How to Write Shit People Actually Want to Read (+ Free Checklist)

Let me guess.

If you’re just starting out online, you wonder…

“How do I get clients?”

“How can I start monetizing my blog?”

“How do I get more traffic?”

The answer to every single one of these questions might surprise you. Ready?

The answer is this:

Write shit people want to read.

Every single day somewhere around two million blog posts are written. The sad truth, though?

The vast majority of those articles won't be read. The vast majority of them are – let's be real – crap.

A small portion are read by 100 people. A smaller portion are read by 1,000 people. And a few get noticed by “influencers”, syndicated on massive publications and are shared thousands of times.

Those few are the ones that bring in clients, sales, readers, and traffic.

So how do you make sure that your writing doesn't just end up in the pile of “content” that slowly drifts out to sea? How do you write the 1% of articles that will get you traffic and conversions?

Well, you write shit people actually want to read.

When somebody actually wants to read your writing, they usually want to share it. They usually get value from it, talk about it, and spread it around.

Creating shit that people actually want to read (or listen to or watch or gaze at) is one of the main ingredients in the “content” marketing cake, and without it you have no engagement, no fans, no clients and no sales.

My writing is a decade in the making and is still a huge work in progress, but I'm learning and I know some of these tips will turn your writing around.

If you're too lazy to read this post, you can get the checklist I use before I publish all of my articles.

Write like a pro: Click here to get my 44-point checklist for publishing amazing articles.

#1: Know Thy Audience

You could write Atlas Shrugged but if your audience doesn’t want to read it, it’s not good.

Yup, beauty is in the eye of the beholder in this case.

That’s why you need to know your audience.

Good content starts here. Good content to your target audience could be horrible content to me. Even if I hate your writing, if your audience loves it, then it’s good.

But be warned…

Do not take that as permission to rest on your laurels and stop improving. Instead, take that as a nudge to get to know your audience intimately.

Note two things:

  • What they want to read
  • How they want to read it.

What they Want to Read

One big difference between most good content vs great content is detail. Anyone can write an 800 word article on needing a budget. But not everyone will write a comprehensive, 3,000 word article on everything you need to know about budgeting that gets likes, shares, and traffic.

To be the one who is willing to do this and therefore brings in tons of traffic and shares, you need to be thorough.

Enter Answer the Public.

Answer the Public is a tool that allows you to plug in a keyword (in this case, a topic you want to write about) and spits out the auto-complete search terms behind that keyword.

how to write a blog post

Use these questions/search terms as prompts to include in your article. This is what people want to read.

Bonus: this is also a great way to rank for those long-tail search terms.

How They Want to Read It

The style of article you’re creating matters, too.

For example, I know that my audience loves in-depth, step-by-step beginner’s guides. Publishing an inspirational story isn’t nearly as effective for me.

That’s how they want to read it.

Find out what your audience wants to read by mimicking other popular posts (use BuzzSumo for this).

Look up your most popular competitor in your niche:

And start taking note of the *types* of articles your competitors are writing. These articles are the most popular on their sites for a reason – its’ because people like them!

One thing I’ve learned while I’m writing for my new blog is that marketing content styles do not work in the parenting niche.

If I hadn't done the research, I would have been cranking out articles that nobody (at least none of my target readers) wanted.

#2: You Have a Personality (So Use it)

Look, I know it's hard.

Shifting from writing business reports to the more casual, personal tone of blog posts can be like experiencing culture shock. It's difficult to adjust.

But do what you must to beat the boring out of your writing, because nothing will make a reader run for the hills more quickly than a lack of personality.

I should not read your articles and feel like I’m reading a text book.

People come for the information you're providing, but they stay for you. Inject personality wherever you can.

Here’s how you can find your unique voice:

Write like you talk

If you wouldn’t talk that way, you shouldn’t write that way. Writing how you talk is the best way to make sure you shine through.

If you're having a hard time going from stiff business report writing to blog writing, this tip is for you:

Read your writing out loud.

The way things sound in your head when you first write them sound a heck of a lot different when you say them out loud, so don’t limit yourself to proofreading in silence.

If you read your post aloud it will help you find your “voice” and a good flow for your article. It will also identify those sticky sentences that aren't quite right so you can rephrase them.

Modify anything that sounds out of place. If it sounds unnatural to you, your readers will feel the same way – and that means fewer shares, comments, and pageviews.

