How to Turn Yourself Into a Damn Fine Writer

How to Turn Yourself Into a Damn Fine Writer

Reader Comments (62)

  1. Loved the motivation bit at the end of the post.

    Glad to see Copyblogger putting out more posts specifically about writing, easily my favorite topic on the site.

    • It all starts with motivation. I do exactly what it says at the end. It’s important to remind y yourself daily, because life gets busy and its easy to lose track of things.

  2. I too love the motivational peace at the end. I have a whiteboard hanging from my wall which I clearly define my “wants” from my site. I also includes my “needs” as to how I can help others, which then typically trickle back to my wants 🙂

    Love the content, keep it up!

  3. “Apply the knowledge.”

    That’s probably the most important piece of advice and hardest to implement. You don’t learn from reading, you learn from doing! And yeah, it is going to take time to get it right. If you want to be the one writing content for your company, you’ve got to be willing to put in the time.

  4. I think it’s a huge misconception that writing is some kind of “God-given” talent that only a few possess. Certainly, there are some people with more of an inclination to it, but anyone – given a little time and practice – can learn to write effectively.

    For me, writing well is about finding your voice, which is why I tend to write the way the words and sentences sound in my head. It’s not always grammatically perfect, but in general, I think injecting your own personality into your writing – rules be damned! – is the best way that anyone can create fun, engaging content.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • I really agree. Writing talent comes from writing practice. Yes, it comes more easily to some people, but they aren’t necessarily the ones who end up writing the best work.

    • As a former English teacher who adored each and every one of her students I can tell you the ability to write in a compelling manner is a gift and not a learned skill. Maybe 2% of all my students were able to do this. Think of it like music – one needs to know more than the notes to inspire an audience. As the web craves more and more unique, creative content, great content creators will be increasingly harder to find.

      • Hmmm, I’m not so sure, Catherine.

        I know a singer who is tone deaf and who can’t recognize a note for the life of her… and she’s learned skills that help her sing just fine without making anyone wince. It took time, but she did it.

        And as for music, being able to pick up a guitar and pluck out a slow, choppy “Twinkle Twinkle” actually did impress several people when I began! Their surprise actually gave me confidence. “Huh. I can totally do this. Why not?”

        And I’ve never met someone who has been reading since childhood who doesn’t write well. What we’re exposed to early in life makes a huge difference in what we can do later on.

        I think like Sonia – writing might come more easily for some, but it’s not a skill we’re born with. It can be learned.

        • “And I’ve never met someone who has been reading since childhood who doesn’t write well. What we’re exposed to early in life makes a huge difference in what we can do later on.”

          I don’t write well but my spelling and grammar are fine. I used to read lots as a child. Was probably Enid Blyton’s single biggest revenue generator.

          But for other bright kids I grew up with whose spelling, grammar and writing was atrocious but who still did excellently in their tests, is that the cause? That they didn’t read a lot when they were younger kids?

      • Particularly business writing. Can everyone write a poem that will be published in The New Yorker? No. But many, many more people can write business-oriented content that turns fans into customers.

        And even those who are truly tone-deaf still benefit from studying content & copywriting and trying their hand, because it’s extremely hard to manage a writer unless you know precisely what you want that finished product to look like.

    • Hi Sonia,

      generally I agree with you. However the determination, willingness and love of communicating through writing has to be there.

      Many do not want to write – it is not for them. How many ICT companies get into problems because developers had not documented as they should? I do not blame people for not wanting to write, it is not for all of us.

      I did not start out to become a technical writer, but when being asked to create a user guide, found I loved it. I became a technical writer – and then discovered that writing for marketing is also challenging and fun, so I do that as well.

      However things do not happen straight away – I am glad I no longer have documents from my first technical writer post – I would cringe today at the passive boring text. You learn on the job, and carry on learning. When I read anything such as an article and brochure, the back of my mind is always analysing what is good or bad about how it is communicating, you never stop.

      And I have not mentioned getting to know your field.

      So in a nutshell, yes anyone can become a great business writer, but it takes years of study (direct or indirect) love and practice.

  5. Great article, I do enjoy writing. It’s like I’m putting my personality out there on the line.

    A great article on writing as well, is the one about Ernest Hemingway writinng tips. It’s somewhere here on copyblogger.

    Anyways, write every day and improve over time.

  6. Loved the motivation idea! I think I will try doing that. I agree writing can help you meet your goals. I took a media writing course over the summer and It helped me brush up on my writing skills. I think good writing is something that can be learned with time and patience.

  7. James,

    I always enjoy your insights. One thing that you brought up that I think is interesting is that they don’t teach you how to write properly in school. It’s funny because some of the best writers on the web that i’ve talked to told me that they didn’t get A’s in their college English courses. I’ve found that to be so true in my experience. One of the things we do is get caught up in following so many rules that it kills our ability to write in our own unique voice.

