Over the past week, a friend sent me an article for feedback. I read it over and told her, “There’s nothing really that’s new in the article. I’ve read many, many other articles like that before.” Basically, the article was a lot like vanilla ice cream. And I’m not a dessert snob or anything, but it was just kind of nothing very exciting.
You don’t want that response from your writing — that it’s kind of dull.
No one ever wants to read something that is boring. Ever.
We all crave exciting stories. So how do you craft them? It starts with asking a simple question.
The One Question Your Writing Must Answer
Every piece of content that you write must answer the question: “What’s in it for me?” Most writing doesn’t answer this question.
It’s more like, “I wrote this, so you should read it.” That’s called entitlement, friends. And that doesn’t exactly win over an audience, does it? We all do it from time to time, so if you’ve done that, just revise and rewrite. Keep in mind that just because you think something is interesting, that doesn’t mean the reader will agree.
So, first answer that question. If you can answer that, great. But answering that question isn’t enough. There’s more you need to do.
Is Your Writing Actually Helpful and/or Entertaining?
If it’s non-fiction, helpful is often the key. If it’s fiction, I think entertaining could come first. But you really want to have both in the mix. If it’s just helpful, you’ve got a Dummies book. That probably isn’t going to cut it today. Sure, you might get a few readers, but if you’re honest, you’d probably watch a short video than read a Dummies book, right?
Entertaining can mean many things to a lot of people. It is a personal preference. I think of author Chuck Wendig or Gary Vaynerchuk. I think both of them are pretty entertaining, but a lot of people would find them crude because of their use of profanity or off-color jokes.
Write for your audience. Your peeps, your tribe. What do they buy? Why do they buy? What are their values? What motivates them? All of these things are REALLY important.
If you’re a fiction writer, you’re probably not writing for a bunch of accountants. If you’re writing for a corporation’s blog, it’s probably a terrible idea to use profanity in a post.
Read the room. Don’t create tone-deaf content. That’s just as bad as— if not even worse than — boring content. It flat-out won’t resonate with the audience.
An Example to Consider
Author Chuck Palahniuk is as popular as writers get today. He’s the writer of books like Fight Club, and his short story Guts will forever live in infamy as readings of the story made hundreds of people pass out during live events. Palahniuk says to think of a story as a stream of information or an ever-changing series of rhythms. He says you should think of yourself, the writer, as a DJ mixing tracks.
As the DJ, you must know what to play during a show. A DJ does not play the same track over and over all night long. But that’s what many writers do. Boring writers just say the same things, over and over and over. But if you mix things up, you can keep the attention of the audience. Write about different topics. Mix things up a bit. Don’t always play it safe, or you’ll lull your audience to sleep.
The truth is, the best writing is always a bit dangerous. What do I mean by dangerous? I mean the writer is not afraid to be wrong. She’s not afraid to take a stand or even pick a fight every once in a while.
Nice writing is not going to change things. If all of your writing is “nice,” it will have the same effect as a glass of warm milk before bedtime. Don’t be the literary equivalent of counting sheep.
Write a Lot, but…
Another common piece of advice is to “write a lot.” While on the surface this sounds like a some good advice, this advice is often misunderstood. Yes, you should write a lot. Absolutely. That’s a given. But you should not publish a lot.
Have you ever heard this quote by Truman Capote? He once said, “Good writing is rewriting.”
He’s right. And I want to offer you a twist on that quote: rewriting can turn boring writing into great writing.
Write a lot, but publish less. Edit and rewrite more.
One great post is a lot better than 20 mediocre posts. And let’s face it, most of the writing you read is mediocre, right? What makes a great piece stand out? Answer this question. For starters, it isn’t mediocre. The writing is powerful and passionate and unique.
Finally, Answer This Question Too
What is the most powerful and exciting piece you’ve read in the last month? If you can’t answer this, then you’ve got some homework to do. Find something great. Find something incredible and remarkable. Something that inspires you. You know these pieces are out there. And when you read them, they’ll light a fire inside of you.
Ever notice how great work is not boring at all? It is captivating and awesome, right? That’s the goal. Aim high. Learn from work like that. Soak it up. Write it out by hand. That’s what you want your writing to be like. Don’t settle. Keep pushing to write the best you possibly can.
Next, apply what you’ve learned to your own work. Take whatever you can. Maybe it’s the structure. Maybe it’s the dialogue. Maybe it’s the conclusion. It doesn’t matter as long as you are learning. Keep trying new things and don’t settle. That’s how you can turn boring writing into interesting writing.