How many times have you clicked on a blog post or article that sounds like it will be interesting and helpful…only to bounce from the page within seconds?
In our age of chock-a-block content and itty bitty attention spans, keeping your reader’s attention can seem like a Sisyphean feat. A fabulous headline is a great start but it isn’t enough to keep readers interested in an entire blog post or page of copy. You’ve got to earn their interest again and again, paragraph by paragraph, line by line.
Oh, is that all? If it sounds daunting, don’t stress. There are some simple tweaks you can make to turn any page of writing from dull and dreary to crisp and compelling.
Ditch commitment-phobic messaging
You know that business adage that if you try to sell to everyone, won’t sell to anyone? It’s also true when it comes to the message you share in your copy: if you try to say everything you could possibly say, you’ll end up saying nothing.
I have big empathy for the business owner with a lot to say. But if you want a message that will ring out loud and clear, you’ll have to make some hard decisions about what to emphasize and what to downplay or leave out entirely.
Ask yourself: What message really strikes at the heart of what I do and why I do it?
What am I really trying to say here?
What other messages might be creating interference and distracting my reader?
Specificity is power.
Vague copy will almost always lose your reader. It can be super confusing, but that’s only part of the problem. Fuzzy, generic copy also makes it very hard—if not impossible—for you to make your reader feel something, which is pretty damn important if you’re trying to inspire or persuade.
Details bring your writing to life. I can I tell you I’m sitting here writing this in my living room: fine. But if I tell you I’m writing this at the coffee table after dinner, in jeans and slippers, with my cat sitting beside me on the window sill peering out at the night, you’ll have a much clearer picture of this moment. You might even get a little sense of who I am.
I often see business owners using vague language to describe what they do or what their clients are struggling with without adding the specific details they need to make it concrete. It’s an easy fix: you just have to dig a little deeper!
Instead of writing about “overwhelm,” for example, describe how it feels to work all day at a messy desk, so busy and stressed that you forget to eat lunch, and realizing at the end of the day that you haven’t even accomplished anything. Now that’s overwhelm.
Give your subheads some real work to do
If you want to make a single change that will instantly improve your writing’s readability, take a look at your subheads (you’re using them, right?).
Subheads ease your reader through your pages and posts, telling them what’s coming next and gently pulling their attention back when it starts to drift. As it will.
When you use subheads correctly, your writing becomes almost impossible not to read—even a scanner will get the gist of your message!
But here’s the thing: Your subheads should contain actual information. They should be specific enough that people known what to expect, more or less, in the next section. It’s great if you can also evoke curiosity or intrigue or drama, but clarity is the most important thing.
Instead of using a ho-hum subhead like, “I hear this all the time”, or, “Here’s what I did next,” let your subheads carry some of the weight of your message. (The subheads in this article are fine examples.)
Nix unnecessary repetition (also known as “killing your darlings”)
The fastest way to get someone to fall asleep? Make them listen to you repeat yourself over and over again.
When we’re writing, we often do this without realizing it. Sometimes we get so excited about the way we’ve phrased something that we don’t even notice we said the same thing in the previous sentence, in different words.
It can be hard to part with our “darlings”: those sentences or story elements we adore that simply don’t add anything new to the page or post. Learning how to kill them is one of the most important skills you can develop as a writer.
Repetition can happen on the level of the idea, the sentence, or even the word. Try not to use the same noun, verb or adjective twice in the same paragraph, for example, to make the reading process easier and more fun for your reader.
You might want to look for repetition during the revision process—certainly, it will be much easier to spot redundancies if you take a break between writing and editing.
Let your freak flag fly
This is somehow both the easiest and the most difficult thing for a new(ish) writer to pull off. If you want to build a relationship with potential clients you’ve got to find a way to be yourself. Trying to sound like someone you admire on the Internets? Not going to work. Trying to button-up and keep your personality out of it? Zzzzz.
When my clients really hit a groove with their writing, it’s usually because they’re feeling playful or telling a story that feels incredibly natural to tell. It helps if you try to write how you actually speak, which might mean taking cheeky comments you use in conversation and popping them directly in your copy. Voila.
A lot of this is about taking risks. When an outrageous phrase or idea pops into your head and you think “But I couldn’t possibly say it like that”…I urge you to reconsider. Your first instinct is often right. You can be silly or sassy or snarky in writing, as long as it feels true-to-you.
And if you get stuck, try this:
My favourite technique for getting folks to loosen up, write with detail, and get clear on their message is writing first drafts by hand instead of directing onto the computer. Sometimes even a few handwritten paragraphs can trick you into writing an entire piece in a fresh way. If you haven’t tried this lately, I’d highly recommend it!
So there you have it—five common writing weaknesses turned inside out. When you start to improve in these areas, I promise your writing will become more engaging and easier to read, which means your people will want to stick around to hear more.
Let us know in the comments: which of these five areas will you work on in your blogging and copywriting efforts over the coming weeks?