You don’t have to be a “writer” to value writing better…
While many of my readers are copywriters, the value of developing your writing skill applies almost universally.
Take Warren Buffett. One of the richest people in the world. Every year, he writes an annual shareholder letter that makes most of the investment world pretty much drop what they’re doing to read. Because of the quality of his writing.
Want to influence people? Be a leader? Create change in the world? Or get rich? Writing — assembling thoughts into words, whether meant to be read or spoken — is a critical skill.
And, arguably, the inability to write with at least some clarity, focus, and persuasion will hold you back tremendously. Given two resumes with roughly equal qualifications, the one with the bad cover letter gets passed over for the interview, while the moderately-good cover letter is brought in to shine in person.
Even if you don’t love the idea of writing, getting reasonably good at it will serve you for life.
And the good news is, it’s not that hard.
You don’t have to be a poet. You don’t have to be Shakespeare — or Lin Manuel Miranda. You don’t have to be Hemingway or Warren Buffett or Gary Bencivenga or Roy Furr.
You simply have to understand and apply this one core principle.
Better thinking = better writing…
I’ve occasionally gotten kudos from Mark Ford, who is a reader of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets — a high honor, it will be recognized to students of copywriting and direct response.
Mark has told me repeatedly that he likes my writing. Because, I paraphrase, he likes my thinking, and good writing is a reflection of good thinking.
When you focus on the thoughts behind your writing, your style and the writing itself becomes invisible. Yes, there’s a high art to being able to assemble prose or poetry that sings beyond the ideas it contains. But when it comes to the type of writing that I’m referring to, that’s not what you’re going for.
Rather, you’re going for writing that conveys ideas in a persuasive way.
Writing that stirs the intellect and emotions through the message.
This is the flesh and bones of a good writer. Any stylistic inclination is superficial fashion and makeup. Perfect for certain instances, but often overdone to the style of the times and distracting from the inner beauty.
So with that, I want to share three “hacks” that will make you a better thinker. And thus, a better writer.
Want better output? Improve your input…
There is NOTHING I write that is made up out of whole cloth. Every story I tell is told to me — as one or many stories — and I hear it, understand it, then tell it in my own words.
And by story, I mean ANYTHING I write.
The ideas. The narratives. The concepts.
Even these three “hacks.”
They came to me in the moment, in brainstorming. But no doubt they’ve been little mice scurrying around in my brain for some time, the result of what I’ve read or heard or seen about writing in the past.
These are the ideas that stuck, that work for me, and that I find useful.
And so when I sit down to write about writing, these are the ideas that come to mind.
So, make consumption of information a habit. Not to the point where it hampers your output. You still need productive time spent creating — in our case, writing.
But you should regularly be taking in as much as possible relevant to what your main areas of writing are. Plus consciously and intentionally taking in ample information outside of your core areas of interest.
I’ve written before about how marketers who only study marketing and selling are boring.
Today, I’ve read or listened to content on Stoicism, psychology and human relationships, some fiction, economics, and the news headlines of the day. This is a regular thing.
Diversity of ideas is critical here. It’s valuable to take in conflicting opinions and viewpoints. By combining as much diversity into your own perspective, you’ll establish your own individual personality and view on the world. Which, in a word, is your thinking.
So, more input, from more diverse sources will dramatically improve your output. That’s hack number one.
How to “hack” your mind and tap into your highest consciousness…
I picked up an interesting idea from reading Marcus Aurelius, and have been applying it in my own journaling.
In journaling, it can be easy to get stuck in our own heads and thought loops. In our own limited perspective. When we write the grown-up equivalent of, “Dear diary,” what follows is often incredibly limited in perspective and wisdom.
Marcus Aurelius wrote his timeless Meditations from the second-person perspective. That is, instead of writing in his journal, I-this, and I-that, he wrote to himself, using “you” to address himself.
This is subtle — yet powerful.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a Catholic priest. A good and ethical one — I’ll add, considering the ongoing scandal.
You’ve heard Confession, where a member of your church came into the confessional booth and told you how they fell short of living their best life.
And now you’re writing your Homily — your sermon — your speech to the congregation about how to live a good life.
You’re inspired to speak to what came up in confession. However, of course, that’s a private conversation. So you don’t include the private details of that person’s life. Nor do you speak to them directly. Rather, you give your own best advice in a way the one person who confessed to you will clearly know that you’re speaking to them — but that’s universal enough that many other members of the congregation will read their own personal relevance into it.
That’s the voice and perspective in Meditations. That’s a voice and perspective that you can take to tap into your own best thinking about anything. (It can be practiced in journaling. It can also be used in other forms of writing.)
So, for example, here’s an excerpt from my journal today…
Do not measure success by how many times you fail to do what you’ve set yourself to do, by your shortcomings, or by how many times you’ve fallen down. Measure success instead by whether or not you got back up the last time you fell, and how fast.
You will always have thoughts and feelings and distractions that pull you off-course. And sometimes — maybe often — you will let them do so. This is because you are human. Humans are imperfect. Humans fail regularly — often. And sometimes, spectacularly. You will never overcome this. Rather, you can learn to accept it — as something that happens, and is natural. Although in accepting it, you are not resigning yourself to it. Rather, in accepting it, you are shining light on it, acknowledging it with consciousness and mindfulness, and then choosing your response to it. You are taking response-ability — responsibility — for the situation.
What mistakes did you make yesterday? Where di you fail to live as your best self? Where did you fall down? How will you respond today? How will you pick yourself up? Stand proud? Choose your response? And live and act today in accordance with your best self — your best vision for who you can and wish to be?
Learning to write like this is flexing a muscle in perspective. Being able to step outside of yourself and your own limited view, and — through giving yourself advice — harnessing your power to think from a higher perspective than the one you live in all the time.
This is immensely powerful for becoming a good, compelling writer.
Write, write, write, write…
Okay, so maybe this is horrible as a “hack.”
However, it really is what good writers do. They write.
Whether it’s writing to friends, or writing daily essays, or writing in a journal, or writing on client work, or writing the next great American novel…
You have to write.
Just like if you want to lift heavy weights, you have to work out, lifting progressively more weight.
Writing is a muscle you develop through repetition.
And when you’re “out of shape,” you’ll write slower, and it won’t be as good.
When you’re “in shape,” your speed and strength of ideas and language will be there in multitudes.
Of course, you won’t always be perfect. And the faster you go — the more prolific you become — the more errors you’ll make, as well. A loyal reader wrote to me yesterday that I confused Emerson for Whitman in my quote, “I am vast, I contain multitudes.” I also got it wrong in another way, I discovered, in researching it to write this paragraph. It is actually, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
That said, when you write regularly, you’ll likely find that while the sheer quantity of errors like this go up (I’m thankful my clients have fact-checkers and compliance departments), the percentage and severity of the errors goes down. By the very nature of a large volume of work, it will contain multitudes of errors.
Take in more quality information. Practice thinking better, taking on perspectives outside your own. And write, write, write to develop your writing muscles.
This will improve your thinking and productivity.
And whatever result you aim to accomplish through your writing, you will likely get more of it.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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