Chances are you don't say “however” and “thus” and “estimated time of arrival” (am I the only one who hates that last one?) while you're speaking. But you do say “but” and “so” and “when will you be here?”.

When you write like you talk, you’ll notice a few changes:

  • You use more contractions.
  • You’re self-aware. “Today I’m teaching you how to….”.
  • You write in singular and plural first person. “I” and “we” are thrown around a lot.
  • You ask rhetorical questions, right?
  • Slang slips out more often.
  • You use hashtags #truth

Here’s how Brian from Backlinko keeps a laid-back tone when writing serious SEO guides:

Talk about yourself

It’s ok to let your readers know there’s a living, breathing human being behind your website.

Your articles don’t write themselves, after all.

People read your blog because they also care about your opinion, your experience, and your perspective.

Don’t just write about yourself (no one wants to read that), but if it makes sense, add a personal touch here and there to resonate with your readers.

Look at how Bryan from Videofruit does it:

He uses a personal story that makes him relatable to his audience and highlights the point of his article (good design).

Don’t be afraid to use colorful language

If you curse and use slang, you might be scared that you’ll offend people by including that part of your personality in your writing. This may help:

The people who are offended by you using curse words or becomes annoyed if you use slang language are not “your people”. They’re not your target audience.

If they’re not your target audience, it’s okay to repel them.

Stay true to your writing style and you’ll find your people – the people who love your message and the way you deliver it.

If you’re still on the fence about cursing in your writing if you curse in conversation, recent studies suggest that swearing in public could actually make you more likable.

Jorden from Writing Revolt sprinkles slang and swear words in her articles, and her audience loves it:

You don’t have to curse in your writing to resonate with your audience if you don’t use curse words in conversation — the point here is to let your personality shine through by writing like you talk.

Make your audience laugh

Keep your readers glued to your words with a little humor.

Being funny and relatable will:

  • Make your readers more interested in what you have to say
  • Hold their attention for longer and make them more likely to finish your article
  • Help your audience remember the information better afterward

There’s a reason memes dominate the internet. We want to be entertained and amused.

If you can do that, your articles will be unforgettable.

Ramit Sethi, best-selling author and millionaire entrepreneur, is funny, irreverent, and loud, and it seems to be working pretty well for him.

Just take a look at his hilarious response to a millionaire who said people should stop buying avocado toast to afford a house (seriously):

Break some (grammar) rules

But not all of them.

Breaking just enough grammatical rules to sound conversational, but not so many that you sound like a 10-year old texting, is a delicate balance (although easier to achieve than you think).

Imagine texting your best friend.

You use all caps to show excitement or anger, periods between words for emphasis, exclamation points, or make words longer than they need to be.

As long as you stick to basic grammar rules, spicing up your paragraphs can make your personality shine through.

Lindsay from Pinch of Yum (one of the most successful food blogs on the planet) always writes epic descriptions of her recipes with relaxed grammar rules:

Ask questions

Questions pull your reader into the conversation.

It makes them think about an answer, nod in agreement (or disagreement), or leave you a comment.

You want your audience to feel you’re talking directly to them – and what better way than by asking them what they think?

Bryan from Videofruit knows what’s up. He often asks rhetorical questions at the beginning of his articles to engage his readers right away:

Example #1: Asking your readers to make a choice

Example #2: Asking a yes or no question

Example #3: Opening with a question

If you feel your writing is bland and boring, try injecting more personality into your articles with these techniques.

#3: Stop the Regurgitation Cycle

Think back to the last time you read an article, and boomeranged to the blog later.

Maybe you saw a headline on Twitter and couldn't help but click it, or had a date with the Google and stumbled across a post that impressed you. Why did you stick around?

Chances are, you stuck around the blog because it offered something unique. Instead of giving you five ways to save money this fall and telling you to cut out lattes, walk everywhere, and cut up your credit cards, the blog broke the same boring advice chain and offered you scripts to negotiate your bills.

You stuck around because the blog wasn't regurgitating the same crap that everybody else in the blogosphere is. In a crowded market, if you're trying to hawk the same wares as the next dude, you won't get very far.

There’s enough recycled advice out there. Don’t add to the noise.

Instead, focus on creating in-depth, impactful, and original articles that you can’t find anywhere else.

Here’s how:

Study your competition

Before you start cranking out epic articles, you gotta do your homework.

Read and re-read the most popular articles about your topic to find the angles and strategies that are covered already. Identify what advice is peddled non-stop and stay away from it.

