Three Ways Writers Evolve Over Time

Three Ways Writers Evolve Over Time

You know, I sat here for a long time trying to think of something to say about Phil. I mean, he’s got a goofy looking avatar, he’s shorn closer than a sheep and he sends me good posts. What more can I say?

Then it hit me – for all that I don’t know much about Phil, I know this: he observes and pays attention to his writing. Not just how he’s writing now, but how he used to write, and how he’ll be writing in the future. That’s a pretty neat thing to do.

Why not try it? Read, think, and then let us know your three favorite writing evolutions.

The last time Men with Pens saw me, I had just written a guest post for them entitled Get a Rush from Your Writing.

That was a year ago. Since then, I’ve been running a copywriting business, become a regular blogger, and have had two books published, with a third just recently released.

Moderation? No, can’t say I’ve heard of it.

With the amount of work I’ve been producing, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer and about writing in general. So for my next great endeavor, I’d like to discuss how a writer evolves.

Getting Clearer to Get the Point Across

Like most writers, I look back at some of my blog posts from about two years ago and cringe a little. I see where I was going – but in a lot of cases, I never quite made it there. Often I had a valid point to make but I didn’t write it in a way that others would find accessible. I used esoteric examples when a more generic one would have been more effective.

Dennis Miller is the one person I know who successfully pulls off the “you had to be inside my head to get it” standard. If you’re in the audience and you follow one of Miller’s obscure references, you feel like you’re super smart, like you’re part of the inner sanctum.

On the other hand, if you don’t, then you kind of feel like an idiot.

Tip

Unless you’re writing for a particular niche, try to err on the side of expansiveness. No one wants to read the first paragraph of an article, book, or post and feel out of the loop and ignorant. Be inclusive. Make everyone feel welcome.

Getting Less Formal for More Engagement

I’ve embraced the second person. That’s not to say you should never use different perspectives, but I’ve found that it’s easier for me to present a casual tone if I write in the second person. I’ve found it’s really important to avoid an overly formal tone if you’re hoping to keep people interested as they read your work, Second person helps me do that.

Several people who’ve read my books mentioned to me that I write like I talk. That made me feel good, because these are people who like hanging out with me in general. It also made me realize something very important: people like to feel comfortable engaging with someone, even if that person is in the pages of a book.

Overly formal writing makes them feel like they can’t relate to you, and that means they don’t want to hang out with you – or your writing – for very long.

Tip

Before hitting ‘submit’ or turning in your article, ask yourself if it’s too stiff. Is it possible to insert a little humor or laid-back language in places? If the answer is yes, then go for it. You’ll build a reputation as a serious writer who can introduce levity in key places.

Giving More Examples for Better Interest

My favorite writers draw me in with interesting narratives, making their points without being preachy. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, wouldn’t be the success it is if Gladwell had spent the whole book citing dry statistics drawn from business data. But reading about Bill Gates slaving away at terminals when nobody believed computers would ever be in every home is a great story.

It sticks with you. It drives home Gladwell’s point about success being as much about hard work as luck.

In contrast, I recently picked up a short technology book that was lamentably devoid of case studies, stories, and examples. The author wrote solid prose in a welcoming style about interesting content – but I couldn’t get through the book. I can only read so many pages of truisms and recommendations. After a few pages, I thumbed through the remaining chapters, looking for anecdotes.

When I couldn’t find any, I put the book down for good.

To communicate, garner and retain reader interest, tell stories – like that one. Show us how this works in the real world. Make us feel something about disappointment or hope or excitement. That’s how people get engaged.

Tip

Use examples, case studies, and personal experiences to illustrate broader points, especially if they’re central to the overall point to your piece. Not everything needs a story, but few points couldn’t be improved by one. Use them liberally and keep the human element alive. We all need to feel like we’re not alone, and stories help us get there.

What about you? How have you evolved as a writer over time? Where have you relaxed your standards or improved your skills? Let us know in the comment section!

Post by Phil Simon

Phil Simon is a three-book author who consults companies on how to optimize their use of technology and speaks about emerging trends. He also writes for a number of technology-oriented media outlets. Check out his blog, listen to his podcasts, and watch his videos here.

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  1. Patrick Vuleta says:

    Three things have improved my skills – story, preparation and rehearsal.

    I used to start articles off with a point. However, now I start thewm with a story. It hooks people in more, whereas a point runs the risk of being disagreed with right off the bat.

