The One Tool I Can’t Live Without! Plus My Best 10 Tips to Being a Better Writer.Nov 23, 2021
Writing is hard, especially since it isn’t your main job. You are an interior designer, not a writer. So, here I am telling you to write more blogs, scripts, and social posts. Ugh. What is a designer to do?
But, don’t worry, I am here to help. I am sharing my 10 best tips for being a better writer and the one tool I can’t live without. I am telling you, it is the best tool for writers.
Before I give you my tips, I am going to tell you a little secret about myself. One that I laugh about all the time with my family. First, to find this funny, you need to know that I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and have spent my entire career writing in some form or another. Trust me that is a lot of writing.
But, my secret is that I can’t help my teenage son with his writing assignments for high school. I am pretty sure if I had to retake high school English, I would flunk. Sad, right.
Are you wondering why I would flunk? The writing I have accomplished my entire career has very little to do with the formal English writing style many of us learn in school. Instead, I write blogs, scripts, and marketing copy. I write sales and email content. I even write proposals, training materials, and website copy.
How did I get so comfortable with writing? I practiced. I have found a voice and system that makes it easier for me to write effectively through practice.
Writing takes practice; Luckily, you write every day through emails, client communication, and maybe even employee communication. You may not realize it, but you are a writer, even if you don’t feel confident about it.
Your fear of writing may be stopping you from creating blogs, posting on social media, or even simply writing better copy for your website. But, I promise, with a little practice, you can become confident in your writing.
10 Tips to Improve Your Writing
1. Talk With Your Audience, Not at Your Audience
Notice the distinction there. I simply switched “at” for “with.” This is important. Your audience doesn’t want to be lectured. Rather they want to have a clear conversation about how you can help them solve their problem.
The more you can write that speaks directly to your audience as if they are a friend sitting next to you, the better they can relate to you and your voice. Don’t be afraid to show a little of yourself. This helps the reader better relate to you.
2. Write in Short Paragraphs
You have a limited time to reach someone. Our lives have become so busy that most professionals will only scan a passage to identify if it’s worth reading in-depth. Therefore, break your writing into short paragraphs.
This helps the reader move through the copy more quickly, especially on a screen. A good rule of thumb is 3 sentences per paragraph. I know you are hearing your high school English teacher yelling in your ear right now. Just ignore her.
3. Use Bullets and Lists When Possible
Bullets and lists allow the reader to skim the text quickly. Providing a quick list helps the audience quickly grasp the ideas in an article or social post.
With this said, making the text simple to read is much different than making it so basic your audience sees no value in the content. One of my biggest pet peeves is clicking into an article to find it’s superficial and offers no real tips that I can use.
My advice is to keep your writing and formatting simple, but be sure you have the breadth of content to impact your reader.
4. Use Contractions
Your writing should feel natural. In a face-to-face conversation, most of us use contractions. You know contractions. Instead of saying “is not,” we shorten it to “isn’t,” or instead of “you are,” we shorten it to “You’re.” By using contractions, you are less formal, and the flow of your writing sounds more casual and less like a legal document.
5. Don’t bury the lead.
Thank you, journalism degree. The first thing taught in journalism school is to write in an upside-down pyramid method. Basically, this means you want all the good stuff at the beginning, then the fluffier stuff toward the end.
Journalists are taught to answer the key questions of Who, When, What, Where, Why, and How in the “lead” paragraph. This writing style ensures you receive the most important information right upfront, so when you get bored and stop reading, you at least have the basics.
Writing for the purposes of marketing your business isn’t much different. You want to answer the basic questions upfront by telling the audience what the article is about and what they can expect. In other words, you need a hook and then reel them in. It is important to keep the attention of the audience long enough for them to take action.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Out Unnecessary Words
Have you ever had a friend, or maybe your mom, who says a whole bunch of words when only a few are needed? I call this the “over-explainer.” Don’t do this.
You want to write clear and concise sentences. So often, we write more words than necessary as a nervous habit. Or we feel we haven’t explained ourselves clearly.
My tip is to go back through the content a day or two after you wrote it and read it aloud. This will help you identify areas that can be eliminated or sentences that just don’t help the overall message.
7. Forget Jargon, Cliches, and Acronyms
Too often, leaders want to use the latest buzz words that really mean nothing or are used so often that they have lost their meaning. Let me give you a few.