Use Buzzsumo to find the top 10-20 most shared articles about your topic.

Figure out how you can do better

Now that you know exactly what’s out there, note two things:

  • What’s missing from the existing content. Maybe it needs: :
    • More images
    • Better copy
    • More examples
    • More in-depth advice
    • More case studies
    • Clearer steps
    • Better formatting
    • Fewer ads
  • How you can do better. What can you do to create better resources? Maybe….
    • Add more steps
    • Go deeper
    • Add little-known how-to’s and tools
    • Find real-life examples
    • Find more data

Then, create better content.

Share a new perspective

Coming up with a new angle is easier said than done. With the sheer amount of articles bombarding us each day, it feels like everything has already been said. What could you possibly have to add?

A whole lot, actually.

Millions of articles are published each day, but most? Most are mediocre at best.

That’s why editors are constantly scouring for original and noteworthy content. They want to receive great pitches, but they usually get the opposite.

The internet is starved for good content, and that’s exactly why you will stand out. Here are five ways to craft articles that cut through the noise:

Explore the topic from a different angle

The key to a fresh angle is taking an existing problem and solving it in a creative way.

For example:

Problem: How to get motivated

Conventional solution: 4 Ways To Get Motivated (Set a small goal, track your progress, reward yourself, ask for help and accountability from your friends.)

Fresh angle: The mental tools Victor Hugo used to make himself write the Hunchback of Notre Dame after a whole year of procrastination. (Interesting)

Which would you rather read?

Finding a new take like this one is easier than you think:

1. Answer a different question about the same topic (what, why, how, where, or who)

The first guest post I ever published was for Fast Company, with the headline 8 Tricks To Make Yourself Wake Up Earlier.

I didn’t pull this topic out of thin air. I did my homework and read the type of articles that were popular at the time. I noticed they published a lot of posts about why it’s important to wake up early, but not how to do it. I pitched this idea and the editor was on board.

My pitch stood out because there were a lot of whys on the site, and not enough hows.

You can do the same by answering different questions about one topic.

If there’s a popular post about the benefits of yoga (why), write a guide on how to start a practice at home (how and where).

If an article about the best plugins for WordPress is trending (what), create tutorials on how to set them up (how).

2. Share little-known tricks

Break conventional advice with little-known ways to solve a problem. Here’s how you can come up with new exciting ideas:

  • Reflect on what has worked for you in the past: Start with yourself. Do you have a hack for managing your inbox that you haven’t seen other people try?
  • Ask Facebook: Pick other people’s brains. Ask Facebook groups in your niche how they solve a particular problem, for example, “What’s the best strategy you’ve found for handling email?”. If you post an engaging question in the right group, you can receive hundreds of responses.
  • Research and ask forums: Chances are, someone already asked your burning question in Quora or Reddit. Search your question, go through the responses and write down solutions you hadn’t heard before. Discussion threads are a goldmine for new ideas. If you can’t find your specific question, create a new thread.
3. Get ultra-specific

When you write a how-to article, be as specific as possible.

Simplistic advice: write in your gratitude journal.

Ultra-specific advice: Write down 3 things that happened today you’re grateful for and why.

See the difference? Tell your readers exactly what they need to do, and how to do it.

4. Uncover new data

A simple way to stand out from the crowd is to talk about the latest research from your field.

Most people don’t bother to look at recent stats and findings, so they just go with what they already know.

But you’re not most people, right?

You write thought-provoking pieces with an impact. Using up-to-date research gives you an advantage and positions you as an expert.

If you’re in the marketing space, look for the most up-to-date stats on what type of content performs better on social media.

If you’re in the fitness niche, write about this year’s peer-reviewed studies on beneficial eating habits for athletes.

Better yet, create a spreadsheet with all the best data sources from your niche, and check if there are new relevant findings every time you brainstorm a new epic article.

Start with these:

Pew Research Center

Hubspot (marketing)

Curata (content marketing)

Social Media Examiner (social media)

Science Daily (awesome for discovering new peer-reviewed studies)

Science Mag

PLOS ONE (especially great for behavioral analysis and habits)

Pubmed

APA (psychology)

Protip: Create a Google Alert for new research, so you don’t have to constantly be checking the resources above.
 Create an alert with “research [keyword]”, “study [keyword]”, and Google will email you every time there’s a new online mention of these keywords.

