With a deep sigh, Helen Fields switches on her PC. Another Monday. Another article to write about leadership.
Hasn’t everything been written already?
Helen checks her Twitter stream and answers a few emails. She doesn’t feel like writing. Not yet. She googles the word “leadership.”
756 million articles. Ouch. But still … Helen knows she can help, encourage, and inspire her readers.
While sipping her green tea, she leafs through her notebook with article ideas. Nothing feels right. Everything feels bland.
She doesn’t want to write a humdrum article. She doesn’t want to dump her ideas online. She wants to write with power, passion, and pizzazz.
She wants to wake up her readers, electrify them with her words, and jump-start them to change the world.
Why write if you can’t inspire change? Why write if people only skim your subheads before clicking away? How do you choose vivid words that make readers not only remember — but also love — your ideas?
Craft a red poppy in a sea of grey content
In this distracted world chock-full of content, inspiring readers with your message may feel like an impossible task.
But when you learn to harness the power of visual language — when you sketch vibrant images with only words, your message bursts into life.
Your message stands out like a red poppy in a sea of grey content. Vibrant. Proud. And memorable.
Want to ignite and inspire your readers too?
Visual language energizes your ideas
You probably had a portable compact disc player.
While other manufacturers were fussing about enhancing sound quality even further, Steve Jobs decided to launch a product with vastly inferior sound quality.
Within 11 years, he sold 350 million iPods. Why?
The unparalleled power of visual language:
1,000 songs in your pocket.
Abstract writing fails to connect with readers because you can’t visualize abstract concepts and generalizations.
In contrast, visual writing engages readers’ senses and allows them to picture your ideas. As readers start to imagine the positive impact your idea could have on their lives, your ideas become inspirational and memorable.
“Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts. Abstraction is the luxury of experts.” – Chip and Dan Heath
But how do you make your message more concrete?
Harness the power of the senses
Sensory words are no ordinary words. They pack a punch. They communicate with piercing precision. Research shows people read sensory words as if they feel the silkiness, hear the buzz, and see the sparkle.
Here’s an example of a typical business-like sentence:
Your vision might be vague.
Now, here’s a more sensory option from the book Illuminate by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez:
“Yet no one sees the future with perfect clarity. At times, it feels close and attainable. Other times it appears distant and turbulent, or as a dreamy, faint image lacking detail.”
To make your content more sensory, first look for key sentences in your writing — which words should readers remember?
Take a sheet of paper and a pencil, and write your original sentence at the top. Play around with different versions of your sentence and keep the different senses in mind:
- Visual words: Paint vibrant or gloomy pictures.
- Tactile words: Cut the fluff and make your sentences silky-smooth.
- Auditory words: Create a buzz and let your words sizzle.
- Words related to smell and taste: Turn bland writing into zesty sound bites.
- Motion words: Put on your dancing shoes, and let your sentences swing and swirl.
No one “right” word exists. Which words appeal most to you? Which words paint the most vibrant picture? Which words give you goose bumps?
Embrace your inner poet and nurture a sense of fun. Experiment. Play.
Turbocharge your sensory power
Metaphors help people visualize and remember ideas by comparing abstract ideas with concrete pictures.
And what’s more, metaphors help your ideas stand out because you can make your metaphors unique. Here’s an example of a metaphor:
Do you remember Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking sky-jump for the Red Bull Stratos project?
Imagine this guy free-falling at 833.9 miles per hour, smashing through the sound barrier.
And you know what?
He couldn’t feel the air movement. Because of his full-pressure space suit, he couldn’t feel his extraordinary, supersonic speed.
Incredible, isn’t it?
He said afterwards it’s like swimming without feeling the water.
Bland blog posts have a similar problem.
They present useful tips without feeling, without imagination, and without the power of visual language.
What’s your content like?
Do you touch your readers with your words? Or do you let your readers swim without feeling?
To dream up your own metaphor:
- Give yourself permission to have fun, and allow your mind to wander freely.
- Look for connections between two completely different topics.
- Compare ideas — a process to a process, or a thing to a thing.
For instance, you can compare:
- Writing skills with cooking skills: Like a chef needs to learn how to chop, sauté, roast, and grill, a writer needs to learn how to choose words for impact, how to create a smooth reading experience with transitional phrases, and how to create a pleasurable rhythm.
