The Most Impactful Writing Tip I Know

Uncategorized Aug 04, 2022

When you write an op-ed, a speech, or even correspondence, you begin by asking "What is this about?"

Stop that.

Instead, ask this: What do I want the reader to do after they read it?

All professional communication should create a response in the physical world. If yours doesn't, don't send it.

Even if you're just sharing information, ask yourself why, then tell your readers or listeners what to do with it.

Do you want them to start or stop some effort? Change a habit? Reply? Say so.

If not, consider whether you need to send it at all.

This changed everything for me. Maybe it'll help you, too.

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An Easy Trick to Edit Better.

Uncategorized Aug 03, 2022

Most of us edit a few pages then stop to admire our work. After that we resume editing -- but we return to the beginning... again and again and again.

Result? You're editing the opening over and over while the rest gets short shrift.

Stop that.

Do this instead: print it out. Go through the whole thing with a pen and mark what needs attention, but don't make the changes. Just circle 'em.

When you reach the end, *then* go back and make the changes. Do it only after you've circle-marked the whole thing, not until.

Now your entire document gets serious attention, not just the top.

(Sleeping puppy -- name, Mark Watney -- pictured below in shameless attempt to draw your attention.)

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Some Useful Words When Writing About Legislation

Uncategorized Jul 27, 2022

It's not a law until it is passed by the legislature and signed by the executive. That's true (with a few exceptions) for both federal and state governments.

So while you're waiting for passage, what else can you say besides "the bill"? Try these:

* Proposal
* Measure
* Legislation
* Plan
* Blueprint

Be sure not to call it a law until it is one.

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How to Write a Killer Press Release

Uncategorized Jul 08, 2022

The goal of a press release is to get a callback from a reporter. Nothing else matters. A document with any other purpose is not a press release.

To write a strong press release, you need a clear purpose and a well-defined method that advances your purpose. Here's an interview I did with PR Daily a few years ago with my "Seven Tips for Writing a Killer Press Release." Check it out!

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Quiet, Please.

Uncategorized Jul 07, 2022

The strongest communicators spend most of their time being quiet. 

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What Comes After "But"?

Uncategorized Jun 30, 2022

It better be perfect, because that's the only part your readers read and your listeners hear.

A sentence with "but" in the middle announces a contradiction or even an attack, and it puts your audience in a defensive posture. That means they are looking for any reason to dismiss it.

Here's a way to improve what comes after the "but": in your mind, cut everything up to and including "but". Now you're stating your exception as an assertion. Is it needlessly provocative? Adjust accordingly. Dial things back to civility. 

No one won any argument by starting out with "Hey, stupid."

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The Coke Machine Lesson

Uncategorized May 11, 2022

JERRY SEINFELD AND THE COKE MACHINE. Jerry Seinfeld said that breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You don't do it with one big push. You keep rocking the thing a little at a time until it eventually goes down.

Same with persuasion.

You're not going to find a silver-bullet argument. Instead, come back over and over again with another small bit of persuasion. Let your opponent make the connections on their own. Over time, they just might, and it'll be more effective as well.

This is part of what I'm getting at when I say persuasion is not about reason or emotion alone. It's about how you think about yourself and each other. Persuasion occurs in the context of a relationship.

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Tearing Them Down...

Uncategorized May 10, 2022

ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT how to tear down your opponent's argument?

Stop. You'll never change minds with that. Instead, try this.

Are you open to having your mind changed? Probably not. With that realization, you've now met your opponent in a practical way.

To persuade someone else, start by asking what it would take to persuade you to their side. You don't respond to bullying or character assassination, do you? Neither does anyone else.

Ask yourself what would open your mind to considering a new point of view, or at least respecting it.

If you can't do that, give up. For real. Persuasion is achieved by human connection, not just reason, and never hostility.

Effective writing isn't just about other people's attitude. It's mostly about yours.

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Cut it!

Uncategorized Mar 21, 2022

Back when I did standup, the manager of the club where I started took me aside. He told me I should take a particular bit out of the act because it wasn't getting laughs. "I know," I said. "But I like that bit." "You're not up there for yourself," he said. "You're up there for the audience. Cut it." He was right.

It's the same for writing: the purpose of writing is to provide value to the reader. It's a simple lesson that takes discipline to follow, but the payoff is big: if it doesn't work, cut it. Don't write for yourself. Write for the reader.

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Writing a Fiction Pitch?

Uncategorized Mar 17, 2022
Find the inciting incident of your story and make it your first sentence. For example, “Luke woke up to an old enemy holding a shotgun six inches from his nose."
Summarize your story by giving editors and agents what they are looking for, concrete descriptions of what happens in the physical world. Choose your words well. Do not rely on punctuation and rhetoric. Avoid ellipses, dashes, italics, and direct address. Those things tell us how to feel, and an editor wants that conveyed in the words themselves.
Find a book with jacket copy that makes you want to read the whole book right then and there, then write in that style. You'll learn a lot.
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