How to Write Gooder: The Controversial Guide to Good Writing (and Not Sucking)

75 Intelligent Opinions

typewriter

Your writing sucks.

Don’t worry, so does mine.

I’ve never published a best selling book and my blog is an error-ridden, hatchet job compilation of the English language.

But there is good news.

You can learn how to write good. Much gooder.

And don’t panic. This is not another article about spelling mistakes or how to master grammar like an 18th century poet. In fact, I’m starting to think that those things are a bit daggy anyway. This article is all about what it takes to become a better writer. Good writing just ain’t what it used to be – and a lot of people might find it a bit depressing.

Let’s dive in!

Oh, and I’ve added a collection of my favorite quotes about writing and how to write down the bottom.

So what is good writing?

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.
- Enrique Jardiel Poncela (Tweet this quote)

If you sat your grandparents down and asked them about good writing and great writers you would probably notice them developing a faraway gaze in their eyes and quoting Hemingway, Shakespeare or H.G. Wells.

Ask your parents about it and they might reference the same authors as well as throwing in some newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, the New Yorker, TIME Magazine or Vanity Fair. Perhaps Christopher Hitchens or Orwell get a mention.

But if you ask the younger generations about who knows how to write you’ll probably hear about 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, Harry Potter and a few of the hugely successful blogs like Dooce, The Art of Non-Conformity and maybe Seth Godin (classic blogs). And while a lot of us still read those old classics and established newspapers, we also look at WIRED for tech-news and Huffington Post for election coverage.

It’s become a real mixed bag of quality and, well, other.

And while I am aware that these are huge generalizations about what people consider to be good writing (I know there’ll be a lot of arguments about Twilight) you can’t deny that they’ve enjoyed massive success.

And this is where the whole debate on “good writing” gets ignited (feel free to comment about this): is good writing something that is correct, composed well and based on some education/study or is it whatever is effective and popular?

As a career-blogger and fan of reading (both classics and “other”) I am constantly asking myself this question.

I’ve read the first few chapters of a recent best seller and then given up because expressions and phrases were repeated so many times I was convinced it had missed the editing stage.

But I’ve also read perfectly crafted masterpieces with impeccable English that reminded me of the time I ordered a whole plate of plain and near-raw Tofu at a restaurant by mistake: I just wouldn’t recommend it to my friends.

If you look at the few examples above you’ll see that there is no apparent correlation between successful writers and good writing in the same way that good writing (in the traditional sense) doesn’t guarantee any success.

So what the heck is going on?

How do we get good at writing if we don’t even know what that is?

Who’s writing it and who’s reading it?

If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that’s read by persons who move their lips when they’re reading to themselves.
- Don Marquis (Tweet this Quote)

I guess the first things we have to think about are the author and the audience. These two things play an enormous role in what is considered to be good writing and, most definitely, what will be successful.

For example, I highly doubt that an English major at Oxford University could write a novel for his/her classmates and have it enjoy the success of something like Twilight. In the case of those highly popular books you have to wonder whether pitching it at a lower reading grade helps the popularity because not all of us learned to read English at Stephen Fry levels.

This is not an issue that is confined to the written word either. Will Smith wrote a verse about “dumbing down” in a song called Party Starter:

I call for the days of the unadulterated
When the artistry was cultivated
You know, back when rap was smart and multilayered
We could rap without r`s and ultimatums damn
Now today I say the phrase I long for the good old days when the party was all about partyin’
I was a mini-party starter then
My mind bends when I call my pen
The big question: should I run the mind a vittle?
Food for thought or dumb the rhyme a little?
But Will “if you come to high that’ll alienate folks & they won’t buy it”, look people gettin’ trapped in the track
& they be clappin’, even when the rappin’ is wack
Yo, what happened, when did we get happy wit that?

He’s old-fashioned (yup), but let’s be happy he’s back
Ya heard me!

And most of us know the Chris Rock comedy sketch (too rude to post!) where he says he loves rap music but is tired of defending it now that the lyrics are so weak.

Clearly us readers and writers aren’t the only one noticing that the popular stuff is often not of the highest quality when it how to write with good composition or technique.

The author’s goals

But remember we were talking about authors and audiences? What that means is that the writer’s goals play a huge role in the type of writing that he/she wants to get good at.

Let me use myself as an example here.

I write blogs. This one and ViperChill are the main ones but I also do copywriting for a very select few clients. And what that means is that I am usually writing instructional material pitched at people who are just learning the ropes.

It’s called evergreen content – stuff that always stays relevant and, if you follow my method, always aims at newbies.

If I started writing blog posts in the style of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds I would no doubt become irrelevant very quickly. Unless, I suppose, people thought it was satirical and witty. This guy writes as a dinosaur robot in all caps and seems to be doing pretty well for himself!

For me, improving my writing skills is all about getting better at blogging. I want to have a successful blog that genuinely helps people.

I’m not trying to write a great romance novel so I don’t need to take a course in fictional writing.

I’m not trying to compose the next great symphony so I don’t need to learn how to pen sheet music.

I’m not even trying to be well respected by people who understand what good English is supposed to look like (sorry Mum).

I’m just trying to communicate what I know to people who want to know it in a way that is helpful and distinctive.

That is good writing, for me.

But not for everyone.

Can we learn how to write?

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
- Henry David Thoreau (Click to Tweet)

If you’ve read this far you’ve probably realized that I don’t have all the answers.

Trying to figure out whether my writing is any good is like trying to tell if a politician is telling the truth: sometimes you’re just not sure what to think.

