You’ve probably read lots of writing advice that tells you to write like you talk. But if I wrote like I talked—without enough thinking—too often I would hurt feelings, bore people or look stupid.
By adding the power of thinking that comes with writing, I avoid this kind of embarrassment. Better still, to echo Dale Carnegie’s famous phrase, I win friends and influence people.
Almost everyone converses with ease. You’ve been doing it since you were a toddler.
But how do you work in deep thinking while you’re writing that killer draft? You don’t. Instead, most of the heavy lifting should take place both before and after. Here’s how.
Think about who you most want to connect with: what gets them going in the morning and what keeps them awake at night. You’ll press these hot buttons later.
Then ponder how to express your personality and your brand’s. Many people are haunted by the ghosts of grammar teachers and bosses, telling them to be detached and objective. Stop! It’s called social media for a reason.
Now focus on the point you want to convey or the objective you want to achieve. Write it down in 25 words or a tweet. Keep polishing until your point is sharp enough to pierce through the content clutter.
Finally, pick the best route to deliver your point. For example, in how-to posts, you would give step-by-step instructions, like I’m doing here. Hint: there’s a bonus tip on how-to writing at the end of this post.
If you want your expertise to be recognized, you would offer two to five tips, which is all most people can remember. If you want people to donate to your cause, you would tell a heartfelt story. And so on.
Write like you talk
Because your title and first paragraph are all most people will read, you need to concentrate here, before you can relax into conversational mode.
Use your title and intro to summarize your point and reach out to the person you most want to connect with.
Then skip to your conclusion, your second most important part. Here you will repeat your intro, then add your call to action.
Done? Now you can write by pretending you’re having a conversation with the person you most want to connect with. By connecting with this one person, real or imaginary, you can not only make a new friend, but also attract like-minded people, which will spread your influence.
For most people, this activity is fun—and exhausting. Eliminate distractions so you can focus. Resist the urge to check facts, edit or do anything else. Stay in the zone.
Once you’ve finished your first draft, take a break or do something different. Your brain needs it.
This is the stage that separates the women from the girls, when you rewrite and edit to make everything better.
You may want to help your readers remember you, cut the flab to show off your muscles, fix the flubs that can make you look sloppy and show some Hollywood flash.
The Mona Lisa of bloggers
I’d tell you my top 10 memory-enhancing techniques, but you wouldn’t remember them all. So here are my three favorites:
1. similar sounds, especially alliterations or rhymes
2. what matters to your most important reader
3. repetition with a twist, as in “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Actually, I have four tips, but I’ve saved the last one because it’s so powerful:
Busy people won’t remember—and they won’t bother continuing to your call to action– if you go on for too long. Unfortunately, many people think they are too busy for this important part of the writing process. Or they are too emotionally attached to what they have written.
But remember you are writing for the person you most want to connect with, not yourself. Or the prof who’s demanded 2,000 words.
Here are two of the best ways to tighten your writing:
1. Delete all unnecessary words, especially adverbs, adjectives and fluffy professional terms the person you most want to connect with might not get. Pretend you are being charged money for each word.
2. Organize your content under subheads, which will also help your readers scan and navigate. Chop what doesn’t fit neatly under them.
Is that spinach in your teeth?
Although studies have demonstrated that readers are turned off by common gaffes that spell check and auto correct can’t catch, the same mistakes persist, especially on blogs and other social media. To stop looking stupid or unprofessional, you have to remember only two rules.
1. contractions with pronoun possessives (i.e. it’s and its, you’re and your)
2. words that sound almost the same but are spelled differently, as in peak, peek or pique.
In addition to undermining your reputation, these mistakes can cost you dearly. Can you imagine if you replied “I except your offer” when you meant “I accept your offer?”
If you want to take your writing to the next level, you need to apply the techniques that work in movies and other popular media. Try storytelling, humor and love.
With stories, remember that in hit shows events do not unfold in chronological order. They open with the murder or other plot-driving conflict. They also build characters we adore or detest and make a point, which goes back to the point you sharpened before you started writing.
Humor works too, in conversation as well as social media. Play nice and reflect your individual sense of humor. If you can’t tell a joke in live conversation, stick with the punchy one-liners or whatever your friends enjoy.
With love, which many people call engagement, I’m talking less about romantic love and more about the kind of love that Steve Jobs understood people feel for connecting and creating. Show you care about what gets your most important person going in the morning.
To write more for the person you most want to connect with, and influence his friends, you need to think about the medium he prefers. For example, if he’s a gamer, you might want to try some gamification techniques such as badges and other rewards. If she’s into music, think about how songs get stuck in her head and how you can burrow into hers.
It all begins—and ends—with thinking about how to win one friend and influence like-minded people. So keep writing like you talk. But think about thinking too.
With how-to posts, you can leave people wanting more, so they will follow your call to action. Here’s mine: If you’d like to learn more, you can take my online business writing course or read my book, both called Write Like You Talk Only Better. Or come back here.
With blogs, you can also finish with a question, so people will comment. Here’s mine: What can you add to help people win friends and influence people online?