
Who’s your ideal reader? What keeps them awake at night?
What questions are they asking online? On Google? Or social media?
Once you know this, you can write articles that specifically answers those questions?
And they will love you!
#20 – Read aloud to yourself
Want to know if something you’ve written is easy-to-read?
Read it. To yourself. Out loud.
Sometimes sentences that look great on a screen sound terrible when you read them out.
They sound unclear, wordy or cumbersome.
If you come across sentences like that when you read them out loud, go back and improve them.
#21 – Know your audience
Who do you want to read your writing?
A potential customer? An influencer? Someone who has wide knowledge of your subject, or someone who knows nothing about it?
Before you write anything, decide who it’s going to be for.
Who are they? How old are they? What’s their job? What are their hopes and fears.
Give them a name if it helps!
Keep them in mind throughout your writing process.
When it’s done, ask yourself, ‘What will my reader gain from reading this?’
#22 – Bullet points
Why do you think everyone on LinkedIn writes like this?
A new line for every sentence.
It’s because it’s easier to read.
People don’t like wading through long sentences full of words to find out what they want to know. See?
When you’re writing try to use bullet points wherever you can.
They’re great for:
- Breaking up long paragraphs
- Helping out your reader
- Giving them something to remember
See? And you don’t even have to write in proper sentences!
#23 – Have a plan
Sorry to say this, but you can’t just sit down and let the words flow. Not if you want to create something clear and powerful anyway.
Plan what you’re going to write before you start.
What are the points you want to make?
What style are you going to write in?
What’s the call to action? The thing you want your reader to do afterwards.
Once you have a structured plan, then it’s time to let it flow.
#24 – Edit ruthlessly
In the writing game, they call it ‘killing your children’!
That sentence you’ve written that you’re really proud of.
That obscure and really descriptive word you’ve put in there.
Is it really necessary?
Does it actually enhance your piece of writing? Does it give value to the reader?
Or does it clutter up the place? Is it more that you’re trying to show your reader how clever you are, rather than being clear?
If you don’t need it. Get rid of it.
#25 – Don’t repeat yourself
It may be the most important message in your piece of writing, but you don’t need to overdo it.
Don’t write the same thing twice in your piece of writing.
Write it clearly and powerfully the first time, and you won’t need to write it again.
Repeating yourself bores your reader.
#26 – Never stop learning
Never presume you know everything. You can always get better.
If you want to get better at anything, there are people out there who want to teach you. There are books, videos, courses about everything.
I’m a pro writer, but I still am striving to improve. For myself and for my customers.
This year I completed the Copyblogger Certified Content Marketing course.
I’m currently getting through the AIWA Copywriting Course so I can do direct response like the Americans.
How about you?
#27 – Read
It’s probably the easiest way to improve your writing. Read.
The work you read affects the work you write.
I get inspiration from books, articles, adverts, anything with the written word on it.
I improve my vocabulary, find new ways of conveying information, decide what I like and what I don’t. All through reading.
#28 – ‘Write drunk, edit sober’
Not my words, those of Ernest Hemingway (possibly).
I’m not saying you need to get tanked up before you write something. But it helps to get into that state of mind.
Be free. Write anything you like. It doesn’t matter if it makes no sense, offends everyone or is generally a load of gibberish.
Just get it down. Get it out there. Experiment. Be creative.
However, when it’s editing time, that’s when you need a cool head. You need to be thinking clearly.
That’s where you mould your creative experimentation into something easy to read, that achieves your goals.
#29 – 3 is the magic number
Short sentences are great, but you can vary things with a long one now and again.
When you harness the power of three, you give your writing pace, structure and sparkle!
It’s not a coincidence that there were 3 bears, amigos and lions on a shirt.
Your reader often expects 3 examples of something, so don’t disappoint them.
3 is indeed the magic number. Ready. Set. Go.
#30 – Write shorter paragraphs
Shorter paragraphs are easy to read and encourage the reader to carry on reading.
So, keep them as short as you can.
Make one point per paragraph. You want to say something different? Start a new one.
Thanks for reading my 30 tiplets. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and are using them to improve your writing today.