Luckily, though, there are two ways to learn about how to get better at writing:

  • Rely on your own experience
    This is where you learn by looking at what you’ve done in the past and comparing it to the current situation. It might also look at data like subscriber rates and eBook sales to see whether more people are enjoying your stuff.
  • Rely on the experience of others
    A lot of great writers throughout history have left us tips and hints about how you improve your craft. What this means is you can pick an author/authors that you admire and try to learn from them in the same way that they learned from their heroes.

Let’s take a look at some of the best things I know about writing as well as the best things I could find from people who know a lot more than me.

1. What are your trying to do? I mean really.

The very first thing that you need to do is figure out, and I mean really figure out, what you are trying to do as a writer and an author. This is quite an in depth process that takes a lot of research and introspection. In fact, although I’ve been blogging for many years it was only recently that I decided (or remembered!) that this was what I really wanted to do.

You see, over time you get corrupted by various things in your life. You might start out wanting to be the best blogger or writer but then your kids come up to you saying, “Dad I’m hungry!” and you realize that there are other things in life that you need to take care of.

But if you have really figured out what you want to do, and I mean really, you will always account for these things. You’ll find a way. You’ll make time or you’ll take a second job cleaning a gym at 6am like I did for two years.

And knowing what you want to do isn’t just a matter of saying “I want to be a blogger” either. You need to know things like:

  • Why you want to do it
    Are you trying to help someone? Do you need to get something off your chest? Is it to make money doing something you love? Do you want to have the number one book in the Bird Watching niche?
  • When it needs to happen by
    If you don’t set and end-date or goal your ambitions really are just a fun thought. Writers set deadlines and work through periods of extreme boredom or anti-creativity.
  • How you’ll react to failure
    Everyone fails. Even the best writers. How are you going to deal with that?
  • What your limits are
    How long will you let it go on? What will or won’t you do for money, fame and pleasure? You have to set limits on why you write in order to keep it focused and regret free.

Imagine if a scientist didn’t know which disease he/she wanted to cure. How could they develop experiments? How could they study previous scientists who had breakthroughs? How could the hone their skills and gain credibility? The very first step, or at least the one you need to do before you give up, is figure out exactly what you are trying to do. Specifically.

2. Do they want to hear about it? Are you sure?

A lot of famous and traditional writers will disagree with this idea saying that you shouldn’t worry about what people want to hear but rather focus on what you have to say. But for the most part, especially for bloggers and copywriters, you really need to know what your readers want.

This might have a lot to do with the whole quality vs popular debate but for me writing is about helping people and in order to help them you need to know what they are having problems with.

Now this does not mean that you have to always write about things people are talking about. Why? Because a lot of the time people don’t actually know what they are doing wrong or what they are having problems with. Here’s one of my favorite quotes to illustrate:

If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.
- Henry Ford. (Click to Tweet)

Sure, if we have the creative brain cells of Henry Ford we can think like that but for the most part you need to know what people need if you want to have any shot at success.

For example, E.L. James, the author of 50 Shades of Grey, has said that she based the book on a Twilight-like scenario with characters and situations that the population at large could identify with or fantasise about. There’s the innocent and inexperienced girl, the rich and powerful man who is mysterious, strong and then very loving. There is angst, anticipation and all the things that the author thought that women would want to hear.

And it worked pretty well for her.

So how do you find out what people want?

  • Know yourself
    You are the people. As much as we sometimes feel like outsiders or special, we are actually the same as everyone else with the same concerns and problems. By getting to know your own foibles and issues you can better to relate to others.
  • Get naked
    No I don’t mean take your clothes off (although you can if you want!). I mean get naked with your views on yourself and those around you. Look at things directly and as they are and try not to add your own filters to every situation. This honesty will, again, help you relate to situations and people as they actually are.
  • Be compassionate
    Compassion is the wish that others be free from suffering. Without it there really is no ability to know what people are going through or what they are feeling. Instead of getting angry in frustrating situations try looking at the agressor with compassion and see what you learn about what people need in life.
  • Study the classics
    By looking at what has worked in the past you can get an idea about what works and why. Take a look at the best selling books of all time and find the common threads. Take a look at the stories that people consider classics and find out why they are so loved.
  • Test your writing
    Put yourself to the test and get your writing out there. If you don’t have a blog yet start one up and publish snippets of your stuff for people to critique and to get a community response.

Part of being a good writer is knowing how to relate to your audience. It is helping them with their problems on their level. Your English and composition can still be good, of course. You just have to simplify the way you present it.

3. Is it distinctive or just like everything else?

One of the most important lessons in business applies to writing: you need to be distinctive.

There has never in history been a longterm successful author, blogger or writer who just wrote the same as everyone else. Sure, they might have borrowed styles or methods but they would have then written about distinctive topics or presented it in a new way.

And this doesn’t just apply to the writing itself.

Being distinctive applies to the writer themselves, the blog it’s presented on, etc. You want to find a way to stand out from the crowd and be remembered by readers or publishers. You want people to know your style and your look and your writing as soon as they read a few words.

This is all about successful branding.

One example I wanted to show you of this is Nerd Fitness by Steve Kamb. He has created a great following in a very crowded niche by approaching his content and his style in a very distinctive way.

Does this mean that part of being a good writer is being a good marketer? Perhaps. Just like every other industry in the world, the roles and goalposts are changing really quickly and we need to adapt.

4. Have you practiced? Like, Samurai practiced?

To get good any anything you need to practice. Even naturally talented people need to spend huge amounts of time training and rehearsing before they get truly good.

Writing is no different.

