The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

Writing hacks that will blow your mind

I feel like a deep sea diver.  After my first full day at Content Marketing World, I am now officially underwater with all the great information I’ve heard.  And, more importantly, I discovered some precious pearls of wisdom on writing, courtesy of Ann Handley, an author and content marketing expert.  (And didn’t you like that clever metaphor? Or was that a simile?)

I’ve always considered myself a pretty good writer, but never one who didn’t always think he had nothing else to learn.  So, although there were several other talks that were tempting, I chose to attend Ann’s SRO session.  When you’re a writer at heart, you can’t bear to miss hearing someone good talk about writing.  It was awesome!

If you don’t know much about Ann, check out the site where she is the Chief Content Officer here.  I have long been familiar with Marketing Profs and have a lot of respect for what they have been doing for several years now.  (Unfortunately, I was never able to hire them.)  Ann has also just published a book called Everybody Writes, which I bought at the conference’s bookstore and look forward to reading.

In her session, Ann shared several pearls when talking about how important writing is, not just to content marketing, but to marketing as a whole.  I thought I would share her best advice here, with some requisite editorializing on my part:

“Writing isn’t grammar; writing is thinking.”

Amen!  I’m a grammar fan as much as the next former copy editor, but good writing transcends nit-picking.  Always has, always will.  Hacks use grammar hammers as a way to scare the timid and insecure from writing, and it’s a shame.

And you can’t write well without a well-thought out plan.  That means you need to think through what you want to write and be vigilant for opportunities to improve what you’ve written.  Ann said to sweat the small stuff because it’s all small stuff.  Couldn’t agree more.

“Focus on empathy and experience.”

Stop churning out boring, run-of-the-mill blog posts and articles.  Good writing provokes an emotion, gives rise to a feeling.  It might be a good feeling or bad feeling, but there has to be something.

Reader apathy is anathema to writers.  At the risk of sounding like never-ending, looping gif file, people like stories.  Tell them well, with a narrator’s voice filled with vivid detail, and you can’t go wrong.

“Write with a strong, unforgettable voice.” 

Unlike some endeavors, you really can get points for style with your writing.  Write in a way that makes people want to know what comes next.  So that they keep coming back to see what’s new.

People should practically almost be able to hear you talking in their head when they’re reading your stuff.  What do you want that voice to sound like?  Think about inflection, tone, diction, pronunciation, speed, flow — all of it.  Dry, weak and dull writing is like whispering at a rock concert.  (How’s that for a simile?)

No surprise, there were many other gems Ann shared, but those were the best and will be the easiest to remember in the long haul.  Next time you need to write — and everybody writes! — think about this advice and follow it.  Your readers will thank you.

What are some writing advice pearls that you’ve heard and have stuck with you since your high school English class?  Share them in the comments or send me a tweet: @johnmbyrne.

P.S.:  I’m hopeful that Ann actually sees this blog post and gets a kick out of the headline.  It’s kind of an inside joke to those who attended the session…


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