The following is a guest post from colleague Chris Sewell (@mydeadlyballoon) – Content Director, brand voice guru and all around good bloke @wsseattle.

I was 15-years old when I first picked up the guitar. And like, I don’t know… 19 or 20 before I set it down for more than a few minutes at a time. I played that thing constantly. Hours and hours of memorizing finger positions, fumbling over chords and willing my helpless, weakling, runt-of-the-litter pinky finger to “man up” and stop holding the other fingers back. It took time. But eventually, I got to a point where I knew what I was doing.

Years later, I’d see friends take up the instrument, only to surrender forever after just a week or two, saying things like, “I’m not musically inclined” or “my fingers are too fat.” They couldn’t play immediately, so clearly it was a physical shortcoming or lack of some mystical, natural-born talent that stood between them and rock-guitar god immortality.

A lot of people believe that writing is like playing a musical instrument. It’s just one of those talents you either have or you don’t. And many people who have the potential to be good writers shy away from it rather than put in the time and effort needed to get better.

There’s a huge emphasis on storytelling in our industry right now. And I firmly believe that the best written, best told stories are the ones that will cut through the noise and get people to take notice. So, to grab attention and hold it, it’s important that everyone improve their writing skills.

Here are a handful of things you should think about:

  1. Avoid buzzwords and jargon. Always.
  2. Don’t try to prove you can write well by using big, fancy words you wouldn’t use in conversation. Keep it simple.
  3. Write the way people talk. If what you’ve written feels awkward to you, it is. Change it to something that feels more natural.
  4. Never underestimate the power of a good lead/lede. If you can’t hook someone from the start, you’ll lose them and they won’t stick around to see how your piece ends.
  5. Don’t fake it. If you don’t understand what you’re writing about, your reader won’t either. Have a solid grasp on what you’re communicating.
  6. Come up with a headline that piques curiosity. [See above].
  7. Don’t overload your sentences with numbers and stats. A 2010 study on numbers in sentences found that some 62% of readers spent 2/3 of their time over a 6 month period… Zzzzzz.
  8. Spelling and grammar matter. If you don’t know the basics, learn ‘em.
  9. Don’t get discouraged. Writing is a very personal thing, and the editing process can give the ego a beat down. Don’t take it personally.
  10. Write every day.

Writing is hard. And making it look easy is even harder. But, like anything, it takes time to improve. So, put in the effort. Whether you think you’re a natural or not, good writing is in you. Your fingers are not too fat.

Image courtesy of Alex Cheek.

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About Scott Meis

VP, Digital and Social Strategies for @wsseattle. I develop and execute online marketing campaigns for a variety of nonprofit, corporate and government clients. I thrive on creative content, communities and actionable results.

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Content Marketing, Public Relations

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