Publish extremely detailed, crazy-actionable, and extensive guides

You know what’s better than a 700-word listicle about 7 tips to start a garden?

A comprehensive 5000-word gardening 101 guide that teaches you everything you need to know about starting your own garden.

The only problem? The “7 tips to start a garden” type of articles severely outnumber comprehensive guides.

It’s hard to find high-quality, practical, in-depth, and free resources with all the nitty-gritty details you need to do something right — whether that’s starting a blog, training your dog, preserving flowers, preparing for a baby, or learning to cook.

So become a leader in your niche by going above and beyond in writing the absolute best guides in your industry.

That’s exactly what we do at Sumo – and now it’s by far one of the best places to learn about growing your site from scratch.

Notice the Sumo-Sized guides?

Authority Nutrition creates some of the most in-depth science-based nutrition resources. If you’re serious about dominating your space (and you should be), roll up your sleeves and start writing.

Publish case studies

Instead of just talking about a strategy, show it in action.

Case studies are a unique way to show how a method, strategy or program works in real life. They receive a ton of attention, shares, and views because they’re:

  • Original. No two case studies are the same.
  • Interesting. We’re drawn to see the results of other people.
  • Juicy. A case reveals the exact process that gave people specific results.
  • Elaborate. A case study is not easy to put together. It takes time and effort to get in touch with people who have applied, tested, tracked, and succeeded at a particular strategy, or do all that yourself.

Another huge benefit to case studies is that they provide some amazing social proof if you can show a case study of a student, reader, or customer of your own blog or product.

Brian from Backlinko constantly publishes case studies to show the results of his own SEO techniques, and (unsurprisingly) they bring in thousands of shares:

How can you showcase the results of people who have bought your ebook, course, or coaching services?

Solve an old problem in a new way

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you can come close.

A little disclaimer: this strategy takes way more effort than the ones above, but it’s worth it.

Create a new solution for your industry. Spend enough time and effort coming up with innovative ideas, trying them, and tweaking them, until one sticks.

It’s not easy, but it will help you grow massively when you do. Nat’s Runway Calculator is the perfect example.

He took a common problem – not knowing how much money you need to quit your day job and travel the world – and came up with an original solution: A runway calculator that tells you exactly how much money you need per month to travel and live in different cities around the world.

If someone wants to know how much money they gotta make from freelancing gigs to travel the world, all they have to do is fill out a few numbers on a spreadsheet, instead of doing hours and hours of research.

You don’t have to be a mad genius to invent something new. All you need is the willingness to put in the work.

Do something challenging and share it with the world

If you want to write epic shit, do epic shit.

A little-known approach to going viral is completing a seemingly impossible challenge in real life and sharing your progress with the world.

In 2015, Assya Barrette went viral after sharing her self-imposed challenge of buying nothing new for 200 days – and challenging everyone to do the same. Her story landed her 130,800 shares on a single article and was picked up by media outlets including with Lifehack, Alternet, Salon, Yahoo!, Dawn and Alternet.

The Minimalists (Joshua and Ryan) were among the first to make minimalism cool.

Their lifestyle experiment of getting rid of all just-in-case items (based on the hypothesis that it won’t take you more than $20 or 20 minutes to replace it if you do end up needing it) went viral, and two years later they challenged their audience to play the 30-Day Minimalism Game, which consists of getting rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two, three things on day three, and so on, to see how far you can go in exercising object detachment.

To this day, it’s their most shared article, with a whopping 155k shares, and with over 43k Instagram posts about their game.

Doing a challenge is the perfect opportunity to go viral and reach thousands of people.

The best part about it? Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter what niche you’re in, you can most likely pull off a viral challenge.

Make sure you write impactful content every time using this checklist:

#4: Back That Shit Up

It's not that we don't believe you. We do. Mostly.

But there's something sticky about backing your claims up that can't be done through hearsay.

You don't have to read like a textbook to back your article up. You can use:

1. Stories: Studies show (see what I did there?) that stories can be more persuasive than logic. Good storytelling is a powerful tool for keeping your audience hooked to your every word. It helps your reader visualize what you’re trying to tell them, and drives your point home more easily.

Have you noticed how hard it is to pull away from a good book? That’s how you want to make your audience feel.

James Clear opens most of his articles with a story. That’s not by chance.

Opening with a story immediately draws readers in and makes them more likely to stick around for the takeaway.

