What I’ve Learned About Writing, or How to Stop Making Vanilla Ice Cream

I’m passionate about writing, but I’ve written a lot of crap over the years.

When I look back at older works of mine it often feels like pulling a tarp off an old project, cringing at it, and quickly replacing the tarp before anyone else sees. A lot of them I felt good about at the time, but they published and got no comments, no feedback, no shares. Invisible.

Sure, there are pieces in there I’m proud of, but it brings into focus what I’ve learned over those years.

So from someone who’s written a ton of invisible content and strives every day to be a little better, here are tips that are something of a mantra for me each day. I don’t always follow them, but my writing is always better when I do.

1. Write what you think.

Not the summation of what you’ve read in a few related articles. Not what others in your industry are predominately saying. Not what you think your clients or prospects want to hear.

There are a zillion empty, preachy articles out there about anything you can think of. How to garden better, how to do your own SEO, how to change the brakes on your car… And most of them have one thing in common. They’re vanilla.

“But how am I supposed to look like an authority on this topic if my site doesn’t cover it, too?” I asked myself.

Well it’s never ideal to be article #1001 on the subject, but the internet makes it hard not to be. But you owe it to yourself and your readers to force some you into it.

Is it a tip that you begrudgingly follow because it works, even though you think it’s stupid? Say that! Is there a popular set of advice that gets repeated constantly that you think is hogwash? Maybe it’s an understated tidbit that deserves focus. That’s an article.

Because let’s be honest…

What the internet doesn’t need is one more flavorless, arrogant piece about a topic that’s been covered a thousand times.

2. Embrace emotion.

Journalists complain that bloggers are wannabes. Other than running a news blog, we should all capitalize on what makes us different from journalists. We can be passionate and biased. We can employ humor or sarcasm.

Even if you’re writing for clients. I’ve made the mistake many times of assuming I had to bury my personality and write in some neutral, tedious voice for my clients to seem professional. The thing is, what they’re really paying me for is creativity.

All writing in my “professional” voice did was make my writing lifeless. Forgettable.

Long, pedestrian paragraphs that drone on about features and facts like a professor who may as well be a professional tranquilizer, well… suck. And they’re everywhere. Note to self: please stop.

If you’re excited, get your readers excited too. If you’re pissed off, let em feel it. It will never be memorable unless they feel something.

3. Tell your story.

One of the things that draws me to James Altucher’s writing is that he almost always relates what he’s saying to a story in his life. Even if it’s an embarrassing one, if his failures can help guide someone else they’re all worth sharing. It gives the writing a very honest, personal feel.

And hey, if you want to be seen as an authority on the topic you better have some personal examples. Who would you believe more: a guy who makes a bunch of empty statements about what you should do or someone sharing personal experiences where a tip has really paid off?

People don’t follow drones. Well, unless the batteries die and they crash land. But that’s not the drone we’re looking for.

But seriously. Take a topic and make it yours. How did YOU use it? What challenges did YOU encounter trying it? Did YOU find a better way to do it? Did it do everything everybody else says it does, or did YOU find it underwhelming? Maybe it saved your life. Maybe it ruined your life. Tell it.

4. Write every day.

This is one that everyone says, but really. Truly. I heard it a million times too, and you know what? For a long time I didn’t do it.

If you’re not a writer, substitute “write” for your passion. Whatever it is, you have to do the hell out of it.

Studying facts and reading articles is theory. Researching others’ findings and success is theory. “But I need one more reference!” we writers say.

No, what we need most is to do it. You can read all you want, and reading is important. But past a certain point no amount of reading is a substitute for doing.

The worst thing you ever write is better than the best thing you never write. Not sure who originally said that but it get repeated a lot because it’s awesome and true.

I’ve found that the more I write — no matter what it’s about — the less I feel writer’s block and the faster I can work. Things that used to take me a few hours I can sometimes do in 30 minutes. Or if they still take hours they’re better and require less editing.

I think it’s like working out your body. If you keep in good shape all the time it’s easy to drop spontaneously to the floor and do pushups. If you’ve been lazy for a few months, it can be hard to suddenly push hard and get what you need.

One last point on this one that’s important: write for YOU every day. It’s not enough to stay busy with work, if writing is your work, and say “Hey I’ve written every day!” I go stir crazy if I don’t also do something creative for myself regularly and it affects work, too. Kind of like the creative equivalent of being sexually frustrated.

Hope this helps someone out there. Have your own example of where honing in your writing (or other passions) has stepped up your game? What’s made the biggest difference for you? Share below!

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