- Cooking ingredients with words: Like a chef tastes a dish before serving, you need to know when your content lacks flavor. You have to spot weak phrases. And just like a chef grinds a little extra pepper, sprinkles a few coriander leaves, or drizzles extra lime juice, you need to balance the flavors of your writing too.
- The writing process with the cooking process: You prepare a curry step by step; first you chop the veggies, grind the spices, and then you let the ingredients simmer for a while. When writing blog content, it’s the same. You don’t have to do everything all at once. Break down the process into steps — idea generation, outlining, writing a first draft, editing, and formatting.
Since I love cooking (and eating!), cooking is my favorite source of metaphors; you may prefer other topics such as gardening, parenting, traveling, or sports — all good sources for metaphors.
Nervous about finding original ideas? Don’t be afraid to reuse metaphors — you can make them your own by adding sensory details.
For instance, the idea that a leader is a torchbearer is not really original. But Duarte and Sanchez make the metaphor unique by adding their own details:
The future is a formless void,
a blank space waiting to be filled.
And then a Torchbearer envisions a new possibility.
That vision is your dream, your calling,
And it burns like a fire in your belly.
But you can’t create the future alone.
You need Travelers to come along.
Yet the path through the unknown is dark and unclear.
You have to illuminate the path for travelers.
Torchbearers communicate in a way that conquers fear and inspires hope.
Some say being a torchbearer is a burden.
Some say it’s a blessing.
Either way, those who light the path
are the ones who change the world.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
When I started writing, I didn’t believe I had any creative talent.
But I wanted my messages to stand out.
Because I wanted to be heard.
Encouraged by the guidance in Anne Miller’s book The Tall Lady With The Iceberg (formerly titled Metaphorically Selling), I mustered the courage to write my first metaphor.
My secret to embarking on this creative journey?
Foster a sense of fun. Get away from your computer. I get my best ideas while making spicy meatballs, pedaling my bike, or when listening to the murmur of rain on a walk.
I also started hunting for sensory words and created my own collection of favorites. That’s how my writing improved and my voice evolved.
Even better … people engaged with me because the metaphors gave them a glimpse into my life. The metaphors turned out to be excellent conversation starters.
Enchant your readers
How often do we read content that surprises and delights?
How often are we really inspired by a blog post?
Life is too short for monotone voices. Life is too short for wishy-washy writing. Life is too short to regurgitate ideas without adding value.
It’s time to have fun, infuse your content with your personality, and dazzle your readers with your words.
Come on. Dare to be that red poppy shining brightly in an ocean of grey content.
Let your ideas sparkle, shimmer, sing, swing, swirl, shock, and sizzle.
You’re the leader your readers are waiting for.
Get ready to spark change.
Reader Comments (85)
Michael LaRocca says
“Why write if you can’t inspire change? Why write if people only skim your subheads before clicking away? How do you choose vivid words that make readers not only remember — but also love — your ideas?”
Every writer should pin those words to the wall.
Only if they find the inspirational! 😉
Anh Nguyen says
Agreed, Michael! 😀
Gibson Goff says
What an inspiring, well crafted article! “Life is too short for wishy-washy writing” is going above my desk this morning!
Great! Happy writing, Gibson.
Maury Brooks says
An uplifting moment of inspiration as I arise to new heights. Thanks
Thank you, Maury.
As always Henneke, you are creating wordly magic without a white rabit in a hat but through opening the golden books of copy wisdom. Thanks for sharing the pure and splendid essences of good writing craft.
Yep, no white rabbits 😉
Thank you for your kind words, Sven. I appreciate it.
Jennee Rasavong says
What a wonderfully written post…I have certainly fallen head over heels with your words! Working in a corporate setting has the tendency to drain the fun out of writing but this post reminded me that it doesn’t really have to.
Like that you touched on where to find inspiration for your metaphors – I might start to sprinkle some parenting ones throughout my content!
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this!
Parenting metaphors are versatile and a great way to bond with other parents.
Murigi Wainaina says
An informative great article written in an interesting and vivid manner. It’s a gem I intend to keep for continued referencing to.
