Secrets of Good Writing from a Senior Editor at Forbes
“The only way to become a better writer is to keep writing and to do it often.” Caroline Howard, Senior Editor at Forbes, shared this wisdom and other writing strategies with professional women at a recent Ellevate jam session.
Are you an expert or a thought leader in your field? This is a reason to write--and to be central to the conversation on a given topic. Howard’s advice is to write pieces where you have a sense of authority. What unique view are you adding to cut through the chatter online?
Always keep your audience in mind. For example, if you were writing for Forbes, think about who is coming to forbes.com. In this case, your audience would be made up of people looking for good writing on business and investment topics, business women and entrepreneurial-minded individuals.
Organize your thoughts
It may be your style to write in stream of consciousness and spill it all out. And that’s fine as a first draft. But Howard recommends not doing this for a blog post or as a submission to a media outlet such as Forbes. What is your story about? Sum it up in one sentence. Use that sentence to build the “spine of your story, so that all paragraphs point back to this.”
How will you grab your reader’s attention? A sure-fire way is through a great headline and your “lead” paragraph. Both should be strong, not vague. These should be forthright, simple and catchy. Headlines are not an afterthought--they are incredibly critical.
The problem with “listicles”
We know the internet loves numbered lists. But there are lots of ways to tell a story and a list is just one of them. You can explore writing a narrative, Q&A, even bullet points. If a list is what you usually do, you’re not trying hard enough. Don’t rely on lists all the time and make it your fall back.
Making your article or post stand out from the crowd
Make bold statements. Be definitive--not vague or too general or elusive. Speak with authority and clarity--like the expert you are. Use active, “muscular” words. Howard says, “Why be weak when you can be strong?” Your piece will be far more interesting if you follow this writing advice. Be conversational and give specifics, examples and anecdotes.
Howard also advises writers to be unexpected or contrarian. It’s a great way to explore an issue and to be unique. But a word of caution: only do this if you can back it up! Keep your eyes and ears on the news to be more relevant. And don’t forget to do your research and use sources.
Finally, before you press publish, ask yourself: Would this story be a “Most Popular?” Do you really want to read this? Be tough on yourself here--and if not, keep working on it to get it to the level of interest that deserves a click. Is your perspective unique? Is someone else blogging about it? Ask yourself: what can I say to stand apart?
Strong writers work hard to add a new spin and add to the conversation. Be sure your ideas are worth commenting on and most of all, worth sharing.
What do you struggle with as a writer? Or, share your own writing tips with us!