    As far as the hands on stuff goes, it amazes me how many people gloss over things. I think everybody needs an advice implementation plan. In fact my recommendation is that people taken notes on the things they read online, and make a list of the things they want to implement, and then do one of per day or one per week. For example if you read some great advice on improving your newsletter, then dedicate a day or a week to implementing that advice. I got some priceless advice on leveraging my archives. Instead of letting them collect dust, I repurposed them for my newsletter, and my open rates increased quite a bit. Thanks for sharing. I’m off to go break all the rules on the chalkboard 🙂

    • Of the people whom I know who write on the web and who took English in college or university… well, each one had to break the bad habits they learned and relearn how to write in an engaging, effective and compelling way. And I have yet to find a college course on “How to write for the web”…

      …which is why I decided to create Damn Fine Words 🙂

      For the hands-on stuff, that’s a big one, eh?

      “James, it’s just not working!”

      “Well, did you read this post I wrote? I’m sure that’ll help.”

      “I did! I did read it! And it was great.”

      “Cool. Did you actually DO what I said to do in the post?”

      “Ummmm… I’m on it right now. Thanks, James!”

  8. Two interesting calls to action – write well, and get motivated. I actually think I’ve got those 2 down (with room to grow, of course). But it’s all a wash if you don’t roll up your sleeves and put in the hours, relentlessly…And then of course you have to transform all of that good writing and motivation into a sound business strategy. Lots of balls in the air.

    • Actually, I like to think that relentless hours of crazy marathoning to practice writing skills is a myth. I know plenty of people who never did that who can write very well. And learning the skills to make their writing compelling and interesting wouldn’t take long either.

      So… let’s toss that “relentless practice” myth up in the eccentric artist garret – I think those two beliefs would do well locked up and forgotten, yeah? 😉

  9. Enjoyed the article! I like how you spell out the steps to perfecting our craft. It’s easy to WANT to be a great writer, it’s something different to take the time to become one.

    I keep my dream board in the to be in there sometime. This keeps my dreams and goals in front of me at least a few times a day. I may have to add Tahiti to the list. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your special info with me. Copyblogger rules!

    • It’s easy to WANT to be a great writer, it’s something different to take the time to become one.

      I think it’s not a question of taking the time. I think for most people, that “want to be a great writer” isn’t a priority for them. We all say we WANT things but never actually do anything to reach those goals.

      So… maybe the decision about finding the time to become that great writer is a form of procrastination or fear? I could be wrong, but something to think about!

    • I agree that it is largely a question of motivation. I want to be able to play guitar, but not enough to actually pull it out and tune it. Now, if my friends invited me to join a band, and we had a concert set, you can bet I would be not only tuning, but practicing my ^*@ off! Having a reason to do something, whether it’s a vacation or a deadline, is one of the best points brought up in this article. Thanks for the great tips, James!

  10. I spent years as a working journalist, so for some time I resisted some of the copywriting advice I would read and other places.

    Then I decided to test things, and I threw a bunch of copywriting techniques into one post, including what I felt was a very corny headline.

    The result? The highest click-thru of all my newsletters. And the most spread article on my site.

    Even my wife read it after seeing the headline!

  11. Fantastic advice, James. Writing is one of the most important skills you can ever learn, and your article makes some great points about why everyone should make good writing a high priority.

    I completely agree with your point about how we’re not taught to write well in school! As a student, I thought I knew everything there was to know about writing because I got an A on anything I ever wrote. Of course, I realized pretty quickly after graduating that I had a lot to learn about writing in the real world.

    Since then, I’ve been focused on copywriting which has improved my writing skills ten times more than any college English class ever did.

    One more thing – your suggestion to apply the knowledge is some of the most simple, obvious and best advice I’ve read in a long time.

    • It’s amazing how much reach great writing skills have. You can use them on the web, on your business, writing notes to your kids’ teacher, writing to a company, building your resume, etc etc etc. I like skills that you can use across a wide range like that!

  12. Okay, this is a post that I MUST print out.

    Lots of great information here, James. My favorite:

    “Practice the skills right away, the second you finish reading the post, lesson, or book.”

    I come across some insane writing. But if I don’t write a note about what I liked or apply it right then and there, I totally forget about it come writing time. So just applying that one nugget, I’m sure, will help me up my game.

    Thanks James.

    – Jennifer

  13. I really liked the bit at the end about applying what you know. I read a lot of great tips and think I’ve “learned” how to do it, but the part about applying it immediately by tweaking previous work is perfect! I’m going to go back through some of the articles I read this week and do precisely that.

    Thanks for a great article!