But one thing I’ve noticed is that people often think they are practicing hard at their writing but really they are just sitting around wondering why their old stuff isn’t taking off. Practicing means trying new things, learning new strategies and constantly chipping away at your style.

So how do you practice writing?

  • Read, read, read
    Reading is one of the best ways to get good at writing. You should read all types of things from magazines to blogs and books. Read people you like. Read people you don’t like. Read things you normally wouldn’t even look at. It’s only through huge amounts of reading that you can really discover how good you might be able to get at writing yourself.
  • Write constantly, like a professional
    Get comfortable with writing all the time. Take jobs on writing topics that might not interest you but that challenge you to produce words in a new way. People say that you need to write every day but you need to treat it like a professional sport – write at least four or six hours a day.
  • Learn to write when you don’t feel like it
    One of the hardest lessons to learn but one of the most rewarding is when you write when you don’t feel like it. This is something that all experts need to get around. Sometimes you’ll find that your best stuff happens when you really don’t feel in the zone.
  • Establish a solid routine
    The best athletes go to training at the same time every day. The same should be true of writers. Write down your routine and stick to it no matter what other difficulties are going on around you. Constant and regular effort is extremely important.

As annoying as it is, the old saying about practice making perfect is all we’ve got to rely on. It is only through constant and sometimes heart breaking effort that we come to get good at something we love.

5. Become curious about the world around you

The last thing that I want to write about is something that has really been in my face the last couple of years. Curiosity.

It seems that if you look at the best book writers, bloggers, journalists, etc. from history you will find that they all have one thing in common – they are extremely curious about the world around them.

The sad thing is that you often find that these wonderful works of literature or reporting come from an extremely tortured human heart. They are often drinkers or drug addicts – writing is just one other method they use to try and calm the storm that rages inside of them. And that said, it is important to remember that you can’t “bring on” great writing by trying to become a tortured soul. It doesn’t work in reverse.

But what you can do is learn to look deeply at the world around you and the industry or topic that you are involved in. That genuine sense of curiosity is what has spawned some of the greatest articles, blog posts and books the world has ever seen.

What has this got to do with how to write? Well, my theory is that it not only gives you material to write about but it also creates a style of finished product that is greatly more readable and interesting that something that was written without curiosity or questioning. A curious author has a way of drawing you in by giving you a perspective on ordinary and regular situations that you had never thought about or never been able to express. And as the quote above mentions, this often comes across as something extremely simple.

So how do you become more curious in your daily life and in your writing?

  • Remember the simple things
    Our current world bombards us with modern technologies and comforts. We can’t sit still for five seconds without checking the news on our phone or distracting our brain in some way. As a result we tend to think very shallow thoughts about things. We need answers from Google and we don’t like to think for ourselves. Getting back to simple activities and appreciating them can lead to new insights about the more complicated scenarios we find ourselves in.
  • Meditate for clarity
    Strongly linked to the above suggestion about getting naked, mediation allows us to connect with ourselves on a much more natural and honest level. It allows us to develop some clarity. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had a great article for an idea but just not been able to express it because my mind was so full of other crap. Learn to settle it down and see what pops up. All you need to do is sit still and focus on your breath for a few minutes at a time. Don’t make this a new cause for complication.
  • Listen to people
    Do you remember the last time you sat down with someone and listened to them without waiting for your turn to talk? It’s hard. We want to help but often this means pushing our own agenda onto conversations instead of just listening. But if you stop and really pay attention to what people are saying with some curiosity about their situation you will discover a lot about the human condition.
  • Don’t accept everything you hear
    In general we are pretty trusting people. But the great writers of the past questioned the world around them. They questioned authority, God, the status quo. This is an extremely important part of being a curious person because if you are happy and accepting of the current situation you really don’t have any reason to look deeper and then not a lot to say.

Go and have a look at all of your favorite bloggers from all the different niches that you read. I have a strong feeling that all of the good ones have a very curious tone to how they go about their posts and their subjects. A curious person is often a good writer.

With all that said and done I want to show you my favorite song – a song about curiosity and looking at the world differently. Sit back and take five minutes to read the lyrics on the film clip and enjoy the music.

A collection of writing quotes

Let’s finish off this article with the sharing of some famous and inspiration quotes about how to write. I hope they give you something to think about.

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
- Elmore Leonard

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.
- Sharon O’Brien

Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.
- Orson Scott Card

Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.
- Flannery O’Connor

A writer should say to himself, not, How can I get more money?, but How can I reach more readers (without lowering standards)?
- Brian Aldiss

Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret.
- Matthew Arnold

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
- Christopher Hampton

More conversations and fewer announcements.
- Seth Godin

A final word on good writing

So after all of that do we know what good writing is? Well, not exactly. But the good news is that you don’t really have to be able to identify exactly what is the “right” way to do it in order to get good at it.

As far as I am concerned, what you really need to do is learn how to be brutally honest, compassionate and curious about your topic. If you can practice hard with those things in mind then hopefully your writing will improve.

I’m counting on it for myself.

What do you think?

Photo: © Ron Chapple

Ramsay WROTE THIS

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75 Comments... Leave yours.

  • Victor November 2, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Thanks for sharing this Ramsay! I know of you from viperchill and I’m happy to see you’re also a professional.

    So many people go about this blogging thing in the wrong way, treating it unprofessionally.
    I’ll read the article a few more times, because it’s lenghty, but I must say that the part in which you explain that you shouldn’t just blindly go with what people want to hear is absolutely correct.

    If I were to base ALL my posts on what Google Trends says, my blog would lack personality.

    Thanks Ramsay!

