If your audience doesn’t love you, it hates you.
The average reader is unforgiving — they won’t wait around for answers to their questions.
They won’t wait around to feel something.
They won’t wait around to learn.
Though the exact numbers have been doubted by some professionals, Microsoft’s famous 2015 study revealed that average humans have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.
Our attention spans have apparently dropped from 12 seconds (in 2000) to 8 seconds (in 2015).
So, what do readers actually want?
According to Sarah Hancock, Chief Editor and Content Manager at BestCompany.com, “every article should quench a reader’s thirst for knowledge or diversion — the reader should either feel like an expert or like they just went on a rollercoaster. Either way, they’ll share your work.”
The moment a reader loses interest, you’ve lost the battle. There is no in-between.
So what’s the answer? Content marketers need to get better at writing.
We need to practice.
Some people say to just start writing, but this is never actually enough. You need to go beyond simply writing. You need to feel it.
I hate the weak suggestions of passive writers: write for 30 minutes each day, read for 10 hours each week, sign up for writing courses at blah blah blah.
You could write 24 hours per day and still be a terrible writer. You could read 365 days per year and still suck at writing. You could exhaust your time, money, and energy on writing courses and still produce the same bland stuff as before.
So what’s the key to good writing?
How do we move past the barrier that separates writing that is remembered and writing that is instantly forgotten?
Take a look at these 17 unconventional writing practices that aim to improve your ability to entertain or to teach when writing.
Write Until You Care
I won’t slap a time constraint on a skill that isn’t completely dependent on time. Yes, spending longer on an article will generally improve its quality. But, good writing is something that is realized more than it is learned.
Five minutes of sincere and heartfelt writing will do more for your skills than five hours of grammar practice.
So just write until you know you’ve written something important; write until you care about what you’re writing.
The rule “write 30 minutes per day” can be rote, uneventful, and ultimately destructive to your writing — rules like these turn writing into a task to be performed instead of art to be expressed.
Respond to Every Comment and Every Article
Nothing helps you understand your audience more than actually speaking to them.
And nothing will help you learn how to create audience-curated content more than a back-and-forth exchange with the reader.
You should comment on every article you read, express your opinion, your outrage, or your gratitude for well-written articles.
As content marketers, you hopefully already know that you should respond to every comment on every one of your articles. Don’t just respond, but seek to actually help resolve the concerns of those who are commenting.
Most writers are too proud to take criticism. There can be a ton of criticism when responding to comments, so a healthy dose of humility is necessary to learn from exchanges with readers.
When having a conversation with readers, follow the ABCs of constructive conversations:
- Accept opinions
- Be calm, don’t get angry
- Communicate clearly
Pick Some Fights
I don’t condone bullying, but a writer will benefit from the precise language used in an argument.
Keep in mind that there is obviously a wrong way to go about arguing.
So how do you have constructive arguments?
Choose a debated topic, find a well-thought-out article, and comment on your opinion. Ask the writer what they think about your opinion. If you’d like a more structured environment for practicing debate, try out debate.org.
Arguments allow you to make stands with more ease; they help you use more precise and effective language.
Write Out Loud
I’m not gonna lie, writing out loud is unnerving. You will hear things in your voice that you will absolutely hate.
For example, I hate that I say “for example” so much. I don’t say it when I speak, so why do I say it so much when I write?
There’s a reason why people who “speak like they write” are so annoying — it sounds too formal and you come off as condescending.
Instead, we should be trying to “write as we speak.” And nothing will help you do that more than speaking while you write.
The Copycat Method
In one of my favorite college courses, we took an entire semester just mirroring the writing of some of the world’s best writers. We studied their works and then created one of our own.
- Choose one favorite writer per month
- Read 3 short pieces from this writer (article, essay, chapter, etc.)
- Notice the writer’s voice, sentence structure, word usage, etc.
- Create one article that exemplifies everything you learned from your favorite writer’s style.
Don’t overdo the writing methods you learn from your favorite writers. Some methods only worked because of the time period or the subject matter.
Other methods can just get obnoxious when used in large doses. You should be trying to form your own unique style by borrowing off of the great writers you know and love.
The Feelings Vomit
This tactic might not work for you, so let me know what you think in the comments. Personally, it’s one of my favorite writing practice techniques.
Something I’ve done before is a timed rant about something that has been bothering me. The trick is you have to do it in the most elegant language you can manage.
Read some Robert Frost and then really vent your feelings. Don’t let grammar or sentence structure get in the way in this exercise.
9 times out of 10, what I write ends up being absolute trash, but I’ve found more than one golden sentence hidden in the heap.
Do this for 10 minutes straight. Feel free to edit and post what you have when you’re done.
What’s the biggest problem you’re facing in your life today? You can actually turn that problem into a powerful writing prompt.
In contrast to the feelings vomit, you’ll want to be precise and careful with this type of writing. Even though it’s still a type of brainstorming, you’re trying to efficiently define and solve problems.
