Write Like You Talk, but Edit Like Every Word Costs Money
And other lessons from getting critiqued by better writers
I admit it: I’ve looked at my idols’ articles and thought, “Why do their pieces do better than mine?”
The answer was obvious. They were doing better because they were better.
So I decided that rather than be envious of them, I would learn from them. I reached out to my idols. I developed friendships with many of them. And now, I get regular feedback from them.
Their teachings have helped me realise I’ve made several missteps in my writing journey. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and what you can learn from them to improve your own writing.
Titles Are So Important
A poor title likely means readers won’t even click on your story, let alone read it.
I have pondered over titles for hours, tinkering away. When I am happy with the outcome, I look for feedback. Other writers have immediately left feedback like “it’s not working for me”…
Back to the drawing board then.
There are various factors that make up a good title. You need a hook, something that will catch the reader’s attention. There needs to be intrigue, or mystery, to encourage the click through. The reader wants to be sure they will gain something from reading your story. Everyone’s time is precious, so make sure you earn that attention.
- Although there are debates about them, listicles, how-to’s and here’s how are all great ways to immediately show the audience what they’ll gain by reading.
- ‘Power’ words, and words that strike emotion, make your headlines more impactful. For example, instead of ‘better’, try ‘remarkable’.
- When it’s written, ask yourself , “would I click on this?” That will be your answer right there.
Nail the Introduction
You got the title sorted. It’s absolute fire. The reader clicked and is beginning to scroll down your story. But something is wrong.
The reader is feeling disconnected. Disinterested. Bored. Will they continue reading or click away?
The answer in most cases is that you’ve just lost a reader.
This is the biggest mistake I have been making in my writing. It doesn’t matter if the content of my story is full of value if I can’t keep a reader engaged in the first few sentences.
The feedback I got was always this same: this intro needs something more.
You have to make the reader relate to your words. You need to keep their interest gained from your title and feed them some more. A solid introduction will keep readers scrolling down and build up that intrigue so they feel they have to read the body of the story.
This is the key to boosting your story’s engagement.
- If you are writing an intro, try to add a personal story, or a little anecdote. Make this relate to the main theme of the piece. This catches the reader, and immediately gives them something to relate to.
- I was once told it can be helpful to write the introduction last. This is great advice. Writing is a fluid process, and what you set out to achieve may not be what results at the end. Read your piece at the end, and work back to write your intro from there.
Write Like You Talk
Don’t try to impress people with your vocabulary.
If your writing looks like you’ve needlessly replaced every word with a bigger, brainier terms from the thesaurus in an effort to appear more intelligent, you won’t come off looking smarter — you’ll come off looking fake.
Good writing is genuine. Good writing is real. Good writing is something that comes from being natural and using your own unique voice. So don’t use words or phrases that you wouldn’t use while speaking.
In the blogging world, simpler is smarter.
- Read everything out loud. Did it sound a little stupid or forced when you say it? That’s because you don’t speak that way.
- Stop writing ‘you will’, ‘you are’, ‘that is’, ‘would not’, ‘do not’ and ‘can not’, when their shorter, more natural version is more appropriate. Michael Thompson has called me out on this so many times I’ve lost count.
Find a New Angle
In my earlier writing days I once sent Tom Kuegler a draft and that ruthless motherfucker took half of it apart for being the same as everything else out there.
But you know what? He was bang on the money. Some of what I had written was unique and true to me. The rest? I had basically regurgitated what I had read from others to fill it out.
Tom could tell, right away. And so can your audience.
If you’re writing what you’ve seen before, someone else will have seen it too. Reader’s don’t want the same present in different wrapping paper. They want to see new points of view, new angles and new opinions.
Don’t fall into this trap. Always look for the new way in.
- When writing, ask yourself, “have I read this before?” If the answer is yes, ask yourself “how can I approach this differently?” If the answer to that is “I can’t”, you can put this one in the bin.
- It is impossible to always tread a new path. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change your approach. Focus less on what others are doing, and practice writing genuine, true content.
