Photo of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images
Note: Even though I’m focusing on writing, these skills can also apply to a lot of other hard skills you will learn during the course of your life.
Nonetheless, I have written over 320 stories/articles in the past 11 months alone. In my journey to become a better writer and to learn many new skills, I learned that writing is a lot more complex than people make it out to be.
Is that how you felt when you started writing?
Have you persevered?
I did and it paid off in more ways than I ever thought it could.
In my chat with Michael Thompson yesterday, we both agreed that knowing to write is a most valuable skill that ultimately helps you express yourself not only in text but also orally. The self-awareness you get from authentically writing helps you be a better person, both in life and business.
And that’s possible for you too.
And if you’re scared of writing because you have a different profession, think about the fact that a lot of the top writers on Medium are professionals in other fields. Myself, Michael Thompson, and Aytekin Tank are all technical people for example.
In my SkillUp your Life program, more than 50% of the people say they want to learn to “write”. But what does that even mean? There are many techniques and sub-skills needed to write stories/articles that will engage your audience.
In this article, I’ll focus on three that I don’t frequently see being used in people’s writing, especially in non-fiction writing:
Definition: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
- What is your reader’s pain point?
- How do you relate?
- How are you helping them solve it?
If you’ve been reading my articles, and especially the latest few, you’ll notice how many questions I ask my readers. You’ll notice that it’s almost as if we’re having a dialogue.
How can I use Empathy in my writing?
Prefer using “We” over “I”
A lot of people write in the first person (I) on Medium. If you’re an incredibly inspiring person, you may create empathy with your audience but for the rest of us, using the first person plural (we) makes us more relatable.
People need to see that you understand their problems and feelings, and they have to believe that you are the right person to give them advice.
When you use the word “we”, you legitimize their problem. You show them that they’re not alone in this and other people have overcome it. Toss in your personal story but also try to include other people who had similar results.
Use emotion words / Name feelings
As much as you can, bring up emotions in your piece. Ask your audience: “Are you feeling
- Do you have any regret? Read on.
- Is that how you felt when you started writing?
Here’s an excerpt from Tom Kuegler’s last email from his newsletter: “Many of you have probably felt extreme overwhelm at SOME POINT in your life, right? Raise your hands if you have. Okay, put them down now.”
Drop facts and statistics
A fact-based article does not drive empathy. Only use facts and statistics if it helps reinforce the fact that the reader is not alone in this.
Facts and statistics tend to be “contrary” to emotions and break the flow of the piece.
But as you can see from above, I did use a statistic, saying that 50% of the people in my SkillUp your Life program want to improve their writing. In that case, it reinforces the fact that other also have difficulties writing well.
Needless to say, use them sparingly.
Definition: the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
This one may seem strange to most and that’s exactly why it’s “unspoken”. But if we use the definition above from the AMA, I hope we agree that it relates to our non-fiction writing.
As non-fiction writers, our ultimate goal is to offer value to our readers.
We have a message we want to convey to them and we think they’ll find value in what we have to say. The problem is, we suck at selling our ideas to them. We craft an insightful article, yet no one reads it.
Raise your hand if you’ve been there before.
I’ve been there more times than I can count. I spent countless hours writing “great” content but can’t convince people to either 1. look at it, 2. read it, or 3. engage with it.
The problem is we’re not delivering our message the right way. Sometimes we are not credible to the reader, sometimes it seems like we’re trying to get their money, sometimes our headline doesn’t align with our content, etc.
There are many ways we’re not selling our ideas properly.
How can I use Marketing in my writing?
Don’t use clickbait headlines
First things first, it’s not clickbait if the content reflects the headline, no matter how sales-y the headline feels. The headline of this story can be perceived as clickbait but if you agree that I’m bringing forth timeless skills to help you write better non-fiction, then it’s not clickbait.
Most of the times, I refine the headline after writing the story. What is the story really about?
When the content doesn’t answer what’s in the headline, that’s what you want to try to avoid.
Don’t be pushy
I’ve read tons of articles where I was sure the whole point was for me to get to the bottom and buy whatever the writer was offering in their call to action at the bottom.
It’s okay to mention your products or services in your article but it shouldn’t be the object of the story. I did it in my intro in two different occasions but I’m hoping you can clearly see that it’s only to reinforce the message and my credibility.
If you’re giving advice to users, think about how they perceive you. Are you credible giving writing tips if you’ve only been writing for a week? And if you have been writing for months or years, state it early on in your article. See my intro for an example.
Be clear on the value they’ll get out of it
Early on in your article, it has to be clear what the main takeaway is. I’d argue that you should even answer that in the headline. Am I going to be more skilled? A better writer? Will I be healthier? Will I learn a new workout routine?
Make sure it’s clear and believable. If you tell me you’ll 10x your productivity, you better convince me really fast. And that’s not going to be easy. 2x? I trust that more.
And most of you probably do too.
Definition: The act and skills of presenting stories and tales
Back in December 2017, before starting to write on Medium, I practiced Storytelling and Public Speaking. I was reading on the importance of being able to tell a good story both for life and business so I decided to give it a shot.
Little did I know this would now be a most valuable skill in my life. It has greatly contributed to improving both my writing and my speech. I used to not be able to tell compelling stories.
Do you know anyone who can just make any boring event into a grandiose story?
That’s frustrating for non-storytellers. We have these really good stories in our minds but simply cannot make it compelling in written and spoken words.
Think about great storytellers you know:
- What do they have in common?
- How do they behave?
- What kinds of stories do they tell?
- How do they tell the story?
Answering these questions will help you better understand the commonalities between great storytellers.
And storytelling is not just useful for fiction but non-fiction as well. Without a good story, most people will skip your non-fiction piece. That’s why I like Medium’s term for articles: a story.
Think of that as a reminder. You are writing a story, not an essay.
And if you’re an introvert, check this out:
How can I use Storytelling in my writing?
Use power words
Any of the words in the above image trigger a reaction in your reader’s brain. They can picture it. They can have vivid images of any of those. The more you use them, the more you’ll keep your reader’s attention.
“And bang! Danny hit his head against the wall.” Isn’t it more interesting with the onomatopoeia?
Examples: bloop, splash, spray, sprinkle, squirt, dribble, drip, drizzle, bam, bang, clang, clank, clap, clatter, click, clink, ding, jingle, screech, slap, thud, thump, and a whole lot more.
Heck, even make up your own!
Pay attention to details
A lot of times, what makes a story interesting is the setting. Was there an attack on your senses, like a smell, something ugly, something beautiful, something of the wrong texture, etc. Was it raining? Was it dark?
When recollecting an event, try to think of as many details as you can, and when it matters, include it in your story. It will make it richer.
Focus on key elements only
Make your story about one object. This one is about writing better non-fiction stories for example.
People often make the mistake of not having a clear message on what the one true takeaway is for reading a story. I was guilty of that early on when I started writing.
When you write your paragraphs, put emotions and questions on separate lines. The pause gives time for the reader to take in the emotion or give them time to think about the question. Refer to my introduction as an example.
Also, try to keep your paragraphs to 3–4 lines as much as possible for greater flow and clarity.
Learn to be more empathic, become a better marketer, and learn to tell compelling stories.
These three skills will make you a better non-fiction writer for your readers. You’ll become relatable, better at communicating your intentions and engage with your audience in ways you never thought you could.
So, start now and craft better non-fiction stories!
You can do this!
Thanks for reading, and sharing! :)
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