Seth Godin’s Advice for Writers Who Want to Make a Ruckus
I made a decision to write for my readers, not to try to find more readers for my writing. — Seth Godin
I remember the first time I saw Seth Godin.
He walks on stage wearing yellow-framed glasses and a purple tie. He says profound things. He tells parables to illustrate his points.
He mesmerized everyone in the room.
Afterward, I started buying his books, reading his blog, and watching his videos.
Today he’s the author of 19 bestsellers and is one of the most popular bloggers in the world.
I’m not writing this because I think you should become another Seth Godin. We don’t need another one. We do need you at your best. So why not up your game by modeling the methods the best writers use?
You win when you adapt the best advice into your own practice.
The lessons I’ll share are the ones that have had the most impact on my own writing. They’re also universal enough for any writer to use and benefit from.
The beautiful thing about these lessons is that they’re simple to understand and implement.
Are you ready to make a ruckus?
Let’s dive in!
Lesson #1 — Don’t write to show off.
Textbooks don’t sell because they use words to impress, not express.
Your writing fails when it doesn’t send the message you intended. When you use simple language, you’re more likely to connect your thoughts with your readers.
Your intentions don’t matter if your readers see something different. Readers decide what your writing says. Make it easy for them and they won’t misunderstand.
Seth’s style is simple and direct. No fluff. No pretentiousness. He knows he’s got one opportunity to connect with you and he won’t waste it with needless words.
“Write like you talk. Often.” — Seth Godin
Lesson #2 — Don’t use pictures. Paint them.
You rarely see pictures in Seth’s posts.
This goes against everything everyone is saying. How could you not use pictures?
Pictures can only do so much. They can’t tell your story; they can only enhance it.
My grandparents traveled every summer across the USA. We’d see hundreds of slides — and they meant nothing without my grandfather’s commentary.
“This is the oldest church in America.”
“We found out we’re related to Robert E. Lee. Here’s the battlefield where the Civil War began.”
“You’ll sometimes see Elk crossing the road. Here are the ones that made us wait.”
Stories make abstract concepts come to life.
It’s impersonal when you hear that 154,000 people a year die from lung cancer in the United States.
You hit harder when you say lung cancer kills one in every 20 people in America.
It’s unforgettable when it kills someone you love. You see their pain. You feel your own sorrow. And when you tell the story to others, it’s the feelings that draw you together.
You don’t have to tell personal stories. Illustrate something complex with something common. You’ll open doors of understanding that nothing else can ever open.
Lesson #3 — Challenge your reader.
In every one of Seth’s books, he shows you what’s possible.
Then he challenges you to do something with it.
In Linchpin, he urges you to turn your work into art.
In Poke the Box, he spends an hour pushing you to start something.
In Purple Cow, he describes how you can stand out in a crowded marketplace.
He gives you the seeds. It’s up to you to plant, feed, and water them.
I know you can. I’m wondering if you will?
“Our job is to make change. Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them.” Seth Godin
Lesson #4 — Notice things, name them, and invite people to act.
Seth is famous for starting the email marketing revolution.
He also told us that the old way of work is dead.
Now he’s saying today is the day to make a difference (not when everything’s perfect or normal).
What do you see? What’s happening in your industry? What can you improve or point out in your world? How can you call people to make a ruckus and change things for the better?
Keep your eyes open. Look beyond the news reports. Talk to people. Learn from them. Understand their pain, their joy, and their dreams.
Then offer them a chance to create the world they want.
It pays to notice things.
It pays more to do something.
Lesson #5 — Don’t write for SEO.
Everybody wants to jump on the latest trend. They hope the tide will lift them high enough for people to see their work.
Have you ever asked a hard question? It doesn’t have to be controversial. If you want to know, it’s worth writing about.
Go ahead and ask. Do it in public if you dare. If you do, offer an answer — because that’s what people are looking for.
When you ask, you invite people into a conversation.
Asking is an invitation to think. When Copyblogger asked Seth how long he prepares for a blog post, he replied, “16 hours. I’m not kidding.”
The more you think, the better you write.
Lesson #6 — Quality matters more than quantity.
Here’s a lesson copywriters have known for decades.
How long should your post be?
Long enough to make your point, accomplish your goal, and engage the reader.
That might be 2 sentences or 2000 words.
Once you’ve thought about it for 16 hours or 16 days, you’ll know.
Lesson #7 — See writing as a golden opportunity.
There’s a big difference between “I have to” and “I want to.”
The first is a chore. The second is pure pleasure.
Seth sees writing as an opportunity he’s afraid to waste.
Regardless of whether you get paid, does writing bring you joy? Do you see it as a chance to serve people? If so, your writing will be better. And it will be worth more when people do pay for it.
The future of publishing is about having connections to readers and the knowledge of what those readers want. — Seth Godin