12 Days of Christmas Writing Tips
‘Tis the season for self-improvement! OK, maybe not – but while you’re drinking all the wine and eating all the food, I’m bringing you my 12 days of writing tips, for Christmas. You might be five kilos heavier but hey, at least you’ll start the year as a better writer.
Now for a little disclaimer, these tips are not going to enable you to write War and Peace. Or even Fifty Shades of Grey. They’re just going to help you write and share better content on your blog or social media, while avoiding the most common mistakes.
So without further ado (or adon’t), let’s get started on the golden rules of content writing…
- Be interesting. Take the path less travelled.
I just read an article titled ‘Don’t write what you know’. Had it been titled ‘Write what you know’ I probably wouldn’t have read it, because how many times have we heard that? Articles that take the opposite angle are more likely to make people sit up and take notice. In my PR days I was taught ‘man bites dog’ is a good headline – while ‘dog bites man’ is not.
- Decide what kind of writer you are. Be true to your style.
I’m quite a factual writer with an informal, straight-talking style. Yann Girard, for example, is more of a philosophical and inspirational writer, who writes in great tweetable soundbites. My friend Chris Zumwalt draws deeply on personal experience and stories. What kind of writer are you? Inhabit your writing and use it to express your personality.
- Be useful. There’s enough pointless content out there already.
I love a rant about Donald Trump as much as the next person. But there’s a time and a place. Sadly, my views on Trump are not useful to anyone (neither are they interesting, as my family and friends will tell you). If I was a White House legal advisor, things would be different. However, I’m a writer, marketer, storyteller and small business owner. I’m most useful when I stick to sharing insights in those domains.
- Attract readers. Use a format that works.
All hail the power of the list. Five ways to kick ass on social media… Ten ways to double your income in less than a year… Eight ways to lose weight in a week… Lists work so well because people want quick, digestible, implementable content that gets straight to the point.
Then there’s the ever-popular ‘mistakes’ post. For example ‘the one word that’s killing your relationship’ (Yikes. What is it?). And the ‘how to’ post… How to write great content in five easy steps… how to sell your small business… how to write a ‘how to’ post. You get the picture. Stick to a format that works.
- Don’t look like an idiot. Get your spelling and grammar right.
I’m a writer, right? And I still forget when to use it’s versus its* But, luckily, there’s this thing called Google where I can look it up. I’m a bit of a ninja on spelling but even the most seasoned professional can miss a typo. For that, there’s a magical tool called the spell checker.
Seriously. Spelling and grammar mistakes are unforgiveable because they make you look like a preschooler and they clearly show you haven’t made the effort to check your work… Just. Don’t. Oh, and also don’t sprinkle your work with random capitals like my husband does. That kills me.
* I never get confused about their, there and they’re. When I’m president, people who do that will receive mandatory jail sentences.
- Be succinct. Don’t use five words where one will do.
Go back over every paragraph several times to take out unnecessary words. If you can make it shorter, do. If you can use a less fancy word, do. If you can get rid of jargon, do. Be ruthless in the pursuit of clarity and brevity.
- Don’t be passive. Use the active voice.
In the active voice, ‘the committee approved the new policy’. In the passive voice, ‘the new policy was approved by the committee’. The active voice is more direct, punchier and easier to follow. Use the active voice as much as possible.
- Be original. Use clichés sparingly.
At the end of the day… the rest is history… when all is said and done… back on track… come full circle. Clichés are expressions that have been over-used to the extent that they are no longer interesting and, in fact, we often use them without even realising. They’re so ingrained in our brains that they just slide off our tongues (there’s one!). ‘Proper’ writers will tell you; if you want to make a powerful point, never use a cliché.
- Know your audience. Give them what they want.
Have a really clear idea of who you’re writing for, and what they need to get done. Creating a persona (or several of them) can help you picture your audience far better than demographics alone. For example, having some detailed personas on hand could prevent you writing an article about jam-making, targeted at the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. For help creating your personas, check out my buyer persona article here.
- Don’t use exclamation points! Definitely don’t use more than one!!
Please don’t use exclamation points, unless you want to sound like a small, over-excited puppy. Andrew Griffiths, the small business author, told me ‘When you’re writing a book, you get one exclamation point. That’s more than enough.’*
*There are four exclamation points in this article, but three of them are ironic.
- Give the reader something to do. Make a call to action.
What do you want the reader to do as a result of reading your article? Would you like them to sign up to your e-newsletter to get similar stories delivered? Should they read something else in your blog? Do you have an event coming up that they should check out? Or would you like them to share the article with their friends? Think about the action you’d like them to take, and make it clear to the reader. Otherwise your article is a dead end.
- Structure is king. Make it easy to follow.
And there you were, thinking content is king… not anymore, baby. Long live structure. You must structure your article or it will turn into a meandering waffle-fest. Lead your reader from the opening idea or question, through the key arguments, to the conclusion. Provide signposts along the way. Your readers will thank you for it. And also, they’ll have a clue what you are on about, which is a good thing.
So those are my 12 Writing Tips of Christmas. I hope you enjoyed them. But more than that, I hope you’re inspired to do some more writing. In this brave new world, we can tap out a blog post and send our musings whizzing around the world at the touch of a button.
Make the most of this amazing opportunity, and share some truly useful content in 2017.
PS. If you want to know how to avoid making the most common storytelling mistakes (I see them all the time), download my Seven Storytelling Mistakes PDF here.