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Thanks Victor. You must be a fast reader! :-)

      1. Victor November 2, 2012 at 9:34 am

        Honestly I can sort of photoread.

        Like Derren Brown does. You know this skill right?

        I’m not saying I’ll read a book (150 pages) in 2 minutes, like some of the pros, but I do have an amazing reading speed.

        1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:40 am

          Awesome skill!

          I’ll check out that gaming thing below too. Thanks Victor.

          1. victor November 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm

            Thank you Ramsay! It’s great to have someone like you look at my material. Any input would be greatly appreciated!

    2. Moravcsik Andra November 10, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      Great post. I love industry posts that discuss more psychological aspects, so I loved reading about the two types of disinhibition.

  • chris November 2, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Starting to think things are a bit daggy lol. Definately Australian! Great post and it’s great your just being yourself that’s how we identify your writing. I don’t care for the news but I do like reading real people. Your best point here I believe is to read,read,read but somehow it hasn’t helped my writing.

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

      I guess we have to just write, write, write. Thanks Chris.

  • Ryan November 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Best piece of advice? Get naked. No really, writing changes over time and people value different things. I am an English teacher in Korea and a lot of my students are so concerned about old grammar. They focus more on the grammar than the communication. And I think communication through writing is important. Also, “good writing” depends on your goals, as you allude to in the post. I agree with your definition. Good writing is being able to effectively communicate to people and help them in the best way possible. When reading this I immediately thought of a great quote from Rich Dad. “It’s called a best-SELLING author, not a best-WRITING author…”

    Have a good weekend Ramsay and the gang!

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

      Thanks Ryan. What’s Korea like?

      1. Ryan November 2, 2012 at 9:20 am

        Overall it’s good. Been here 2.5 yrs. I used to love it but these days I am ready for a change. Leaving in August. Probably gonna go back to the states. Living here is awesome, working here is not. If you ever want to visit you have an insider who speaks English and knows Seoul well ;)

        1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:26 am

          My brother is a massive Starcraft fan and so we often watch those big tournaments they have. It is really weird how popular it is.

          I recently watched a few South Korean movies that were fun – The Game and one about a water monster that is supposedly their highest selling movie.

          1. Victor November 2, 2012 at 9:37 am

            Sorry to intrude, but if you like Starcraft (especially BroodWar) I think you’d find it interesting to read a story that I posted on my blog Ramsay.
            http://victorstuff.com/success-story-creating-an-industry-from-scratch-here-in-romania

            It’s about the Starcraft scene here in Eastern Europe, Romania and how a friend of mine is single handedly building the industry here, because we basically didn’t have a gaming industry here, being such an…. underdeveloped economy.

  • Albert G November 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Hi Ramsay,

    A terrific job you are doing here. I get a lot of inspiration from your arguments and pointing out the way. I’ve been writing on the side for many years, but four years ago, I jumped into the bandwagon and I stuck. I freelance, but recently decided to build a website and some blogs. I owe part of this decision to you. Thanks. Here’s another quote for writers:

    “The secret of becoming a writer is to write, write and keep on writing.”
    - Ken MacLeod

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:11 am

      I like it Albert. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Jamie Alexander November 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Hey Ramsay,

    I think number 1 and 2 can be fixed by speaking to your readers by email/gtalk, or it has for me recently. In regards to number 1, when you’re thinking about what you want to say you have to make sure people understand it. That can be solved by talking to them, as well as finding out what else they want you to write about.

    Here’s some other tiny tips that can be implemented in the editing stage:

    1 – Take out every single word that doesn’t need to be there.

    2 – Every sentence should be there for a reason and each one should flow onto the next.

    3 – (you covered this) Make it absolutely simple to understand.

    4 – Make it only as long as it needs to be to get your point across.

    5 – (My pet peeve at the moment) Break it up with bullet points, quotes, sub-headings, or anything. Just please for the love of god break it up lol.

    That gooder joke cracked me up btw haha

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Thanks Jamie. Great comment.

      Glad people know the gooder thing is a joke.

  • liz@lifedreaming November 2, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Hi Ramsay
    One of the things I say to people when I’ve been training them on effective written communication at work is to write [regardless of whether it is a business letter; client report or email] so that your reader says

    ” TELL ME MORE ” and not ” SO WHAT?”

    Liz

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Love it.

      Very love it.

      1. liz@lifedreaming November 2, 2012 at 9:21 am

        Gooder

  • Andi the Minion November 2, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Well what can I say, I got to the end! wahey, no seriously a great piece.

    As far as English goes being an Englishman I can be horrified at the way the language has been distorted over the years and mainly by mobile texting, you see so many bad writers on Facebook that I begin to worry but then I look to the quality writers like you and Glen ( who have become my writing mentors by the way) and I am filled with confidence again.

    People should remember that English is a fluid and growing language, it is in the courts where the exact words are held accountable but words and meanings do change and develop.

    I personally try to write naturally, as if I am talking to a friend, often I think of them as a friend who doesn’t know what I know so that way I can explain what I need to explain in a far better way.

    I do need to break one habit though and that is in speaking I can repeat sayings and words, which when written do look and read terrible but I have got on top of that now I think. Yes I have got on top of that now I think.

    As long as something reads well and can be understood without throwing the reader off in confusion then who really cares whether it is proper English. I for one really hate the posh English, I love watching films from the 50s and 60s in good old England and that kind of proper old speak but too much refined English can really frazzle the brain.

    The message is the most important thing, as long as you get across what needs saying then the job is done, none of those over the top big words that only 10% of the population understands otherwise there will be a discombobulation of the brain and we as writers do not need that.

    As long as the mind can follow and see what you are saying then that for me is a start.

