Guest post by Logan Marshall
It is 3 am. The air is hot. Inside an old barn, Frank hovers over a large, intricate machine. Sweating. Illuminated by a single flickering candle.
He looks tired. Borderline insane. His long wiry hair a mess, a manic smile stretching across his face…
Outside, unknown to Frank, a SWAT team waits patiently. Quietly. Guns drawn. Huddling in the bushes. “We’ve never faced anything like this before,” one of them thinks, “there is no room for error. The entire planet hangs in the balance…”
Suddenly, it happens.
Accompanied by an ear-shattering blast, a blinding pillar of white light erupts towards the sky, crashing through the roof and illuminating the countryside in an erie glow. It is endless. Unfathomable. Reaching towards the heavens like a portal into the unknown.
On the ground, the SWAT takes aim. The hair on their bodies stands on end. The air is alive. Electrified. Pulsing with a frightening power.
But it’s too late. Above them, something huge is descending. Falling. A dark shadow — slowly circling the pillar of light. Gazing upward, eyes wide with fear, the SWAT team drops their weapons.
“What in the hell…”
Okay. Now that you know about the massive alien portal of doom, you’re probably wondering how I’m going to tie it into the subject of today’s post.
So here’s my feeble attempt at relevancy: Frank, the crazy lunatic mad-scientist, has discovered a power unknown to humankind. A terrible, dangerous power – but nevertheless, something potently dynamic.
Likewise, in today’s post I’m going to give you something powerful. Something that, unfortunately won’t enable you to summon aliens from the heavens, but will let you dramatically improve your writing ability (somehow, that doesn’t sound so appealing any more).
But anyway, what follows are the four BIGGEST writing lessons I’ve ever learned. Four lessons that, when I “discovered” them, immediately transformed my ability to persuade, entertain and hook people.
1. Write. In. Short. Punchy. Sentences
This first lesson is something I learned from the “overlord of email marketing:” Mr. Andre Chaperon himself. It immediately changed my business.
You see, whether you’re a freelance writer, a blogger or just a plain old writer, there’s a harsh reality you need to face; something that’s growing more and more apparent by the day.
And that’s this:
People have ADD. All of them. Every, single, flipping person. They are like Twitchy the squirrel, bouncing around like scatterbrained two-year-olds.
…and I should know. I’m one of them.
With this in mind, you can’t mess around. You don’t have TIME to mess around. If you hope to make your writing stand out online. It needs to match the attention span of your audience:
While this probably breaks every “school taught” rule you’ve been taught, it works. Extremely well. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
- Try not to use commas. Instead use full stops (periods).
- Avoid unnecessary adjectives. Adverbs too. More often than not, your writing will be better off without them.
- Keep paragraphs short. 2-3 lines max. People are intimidated by big blocks of text. They’ll happily run off and watch the latest episode of Smosh.
- Use vigorous language. Don’t “beat around the bush,” as they say. Be direct, forceful and passionate. Don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.
- Know your audience. While short punchiness works great in most markets, sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re writing to academic professors, you should probably reconsider writing like this. Know your audience. Analyze. Make an assessment.
2. Let your personality shine through
This second lesson is something that took me a long time to understand. Too long. For the first year of my online writing “career,” I wrote what I THOUGHT people wanted to hear:
Short articles. Just information. No fluff. No fun. No personality.
But then I heard an interview with Steve Kamb. The man behind “Nerd Fitness.” In this interview, Steve said that the thing that skyrocketed his blogging success wasn’t writing what he thought people wanted…but embracing the “Nerd” in Nerd Fitness. Putting himself out there. Letting his personality shine through.
…Then it hit me.
People don’t just want information, they also want to be entertained. They want drama. Conflict. Tension. They want to laugh.
Upon realizing this, I scrapped the B.S. “corporate speak” completely, and went “all in.” Maybe too far. In fact, I created an 30 Day Training programbased around the theme of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (How’s that for “nerd,” Steve?)
Incredible. Ever since launching it, I’ve had a consistent stream of emails from (somewhat baffled) participants. People who are ecstatic. Literally head over heels with enthusiasm.
Here’s the number one takeaway:
Cut the horse-hockey. People don’t want it. They want authenticity. Personality. But most importantly, they want a connection to the mind behind the screen.
Give them that…
…and watch your writing soar.
3. Embrace the story
Lesson number three: Embrace the story…just like I did at the beginning of this post. Okay maybe not “just” like that. No, you don’t have to write about alien portals and SWAT teams. But you should use stories. They rock.
While I can’t give you the full-blown storytelling “rule book” in this post (check that out here), here are my top three tips:
1. Find the drama
All stories need conflict. Especially given peoples’ “squirrel-like” nature. As Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once wrote, “No one wants to listen to a story about the valley of the Happy People.”
2. Tell your story chronologically
Every story has a “flow” to it. A beginning, middle and an end. With this in mind, the easiest way to convey any story is to tell it chronologically.
First this happened…then this happened…then aliens came. Lots of aliens.
3. Make people CARE
Above all, your story exists for a single reason: to make people care. If it doesn’t do this – you’re done.
Insert coin to play again.
As I wrote in a recent guest post (here on Young Pre Pro),
“In every piece of writing you create, regardless of the topic, keep this in mind: If your writing doesn’t make the reader CARE…you simply can’t expect them to consume or share your content.
Understanding this, your task is simple:
Create something engaging. Build suspense. Evoke emotion. Write “Epic Shit.”
4. Use the “Instant Writing Voodoo Magic Sauce”
Kid: Oh my, doesn’t that sound exciting? I wonder what it could be! (shaking with excitement).
Dad: Well kid, prepare to be disappointed. It’s a cruel world out there. Not all fun and games. It’s time you understood that.
Dad: Yep, unfortunately there’s a harsh reality to face. A brutal truth about “making it” as a writer. If you want to become good – no great – you have to practice. That’s the only way. No short cuts. No “instant writing voodoo magic sauce”…just hard work and elbow grease.
Kid: But, but (looking up innocently), magic does exist. I know it does, Pop. What about Santa Clause?
Dad: Santa isn’t real! Now get back to work!
Okay maybe the truth isn’t THAT brutal, but the essence is spot on. Great writers write. A ton. Every day. For a long ass time.
The tips in this post will help you, but practice is the only way to become a true master of the craft.
Get over it.
Go write something.
One Final Thing
Before I wrap this post up and send you on your way, there’s one more thing I want to mention. Something that made a big-time difference. Both in my content and productivity.
What I’m talking about I call a “flash draft.”
Here’s how it works:
- Sit down at your computer.
- Write like a freaking demon for one hour or less. Let the ideas flow. No edits whatsoever. Just write until your first draft is complete.
- Let it sit for a day.
- After you’ve slept on it, come back to your work with a clear mind. A fresh perspective. This way, you’ll be much better at smoothing out rough spots and correcting errors.
If you’re interested in learning some more writing “secrets” (and hearing more ridiculous stories) I invite you to take part in my “Basic Training Course.” It’s glorious. It’s free. And you don’t even have to opt-in.