  14. The techniques you have mentioned definitely make sense. However I often find myself contemplating the feasibility of changing old posts. What happens to SEO if we do this? Also there are bound to be some limitations that need to be considered properly e.g. if we decide to go and change the title of some of the old posts, surely we cannot change the URL or the least put the necessary htaccess redirections in place first. Also if we change the post title, what should be done with rest of the on page optimisation including headings, etc. In principle, it indeed makes sense to update our old content based on new techniques or knowledge we have acquired. In practice however. there are a number of issues that need to be considered which can make it somewhat difficult at least for a newbie.

    • Hey… Web Designer? (Not sure what to call you, sorry!)

      If you’re using WordPress, you can do all sorts of things with your posts to improve the SEO. But it’s important to remember that we’re writing for people first, and machines second.

      So if you improve a post and it gets more traffic and results because it was better *written*… the SEO will follow 🙂

      (At least, that’s my two cents!)

    • WDL, click on that link in the red header bar called “SEO Copywriting,” there’s a link to a report that answers all of those questions for you. 🙂 There’s nothing in James’s post that will mess up your SEO — it’s fine to change the headline, although you’re right, keep your slug (in other words, the URL) the same.

  15. And don’t forget to fall in love with this writing craft. Grammar rules, writer’s block, etc. don’t hamper us as much when we believe words are, indeed, damn fine things.

  16. Also something that works great in the writing process is finding a passion for it. Without passion, motivation may turn into just another task of life.

  17. Great advice! I completely agree. Writing well takes LOTS of practice! I also find feedback is very helpful, and if you’re publishing your content on the internet that feedback can come in lots of ways, i.e. click through rate.

  18. My writing has improved massively since I started writing articles, newsletters and blog posts but I have so much to learn still. There’s not really a piece of writing that you do that isn’t important, the more you can make an impact the better, from the content to the headline to the email subject line – I have so many skills to hone. Skipping around learning lots of things at once is a bit of an occupational hazzard in internet marketing but disipline is key; we have to learn to focus on one thing at a time.

  19. Most people skip that hands-on step. They read, nod, and think they’ve stored away the knowledge for instant retrieval when they need it. They’ve learned something new! And it will all come magically back to mind the next time they write.

    I’m guilty… 🙁

      • As one of those reader/nodder/non-absorbers, application is key. I went through a big folder on my desktop yesterday of various marketing/writing/dominate-the-Web-like-you’re-Genghis-Khan PDFs to cull out the ones I hadn’t read. Uh, did I read that one? Oh yeah, that one had good stuff—what was it?

        So I just had your entire post tattooed on my arms and legs. Thanks James.

  20. Hi James,

    Sensational tips!

    The key point: put this stuff into practice IMMEDIATELY. The biggest mistake I see individuals make is reading an excellent post, acknowledging how damn good it is then doing nothing with the knowledge.

    2 business types exist. Those with street smarts and the “on the sidelines” crowd. The street smarts folks will look back in the archives and begin working on their copy immediately after this post. I know I am, tweaking a few of my tweets as I’m writing. The other crowd will gush, and say they’ll get to working on their copy, but never will. Might put it off until later in the day or tonight, because they “have no time to do it.”

    You won’t find the time to do something until you make the time to do something.

    Thanks for sharing your inspiration with us!

    Ryan Biddulph

  21. Great post James.

    I totally agree with you. Many people read and nod, believing they’ve stored up good information for future use. One thing they often fail to understand is that, the learning actually takes place at the point we are practicing what we have learnt; that is when the brain succeeds in incorporating the new skill into our repertoire of skills.

    So, the smarter way to learn is to immediately put it to work as much as possible.

    I look forward to more of your post James.

  22. Thanks James, I bookmarked your writing service, just a bit out of my budget right now 🙂 The post pointed me in the right direction, will need to keep on writing my own content for now…

  23. Great article James – I needed a kick up the backside like this. I consider myself a pretty good writer, but I have not put nearly enough research into how to convert people with your content marketing. Time to start studying!

  24. Very good advice here. If you cannot write then rather hire professionals as they will help you to get more sales than if you fluff it up yourself.

  25. I’ve always known the value of being able to communicate at a very high level in the written form within any industry that I found myself working in, but the online world requires a person to take that up a whole notch higher because you now have to be able to write in a manner that is attractive to people of all walks of life; not just one industry. Gone is the repetitive boilerplate jargon that you could always lean on to get by. You now have to develop the skills to be a real writer. I appreciate your perspective.

  26. I love this article, I can’t even write a comment in good command of English. But this article points out writing in a skill full manner is very important for the success of our blog marketing campaign especially if your going for the content marketing strategy.

    Each time I think people are satisfied of my writing, that is were I failed to learn more. And results on my ever going dull, plain and not interesting article. People saw my headline but when they read my articles in my blog, it was not as promised. Good thing a good friend of mine remind me of this.


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