We’ve chatted about how to create ideas relevant, and worth sharing, with the folks you want to influence. Let’s use today’s conversation to talk about turning those ideas into writing that does a job.
This lesson covers everything from putting yourself in a solid writing mindset to penning good sentences. We’ll start with the more abstract points (mindset, etc.) and progress toward simple tips on mechanics.
Write Like You’re Drunk
I’ll admit that this point seems counterintuitive to writing cleanly, but take off your judgment pants and wait for a second—it makes sense. James “Smitty” Smith of Diesel Strength and Conditioning gave me this advice during the first days of my foray into online article writing. During one of the many Sundays that we trained at his gym in Elmira, New York, I told him I was having trouble finishing a T-Nation article. The ideas stopped and I couldn’t figure out how to make my point.
He said, “Write like you’re drunk.” What he meant was relax. Writing like you’re drunk means you’re not judging yourself and second guessing every word you type. You remove your filter and just let yourself go. You’ll end up writing what seems to be an absolute shit storm, but the ideas start flowing because your filter is removed. And within that shit storm you’ll find some gems to build the rest of your piece on.
People remember stories—our brains are evolved to receive them. During the thousands of years of our tribal development, stories relayed the information that kept us alive and kept us connected to each other. Archetypes arose to embody our fundamental strivings and struggles—the basis of our humanity. So, when we hear a story we look to find ourselves in the characters, our actions in the plot. We relate, then, we remember.
Integrate the Story to Make Points and Wrap Up
Later on during that Sunday training session with Smitty, we talked about how he learned to relax when writing—he used to be overly self-critical which made him uptight. But developing a writing process, and harnessing his inner, imagined drunkard, helped him loosen up. He mentioned how integrating stories throughout his piece helped make the picture of the outcome he was trying to accomplish much clearer in his head, which made him a more productive, and more communicative, writer.
Re-touching on an introductory story throughout the body of an article helps people connect the dots and understand the material. Finishing the story in the closing paragraphs wraps it all up into a neat package that folks can integrate with the info they already carry in their brains.
Pretend You’re Having a Conversation
Something silly happens to a lot of folks when they sit down at a keyboard—they forget their personalities. All of their charm, wit, and humor are forgotten as if they’ve entered a new, academic dimension where attributes aren’t permissible. As if there’s a limit on how intelligent a person seems, or that they lose their ability to convey their point if they make a joke or start a sentence with and.
It’s a curious paradox. As folks are trying so hard to convey their message by stiffening up to make themselves seem legitimate, their message is lost because their writing is so stiff.
Avoiding this problem is simple—pretend you’re having a conversation with a close friend. Let your quirks come out and tell the dumb jokes that you normally do. People want to connect with other people, they want to identify with a common humanity. Sure, we’re all after information. But that information is much harder to access without real access to the person sending it.
Your writing is a way to gift your brain to other people. The wrapping paper is your personality. Talk to us.
Keep the Goal, the Goal
Don’t talk about shit that isn’t necessary to cause. Catch people with an interesting story or lead in. Add in your personality to keep it conversational. But don’t add in fluff. Say what you need to say without talking the long way around.
Make Things Actionable
Essay style articles are great, and totally worth writing, but most people are coming to your articles to solve a problem. Give them something that they can do that day, or week, to improve.
Simple Sentences First, Then Add Color
Since we’re not professional writers, we always run the risk of being verbose without making the points we need to make. We paint our sentences with willy-nilly adjectives that don’t truly serve a purpose. To keep ourselves from adding unnecessary modifiers, and writing sentences that lead a reader on a wild goose chase, write simple subject-verb-object sentences then go back to modify and make them interesting. It trims the fat while also allowing you to be creative. Simple sentences first, then color those motherfuckers.
When in Question, Break Up Paragraphs
Every time you think there might be an important shift, or subject change, start a new paragraph. Even if you’re making a point that in the same line of thought, but could be somewhat adjacent, start a new paragraph. It’ll help your readers keep tabs of your thought process and better understand your writing.
We’re not writing literature, using subheadings lets folks know that new information is coming their way so they can shift their attention. If you’re talking about something new, or making a new point, let folks know by creating a subheading. While some folks will tell you that numbered lists are a cheesy writing technique, they’ll help your average gym goer understand what the hell you’re saying and keep your advice in order in their brains.
Write a Lot
It takes practice—a lot of it. Make time to write every day—even if it’s just a finely penned email. You’re attention toward honing the craft, and your consistent action, will make you a cleaner, better-understood writer.
Clean writing is a function of developing your own process, infused with your personality and stories with a few sound mechanics mixed in. It’s like Smitty said, people want to get to know you; they want to be in your tribe. A helpful article is a simple way to let them join you.