One of my blog posts from 2007 has been making the rounds on social media this week. (Thank you, Naval Ravikant.) I take that as a signal that I should re-post it here in case you missed it the first time.
And now a second look…
The Day You Became A Better Writer
I went from being a bad writer to a good writer after taking a one-day course in “business writing.” I couldn’t believe how simple it was. I’ll tell you the main tricks here so you don’t have to waste a day in class.
Business writing is about clarity and persuasion. The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.
Simple means getting rid of extra words. Don’t write, “He was very happy” when you can write “He was happy.” You think the word “very” adds something. It doesn’t. Prune your sentences.
Humor writing is a lot like business writing. It needs to be simple. The main difference is in the choice of words. For humor, don’t say “drink” when you can say “swill.”
Your first sentence needs to grab the reader. Go back and read my first sentence to this post. I rewrote it a dozen times. It makes you curious. That’s the key.
Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think.
Learn how brains organize ideas. Readers comprehend “the boy hit the ball” quicker than “the ball was hit by the boy.” Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hitting). All brains work that way. (Notice I didn’t say, “That is the way all brains work”?)
That’s it. You just learned 80% of the rules of good writing. You’re welcome.
If you want to see persuasive writing that uses this simple style, read God’s Debris or How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Those books do not include what I call the “humor layer,” so you can see the cake without the frosting in those examples.