Friday, January 09, 2009

6 Ways to Make Your Writing More Relevant, Persuasive, Memorable and Creative

FACT: If you’re a writer and you’re using Oprah as an example of “effective personal branding,” you’re not a very creative writer.

Nobody can relate to Oprah.

In the history of the world, nobody ever has, nor ever will, be able to relate to Oprah.

I don’t care how “regular” she claims to be on her show. She simply has too much money, too much power and too many fans to be relatable to ordinary people like you and me.

I don't care what her Wikipedia entry says. Oprah is not of this Earth. She is a cyborg from planet Zoltar, and she does not live in a world of reality. Therefore, your readers will not learn ANYTHING about personal branding from her.

Please excuse the rant. I have nothing personal against Oprah. I mean, I don’t watch her show or read her magazine, but I DO recognize and respect her stratospheric level of success as an entrepreneur.

But this isn’t about Oprah. I could just as easily have used Tiger Woods, Donald Trump, Lance Armstrong or Richard Branson as "examples of poor examples."

This is about lazy writers who lack the originality to use unique, relatable and real-world material...

If you want to establish a unique voice as a writer, you need to pull material FROM, and cite examples USING multiple, eclectic and personal sources.

If you practice this approach regularly, the following six things will happen:

1. You’ll make your material and your voice more UNIQUELY YOURS. Fine. There’s nothing new under the sun. As a writer, you get that. The question then becomes: How can you give people new EYES instead of new landscapes?

Your goal is to provide your readers with a new lens, a new philosophy and a new approach to an old idea. Same skeleton, different skin.

TRY THIS: Writing a book about branding? Don’t cite Coca-Cola, Martha Stewart and Apple as an example. Instant Tune Out. Every writer has done that; every reader knows they’re among the best in the world.

Instead, use the eccentric owner of your local dry cleaners that everyone in your neighborhood LOVES. It would be more interesting, more inspiring and more believable.

2. You’ll make your material and your voice more RELEVANT. My mentor and Hall of Fame Speaker Jeffrey Gitomer said, “Your audience needs to think to themselves: I believe it, I can do it and I’d like to try it.”

That’s relevancy. That’s hitting home with your readers. The challenge is not alienating your audience by using impersonal, impossible and impractical examples.

TRY THIS: Writing a blog post about compassion? Don’t use Buddha or Jesus or The Dali Lama as your model. Instant Amateurism. Every writer has done that; every reader knows they’re the consummate examples in history.

Instead, quote the twenty-year veteran Special Ed teacher at your kid’s high school. It would be more digestible, more relatable and more human.

3. You’ll make your material and your voice more PERSUASIVE. Interpersonally, people stop listening to each other for many reasons. One of them is when the listener’s brain tells them, “Oh, you’ve heard this before.”

So, because writing is a form of conversation – or at least, it SHOULD be – the same rule applies. You need to keep readers guessing. Break their patterns. Violate their expectations. And you need to do this regularly, as the human attention span is about six seconds. (Which translates into about FOUR lines of written words.)

Therefore, when your examples, quotations and stories depict experiences and individuals that nobody saw coming, you capture their attention and interest, which makes you more persuasive. In the words of famed author Elmore Leonard, “If you want to be a good writer, leave out the parts people skip.”

TRY THIS: Writing about famous pearls of wisdom? Don’t quote Shakespeare, Rumi or Emerson. Instant Unoriginality. Every writer has done that; every reader knows they were the smartest people who ever lived.

Instead, use your mentor, your childhood baseball coach or, God forbid, quote YOURSELF! That sounds more personable, more valuable more brandable.

4. You’ll make your material and your voice more MEMORABLE. I read about five books a week. Naturally, I notice many writing patterns. And if I have to read the SAME damn Einstein quotation, the SAME simplistic car motor metaphor for leadership or that SAME stupid story about those two Zen monks on a bridge, I swear to God I’m going rip out that page of the book and use it to paper cut my cornea.

Examples like these are unoriginal, uncreative, and uninspiring. Either get a new story, or get ghostwriter.

TRY THIS: Writing about inspiration? Don’t tell the story about where you were when 9-11 happened. Instant Eye Roller. Every writer has done that and every reader is tired of reliving that horrid event.

Instead, tell a story about one of your Grandpa’s classic one-liners. Or that time your dog peed on the cat. Or an unforgettable childhood moment with your kindergarten teacher that continues to inspire you forty years later. That sounds more remarkable, repeatable and humorous.

5. You’ll make your material and your voice more WIDELY-APPEALING. In his book, The Invaluable Leader, my friend Dale Furtwengler suggests, “Gain an eclectic education. Expose your mind to things outside your normal areas of interest or discipline so you can connect with your readers quicker.”

Your challenge is to infuse your writing with the ideas you’ve learned through your eclectic education.

TRY THIS: Writing about marketing? Don’t regurgitate that same story about Budweiser or McDonald’s or Nordstrom’s. Instant Channel Changer. Every writer has done that and every reader has heard enough about those companies.

Instead, share marketing lessons you learned from attending church, running in a marathon or knitting a sweater. That sounds more engaging, interesting and appealing.

6. You’ll make your material and your voice more CREATIVE. Creativity is about making connections between unexpected or seemingly unrelated things. So, if your “hot” new ebook on management does nothing but york a bunch of Tom Peters and Peter Drucker quotations all over the page, I’m sorry, but, you are not a very creative writer.

For example, in my books and articles about growing bigger ears (listening), I often share quotations from my yoga instructor about non-anticipation.

In my video modules about approachability, I’ll incorporate ideas I learned from my hypnotherapist about relaxation.

And when I give workshops about the writing process, I always play unexpected songs by my heroes, Chris Whitley and Mark Sandman, two obscure (and deceased) artists.

TRY THIS: Writing a module about spousal communication? Don’t bore your readers with that obligatory “love is patient, love is kind” verse from 1 Corinthians. Instant snoozer. Every writer has done that and every reader who’s ever attended a wedding probably has that scripture memorized.

Instead, quote a memorable episode from Everybody Loves Raymond. That sounds more relatable, humorous and unexpected.

REMEMBER: The more specific, personal and unexpected your examples are; the more uniquely yours, relevant, persuasive, memorable, widely appealing and creative your writing will become.

In closing, I challenge you to meditate on the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “If you want to be a great writer, be a great date for your reader.”

LET ME ASK YA THIS...
Why are you still using Oprah as an example in your writing?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
For the list called, "9 Ways to Out Write the Competition," send an email to me, and I'll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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