So You want to Become a Better Writer?

Part 3 | The Day you Became a Better Writer via Scott Adams

Continuing with our quest to become better writers, I’m laying out a few lessons from Scott Adams. He’s the author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life, and several other books. You probably know him better as the creator of the Dilbert comic.

A while back, Scott put out a video titled, “The Day you Became a Better Writer”. If you read my first post, you’ll see it’s number one in a three-part curriculum that costs you nothing. No money twitter gumroad charlatans asking you to part with your hard-earned cash.

Nearly all of Scott’s lesson applies to nonfiction writing. Here’s an overview:

How to know your topic is good. The hardest thing with writing nonfiction is finding a topic somebody cares about. Scott says if your topic makes you laugh, groan, or excites a physical change in your body, it’s probably something worth writing about.

Write for the reader, not for yourself. This is one that I don’t agree with. I’m on the Morgan Housel “write for yourself” camp, however, if your goal is to build a large audience, then heed what Scott has to say here.

First sentence evokes curiosity. You don’t have a lot of chances to make a first impression. People will judge whether they want to read the whole piece based on the first sentence.

Pace and lead the reader. Match your audience. Write about the things they care about in simple language. Be sure you’re consistent with the pace, then once your readers are comfortable, you can lead by starting to think a little differently. Done correctly, readers will start moving with you because they now think “if you went there, why shouldn’t I? We think alike.”

Direct sentences. If you only remember one tip from Scott, remember this one. Write direct sentences. A direct sentence is the subject did something. The boy hit the ball. An indirect sentence would be the ball was hit by the boy. Same exact meaning, but your brain processes direct sentences quicker. If you’re writing a long piece full of indirect sentences, your audience will get exhausted.

No jargon, adjectives, verbs, and clichés. Take the case, “Tomorrow is going to be very hot”, or “Tomorrow is going to be hot.” The important point is your reader can’t tell the difference, and they won’t remember the word very. What they’ll remember is tomorrow is going to be hot. Subtract down all the words that don’t mean much. Your reader doesn’t care that you’re running very fast, just running fast, or even just running.

Brevity equals brilliance. Which is exactly why I’m going to stop here. Scott has an additional eight tips that will make you a better writer. Watch the whole video. You’ll be glad you did.

Stay tuned for another “So You Want to Become a Better Writer” coming next week. Or subscribe to my Sunday Letter, where I keep a running tab on the series.

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