The killer and the poet — ideally both in balance.
That’s our theme for writers in 2018:
To sharpen up your “killer” side with strategic, analytic, and technical skills, without ignoring your “poetic” side that has the talent to create fascinating content.
Today’s post is about nurturing that inner poet — and adding more artistry to your posts, podcast scripts, and video content.
I use each of these every day, to shape each piece of writing with as much craft and care as I can.
The first is one of the great pleasures of being a writer …
#1: Read widely
A good writer should be a compulsive reader.
Cultivate the habit of reading anything and everything that interests you. If you only read other blogs about marketing writing, your voice is going to stiffen up.
Read fiction. Read nonfiction. Read biographies. Read poetry. Read anything that turns you on.
Reading about various topics gives you perspective. (Which has a funny way of sparking some of your best ideas in your main topic.) And reading various voices gives you words, phrases, and verbal music to inspire that inner poet.
From time to time, it’s a fabulous idea to listen to audiobooks as well. You’ll experience the language differently, and notice turns of phrase and writing rhythms that can start to spark new ideas for your own work.
#2: Speak it aloud
If you want your writing to have more music, you need to know what it sounds like. You need to read it aloud.
This is the fastest way to find missing words, typos, clichés, awkward phrases, and confusing passages. You’ll also often discover logical problems, or content that’s trying to address too many ideas at once.
I like to read an entire piece of content through at least once. I’ll also read a phrase or two out loud in a later editing pass, if I’m not sure it’s as clear as it should be.
For even more fun, read some of your favorite writers aloud sometimes, as well. You’ll notice all kinds of things about their writing that you’d missed before.
#3: Follow the Rule of 24
Larry Brooks wrote a post for us about this, and it’s a terrific rule of thumb.
Once you’ve finished your post — including what you think are all of your edits — let it rest for 24 hours before you publish it.
Then take a final look. You’ll find odd, embarrassing, or just bland words and phrases that you missed, no matter how careful your earlier edits.
Fresh eyes are perceptive eyes. Give yourself a good night’s sleep, then look at your work with those fresh eyes.
#4: Look for analogies
One of the best ways to add texture, voice, character, and persuasive power to your writing is to use more interesting analogies.
Keep your eyes open for these, and add them to your creative journal or content idea file whenever they occur to you.
While you’re at it, watch for compelling quotes, fascinating stories, and juicy data points that will add richness to your work.
Don’t have a journal or system yet to capture those? Start one.
#5: Select the thoughtful detail
Too much detail makes writing feel overstuffed and indigestible.
But a few details, carefully chosen, bring writing to life.
Details shine more brightly when they’re set, like perfect gemstones, all by themselves. Cram too many into one sentence and they start to look cluttered — and cheap.
Specific, sensory details add resonance to your writing and make it more memorable. Milton Erickson’s African violet story would be much less memorable if the woman had merely grown “flowers.”
Look for a color, a texture, a smell, or another sensory detail that can be added — sparingly.
By the way — if your topic doesn’t necessarily lend itself to sensory detail, your interesting analogy may uncover some opportunities.
When I edit content, whether or not I wrote it, the first thing I do is read through the piece and get rid of unnecessary words.
Here’s an example from one of my podcast scripts. There was a lot of verbal filler that could be trimmed without losing meaning.
I want to talk about something
that seems to me to keepthat keeps so manyfolks who could be doing great workfrom getting recognition.
Then, I usually do a second pass and look for even more unnecessary words. These critters are sneaky — they like to hide out in your writing, often camouflaging themselves as conversational style.
After that, I’ll do a third pass looking for phrases that are too long or just clunky, rewriting as I go. (The read-aloud nearly always finds a few of these.)
In a fourth pass, I look for overly “fancy” words that can be replaced with simpler or clearer ones. By this time, I’ll also have noticed any words that have been overused. For example, when writing this article, I used the word fantasticfour times in the original draft.
Our Editor-in-Chief Stefanie Flaxman calls this process “writing exfoliation.” Every pass through the piece will reveal little rough spots that can be smoothed.
Once you have more experience, you’ll often catch multiple problems at once. A single pass might reveal a long sentence that can be cut into two, a pile of unnecessary words, some clunky phrasing, and a few Fancy Nancy words that can be simplified.
But no matter how experienced a writer or editor you are, the more passes you make, the smoother the writing will get. Four or five passes is typical for me, and I have no problem going to eight or nine (or more) if I feel a piece needs it.
By the way, it’s possible to exfoliate a sentence so much that it gets vague or confusing.
What blocks recognition?
That one went too far, if it’s intended to convey the idea from the original sentence above. Your read-aloud step will catch those and give you the chance to restore any lost clarity.
#7: Write every day
I’ve saved the most powerful for last.
If you want to be a much better writer, the wisest thing you can do is cultivate a habit of writing every day.
It doesn’t need to be thousands of words. It might be a paragraph or two, or even a thoughtful (and carefully edited) social media post.
Writing every day doesn’t mean publishing every day. Journal writing counts. So do drafts or sections of content you think you might publish later. Or rough sketches of ideas that you may or may not develop.
When you write every day, something funny happens in your brain. What Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement” start to get more active.
They start sending you more ideas, more turns of phrase, more metaphors, more stories, more fascinating details, more words. They notice more, and that means you start to become more creative — and more productive.
You don’t have to reach your mythical 10,000 hours to be a damned fine writer.
But the more often and consistently you practice, particularly if you spend plenty of time shaping and refining your work, the better you’re going to get.