Thank you, Murigi. With this topic and headline, I had to make sure my writing was vivid 😉
Your words are magic, as they were meant to be, and have lifted me out of the humdrum task of writing about Salad dressings this morning so that, with nothing in my mouth, my taste buds are popping with the imagined tang and zing of freshly squeezed lemon juice and I can hear the crunch of carrots being grated. What can I say? This day just became fun! Thanks!
You’re making me hungry, Saskia. I’m glad I brightened up your Monday. Happy writing!
Emily Irish says
Love, love, love this. This blog post is the perfect reflection of the point you’re making, and energized me – even in the middle of a Monday afternoon!
I polished each word until it sparkled 😉
Thank you for your lovely comment, Emily.
Obed Ken Jnr. says
“I polished each word until it sparkled” — that’s the secret! You don’t spend 20 minutes on a post and expect it to be epic. Thanks for that, Henneke.
You’re right. It took me a long time to write and edit this. 🙂
Mel Wicks says
Hi Henneke, I knew it was one of your posts as soon as I saw the headline. You have such a unique and whimsical writing style. I just love it. You sprinkle little pearls of wisdom and fistfuls of common sense into every sentence, and I never fail to enjoy the experience.
Thank you, Mel, for your lovely comment and generous compliment. I appreciate it. Happy writing!
Jeff Korhan says
So, I saw the headline of this article buried among hundreds of emails and thought .. “That sounds like one of Henneke’s articles.”
I’ve enjoyed your Snackable Writing Course and now I’m working my way through How to Write Seductive Web Copy. The course prompted me to buy it. And when I went to Amazon to do so it informed me I bought it three years ago.
Evidently, when the student is ready the book (re) appears. 🙂
This made me laugh, Jeff. I got that message from Amazon a couple of times, too. Quite good from Amazon to warn us, isn’t it?
I hope you’ll enjoy the book now the time is right 🙂
Terri Cruce says
Another great post by Henneke. 🙂 I knew, before I even opened the post, that she was the author. If ever this was an example of someone whose brand voice clearly defines them, it is Henneke. I struggle with metaphors. I guess I think I’ll blow it somehow. I’m going to clip this post to Evernote and refer to it any time I need some courage to break outside the box.
I was exactly the same. I thought people would think I was crazy or that the metaphor was silly, but I decided to try it just one time, and see what would happen.
Happy writing, Terri!
What I love about your writing is it makes me love writing. It inspires me beyond the technical to tap into my own creativity and try to capture the imagination of the reader. Thank you, as always.
Your comment puts a smile on my face. Thank you, Kathy. 😀
Judy Clark says
I want to be like you. You, Inspiring, red poppy, vibrant in a sea of weeds. Yes, life is too short for wishy washing writing. Considered yourself “bookmarked” under “motivating” on my sidebar!
What a wonderful compliment. Thank you, Judy!
Kaminska Zakrzewska says
You did a very good jobs describing, explaining, teaching and especially giving examples on “How to Write a Short Story 10 Tips With Examples. A lot of How To…. websites do not give their examples.
Matthew Eigbe says
I can’t write. But when I read the allitetrative phrase “to write with power, passion, and pizzazz”, I sensed that a hypnotic copy was before my eyes. Thank you.
I like that that caught your attention, Matthew!
Leroy Smith says
What a fabulous piece. I think incorporating stories of our everyday life into our writing is the best way to stand out today and connect deeper with the target audience.
Thanks for sharing, Henneke.
Yep, so I agree. Unless we’re in a very specialist niche, we have to go beyond sharing tips and give people a glimpse of who we are to connect and stand out.
Once again a very well written post that is ‘made to stick’.
I actually find myself looking for cool metaphors throughout the day 😀 after reading the posts on your own website. A little enchanting voice that follows me wherever I go.
Thanks for your inspirational writing.
Keep them coming!
Is it a little voice with a weird Dutch accent? 😉
Happy writing, Rich!
Jack Price says
I enjoy your writing so much that I decided to learn to spell your name. Henneke Duistermaat. How’s that?
I’m honored and impressed. Not many people are able to do that.
You don’t want to know how often I get emails addressed to “Hi Heineken” 😉
Henneke, you inspire me to write. And I am learning so much from you.
Happy writing, Ksenia!