With this exercise, you’ll want to pay attention to writing structure and grammar. Just follow these steps to practice your problem-solving writing skills:
Step 1 – Clearly explain the situation
Step 2 – Define the problem and identify the source of the problem
Step 3 – Clearly outline the possible solutions
Step 4 – Make a commitment to one of the solutions
Rewrite Your Favorite Story
This may seem like a bit like corrupting something sacred, but you can take your favorite childhood story and make it your own.
Edit the story you select to include yourself and some of the people you know. Or you could change the plot to include something more applicable to your life.
You probably won’t make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban better than it already is, but deconstructing it will help you discover why you loved it in the first place.
Editing exists on a completely different plane than simple reading. Yes, you can discover useful writing methods while reading. But, editing will teach you how to write efficiently and how to engage your audience more effectively.
When you discover storytelling tactics that immortalized a story for you, you’ll be better equipped to use those same tactics in your own writing.
The idea behind micro writing is to explain a difficult thought with the best words and sentence structure possible.
Try to explain your opinion on a political topic or views on religion in just one sentence.
You’re aiming to create kernels of wisdom like Bertrand Russell’s famous one-liner:
“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”
Who knows? After this exercise, you might see your name next to your one-liner on some forum explaining why stupid people are stupid.
Write Sticky Sentences
Practice writing soundbites, or catchy phrases that can’t help but be repeated. To do this, you need to follow some guidelines:
- Use nouns and verbs
- Use mirroring and repetition
- Use quick analogies
Of course, there is no surefire formula or plan for making a memorable sentence. Take Eisenhower’s famous soundbite as an example and inspiration: “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
A great place to try out your quick wit and concise soundbites is Twitter.
The more regularly you try to sum up a complicated situation with short, catchy phrases, the more likely someone is to quote you or share your words on social media.
Create Your Own Anecdotes
As content marketers, we are all storytellers — at least, we should be. We all learn life lessons through our daily experiences.
So why don’t we use our own stories to teach lessons?
You’ll find that creating anecdotes will teach you how to connect with your audience, bring emotion into your writing, and effectively teach important principles.
So how do you create an anecdote? Easy. Just tell a story that you’ve experienced, but haven’t yet been able to define.
Tell the story first and then attach a meaning. Once you’ve clearly defined both the story and the deeper meaning, you can mix the two to create a powerful anecdote.
Least Used Words
Try out the Most Used Words on the Facebook app. It’ll show you which words you just can’t help but say.
Write down your top 15 most used words. The next time you write, avoid these words like the plague. The process will stretch you to be a bit more creative when you write.
For example, I found out that I use the words “extremely” and “dope” way too much. I was able to find more appropriate and descriptive words in my following articles.
I learned to depend more on my own creativity instead of leaning on my habit words.
The experience was extremely dope.
Even though you might not be the next John Denver, songwriting will help you express complex thoughts and emotions in a concise or artistic way; but that’s not the only reason it helps.
Songwriting helps you to write with sincerity. Like journal writing, you step outside of the “probable opinions” of your readers. You are free to express things you might never have expressed before for fear of being judged.
You will find that because you stepped out of the normal writing procedure, your voice will change. With time, it will become more confident and more genuine.
And trust me, your readers will notice.
Online Book Club
Try forming an online book club with your friends. Talking about books can be really fun, but with in-person conversations little gets remembered and even less gets learned.
An online group will help you retain the writing practices you notice throughout the books.
Join the Online Book Club to discuss important books with link-minded people. Make sure you pay close attention to how each author entertains or informs their audience through writing.
Share Your Work
It matters very little where you share your writing, as long as you are able to hear the opinions of others.
A lot of writers are timid and afraid to put their work out there. As a result, we are left with just a few bold, inexperienced writers.
Plenty of websites are looking for guest writers and there are a ton of social media apps that allow you to post articles. My all-time favorite writing website/app is Medium. I’ve found that reader engagement is higher on Medium than it is on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
You can approach virtually any website that has a blog to publish a guest post. Though some websites don’t accept guest posts, it never hurts to see if they like your article.
Other places to publish include:
- Your Own Website
If you’ve read any of my articles on writing practices, you know how much I love a good metaphor.
I especially love metaphors found in music. Look at Michael Buble’s metaphor about his wife: “You‘re a falling star, you‘re the getaway car. You‘re the line in the sand when I go too far.”
The phrase ‘to draw a line in the sand’ has been used over and over again. The tough part about creating new metaphors is spotting ones that need a new life.
In the above example, Buble took something old and overused and applied it to a new idea, in other words, his feelings toward his wife. The metaphor is now new, fresh, and powerful enough to move his listeners.
We can do the exact same thing for our readers.
Practice finding cliche and overused phrases. Once you find the overused phrases, mix them with a new idea and reinvent the way we read it.
Write a Book
No matter the excuses you invent, you’re completely capable of writing a book.
The only question is whether we’re capable of writing a good book, which doesn’t really matter when practicing. For our purposes, any old crummy book will do.
I recommend writing a children’s book to start out.
Children’s books are concise and to the point, which is everything online content should be. When you write a children’s book, no matter how bad it is, you’ll learn to use exact, clear phrases that teach important principles or entertain with simplicity.
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