2. Studies: Because (gasp!) people tend to believe science more than they'll believe bloggers. The more up-to-date and relevant your sources are, the more trustworthy you’ll seem (because you are). Here’s how to cite like a pro:

    1. Link to a reliable source when you make a big claim. It gives your statement more weight and credibility.
    2. Explain the results of a study in simple terms. Translating a convoluted conclusion from a study in terms anyone can understand positions you as an expert.
    3. Relate to your audience. If your target audience is women, highlight those studies done in healthy or overweight women. If your audience is male athletes, talk about findings from studies done in active men. Your audience will be more interested in the research if they can relate.
    4. Be ahead of the pack. Include new findings whenever possible. Talking about new research makes your brand stand out from the rest.
    5. Add images. What’s better than a link to a study? A graph from the study. A pretty chart that shows your reader the data adds extra credibility points.

Look at how Live and Dare does it:

An MRI image makes the findings clear and memorable.

3. Analogies: Analogies are like rocket fuel for your writing. Use them. Comparisons make your point crystal clear, grab your readers’ attention, and leave a mark in their minds. It makes your message memorable. Take a look at the analogies these bloggers used:

Melyssa Griffin

Militza Maury

Leo Babauta

4. Metaphors: Explain the gravity of a situation with metaphors. Metaphors help to simplify complex points, entertain your readers, and improve understanding. When you use a metaphor effectively, your reader should feel they “got it”.

Here’s how Tor used a hockey metaphor for building a business team:

And this is how Ramit used the “Truffle Principle” to give advice to interns:

5. “Expert” Quotes: Because people want to know that you're not the only one who thinks so. Adding “expert” opinions to your articles validates your own points and makes people trust you more.

You don’t need to reach out to an expert for an exclusive quote every time, though. You can simply take quotes from previews interviews and articles that back your point.

Here’s how Popsugar did it:

The best articles use a mixture of these to backup their claims.

I expect my hyper-backuptivity helped this article I wrote for Fast Company land me 600 email subscribers, be shared over 12,000 times and turned me into a case study for one of Jon Morrow's products. #legit

#5. Make Beautiful Word Babies

…with the thoughts in your audience's heads.

This is a…different way of putting it, but you want to pull the thoughts right out of your audience's brains like pulling at a thread on a sweater. Then, weave that thread into your own fabric.

See, studies show we love it when people mimic us. I'm not saying you subconsciously loved your little brother's copycatting, but when waitstaff in a restaurant repeated customer orders in your exact words, they get a bigger tip.

When you use the exact words your audience uses in your writing, you resonate with them; you make them feel as if you're reading their minds. Before I released the Etsy eCourse, I surveyed my Etsy-loving audience for two things:

    1. To make sure I was helping them with what they actually needed help with, and
    2. To find out what language they use to describe their pains.

Here are some of the answers I got:

And here's a screenshot of the email I sent out after analyzing these results:

See the part that is highlighted in yellow? “Allergic to social media”? I took that right out of my audience's mouth (the survey respondent even noticed and loved that I used it).

See the first question in the survey? I used the words “stand out” in my first bullet because that's the language my audience used.

One of piece of feedback I hear from Unsettlers is: “I feel like you read my mind”. That's because I did. You email me, I use your words in articles (anonymously) to write things you actually want to read.

If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have an email list to survey yet, here’s how you can steal your potential readers’ words from day one:

  • In Reddit and Quora, ask people to tell you their obstacles: Ask about the challenges and roadblocks they face in the area you want to solve.

For example, if you’re a health coach, ask people what’s the biggest obstacle that prevents them from eating healthy. Don’t be afraid of not getting responses, you most likely will:

  • Analyse the responses: Time to gather your data.
    • Add all the responses to a doc.
    • Find common themes and categorize the answers. Continuing with the health coach example, recurring problems can be “I don’t have enough time”, “I like junk food too much”, “I am too tired to cook when I come home from work”.
    • Identify commons words and add them to a list you can refer to later when writing articles, emails, or sales pages.
  • Use the same words and phrases in your articles, emails, and copy: If you noticed 10 people said “I don’t how to eat organic on a tight budget”, you must use this exact phrase and…
    • Create several articles addressing this topic. For example, “10 organic fruits you can buy for less than $3” or “How to find affordable organic produce”.
    • Add it as a pain point in your sales pages.
    • Relate to them on this issue when writing newsletters.

Instead of trying to read people’s minds, just ask them about their problems.