Anh Nguyen says
Love the idea of having fun with your words and allow yourself to write with your own voice instead of being the voice in an echo chamber.
As an avid blog reader, I’m usually fond of posts that gives me glances into the blogger’s life and what they are like. Using fancy words are great, but only if they are genuine and not trying to show-off.
Thanks for sharing!
Yes, you make an excellent point. It’s not about showing off.
It can be a fine balance. Too many sensory words can sound bombastic. So, better to use in moderation.
Thank you, Anh
Mel Bee says
Another beautifully written, inspiring post! Totally in love with your blog and your timely emails always remind me to keep going and not give up. Writing is like cooking, an art that doesn’t have to be reserved for the Michelin-starred chefs. Thank you 🙂
So true. Simple, home-cooked food can be as enjoyable as a Michelin-starred dinner. It depends on the company, too 🙂
Great! What an informative, well articulated writing. No wishy washy in every word you used as it inspires me to dive into an ocean of great content to fish the right words that will ignite and inspire my readers too.
Happy fishing, Ade! 🙂
Jigar Patel says
Your post is as same as you written in the headline “Vividly”. This was a simple yet informative article that I will definitely be sharing with others! Thank you so much for this post.
Thank you, Jigar. I was a little nervous whether I’d be able to live up to the promise of vivid writing!
Jigar Patel says
Don’t be nervous Henneke. You definitely wrote Great post.
Ginny Carter says
‘Craft a red poppy in a sea of grey content’ – what a lovely metaphor right there. I’ll not forget that one! Thanks for the inspiration and I’m looking forward to checking out that book you mentioned.
I highly recommend Anne Miller’s book. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Lisa O. says
This post is giving me life!!
Patrick Muasya says
Just discovered your enlightening articles:Thanks to an e-mail from copyblogger.com. Your words sure have the wings to make content writers soar.
Happy flying! 🙂
Steve Wagner says
I always look forward to reading your posts, Henneke, even if I can’t apply them right away.
Like right now, I am sitting in front of the computer, having to write an article about “How much should you have in cash reserves before you start investing?” (I write content for the website of a small business education/training company). And it’s just so…”meh” (as the kids today like to say).
I am sure I can inject some vividness into it, after I find an angle.
600 words never felt more like 60,000.
I give myself permission to write a boring draft first. While editing, ideas often pop up to make the content more interesting – using a metaphor, a mini-story, a couple of examples and different wording. It’s hard to do it all in one go.
It also helps me to write a boring draft on one day, and then the next do the editing. These 24 hours of “incubation” time can make writing a lot easier and more fun.
I am working hard at becoming a red poppy! (my favorite flower, by the way)
Metaphors are difficult to trust–like a primitive, swaying foot bridge over a canyon–you know others have gone before so you know it works and is safe, but it just doesn’t seem like it is.
As one who is learning to trust the bridge and to crave viewing the other side of the canyon, I tried the bridge once, and the swaying made me dizzy! But I know I must learn to conquer this, too. 😀
Thanks so much! It’s fun to see you here!
It seems like you’re doing fine with metaphors, Katharine! I like the swaying footbridge 🙂
Mary Anne Hahn says
Thank you for this. I was stuck and struggling with an autoresponder series I want to develop and launch. Reading your post was just what I needed to get unstuck! Like others, I am also saving this one for future reference. Thanks again!
Great! Glad to help you get unstuck, Mary Anne 🙂
Kelly Beischel says
Per usual, thank you, Henneke, for your timely pearls of wisdom. I have been grappling lately with trying to figure out just what my copy needs. And I think you hit on it in this article. It’s fun to think about ways in which I can spice up my writing with metaphors. I am putting this above my computer as a reminder, “Do you touch your readers with your words? Or do you let your readers swim without feeling?” Because, unfortunately, I might be the latter.
Thank you, Kelly. I’m glad this one arrived at the right time for you. Happy writing! 🙂
Amit Patel says
Hi Henneke !
You are an amazing writer and also an inspirer and motivator. I cannot use enough words to describe it.
Like Lindor, the chocolate, your writing is thick and strong from outside and soft and mushy inside, making it delicious. The taste of your writing lingers on even after few hours. It constantly inspires me to write better and by ignoring all other advice on writing.
