Three Steps to Better Writing

The real “art” of writing compelling copy—words that matter and draw people into the story—is in knowing what goes where and how to edit for story potency. Here are three steps to get you started:

image of an open book of writing

  1. Your first draft will never be your best draft, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be full of great fodder for the finished piece, whether it is a short story, magazine article, blog post, or the concept for a full-length novel. Your first intention should be only to get words on paper, or on screen, if you prefer. Just get your thoughts down as if you were talking to a friend, and try to do it in ten minutes or less. Then walk away for at least two hours.
  2. Now it’s time to organize and edit. For a 300-word article or post, give yourself no more than 30 minutes. Read it out loud to yourself, note changes needed, then walk away again.  I know some will argue this point, but in my writing, I rarely sit for more than an hour before I need a mental and physical break, and I do edit as I go along.
  3. The final round of the practice is to read your piece out loud to someone you trust to tell you the truth. If you stumble over words or phrases, change them. If your sentences are more than 20 words, break them in half. If you’ve used industry jargon or ten-dollar words, clean things up. If you’ve wasted too much space with unnecessary introductory material—a common error for new or untrained writers—your friend should tell you. Get rid of it. Make it worth your reader’s while.

My very first copy writing instructor drilled in into our heads to look for the parts of what we had written that we really loved—the sentences or phrases to which we were emotionally attached—and cut them out completely. This is the “kill your darlings” process, a challenging exercise in non-attachment and journalistic excellence that, in the end, will make your writing stronger.

Here is a post you may also find helpful.


Five Cliches to Avoid in Marketing

We’ve all said it, done it, written it, read it in marketing and elsewhere. We’ve all used the ubiquitous cliché.

The guy in the office you call, “A breed apart.”

Mentioning the “hustle and bustle” of your day.

Things that will “knock your socks off.”


Clichés creep into our writing like ants onto an unswept floor. It happens when we let our thoughts wander, or push too hard to get things done in less time than they need.  Think about how often you hear people say, “ya know,” or “I’m, like” in ordinary conversation. Clichés, yes – because we are not as mindful of our words as we should be.

“Clichés were like plaque in the arteries of the imagination,

they clogged the sense of what was possible. “

(Charlie Jane Anders)

Here are five clichés to avoid in marketing, or any form of communication:

  1. At this point in time…  Each second that passes is “this point in time,”  By the time you’ve finished saying or reading the phrase, the point in time has passed. Instead of “At this point in time you may be shopping for a new oven,” just say, “Shopping for a new oven…”
  2. Each and every…  “each” is individual, “every”is collective. Pick one or the other.
  3. In other words… Generally used as a dependent phrase when you think the way you originally phrased something is too complex to be understood. Rather than expressing it twice, work a little harder to simplify what your saying right from the start.
  4. Quite simply… This is a variation of “In other words.”
  5. Due to the fact that… Stop it. Just state the fact. “Tom won’t be at work today, he broke his leg skiing over the weekend.”

What clichés do you think are the most annoying?

Four Habits of Successful Speakers and Writers

In my decades as a writer, and my years as a speaker, I’ve learned that many of the habits of successful speakers and writers are the same.

There are nine habits of successful speakers, according to a recent article in Inc. Magazine. While I believe all nine are appropriate, I’ve chosen to focus on four.

The Four Habits

Care in Word Choices

Language tools such as alliteration, cadence, rhythm, and repetition are the hallmarks of masterful speakers. Great writers take advantage of the same tools, and realize that even straight fiction can have a rhythm, and even be poetic in its delivery.


Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address contained only 270 words, and is, to this day, one of the most powerful speeches ever given. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech? Just nine paragraphs. Writers, take a hint from them when creating essays and query letters.

Rewrite for Clarity and Power

On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt rewrote a single sentence in his speech to the American people after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He changed “a date that will go down in world history” to “a date that will live in infamy.” Way more powerful, way more compelling. Writers, too, must weigh the power of every word in every sentence, if they wish to produce great works.

Learn From the Masters

Great speakers and great writers alike recognize their own limitations. They study and emulate the best of the best in their field or genre.