Ahoy and happy Monday!
Welcome to another week of Start Writing Online—where every week we dive into 1 of the 10 biggest problems all writers face:
- Generating ideas
- Impostor syndrome
- Writing consistently
- Finding time to write
- Loose feedback loops
(And, of course, if you want to crush all 10 of these AND master the fundamentals of Digital Writing in just 30 days, we'd love to have you in the next cohort of Ship 30 for 30!)
This week, we want to help you understand how to differentiate yourself so you can stand out as a writer.
In a world that seems to be full of writers, how do you make a name for yourself with your work?
The first stage is mastering the art of capturing and keeping your reader’s attention with engaging headlines and good, skimmable writing. If you can’t attract and hold their attention, your writing will be passed over and forgotten. Knowing what hooks to use and how to format your writing is a key skill every Digital Writer should cultivate.
The second stage is all about finding your differentiation in “The Magic Triangle” for writers.
How to differentiate yourself as a writer using “The Magic Triangle”
There are 3 ways you can set yourself apart in your broader writing category:
- Your Writing Voice
- Your Formatting
- Your Content
When you learn how to write things that are truly different, you unlock real growth as a writer.
Let’s dive into each side of The Magic Triangle and how to use it.
Side 1: Your Writing Voice
There’s so much writing advice out there telling writers they need to “find” their voice.
Unfortunately, this is vague and not particularly helpful. How do you find your voice? How do you know when you’ve found it? And what do you do with it once you have?
It’s true—if you want to stand out as a writer you do need to find your voice.
Luckily for us, you only need to ask 1 question:
“What sounds unexpected in the context of my category?”
Let’s take an example. For years, the entire self-help category had the same voice. It was soft. It was welcoming. It pumped you up with tired clichés like "You can do it."
Then, Mark Manson came along and said something completely different:
Now that’s a voice that sounds different!
However, when someone hits on a new and exciting voice, it doesn’t stay different for very long. People see what’s working and start to adopt a similar voice. Then, all of a sudden, every new writer in the self-help niche starts to sound the same.
Fast-forward a few years, and you have other authors using this same “no-bullshit” voice (hoping it will differentiate them like it did Mark):
This is why JUST having a differentiated voice usually isn't enough—you need the other 2 sides of the Magic Triangle.
Side 2: Your Formatting
There are two ways of thinking about formatting: Visually and Thematically.
We’ve already touched on the visual element. Do you structure your work with bulleted lists, numbered lists, or no lists? Do you use subheads or no subheads? This is the first step.
To take it the next level, ask yourself how you can structure your work by theme:
- Can a love story be told in a series of journal entries?
- How about in a track list of songs?
- Or what if it was told in the form of a dictionary?
For example, David Levithan wrote a modern love story in the form of a dictionary. The novel doesn’t unfold in chronological order but instead is ordered alphabetically, revealing the plot and developing characters through a series of entries in a dictionary.
Think about how you could organize your content across a theme to add a new dimension to your writing.
Side 3: Your Content
Content differentiation is all about one thing and one thing only, and that's mastering the skill of saying what hasn't already been said yet.
On the surface, this might seem futile considering how much content there is in the world, but at Ship 30 we’ve come up with a fun exercise that immediately reveals just how easy content differentiation can be.
Let’s say I ask you to write about morning routines. You’ll come up with a list like:
- Get up early
- Drink a glass of water
- Journal for 15 minutes
- Get in 30-minutes of cardio
- Make a latte or hit a double espresso
The problem? All these sound the same.
The writer might format them differently. They might add their own voice to the writing. They could even include personal stories to illustrate their points. But, fundamentally, it will sound like any other writer who writes about morning routines.
In Ship 30, we get around this by using “The Tequila Test”.
If you’re going to differentiate yourself, you really do need to say something different. So if you’re writing about your morning routine and you say “I wake up and the first thing I do is take a shot of tequila” — that’s different.
You can put this into practice by writing down all the things most people would say about your topic. What are all the things you've heard people talk about? What's the conventional wisdom? What are the cliché answers? List them all.
Now, don't use anything on that list. What ELSE could you write about?
This not only differentiates you as a writer, it really gets your creative juices flowing too.
If you’re going to differentiate yourself as writer, then you need to combine all 3 sides of “The Magic Triangle”
This means understanding your category and finding out where you can:
- Have a different voice
- Format your writing in a different way
- Say something completely different to everyone else
All within the broader context of your category.
That's it for today!
Chat next week!
–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole
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