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 show you exactly how to make your writing more valuable to the reader.
Have you ever heard this advice?
If you want to be successful online, you have to "provide value."
That's cool advice and everything, but you might not know what "providing value" means as a new digital writer. Do you have to entertain your reader? Do you tell them everything you know? Do you make them laugh or cry? How do you know if you're “providing value?”
It's vague and confusing, and therefore, unhelpful advice.
But here's one writing tip you can put into action right away:
Be specific in your writing.
Cole talks about specificity in the essay, "Originality is Overrated: Why Specificity Is The Secret To Legendary Writing." He teaches us that being specific means that you have a clear understanding of your idea. If you are a clear writer, you know exactly what you're talking about, and your writing will show that.
For example, let's say you're writing a recipe on "How to Make Scrambled Eggs," and this is what you came up with.
- Step 1: Grab a pan.
- Step 2: Cook your eggs.
The information is obvious, but the reader didn't really learn how to make scrambled eggs because it wasn't specific enough.
Being specific means breaking down your ideas into smaller pieces.
Instead, here’s how you can add more specificity into your writing so that readers walk away feeling like they truly learned something new.
- Step 1: To prepare a single serving of scrambled eggs, crack two or three eggs into a bowl and add some salt and pepper.
- Step 2: Gently whisk the eggs, breaking up yolks until you have a nice frothy liquid.
- Step 3: Spray a non-stick pan with cooking spray or add a small amount of butter—heat pan over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Pour in the egg mixture.
Do you see the difference?
Specificity now gives the reader instructions on exactly what to do, which makes the writing feel more “valuable” to them.
Getting specific about getting specific.
Your writing is like a photograph.
A blurry, unfocused photograph doesn’t tell you much about the subject. But a clear, focused photograph with vivid details can convey a whole story.
And the easiest way to practice specificity is to inspect your writing.
Here are 3 quick tips you can use to immediately add specificity to the next thing you write.
Tip #1: Hunt for nouns, verbs, and assumptions.
Nouns and verbs are what make your writing come alive.
It’s how a reader emotionally connects to your writing. And the more descriptive you are, the more reader is able to grasp what you are trying to say.
Take a look at, “Cook your eggs.”
One noun and one verb. Stare it at the sentence for a minute. Seems straightforward, right? You probably have an image of cooking eggs in your brain right now.
What assumptions are you making about cooking eggs?
- How many eggs were you cooking?
- How were you cooking the eggs?
- Where were you cooking the eggs?
- Who was cooking the eggs?
These are things the reader is asking and filling in for themselves.
Your job as the writer is to think of all the questions your reader will have about your topic. And then literally give them the picture in your writing with as much detail as necessary to convey your point.
Specific doesn't mean long-winded. Keep it concise.
Tip #2: Ask, “What kind?”
Take a noun or a verb and dissect it, by asking “what kind?”
Let's use "Grab a pan" as an example.
- What kind of pan? Is it non-stick, cast iron, or stainless steel?
- What kind of cast iron pan? Is it 8 inches in diameter, or is 12 inches?
- What kind of 8 inch cast iron pan? Is it pre-heated, is it seasoned? And so on.
Keep going until you are clear on exactly “what kind” of pan you are talking about.
If you are unclear, or you think it’s obvious, there’s a good chance your reader is going to be scratching their head.
Tip #3: Get rid of jargon.
Jargon “sounds” smart.
No one needs to "emulsify" eggs for breakfast! “Whisk” gets the point across just fine. If you are having trouble identifying the jargon in your writing, drop it into ChatGPT and ask it to identify it for you! “Hey ChatGPT! Please analyze this text for jargon and return it to me in a list with a reason why.”
You can always be more specific.
That's it for today!
Chat next week!
–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole
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