Have you ever noticed that writing gets in the way of expressing yourself clearly? In a recent meeting with a client, I suggested he stop trying to “think like a writer” and just tell me in plain English what he wanted to say.
Most of us learned to write in college, where we tried to sound “academic” and generally used more words, and longer words, than was necessary. It’s time to retrain ourselves. In You Have Two Seconds to Get Attention and On Writing: Cut it Out, I talk about how easily digestible your content has to be now—not just on websites or social networks, but everywhere. Nobody has time to read, so all of us are being forced to get to the point much more quickly.
But that’s not enough; we also have to sound authentic and be truthful. My client had written a rough draft of a marketing piece that was simply a long (long, long) string of clichéd phrases culled from other, similar pieces. It wasn’t useful or believable. But then I asked him to tell me what he would say to a customer if he were meeting him face-to-face and could be completely honest. An entirely different—and much more compelling—story emerged. Thank goodness I took copious notes, because now I actually know how to write the piece for him.
As I mentioned in Six Rules of Writing, always read your work out loud. If your writing doesn’t sound interesting or genuine, it’s not going to stick. Whether you don’t like your existing words, or you just can’t get started, try using your voice as a writing tool. Get a recording device. (I use Evernote on my iPhone.) Let yourself ramble for a while, playing with your ideas and with different ways to express them. Give yourself permission to be completely honest, as if you were speaking to a trusted friend. Then, when you’re ready to go back to the keyboard, you can substitute more formal language—just don’t overdo it. These days, everybody prefers to hear a friendly voice in their head—not the formal speech of a college professor or the chatter of a smooth-talking salesman.