    I love the Henry Ford quote, he was one serious visionary.

    Anyway, this is a great post and one I shall be sharing, I have done enough waffling.
    Cheers
    Andi

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 10:08 am

      Thanks Andi. How many times did you spell check that?

      :-)

      1. Andi the Minion November 2, 2012 at 10:11 am

        I didn’t, I wrote it on the fly, that is how I roll baby. I am sure it shows too :-)

        1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

          I like it. I rarely spell check.

    2. Slavko Desik November 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      Hi Andi,
      Making a clear point and saying more by saying less is, just like you said, crucial.
      Blogging in the self-improvement niche I came across many motivational speakers. Know what I realized? That they all have these powerful and very strong messages put into simple words. And the audience reacts. They are excited, they answer the call to action. It simply just resonates deeply with them. Now ask yourself if they were to be given this same message in a slightly different manner. Using complex sentences, lots of those 5 dollar words. It would be different to say the least. I think that this explains enough.

  • Saeed November 2, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Hey Ramsay,

    I’m an avid reader of your blog but
    have never commented on any of your
    articles before.

    I’ve been struggling with my writing
    skill these days and this post came just
    at the right time for me. That’s why I’m
    commenting on it.

    Additionally, I dearly admire your writing skill
    and even explored your archive for articles like this
    but couldn’t find one.

    I’m going to print this article out and immerse myself in it.

    Thanks for sharing this, Ramsay.

    Saeed

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 10:24 am

      Thanks Saeed. I hope it helps.

  • Ehsan Ullah November 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Hey Ramsey, You’ve come with a great and long post this time about writing. Well, I was expecting something about importance of Google+ this time from you as you said to your newsletter subscribers.

    Well, I’ll need to take sometime tonight to read this whole post.

    Thanks,
    Ehsan.

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Ehsan.

      I did a short post on G+ over there. More to come.

  • Rick November 2, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Great post again, Ramsay.

    Like many writers, I tend to play it safe with my commentary as to not put off any of my readers or potential advertisers. However, “playing it safe” can bore most readers to tears.

    One morning I decided to step out of my box and wrote “10 Photos You Can Stop Shooting Already”, (here’s the link if anyone is interested – http://www.ilovephotoblogs.com/top-10-photos-you-can-stop-shooting-already ). The post was highly critical of many types of photography/photographers, but written in a way that, I hoped, many photographers could laugh in some self-reflective way. To date, this article has been my most popular & commented post and has been quoted and copied on several sites.

    My advice is to not be afraid to have a personality online. Let you true thoughts come alive in print. This will give your site “flavor” and help you grow a loyal following…just like Ramsay!

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Awesome post idea! Nice work.

  • Brett McQueen November 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Love your tips on “practicing” becoming a better writer.

    I’ve had to learn that not everything you write is going to be an award-winning piece of work, but as you practice writing regularly, there will be times where your writing or the way you say something really stands out and connects with your audience more so than other times. Of course there could be several different reasons for this for why a piece of content is more engaged with than another piece of content, but I try to pay attention to these times. Sometimes it can tell me something about my writing.

    In this way, I’m learning to be more comfortable in experimenting with how I write, rather than always trying to get it “right” the first time.

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      Sounds like you’re on a winner Brett.

  • Slavko Desik November 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    With writing it’s just like with all other matters of the heart- you will know what great writing is when you see it.
    I really enjoyed the article. For the most part due to the fact that you advocate writing as something that needs to have the ability to adapt. To recognize what the audience wants and bend and flex depending on that realization.

    For me being helpful, being a bit personal, and being witty to some extent while being unique actually summarizes what good writing is all about.

    -The writing must come with a purpose (helping people, explaining problems in a simpler manner, describing some angle of view…), hence it must be helpful.
    -It should present your take on what you write about. Hence the personal part of the equation. Something through which you will stand up from other writers.
    -That being said it should aim to be unique.
    -And finally, since the need of being entertained is something we all inherently posses, our writing should aim to be somewhat funny and witty. After all it’s an intellectual game, and people enjoy consuming it like such.

    But the ability to comprise all of this into something that is fairly easy to understand really makes all the difference.

    As for reading and writing constantly and on daily basis, I have this video to show you guys. It’s something that Ira Glass said about creativity. A must see.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ResTHKVxf4

    I also especially enjoyed the part when you said that good writing should also come from being curious about the world around you, thus becoming even more creative. For me storytelling and coming up with different analogies as to illustrate or entertain or make a point is as good a place to start as any when great writing is concerned.

    Sometimes all of us bloggers need a slap in the form of a post like this one as to rethink our writing, since content creation is probably our biggest asset in blogging. And we have to constantly refine it.

    Have a great day mate.

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm

      Awesome comment! Thanks for sharing.

  • charmbaker November 2, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Greetings & Salutations,
    I absolutely loved reading your post. I’m a new follower (via Twitter)and I’m glad to find talented, but not so stuffy writers who don’t mind voicing their views. I hate always feeling I have to be politically correct in everything I say. Sometimes you just want to freakin write! Kudos!

    1. Ramsay November 2, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      Me too! Glad to have you here.

  • Santanu November 2, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Wow!! Just loved the way you write this simple topic. Very much expressive….

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      Thanks Santanu.

  • Janice November 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    I’ll just talk about blog writing and skip my thoughts on novel writing or other types of writing.

    I recently wrote a blog post about what makes a good blog and I talked about how, in my opinion, most good blogs usually have good enough grammar/spelling/structure down to get their message across.

