Your job as a writer is to make your subjects clear and interesting.
Assuming you aren’t working on the next Waiting for Godot, you’ll work to make sure your meaning is clear and easy to grasp.
And assuming you aren’t editing Wikipedia, you’ll work to make it lively and fresh.
But sometimes, well-meaning attempts to give your writing life end up producing writing that’s silly, trivial, cluttered, or condescending.
Lively writing is wonderful. Paragraph after paragraph of neon-rainbow unicorn vomit (with glitter) is less wonderful.
So let’s look at how to make your writing colorful and interesting … without making your audience sick to their stomachs.
The most important thing
Before we start, I want to be completely clear:
I can show you some common pitfalls, but if your audience adores something I don’t like — their vote is the one that counts.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at some of the contributors to unicorn vomit.
A warm and personal voice is good
Nearly any content (including B2B) benefits from a warm, individual voice.
If you think about your professional life, you know that it’s possible to be absolutely professional and still be warm and likable. That’s the tone you’re after. No matter what kind of content you create, your audience is made of individual human beings.
I like to think about having a coffee (or a glass of wine) with a friend and offering my explanation of the topic I’m writing about. I’ll include conversational asides as they make sense … but I’ll often go back and delete about half of them.
Kindergarten cheerfulness is not so good
Things get ugly when we cross the line into Dora the Explorer territory.
If you’re a member of Team Relentless Cheer, you might benefit from the following:
Our gentleman content creators sometimes suffer from a variant of this: Gary Vee syndrome.
If your content is an endless stream of ALL CAPS, exclamation points, bossy but earnest pronouncements, and addressing your audience as My Friends, please remember that there is one Gary Vee. And it is not you.
Web clichés that should die in a fire
We already talked about Ninja, Rockstar, and BFF.
Let’s add the tossed alphabet salad of BTW, TFW, TBH, AFAIK, and WTF.
One or two make your content feel conversational. Too many and my eyelids start to flutter from TL;DR.
(By the way, if you’re not sure what some of these mean … LMGTFY.)
Richness and color are good
So much content looks like it’s actively trying to win a World’s Dullest Website competition.
There are plenty of facts out there, even if we leave out the “alternative” kind. There’s no shortage of sites for basic instructions, stripped-down numbers, and raw information. We’re all a few seconds away from knowing how long the gestation period of the American Crocodile is.
Don’t just tell us what the numbers are … tell us why they matter.
Don’t just analyze … make it vivid.
Sensory language helps create vivid impressions. Think about smells, tastes, and colors.
“Loaded” language carries firepower. Calling something pallid or bleached carries a different connotation than the generic light-colored.
Make sure your nouns and verbs are working hard. Sensory, specific, and concrete language gives writing flavor.
Don’t say The deliciously-scented intricate purple flower. Say The lilac.
Goop is not so good
If you’d like to improve your writing and spend a delightful half-hour at the same time, I encourage you to take a look at the winners of the 2016 Bulwer-Lytton contest. I present just one particularly appealing example:
Trying to make your writing vivid by pouring on a thick layer of verbal goop will only make it indigestible.
Make sure all of your adjectives and adverbs need to be there. You don’t have to declare war on them, but you should give each one a good stink-eye to make sure it’s pulling its weight.
Fancy Nancy word choice
Do you always have a penchant for doing things, instead of just liking them?
Do you think canapés taste better than snacks and prefer traveling in a vehicle to a car?
You may be suffering from Fancy Nancyism.
Just like glitter — a little can add sparkle. I love unusual and interesting words, too. But too many and you start to look silly.
When writing in English, keep most of your word choices to the plain, straightforward Anglo-Saxon.
One advantage is that when you do choose a word that’s a bit … luminous, it will stand out.
Vulnerability is good …
Perfect people are boring. And annoying. Most of us are a little fed up with the glossy, the over-curated, and the Instagram-perfect.
If you want to make a connection with an audience, go ahead and talk about problems. If you have insecurities, open up about them. (If you don’t have any insecurities, maybe you should.)
No one becomes an authority without stepping in some stinky stuff. Talk about that. Get real about the whole path that led you to where you are, not just the prettiest views along the way.
Train wrecks are not so good
When do we cross the line from vulnerable leader to oversharing whack job?
I’d argue it’s when you cease to come across as someone your audience can rely on.
Are you a freelancer who goes on and on about how you can’t meet your deadlines? Get a Freedom account, block your access to Facebook, and fix the problem. Clients don’t need another flaky freelancer.
Are you a therapist who flies off the handle over trivia and seems to lurch from one disaster to another? That’s work to save for your therapist. Your clients need to know you can help them with their problems.
It’s a bit like parenting. It’s good to let our kids know that we made mistakes, too … but if they start feeling like they need to parent us, we need to remember which one is the adult.
Of course, seek out a real support group for the tough days. Everyone goes through tough times. Share your troubles with the right people.
How about you?
What are your favorite ways to bring some color into your writing?
Got a little Fancy Nancy or Dora the Explorer going on in your content? You’re among friends here — let us know in the comments.
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