#6. Stop Being a Fatty

Nobody likes to look at ugly things.

This sounds really mean in the context of the subhead, but what I really mean is: Fat paragraphs are not okay. They're hard on the eyes, not scannable, and nobody actually reads them.

Research shows that people pay more attention to articles with short paragraphs, and completely skip articles with long paragraphs.

Break your paragraphs up into snackable chunks: a maximum of 2-3 sentences (or 4-5 if you use really short sentences).

Fat paragraphs:

Eyes bleeding, get me away from this article!

Fit paragraphs:

Ohhhh I want to read every word.

Whip those paragraphs into shape and trim the fat. Use these 3 tricks:

  • Remember the 1-2-3-4-5 rule. Created by Jon Ziomek, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism, the rule is to cover 1 main thought, expressed in 2 to 3 short sentences, taking up no more than 4 to 5 lines on the page.

Remember that anyone reading your articles on their phone get larger paragraphs due to the size of the screen, so keep it short.

  • Add bullet points. The bullets I’m using right now help me break down the ideas in a way that it’s easy to scan and digest.
  • Edit ruthlessly. Remove redundant phrases and condense your thoughts so you only need one sentence instead of three to explain your idea.

#7. You're not a Kardashian & Your Blog Is Not a Diary

Back in 2008, most bloggers just wrote about their lives. Since there were approximately 78,847% fewer blogs out there, this was fine. Some even did really well, a la Dooce.

Here's the thing though:

People don't care that much about your life.

If I had a dollar for every time somebody said “I should become a blogger. My life is like a reality show!” when they found out what I do, I'd have enough to ship at least one of those people off to a remote island for the real thing.

Your life is not as interesting to others as it is to you. Trust me. I know, because I think my life is pretty damn interesting, but to you? Hearing what I do on a day to day is like watching the yule log channel. It might give you the warm and fuzzies for five seconds until somebody posts about their baby's potty training progress on Facebook.

In a stuffed-to-the-brim internet, readers want to know about your life to the extent that they can apply it to their own. Weave small stories and facts about you into your blog post, but the whole “dear diary” thing should be reserved for your journal and the blogs of 2008.

This is how you can tell if a personal story will help your case:

  • It has a clear takeaway. Is your story helping other people overcome an obstacle or learn something new?
  • It’s relatable. Can people identify with your struggles? Relating to your readers creates trust and rapport.
  • It’s short and concise. A story shouldn’t be the sole focus of an article. It’s simply a vehicle to drive the point home. If your article is 800 words and your story used up 700 words, cut back.

Tiny Buddha’s articles are the perfect example of using personal stories to teach and inspire:

Each article begins with a relatable short story, and ends with a clear takeaway:

The story isn’t the article. It just supports the lesson.

#8. Don't Waste Your Reader's Time

Ever heard that we have eight second attention spans?

It's bleak, but true. Though this doesn't mean that you'll be forever doomed to writing articles that only take 8 seconds to read, it does mean that useless words are bad news. Stop using “that”, “in order to” and “there are” (in most cases).

    • Don't say: “Stop using these words in order to write better.” Say “Stop using these words to write better.”
    • Don't say: “I want to do work that I love.” Say: “I want to do work I love.”
    • Don't say: “There are many bloggers who use useless words.”Say: “Many bloggers use useless words.”

Eliminating these fillers also make your paragraphs shorter. Double win.

You catch my drift, so I won't waste your time concluding this point.

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#9. Become a Copycat

You don't need a formal education to write well.

The best writing education I've ever received has been 100% free and a go-at-your-own pace:

Becoming a copycat.

When I got serious about improving my writing, I zoned in on a couple of writers I admire. Then, I read everything they'd ever written (at least, that I could get my hands on).

I read blog posts, books, reports, eBooks, guest posts…

I stalked them on Twitter and analyzed their Facebook posts and immersed myself in their writing. Then, I'd copy them. Not completely, andI wasn’t plagiarizing them. But in an apprenticeship way.

  • I’d note how they transitioned to a new paragraph.
  • I'd pick apart their introductions and conclusions.
  • I'd study why they did what they did.
  • I'd analyze their headlines.

Their blogs became my writing college. I'd test out their methods in my own words.

They probably don't know who I am (certainly back then they had no clue I existed), but I admired their style, so I borrowed their structure. I suggest you do the same. Don't plagiarize anybody, but shop at the same stores as them.

Try their styles out for size. See what fits.