    Obviously there’s more to it and many of my readers talked about the passion behind the blogger in what they are writing. For sure that is one of the most important elements in grabbing a reader’s attention, I think.

    But I still truly believe that you can have passion for what you are writing and totally lose your reader in the first few sentences if you don’t know how to convey your opinions, message, argument, story, etc. In this day and age, people like it quick. They’re not going to stick around reading the rest of your post when there’s a ton of other entertaining and interesting things to read online.

    So good writing to me is not necessarily about following all the rules or writing some award-winning prose. It’s about being able to captivate your reader’s attention, however which way you do it. And as you pointed out, that will depend on who your audience actually is. Yeah, you might have to put it in simplistic terms, shorter sentences, shorter post altogether if that’s what it will take to get your message across. What’s the point in saying something that is truly meaningful and that you really, really want others to read and take in when you aren’t presenting it in a way where people will stick around long enough to internalize that message?

    Anyhow, sorry if I just regurgitated your point, but I am pretty passionate about this topic and I think it’s a great skill to work on. There are so many blogs I come across where I see the passion and a meaningful attempt at conveying something, but it’s so hard for me to get through even half a post because of “bad writing.”

    - Janice

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

      Really well said Janice. You just gave me a few ideas so thanks very much!

      1. Janice November 3, 2012 at 11:44 pm

        Thanks, Ramsay. Glad I could do that. Would be interested to know what ideas I was able to pass on! :)

  • Tom November 3, 2012 at 1:56 am

    I just wanted say I only recently, began reading your stuff and what I love about it is its straightforward simplicity. I’m almost envious. I have a tendency to be kind of person who if asked what time it is either gets philosophical about time or goes into details about how timepieces, before simply giving the time. I’m going to keep reading your stuff in hopes that some of your simplicity rubs off on me as well as for the actual content which I find easy to understand and therefore apply.

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      Thanks Tom. That is really nice feedback. Appreciate it.

  • Marcus November 3, 2012 at 2:28 am

    The more I read, the more I feel that the writer’s voice is the most important thing. If your identity comes shining through, you’ll attract the true fans and repel everyone else.

    I stumbled into blogging by accident. I wrote long, narrative e-mails to my friends while backpacking around Europe. They liked my stories so much that I created a blog.

    That feeling of reading a story that’s like a letter from a friend can be powerful. How do you talk to your friends? You drop your guard, you crack jokes, you reveal your flaws. These are the things that will resonate with your readers.

    Part of being a pro means seriously studying your craft. The best books on writing that I’ve read were by editors: “Stein on Writing” and “Self Editing for Fiction Writers.” As editors, they can look at writing more objectively than the creators; they see clearly what works and doesn’t work. From reading through piles of stories, they see the mechanics and craft of good storytelling. I learned more from books like those than I did in my creative writing classes at university (don’t tell my professors that).

    If you really want to take it to the next level, study the science behind storytelling. There’s a great book called “Made to Stick” that is about this very subject. For a good overview of this field, Gregory Ciotti over at Sparring Mind had a fantastic article titled, “The Psychology of Storytelling: 10 Proven Ways to Create Better Stories (and Why Stories Sell.”

    Whether you’re writing fiction, nonfiction or copywriting, I think everyone’s writing could benefit from being more persuasive at moving readers.

    My favorite writing quote is from Kurt Vonnegut:
    “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      Great quote and totally agree about the voice. I’m glad you commented on this one! Feels strange without a Marcus comment!

  • lisa | renovating italy November 3, 2012 at 3:22 am

    Do you know how difficult it was just to sit without doing anything else and enjoy the music? Even to read through your post, I kept wanting to skim through but stopped myself. I am as always touched by the generosity of your writing, ciao lisa

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:41 pm

      Thanks Lisa. Always nice to see you around here.

  • Glynis Jolly November 3, 2012 at 7:03 am

    What I consider worth reading is something that is correct, composed well, and is effective. Of course, I am, at least, a generation older than you. Also, although I say is should be correct, there are those times when effectiveness should override that. However, there is no excuse for something not being well composed. For me, writing is and art and excellence should be what it reached for.

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      Sounds good to me!

  • Melanie Wilson November 3, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I think your writing only has to be as good your readers are at reading. I recently read posts by a blogging guru who has a huge number of Twitter followers that couldn’t have included more homonym errors if the author had tried. I was astonished by this until I read the comments that were also written with no regard for grammar. So he is writing for his readers.

    Being a writer can be a little like being a doctor. If you give your “patient” what they want, they don’t care so much about your “bedside manner.” If our readers want to laugh, cry, fantasize, or be inspired, we had better be able to write well. If they want a list of links to solve a problem or a recipe to try instead, we’re just singing in the shower if we work on developing our writing skill.

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      There are a few guys in this niche that border on not even being classified as English. But, people seem to love their ideas.

      1. Melanie Wilson November 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

        I have resented this for quite a while and realize now that I have to accept and even embrace it. If a blogger is giving readers what they want, who am I to complain about their writing skill? I think it’s an opportunity for writers who want to be excellent at their craft. If we give readers what they want AND write well, we’ll have created something special. Thanks for your work on this post. It had to have taken a while. :-)

  • Nica Mandigma | Virtual Assistant November 3, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I am in the process of redesigning and rebranding my blog and I am glad that I read this — I want my blog to help people. But now I realize that I have to “identify the people that I want to help.

    Yes, my blog is not for everybody! As much as I want it to be — I will begin my redesign/rebranding process by writing down who I want to help with my blog, why I want to help them, and how I plan to help them.

    That said, I do want to ask your opinion — do you think that is a good plan?