Be More Concise
Continuing the theme of simpler is smarter, you can apply this to your writing structure too. It’s best to make your point and get out of the way.
This means small words and shorter sentences. Simple writing is so persuasive. If you can make a good argument in five sentences, it will sway more people than a brilliant argument in twenty sentences.
That isn’t to say you can’t mix it up. You can throw in the occasional longer sentence, or a super short one here and there.
Look at your Medium draft like a canvas. There’s an art to constructing your writing and laying it out effectively.
- Realise that the layout of the article is just as important as the words within it. Spend time working on the structure to maximise engagement.
- Mix up sentence length, but always edge towards shorter. The more concise, the more your points hit home. Apps like Hemingway highlight sentences that are too long, or are difficult to read.
Edit Like Every Word Costs Money
On many occasions I have edited my pieces many times before seeking feedback from someone else. Because of this I’m always sure it will return with little feedback…and yet, I am always wrong.
The problem is that I get too precious about certain sentences I write, or things that I think are funny, or points I am making.
But they’re missing the mark, and don’t need to be there.
Your edits need to be ruthless. Cut out any bullshit or wavering points that you have lingering in there.
At the end of the editing process, every word should be on that page because it deserves to be. If it doesn’t, you aren’t editing your work thoroughly enough.
- One of my idols gave me the best editing advice I’ve ever received. Sleep on it! It’s difficult to edit when the words you’ve just written are still fresh in your head. You need a new perspective and the best way to do this is to wait till the next day.
- Do several edits, even before you seek feedback. You need to become your biggest critic.
- Rushing out articles only leads to one thing: poor results. Never skip on the editing process. Be patient and focus on quality over quantity.
Experiment With Your Style
I have been guilty of keeping myself in a box when it comes to writing. I know what I feel comfortable writing about, and I like to keep it that way.
But how can you improve as a writer if you don’t leave your comfort zone?
Some of the best feedback I’ve received from other writers is to try new things. Yes, I run a business, but what else has happened in my life? I write. I’ve had relationships. I have a long list of life lessons just like everybody else. I have different opinions on a whole host of topics.
So why don’t I share them with the world?
It’s scary moving away from what you know, but it’s also rewarding.
You can also experiment with your structure. I like the 5–7 minute format, and it suits my writing, but what if I did something else?
Niklas Göke recently challenged me to write a long format ‘complete guide’. It’s difficult as hell. But I can already tell the outcome is going to bring serious value to readers, and the process is bringing serious value to me.
- If you’re struggling to find something to write about, try something new. Whether it’s something that made you angry or just opening up and being vulnerable, experimenting is key to generating new ideas.
- Playing it safe might score you another decent article, but what about the long-term goal of becoming a better writer? When you step out of your comfort zone, it opens your eyes to a whole new world of writing.
Nail the Conclusion
I always viewed the conclusion like I was writing an essay. I used to half heartedly summarise my main points, and leave it at that.
But the conclusion is far more important than that, especially in the blogging world.
It’s your opportunity to control what thoughts, actions and motivation the reader leaves with. What do you want them to go away with? It’s your moment to leave a final word that brings together everything you’ve written and punches the reader in the face with it.
When done right, conclusions can be impactful and inspiring. They’re the difference between somebody liking your story, or leaving without saying thanks. Your story might been amazing, but a poor conclusion is enough to mean the reader leaves and you get none of the rewards.
- Short and sweet work best. Like the earlier points, be concise so that the conclusion can have maximum impact with minimal length.
- Go out on a high. Many successful posts leave the reader with a motivational line like “you can do it!” to give them that final bit of encouragement to put your words into action.
- You don’t need to summarise every point you made. Sum up the entire piece in a sentence or two, and leave yourself a couple of lines to deliver one final memorable message.
Writing takes bravery.
Reaching out to those you put on a pedestal takes even more bravery. Putting your work in front of someone who does it better than you is terrifying and leaves you vulnerable.
But take it from me: it will improve your writing exponentially, and one day you will join them on that pedestal. So start today and become remarkable!
See you on the pedestal!