Most recently, words like “new normal,” “pivot,” and even “we’re here for you.”
Both my husband and I are from families with strong southern ties, which we absolutely love about our family. As a result, we grew up with cliché and old southern sayings. I repeat them constantly at home and often incorrectly, I might add.
You’ve probably heard a few, like “all get out,” “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” or “bless your heart.” By the way, if you get “bless your heart,” the person thinks you are not real bright.
Both of us are puzzled about what some of these sayings we grew up with even mean, but we still have heard them our whole lives. What does “all get ought” even mean. I don’t know, but I use it.
I find myself struggling with avoiding these sayings in my writing. So it is a good lesson on focusing on the right words rather than relying on these old sayings.
Additionally, many in our audience don’t know what terminology we throw around, so it is important to be clear when writing to a non-industry audience. Even acronyms like the IBC, NCIDQ, or ASID are unfamiliar to the average person.
8. Use Keywords Related to Your Business
Writing copy for the audience is the top priority. However, with that said, it is also important to use words that support your search engine optimization.
For instance, my audience is interior designers. Hence, you will notice that in most of my articles, “Interior Designer” appears in the headline and lead paragraph. Therefore, the keywords you identify to help you rank should be used in the headline, subheadlines, and opening paragraph. Just be sure not to overstuff your content with these words, as this will send a red flag to the SEO bots.
9. Write 25 Headlines
I recently listened to a webinar teaching top tips for becoming a better writer from Marie Forleo. She is the founder of B-School and has a great program called Maria TV, where she interviews a ton of fascinating people.
She also has an extensive writing course that is filled with great content. In the webinar, she had one suggestion that I totally took away and started doing myself.
Maria recommends writing 25 headlines for every blog article. Well, I started doing this, and I have to say, it actually helps. Admittedly, it is a little tedious but well worth it. The reason is the headline is the most important part of your writing.
You may be asking why that is, Jackie. Well, let me tell you. If your headline isn’t engaging and interesting, no one will click the link to read it. If they don’t read it, then there was no purpose in writing the article. See my point. Well, really, it is Maria’s point.
I have also heard other advice that you should have someone else write the headline. That might work as well, but I haven’t tried that method.
As you write 25 headlines, two things will happen. One, it will focus you on what is most important to your audience. Two, it gives you practice. The more you practice, the better your headlines will be.
10. Tell a Good Story
I saved this one for last, but by no means is it the least important. Rather it is probably the most important. Audiences that read blog posts or social posts want to learn something new and to be entertained.
Telling a good story is the best way to hook your audience into reading further. If you think you don’t have a story to tell, think again. Everything is a story. My adventure to the store can be an entertaining story if written so. Every project you work on has a story. The key is to find that story and share it with your audience.
My Go-to-Tool is Grammarly
I am not kidding when I say that I can not live without this tool. If you are writing at all, then you need it too. That tool is Grammarly. I promise you, it is well worth the price for a pro subscription, which is pretty minimal. There is a free version, which is helpful for spelling, but the pro version is better.
Here is how I use Grammarly.
I have connected Grammarly to my Microsoft products, Google products, and even my web browser. It is utterly amazing how easy it is for me to misspell a word or even use the wrong word. Yet, most of the time, Grammarly will find it and let me know.
I can’t tell you how many times it has found something that I would have been embarrassed enough to crawl under my desk if I had actually sent out.
Grammarly Works Like This...
Essentially, it is an add-on that can be activated when you start writing or when you open it. For me, I like creating my first draft, then read through the content again, and then turn on Grammarly for my third revision.
What I especially like is when it recommends transition words or rearranges a sentence to make it clearer. In addition, the spell check and grammar check are much better than Microsoft’s built-in product. You can also set the type of writing. I have my settings related to knowledgeable audiences and creative writing. For example, if I were writing a legal document, I would set it for formal writing.
The only thing that aggravates me sometimes is that I swear it yells at me, much like Mrs. Maxwell from 7th grade English class. Almost in a mocking sort of way. Well, not really, but it would be funny if that were to happen.
If you want to improve your writing or just ensure fewer errors when responding to email, I recommend Grammarly. Shh, don’t tell anyone, but my teenager uses it too.
If you want to check it out, you can sign up for the professional version here. I am telling you that it is well worth the money.
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