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      I think that sounds like a perfect solution Nica. I can’t think of a better way really. Just make sure you ask yourself how you are doing it differently to everyone else.

  • Sue Neal November 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Ramsay – this is one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read. Truly thought-provoking, heartfelt and challenging.

    Thanks for introducing me to the song, which I hadn’t heard before – I can see why you love it.

    At the end of the day, I think the sign of good writing is simply that people want to read it. Then again, I guess it’s horses for courses – different people like different kinds of literature – and who are we to judge one as ‘better’ than another? One person’s ‘great read’ will be someone else’s ‘trash’.

    Having said that, I think the greatest writing has you glued to the page, not for cheap thrills, but because it’s making you think, giving you new insights and ideas – taking you out of this world, like your submarine man.

    As you say, curiosity’s the key.

    Thank you so much – I’ll be Evernoting and sharing this, for sure,

    Sue

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks Sue. I really appreciate that feedback. Makes writing 4,000 words worthwhile.

  • Rob Trenckmann November 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Great stuff here! I especially appreciated the quote about simplicity–about writing for those whose lips move while they read. That’s so concrete and clear. Thanks!

    1. Ramsay November 3, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      Yeah that quote made me laugh. Thanks Rob.

  • Santanu November 4, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Hi Ramsay,

    I just loved your skills and your blog. I have one question to you.

    Here we talk much about genuine article or good article. But when I surf all the online newspapers, I found similar articles for a particular news, may be with little bit arrangements of words. Even sometimes many articles were almost same, as the story or news is same.

    In that case if I want to write something on that topic, how should I proceed?

    I am a new blogger, love this world of freedom and want to learn more & more. Please provide your advice.

    Thanks
    Santanu D.

    1. Ramsay November 4, 2012 at 11:36 pm

      I think the main point is to write something that is distinctive. There is no point re-hashing what is already out there. You want to find a way that makes you different to the rest.

      1. Santanu November 5, 2012 at 12:20 am

        Thanks for replying my query…will definitely work hard to be different..

        1. Ramsay November 7, 2012 at 9:26 pm

          Good luck!

  • SI November 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Another excellent post, writing from the heart is a must, simple and from the heart. Try to write so that people feel that they have learned something new and not left confused. Easier said than done I know.

    As for blogging, I think some people think they are nowwriters and must write like JK Rowling, getting too descriptive and that can just put people off and confuse them.

    Keep it simple.

    That’s my 2 bob. :-)

    Regards SI

    1. Ramsay November 7, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks SI. Good to have you here.

  • Cham Cuartero November 8, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Wow! This article isn’t really short. Now I understand why you don’t actually post regularly. This is something that needs a lot of thinking (and typing!), and forcing yourself to do it everyday will just give mediocre results. :)

    It was very nice of you to share the words of Enrique Jardiel Poncela, as I fully subscribe to this. In fact, one of the main reasons why I give high praises to some books is that they were able to convey their message without bombarding their readers with unnecessary words (that could be distracting, considering that you’ll need to grab the nearest dictionary before you could proceed). So I am hoping that this same principle would be reflected in my writings too.

    I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was nine. Sadly, I wasn’t able to keep it. Years after, I realized that what I really wanted to do was write. For the rest of my life. Took sooooo long for me to take the big leap, to let go of the corporate life. Now I know what I want and why, I’ve seen how I react to failure and rejection, and more or less, I know what my limits are. But I thank you for reminding me that I should set a deadline, no, make it a TIMELINE for this dream. Who knows when I’m gonna die, eh? What a big waste if that happens too early and I realize it too late. :)

    1. Ramsay November 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Great comment Cham!

      Yeah, this post is over 4,000 words. Took me around two full work days.

      Really happy you’ve decided to set a timeline. I hope it helps.

      :-)

  • Ameer Salim November 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Ramsay,

    I came across this post just in time when I’m now starting to write more personal and quality blog posts. And I’ve just subscribed to Aweber a few days ago.

    However like you mentioned about the problems that many writers face, I was initially apprehensive to write anything on my blog due to my weak grammar and worrying to much about what to write. English isn’t my first language though it is the most used language in my country.

    Anyway, you have somehow motivated me a bit to continue on writing despite going through mental blocks on multiple & countless occasions.

    Thanks again for the excellent post! :-)

    Ameer

    ps: Hey, I really like this one! – :)

    “For example, I highly doubt that an English major at Oxford University could write a novel for his/her classmates and have it enjoy the success of something like Twilight. In the case of those highly popular books you have to wonder whether pitching it at a lower reading grade helps the popularity because not all of us learned to read English at Stephen Fry levels.”

    1. Ramsay November 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks Ameer. That is a really nice comment.

      I think your English is fine – for a second language it is amazing! Keep up the good work.

      Hey, I visited your site quickly and I reckon you should remove that “warning” text in your pop up. I almost closed your site thinking it was unsafe.

      Thanks again.

      Rams

      1. Ameer Salim November 14, 2012 at 5:51 am

        Hey Rams,

        Thanks for the compliment.. I’m still in the midst of brushing up my English and writing style.

        Anyway, thanks for the feedback regarding the “warning” sign.. I will look into changing the words soon..

        By the way, I saw from the first guy’s comments that you were from viperchill. True enough I saw your name there! :-)

        I’ve actually printed out the free guide on how the “10000 subscribers report” and re-read it a couple of times since last few months. Only now I’m having some free time to start executing his techniques.

        Ameer

  • Keith November 20, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Like what you said on limits…some people will write just about anything that has the potential to make them a buck but in the end, those people don’t get too far. It’s those that give value and only promote in what they believe in that ‘make it.’

