16 Lessons that Helped Me Become a Better Writer (and Convince People)

Some of the most famous businesspeople are awesome writers: Steve Jobs, David Ogilvy, Bill Gates, Seth Godin…

How come?

They know how to use writing to inspire and convince people to take action.

For more than 9 years, I’ve been writing to educate, convince, inspire, negotiate, and sell. Here are 16 lessons I’ve learnt along the way…

Some Useful Lessons to Sell and Convince through Writing

1. Know who you’re writing to.

Who is going to read? What are they interested in? Keep one reader in mind. You shouldn’t address a group but just one reader.

2. Value your readers’ time more than yours.

Each piece should be the one that your reader shouldn’t miss regarding a specific topic. If not, there’s no reason to hit “publish” or “send”.

3. Your headline is a promise you make to your readers.

Everyone competes for your readers’ attention. So make it intriguing and specific. And keep your promise all along your piece.

4. Always start with a good hook.

Your readers are skeptical. To make them read the whole piece, start with something that catches their attention and interest.

5. Not everyone has time to read every single word.

This is OK. Allow them to understand the piece, even when they skim it.

For sure, you’re not reading every word I wrote—even though they’re worth reading. Don’t worry. I know you wouldn’t. This is why this article is a list.

6. Make it easy to read.

Alternate longer and shorter paragraphs. Have as many subsections as necessary. And don’t forget: most readers are on mobile now.

7. Less is more.

Short sentences win. Each word must have a purpose. If it’s possible to cut out a word, do it.

8. Write like you talk.

You spend your life communicating with your voice. Why would you change it when you communicate with text?

Once your draft is done, read it out loud. Don’t keep a sentence unless it’s the way you’d say it if one of your readers was standing in front of you.

9. Make it all about your readers.

Why should they care about your piece? What’s in it for them? Write something that matters to them. And be practical. Everyone loves real-life examples.

10. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

There are tons of great ideas out there. If it’s relevant, quote a thought-leader, link to his work, and thank him once the article is published.

11. Make it worthwhile.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin

12. Illustrations are important.

Your readers think visually. Add screenshots, graphics, and pictures that are relevant and make your writing easier to digest.

Data visualisation is underrated. But you can use data to tell stories. It’s convincing because you make people visualise abstract concepts.

13. Teach them something (new).

Write to answer questions people ask often. Your readers receive too much information. But they are starved of knowledge—ideas on how to solve problems and methods for doing more effective work.

14. Ending matters.

It’s what your readers will remember. This is also where you can make them take an action like buying, signing up, sharing, or reading another piece.

15. Tell them stories.

Your readers love examples because these are mini-stories they relate to and can share.

Communicating with stories also appeal to their emotional side. Make sure you know how you want to make them feel before you start writing. And then, share the relevant stories.

16. Write, sleep on it, and, only then, edit.

You can’t be the inventor and the jury at the same time. You either create or review. Make a clear distinction between the two phases of writing: (1) creating and (2) editing.

Additional Lessons to Become a Better Writer (and Convince Your Readers)

1. The best tools for writers helps you remain focused and creative. Amaury de Ternay explains how you can do that using markdown.

2. Adding what copywriters call “bucket brigade” can be very useful to keep the interest of your readers. Here’s how Brian Dean, a SEO expert, explains what’s a bucket brigade:

“[W]henever you have a section where someone may get bored and leave, add a Bucket Brigade.

You can make up your own Bucket Brigades, like I did in the example above (“The secret to publishing content that people want to share is this:”).

Or you can use these tried-and-true Bucket Brigade classics:

  • Here’s the deal:
  • Now:
  • What’s the bottom line?
  • You might be wondering:
  • This is crazy:
  • It gets better/worse:
  • But here’s the kicker:
  • Want to know the best part?

And — bada bing, bada boom — you’re set.”

A) Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph.

C) Bleed in the first line – We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. If you want people to relate to you, then you have to be human.

G) Read before you write – Before I write every day I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories poetry, or essays.

M) Be opinionated – Most people I know have strong opinions about at least one or two things… write about those. Nobody cares about all the things you don’t have strong opinions on.