Mom Cartoon

When I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer, she advised me to “get a real job”. “Writing,” she warned, “will never take you anywhere.”

My mother was wrong.

We are living in a digital age and writing plays an important role in our ability to communicate. Both writers and non-writers need to master this medium to help them deliver a message, enhance their brand, and influence their career. There is a big ROI for people who know how to write.

Get to the Heart of It

Often when I teach writing I ask my writers to “cut away” the words that don’t belong. We are a wordy society, and our writing frequently includes a lot of clutter. The clutter can confuse our message or minimize its impact.

Invariably I am asked “How do I do that?

Here are some tips to help you succeed.

1. Step Back – Once you create your piece of writing (blog, eBook, website copy, case study, etc.), leave it for a couple of days and then read it again. It will be easier to edit once you have put some space between you and your work. William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” He was referring to cutting out that great sentence or word that you love. Why? In spite of your attachment, it is the single sentence or word that doesn’t quite fit your piece. Difficult to do, I know. I empathize, but it’s important if you want people to read your work to the end and understand exactly what you are trying to tell or teach them.

2. Crescendo and Staccato – Good writing is like a beautiful symphony. A symphony takes you on a musical journey, using both long and short passages, staccato bursts of sound and varying tempos to capture the audience’s ear. This technique can also be used in sentence structure. Shorten longer sentences. Break them into bite sizes that jump off the page, and interweave them with lengthier passages. Use short, plain English when you can. For example,

Replace: “In today’s digital world, the need to include multiple modalities for expressing your thoughts around your expertise is causing sales and marketing teams to re-think how they approach utilizing the right content vehicles for reaching new customers.”

With: “Our sales and marketing teams are using Twitter and LinkedIn to showcase expertise. It is working. Our business is growing as we attract new, digitally savvy, customers.”

3. The Power of Three – The brain seems to like hearing things in threes; it produces a rhythm all its own and reinforces the value of a message. Therefore, when I use examples to describe a particular product or solution for a client, I like to define my point using groups of three. For example, in the beginning of this piece I used three reasons why you might want to think seriously about learning a few writing principles.

Example: Both writers and non-writers need to master this medium to help them deliver a message, enhance their brand, and influence their career.

4. Seek Out and Destroy – There are a number of words that remove power from our message. Don’t try to curtail them in a first draft. It is fine to use them when you are getting your initial thoughts down. But when you begin to edit, I recommend using search to find and blast away as many as you can, where appropriate.

a. That
b. Just
c. Than / Then
d. Very
e. Really
f. Totally
g. Completely
h. Absolutely

5. Reading Out Loud – If you are not using a professional editor – or even if you are – read your work out loud, slowly and carefully. The key is to read it out loud – not in your head. Phrasing, rhythm, missing words, extra words and even spelling errors jump out when you vocalize your piece. I don’t know why it works, but it does.

I hope these tips are useful. I would love to hear if they helped you – or if you have any of your own tips to add. Leave me a comment and let me know.