How to write like you mean it

People who sit on the fence and mumble get ignored. We like listening to interesting and exciting people.

People who speak up and speak with the courage of their convictions get heard.

And it’s exactly the same when it comes to writing. Confidence and a dash of attitude are essential for arresting copy.

As an example, the video shows an entry from the Brave New Voices finals of 2012. I can guarantee that if you started watching it, then you watched it all the way through.

Understand what you have to say

You need to know, for certain, where you stand on your topic. Even if it is marketing on a new technology product, imagine you are a member of the target demographic and think about how it could help you. Work out why you are making it’s case. Remember –

The great majority of writing problems come from approximations in one’s mind.

That quote is taken from Ayn Rand’s, ‘The Art of Nonfiction’. I am not making a political statement by quoting her. Put your preconceptions to one side – that particular work is an excellent series of lectures on writing well-argued, valuable and powerful nonfiction pieces. Another gem from her chapter on judging your audience is equally applicable here:

Nothing is self evident.

How can you expect to expound on a topic if you know nothing about it? Bluster and …  that other ‘b’ word … will only get you so far. There must be substance and information at the heart of what you write. That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss the smallest of topics, just be sure you research it well.

Leveraging the language

The next step for articulating with attitude: look at your building blocks – the words:

  • Keep your words short, punchy and to the point
  • Use action words. Compare ‘They are doing really well’ with ‘They are succeeding’.
  • Avoid avoidance. Could, would, should. Might, maybe, perhaps.
  • Engage with your reader by using personal pronouns: you, we, I. ‘The company wants to provide users with the best customer service.’ vs ‘We want to give you the best customer service.’

Grab some gumption

What you are, rather than what you know, will at last determine your style. If you write, you must believe in the truth and worth of the scrawl, in the ability of the reader to receive and decode the message. – Strunk and White

This is the bit for which there are no special tricks or bullet points to help you out. You simply have to practice and stop being bashful about the sound of your voice on the page. Don’t assume everything you write is brilliant: that’s just arrogance. But begin to have faith that when you write at your best, people will not only want to listen, but they’ll enjoy it too.

Fake it till you make it

In the meantime, try these tips that will help you get going today:

  • Sit up straight.
  • Smile.
  • Put on your favourite rock anthem, crank up the volume and get the blood pumping.
  • Don’t let an ephemeral expression slow you down. Use TK when you get stuck and deal with it later.
  • Cut your copy. The fewer words you have to use the more impact each one has.
  • Fly through your copy on a caffeine high. (Never sugar – the crash is too hard).


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8 Responses to How to write like you mean it

  1. Mark Adler July 2, 2013 at 7:01 am #

    Under “Leveraging the language” you might include “Avoid buzz-words”.

    Incidentally, what /is/ “leveraging”?

  2. Patrick Neylan July 2, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    “Leveraging” almost always can (and should) be replaced by “exploiting”.

    • Matthew Stibbe July 2, 2013 at 11:36 am #

      Or even ‘using’. But I think Clare was going for the alliteration here. So any rule that’s worth having is also worth breaking from time to time.

    • Clare Dodd July 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      I would disagree. Well obviously! Whilst ‘leveraging’ should be used with care, it has different connotations to ‘exploiting’. I think to leverage suggests putting more thought and care into how you get your benefits than ‘exploiting’.

      Plus, as Matthew said, I was going for some light alliteration too :)

  3. noro July 25, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    “That quote is taken from Ayn Rand’s…”

    Sorry, that’s where I stopped reading.

    • Matthew Stibbe July 26, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      If you mentally crossed out the name Ayn Rand from this writing advice and substituted, say, Ralph Nader’s, does it make the advice more palatable? I’m just curious. I’m no great fan of Ayn Rand’s politics or personality but I think Clare thought her writing advice was worth mentioning and I think that’s a reasonable thing to do even if you dislike the author of it. That said, she doesn’t have a reputation for great writing, even if her books are popular, so politics aside, maybe that’s a good reason to disregard her advice.

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