Some just talk about writing for search engines and other’s talk about writing for people. But I find your advice leaning towards both where they complement each other so that it can take care of readers and also rank well in search engines.
Thanks you !
Nice metaphor with the chocolate, Amit. Thank you for your generous compliment. Happy writing!
Thanks Henneke, on the money as always. This post is so good I’ve printed it and put it on my office pinboard to remind me. Thank you
Oh wow. I’m honored! Thank you, Roxanne.
Enjoy the break. Please know, what with enchanting connections being what they are you’re expected back here on the appointed date. 🙂 Have fun! But, don’t forget us.
How could I forget you? Of course I’ll be back soon! 🙂
Christopher Jan Benitez says
Awesome read! I love the emphasis on using words to create a memorable impact with readers. Most of the time, content creators are caught up with using different plugins to boost their content ROI and performance and talk about analytics to measure the effectiveness of their articles. Sometimes, it’s just simply improving how you frame your message through the words you use. It’s not a very sexy advice given today’s obsession with data and analytics, but it is arguably the most important advice content creators will ever get from anyone.
Also, I included your article in my blog http://christopherjanb.com/blog/write-wednesday-vol-5 because I think my readers also need to understand the power of words when creating compelling content. Hope this is fine with you. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for sharing this post in your roundup, Christopher. Happy writing!
Concise and right on point — the perfect blog post. Thank you very much, this post gave me marching orders I can’t afford to ignore.
Go for it, Bart! 🙂
Such an inspiring reading! I fully resonate with it. I am new to blogging and in the process of finding my voice. It’s definitely tougher to start blogging now as compared to some years back and I sometimes have this feeling that everything has already been said. I’m also working to overcome the fact that I am not a native English speaker. I’ve built my blog in English, thinking that this will enable me to reach a wider international audience, while also engaging local speakers who are generally good English speakers. I really love writing, which helps a lot with my motivation. Thanks.
Join the club – I’m also not native English speaker. Perhaps, as non-native speakers we feel more freedom to be creative when selecting words. Good luck with your blog!
Robin Khokhar says
Just as I read the title, I was attracted to read the post. And You are right we must focus on the ideas that energies.
Although, thanks for this great share.
have a great week .
Thank you, Robin. Happy writing!
Ayodeji Awosika says
Wow. I felt like I just went twelve rounds with Ali. Those words pack a tremendous punch! I haven’t commented on your writing often but I’m a big fan.
Keep up the great work. I love the idea of the writing itself being the way the to separate yourself when it seems like every conceivable topic has been covered.
That’s what I am to do with my own writing.
Oh my. I hope I’ve not made you dizzy 😉
Thank you for your kind words, Ayodeji. I appreciate it. Happy writing!
Jerome Perrin says
What a beautiful article. With beautiful words.
People sometimes fall in love with ideas because they fall in love with beautiful words.
Beauty can be the explanation for so many things.
Thanks again for this beautiful and rare article.
Cheers from Paris,
What a beautiful comment. Thank you, Jerome.
Silki Guha says
I am crazy about brainstorming, research, and attaining perfection. I think this article adds to my purpose of building engagement through attractive content creation. I am going to practice metaphors and make content more appealing to my readers. Thank you, Henneke.
Kim Orr says
Words to savor and sage advice. One thing I have found over the years, in addition to doing things you mention is — drum roll please — reading! Most of the great novelists do exactly as you advise — it’s how they pull us into the story. Spending the evenings with a Great Book — a big thick, juicy novel — by someone who lived in a world where most of the images (outside of church walls) were verbal images, is a wonderful treasure box — Tolstoy, Eliot, Austen. They were masters at exactly what you write about. Thanks for this inspiring post!
Silvia Warren says
Good tips here. I think visualizing definitely helps readers sort of feel what they’re reading more deeply, for example Hemingway was really good at descriptive phrasing in his works (which is probably why I’ve always been a huge fan). I think the connection that readers make with writing can be based on several things, general interest, intrigue, past experiences, visualization, etc. As a writer it can be hard to “get out of your own head” and really look objectively at your work from a reader’s POV. Good post!.
Sajib Mannan says
Another excellent and inspiring post Henneke. I’m curently on a break from writing, but this post is making me jump back into writing right away. Will start writing a blog post today or tomorrow.
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