    Second, I write articles a month in advance. If I don’t like it still when it times to get published, it doesn’t go ahead.

    Third, I have a microphone and video camera and will actually rehearse and act out my writing. I learned this from preparing legal arguments for court. Often arguments will sound great on paper, but when you have to actually get up and present… not so good. It’s great for catching out stupid statements and logic gaps.

    • Patrick Vuleta says:

      And this entire site is in italics.

      • Fixed!

        And those are three great tips, Pat. In fact… I do that. Minus the video camera. Reading your writing aloud does a world of good.

        • Patrick Vuleta says:

          Yeah, I won’t use the camera for all things, but like it for the reeaally important ones. We don’t often view ourselves internally as we look on camera, so watching ourselves talk back two weeks after we wrote something can introduce a lot of objectivity.

          It’s the same thing with audio recording and I always try to do an audio recording of a piece, but nothing shocks like video of ourselves.

  2. Last year’s goal was to write a novel. I outlined and deleted first pages every day during January and February before I settled down for real on March 15th. September 15th I sent it to the publisher. Three things I learned about writing: 1. You can only be a writer if you actually sit at the computer every day and work on your project for a set amount of time. When you do that, you’re no longer embarrassed to call yourself a writer. You’re doing it. 2. Reading about being a writer is most helpful if you sit at the computer and copy the words you’re reading. Suddenly the act of writing engages your creative mind, you find your own voice and you talk back. You’ll feel like you did that first day on your bike when your dad let go. Confident! 3. The most fun part of writing a story is tweaking and perfecting the rewrite. Get the first draft going just to provide yourself with something that will need your perfectionism more than your spouse, your kids, or your boss. Your story is crying out for the one person who knows its potential.

  3. Yes, I have let the admin know. We’ll get it fixed.

  4. Great post for starting the new year.

    Evolving is part of the learning cycle. If we are serious about becoming a blogger, writer, or … we have to grow or quit.

    I thank you for the practical tips. I’ve debated the second person–now, it’s officially on MwPs so I know it’s the truth and will just accept it :)

    Same with the anecdotes–great advice. Let me tell you a story about ……….

  5. You can apply these ideas to your general communication skills, not just writing.

  6. Loved this piece. I get the “you write like you talk” comment a lot as well. It usually comes with the “I love how you write” so I take it as a compliment. I once read that to be a good writer you need to be an even better editor. This advice works for me. I go over my work many times, paring it down, shaving words here and there. I am a big believer in less is more, especially on the web. I also find it really helps to be true to your own voice. I’m a slightly sarcastic, cheeky, Jersey girl and I don’t hide that in my writing. There’s just no way to hide it really. ;)

    Thanks again for the great article.

  7. Dang good recommendations Phil. I’m always perplexed at how some writers are so hesitant to open things up to personal experience. Heck, that’s the only way I know how to communicate, and frankly I don’t know what in the world I’d write about if I wasn’t pulling from the every day events of my life.

    Thanks for the tips and congrats on being a ‘content producing machine’. :-)

    Marcus

  8. Great advice Phil. I think one can learn a lot about going back and reading older material, at the very minimum it provides perspective on how one’s writing style has evolved over the years.

  9. Your keep it casual and use case studies and examples tips are SO important. They’re the difference between dry, boring writing and engaging writing.

    Years ago, a friend of mine said to me one day, referencing some stupid thing someone did, “People are idiots.” It may sound horribly cynical, but that’s my writing mantra. Of course, it’s not true, but when you keep a little awareness of the “people are idiots” mantra, you automatically reach for the more casual language and the examples. Obviously, you can take that too far because people aren’t really idiots.

    But people do tend to be lazy, and writing to the lazy idiots makes easy-accessible writing easier to do naturally.

  10. I consider writing as a noble job because it always requires a person to think and put those ideas they have in words. Your post makes me remember my college days. Our professor used to asked us why we took up Journalism. Well, some says, that they love writing. Then, he pointed me and asked the same question. And he was shocked when I told him the answer. It was not the answer that he expected to hear from me. I told him that I took up the course because it’s my weakness.

    “If that’s your weakness, then why did you take this up?

    ” I want to learn, I said”.

    I don’t have any background in writing when I was in high school but I prefer to take the course for that simple reason. Anyway, thanks for the tips. I know it would really help a lot for writers like us.

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