Do you ever read back a draft of your writing and wonder what happened?
Red-cheeked, you thought your draft was complete. You felt excited. Brimming with enthusiasm. You knew it … this was going to be superb. Probably your best-ever blog post. Yay!
You poured yourself a beer, feeling elated with your success.
But, the next day … you feel disappointed. Your writing sounds bland. Your sentences seem to stutter.
What can you do?
How can you create a smooth and enjoyable reading experience? How can you make your content dazzle and dance?
Let’s explore four ways …
1. Remove tiny obstacles from your sentences
Ever tried tangoing with a little stone in your shoe? Or tripped over your shoelaces while waltzing?
In writing, we know the big obstacles frustrating our readers. They’re irrelevant paragraphs and excessive sentences that befuddle readers and slow them down.
When readers lose track of your ideas, they head towards the exit.
And the tiny obstacles? They’re phrases like: “in my opinion,” “just,” “very,” “really,” and “actually.”
These phrases don’t typically add value — they only take up space. With a little discipline, you can cross them out and keep your readers tangoing through your content.
But even tinier obstacles exist. Sometimes even experienced writers and professional editors might not notice these.
These teeny-tiny obstacles are adverbs modifying verbs. In most cases, you can delete the adverb and choose a stronger verb.
- She walks slowly — She saunters; she strolls; she strides.
- He said loudly — He barked; he yelled; he shrieked.
- He talked aimlessly — He blabbered; he digressed; he yakked.
- They worked really hard — They slaved; they labored; they toiled.
- They ate their dinner greedily — They wolfed down their dinner; they devoured their dinner; they inhaled their dinner.
As bestselling author Stephen King has said:
The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
So do your readers a favor, and look out for those pesky words ending with -ly. See if you can find a more accurate or stronger verb.
Sharp writers choose each word with piercing precision.
2. Create a smooth reading experience
Have you ever seen ballroom dancers float across the dance floor?
Clumsy dancers think one step at a time. But professionals dance with flowing movements.
Your content must also flow from one sentence to the next. To create a smooth reading experience, use transitions:
- Transitional words guide your readers. Examples of transitional words and phrases are: “and,” “but,” “or,” “however,” “in contrast,” “because,” “for instance,” and “so.” Use them at the beginning of a sentence to explain how it relates to the previous sentence or to connect two parts of one sentence.
- Short questions can help readers move from one section to the next. For instance, in your introductory paragraphs, you might have explained a problem and promised your readers that you’ll provide a solution. To transition to your tips, use engaging questions like: “Ready to get started?” “Sound good?” or “Shall we begin?”
- Seeds of curiosity are phrases you can use at the end of a paragraph to keep readers moving through your content; they are similar to short questions. Advocated by legendary copywriter Joe Sugarman, these phrases sound like: “Let me explain why,” “And now comes the best part,” or “Even more importantly.”
- Word connectors are versatile transitions that keep readers glued to your content. They connect one sentence to the next by repeating a word. They’re especially useful when using metaphors. For example: Ever tried learning to dance? At first, you struggle to remember the moves. You stumble around and you might even trip over your own feet. In a first draft of your article, your words are stumbling, too. Use transitions to let your content flow gracefully.
To allow readers to waltz through your text, create smooth transitions from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph.
3. Paint striking pictures
Words can conjure up vivid images.
Like an artist’s brush, they paint a picture in your reader’s mind. Some words can even make you shiver, like there are creepy crawlies tickling your spine.
Research suggests that we process sensory words as if we can feel, taste, hear, see, or smell the words. Non-sensory words don’t produce the same sensations.
But sensory words light up different areas of your brain — as if you hear the violins play, as if you see that dazzling dress, as if you feel the swirling movements.
Your job as a writer is to allow readers to visualize your story and feel your words. So, substitute bland words like ‘nice’ or ‘good’ with sensory alternatives like ‘tantalizing,’ ‘dazzling,’ or ‘tasty.’
When you pick the same words everyone else uses, your content becomes grey. But when you choose descriptive words other writers don’t use, your voice becomes unique and resonates with your readers. You stand out in a drab sea of bland voices.
Watch out for worn-out phrases. These are sensory expressions so overused their imagery has faded, and they have become clichés.
For instance, the first time someone used the phrase “out of the box,” it was a vivid metaphor that explained creative thinking. But now, the phrase is so common that nobody visualizes a box anymore.
The imagery has completely faded, and that’s why it has become a cliché.
Similarly, nobody pictures a bar when you talk about “raising the bar.” Nobody visualizes a bull when you say “take the bull by the horns.”
And nobody visualizes a baseball game when you’re “knocking it out of the park.”
Avoid such faded images. Instead, paint fresh and vibrant pictures with your own words. Be creative. Be different. And become memorable.
4. Let your words swing and swirl
Do your words jig or jive?
Rhythm influences us more than we think. We know that dancers follow the rhythm of a rumba or quickstep.
And when we work out at the gym, our brains synchronize with the rhythm of the music, too. An upbeat song makes us move faster. A dreamy love song slows us down.
In the same way, your readers experience the rhythm of your writing.
Even when content isn’t read aloud, readers hear their inner speech.
A dreary rhythm with a succession of long sentences makes them trudge. A faster cadence with a mix of short and long sentences allows them to hippety-hop through your words.
Writing engages readers when it ebbs and flows, sometimes slowing down with long and undulating sentences. Then upping the tempo again. With broken sentences. In staccato. Quick. Snappy.
Want to make your readers hop, skip, and dance?
Start with studying the rhythms of your favorite authors.
Notice, for instance, how Jack Kerouac runs ahead with his words. As a reader, you hardly have a chance to take a breath. His sentences are strung together, seemingly faster and faster.
Or reread your favorite Dr. Seuss story. His writing sticks to a rigid rhythm; you’ll detect the stress pattern quickly.
Finding a rhythm that suits your voice takes time. Read your content aloud. Play with the length of your sentences, and experiment with replacing a long word with a short one.
Break a few grammar rules and listen to how it changes your rhythm — and your voice.
Stand out in a sea of grey content
How often do we read content that surprises and delights?
The same ideas reverberate in the Internet echo chamber, again and again.
Almost everything has been said already. Several times. Using similar words.
To draw attention to your ideas — to grow a loyal following and build a thriving business — let your words dazzle and dance, swing and swirl, jig and jive.
Let your readers fall in love with your voice and crave your next blog update.
Come on. It’s time to swing your hips.
And let your ideas shine.