    1. Ramsay November 20, 2012 at 7:02 am

      Totally agree Keith.

  • Lewis LaLanne November 20, 2012 at 3:23 am

    I love this suggestion (actually, I’m positively smitten with 80% of what I’ve read). . .

    “Read, read, read”

    For me, this was huge.

    I never wrote anything, in school or otherwise, from the time I was 14 in 1994 until I was 28 in 2007.

    But I did a ton of selling during all that time I didn’t write. I learned the art of persuasion and so when Jay Abraham introduced me to this thing called copywriting, I took to it like a duck to water and some very wise people told me I had a gift.

    I had to believe them because I felt gifted when I was writing and at the same time I had to dump on myself because I’d tell myself my story of being a poor student in school, dropping out of high school, partying years of my life away, not having any kind of writer training to speak of, being deathly afraid of criticism, and whole bunch of other garbage.

    But writing creative sales copy came too easy to me. Too easy to ignore the pleasant feelings of excelling at something. This was especially addictive to me, a person who had bumbled around for 27 years not shining in any meaningful way.

    By taking the advice of Jay Abraham, Gary Halbert, Dan Kennedy and others, I read, read, read my ass off on the classic salesletters, instructional books, and listened to everything I could get my hands on related to this topic which only poured gas on the fire.

    But then came 2008 and the creation of the blog my partner and I founded and still run to this day.

    I barely even knew what a blog was. I was pretty much an internet idiot who used the web to pleasure myself and read Gary Halbert’s site and a few other random brain dead things.

    My partner Dexter had the idea to start the site based on the service we were providing and to run it on WordPress and not just have it be a static site but actually have it be a blog, blog.

    Well, web sites need content. Especially the ones calling themselves blogs. So both of us jumped in naked and started writing content.

    Our expertise was the only thing that made it possible for us to write – it gave us the raw material to start with. And even though neither of us had any article/content writing training at all, both of us were proficient at copywriting and we read a TON, so we just operated from the premise that content should bring home a point and that it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end and it should be intriguing. All key traits of a winning salesletter.

    Since then I’ve read some writing guides but I still haven’t taken any classes. I’m still winging it. And winging it has supported me very well and allowed for me to positively affect a few people.

    While I still haven’t sought out an individual writing coach, I’ve been coached by some of the finest minds we as content marketers have access to.

    One of the writing books I made sure to read was Stephen King’s “On Writing”. In it, he talks about the answer he gives to fledgling fiction writers who ask him what advice he would give to them in order to improve their writing. The short answer is, “Read a lot and write a lot.”

    For years now I’ve had a complex about having to “Catch Up” and so I devoured massive quantities of books in order to feed my mind and raise my game. But all of these books were non-fiction. And most of them were far from entertaining for anyone except an information addict like me who gets a chubby upon coming onto new distinctions.

    I could’ve done a lot worse than these books for getting a raw idea of how to structure content and concepts but the real education came when I listened to Dan Kennedy along with Steven King and I started reading fiction.

    Most people on a quest to educate themselves think fiction is beneath them. I did. I hadn’t read a fiction book since I was in 6th grade before I trusted Steven and Dan and acted on their suggestion.

    And I’ve got to thank them tremendously for giving me this invaluable gift!!!

    Reading fiction offers two incredible benefits to the content writer:

    1. It shows you how to turn yourself into an interesting character and how to write the way people talk.

    Mystery fiction like the late Robert Parker’s Spenser series that revolve around one main character, carry on for 30+ books and keep readers coming back again, and again, and again to the same basic plot – damsel/friend/person in distress, hero sets for to save them or right the wrong, hero meets his match, hero digs deep to overcome to save the day.

    Every book in the Spenser series is this plot. The part that keeps you coming back is the juicy new details about the evolution of the consistent characters of the book and their relationships with each other. This is the same exact recipe for the success of Marvel comic book characters which have endured for DECADES.

    If we use our content platform to not just dispense facts but to convey ourselves as rich characters that our audience wants to stay tuned into, we can keep people interested in us far longer than if we just give them data and instruction.

    The next thing gift that fiction brings you is . . .

    2. It stimulates creativity

    When we read a book we have to make our movie in our mind. When we watch TV or a movie, we create nothing in our minds – it’s all done for us.

    Right now I’m taking notes on the massive seminar that is Eben Pagan’s “Advanced Learning and Teaching seminar” and in it, his co-presenter, the esteemed Wyatt Woodsmall, cites research that the invention of the Television coincides directly with the beginning of America’s steady decline in IQ test scores and as a nation, we’re now at an all time low. He talks about how one of the parts of IQ tests measures your ability to articulate visions from your mind. Where does your writing come from?

    For me, as a marketer/copywriter who also writes content, I have to say that reading fiction has been one of best things I’ve ever done to educate myself in the art of writing.

    And for anyone who is interested, but doesn’t know where to start, I highly recommend all the books written by one of the men you quoted above, Elmore Leonard. I have to give warning though, he’s not a wuss about cussing or setting gritty scenes.

    I know this comment is long Ramsay and if you want to delete it because it throws off the flow of your comment section or because you don’t agree with it or for any reason at all, I won’t be butt hurt about it.

    My mind has received it’s squirt of pleasure in simply having written it and requires no further validation.

    Thank you so much for the encouragement that led to me pulling this out of my mind! I very much am looking forward to coming back for more. :)

    1. Ramsay November 20, 2012 at 7:05 am

      Absolutely love it Lewis. This is why I do what I do.

      Thank you and don’t stop.

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