That’s exactly how Ben Franklin learned to write as well — copying the best.

He took notes of each sentence in a paragraph and tried to reconstruct it as closely to the original as possible.

Then he compared the original paragraph with this copy and studied the mistakes he made to improve and get closer to a perfect recreation next time.

Here’s how you can do what I (and apparently, Ben Franklin) did:

  • Read everything you can from your favorite writers. Get close and personal with their style as quickly as possible. Everything counts: articles, guest posts, Facebook posts, handwritten notes.
  • Pick apart each element of their articles. How do they open? What elements do they use? How do they transition? What’s their vocabulary? How do they close? Do they ask questions?
  • Incorporate those elements in your own writing. If they open with a story, open with a story too. If they love metaphors, by all means, use metaphors. If they give a lot of examples, find examples to share too.
  • Decide what feels right and what doesn’t. After extensively trying out new writing strategies, figure out what fits you the best. If you like humor but don’t love cursing, that’s completely fine.

After you get a hang of how the best do it, you can create a brand new writing formula for yourself.

You Don't Have to Be Perfect

To write shit people want to read, you don't have to be Jane Austen, and you don't have to be flawless.

You can make spelling mistakes, commit grammatical errors, and start sentences with prepositions. The point is not to write like you have a full team of editors proofreading your work. It's to write interesting things, like a human, and for humans.

If you can nail that down, you're golden.

Ready to start writing epic shit? Grab the free checklist:

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Hey, don't kill your momentum.

12 Comments on “How to Write Shit People Actually Want to Read (+ Free Checklist)”

  1. Wow Sarah! I would say this is such an epic post. I learnt a lot, lot a lot from it (I don’t care if grammatically I cannot use “lot” these many time, but this is how I felt after reading this post!)

    Reading this post I felt so relaxed and confident and resourceful now. You exactly show the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Why did you write this article so short, that’s the only complain 🙂

    Thank you so very much!

    Bharat

  2. I’m so glad it was helpful, Bharat! Your words mean a lot 🙂 I always think I’m writing too much, and this one is no exception at 1800+ words but it’s good to know it didn’t run too wordy.

  3. Hi Sarah, thank you so much for this elaborated post! I am a beginner in the blogging scenes. This post is very encouraging. Can you help me in deciding what camera should I invest in since I do not have a photographer to click the pictures for the post. I would be really grateful. Thanks again 🙂

  4. Hi, Sarah,

    Love, love, love the “You are not a Kardashian”! So true. I’m so upset when people come to me with a “personal” blog and want to monetize it.

    When I ask “What problem are you solving for your readers???”, they cannot answer that.

    Thanks so much for the great article.
    Sue

  5. I am guilty of several of the above (as Sarah knows!). Right now, I’m working on #7, trying to rip out meaningless words. But, I find that sometimes that also removes some personality and I’m still struggling to balance the two.

    Thanks for the tips and the checklist. I will put it to good use.

  6. Great post, Sarah. I never could wrap myself around the “dear diary” form of blogging, so every blog I started was doomed to failure. Then I discovered that one could blog about other fascinating stuff, and now I’m loving it. Thanks for the enjoyable and informative read today!

  7. Hi Sarah,

    Great post, as always.

    One thing though; what if you DO use ‘However’ in you day to day vernacular?

    Should I ‘dumb down’ my language just to accommodate potential readers?

    Not that I am suggesting that people are dumb if they don’t use the word However, or ergo or any other word that I use. 😉

    You said write the way we speak. Soooo really, should I write the way others speak?? 🙂

    Cheers

    Robyn

  8. “Make Beautiful Word Babies”… Is the word “shit” a beautiful baby then? Correct me if I am wrong (after all I belong to a different culture), but isn’t that word pointing in the exact opposite direction?

  9. Haha, I get your point Dimitar. That point is about taking the words directly from your audience’s brains and reiterating their thoughts right back to them, though. Which is what I did with the usage of the curse word!

  10. Another REAL post Sarah, thank you.

    I find that my best posts come as I visualise myself speaking directly to my customer (once I know their fears/desires of course).

    Keep them coming!
    Thanks
    Tom

  11. Hey Sarah, Loved the post. Gonna start working on eliminating my use of ‘that’, being a ‘fatty’, and just start writing. I am so afraid to be perfect it paralyzes me … a lot. You summed it up best in, “You Don’t Have to Be Perfect.” Thanks!

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