A Writers’ Renaissance: 5 Tips for Aspiring Authors in a Digitally Dominated World
A short decade ago, flickers of hope were fleeting for aspiring writers. Overwhelmed by an explosion of emojis, a hailstorm of hashtags, a plethora of podcasts and shaky smartphone videos, writers were left with an existential question: Will anyone read anything longer than 140 characters?
Today’s young writers can take heart, however. Technological communications shortcuts like emojis and hashtags haven’t changed a simple truth: People still like to read well-crafted stories. There are an estimated 31 million bloggers today in the United States. More than 1 million LinkedIn users are posting articles on that platform. And a growing volume of research suggests that longer articles are increasingly sought after by online readers. Even Twitter realized that 140 characters weren’t enough.
Young writers can be confident that an audience exists for their work, even in today’s hyperconnected multimedia world. You just need to keep those digital distractions in mind as you write. It’s no secret that writing needs to be interesting to keep an audience, but with all those GIFs and viral vids out there competing for attention, the stakes are higher. Today, the average reader today spends only about 15 seconds on a specific piece of content. If you don’t pull them in quickly and keep them engaged, they’re gone.
Whether you’re an aspiring novelist or a budding corporate blogger, here are five top tricks of the trade that can help you in your efforts to create compelling content:
1. Read before you write. Every other article you read about writing tips will tell you to read a lot in order to become a better writer. I know this because I read a lot of those articles before writing this one. That’s why I’m going to share a different tip: When you’ve landed on a topic to write about, read what others are saying about it before you dive in. This will help shape your perspective on a topic or issue, and sharpen your approach as you look for angles that have not yet been explored.
2. Balance objectives and audiences. Every writing project starts with an objective, a point of view you hope to share, or information you want to convey. A common trap is to dive into a project without pausing to consider your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Why does the topic matter to them? What issues or concerns stand between your audience and your objective? Understanding the balance between your objectives and your audience’s perceptions will help you navigate an article or message that is much more likely to hit the mark.
3. Linger on the lede. Remember that 15-second attention span? That’s what you’re up against. If your headline and first paragraph don’t set the hook, readers will never reach your brilliant conclusion. A mentor of mine said he often spent half of his writing time on the lede, and the other half on the remainder of the article. That has been my experience as well.
There are many approaches to developing a strong lede. Hit them with an unbelievable “a-ha moment.” Draw them into a compelling mystery. Confuse the hell out of them with a seemingly absurd statement. Whatever you do, force them to break through that 15-second barrier. An internet search for great ledes will provide quick inspiration, and help you to avoid the been-there, done-that “It was a dark and stormy nights” of the world.
4. Back passion with proof. It’s great to have both a strong point of view and the skill to eloquently present it in written form. But these assets aren’t enough to convince an audience that is skeptical or uninformed on your topic, particularly in today’s environment where “fake news” is a daily topic of debate. Conversely, powerful data is a tree falling in the forest if it’s presented with the emotion of a spreadsheet. Don’t write a research paper (even if you are writing a research paper). Start with passion, then use strong data and third-party validation to back up your point of view and seek ways to blend these proof points into your work.
5. Embrace your editor. A good editor always makes a good writer better. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially after you’ve devoted hours to your pristine prose, only to have it shredded by a shrewd editor. But more often than not, a thoughtful reviewer will identify a gap in logic, an opportunity to better articulate a key point, or even a buried lede. You won’t always agree with your editor – and sometimes you will even win the debates that ensue – but you should always embrace the editing process.
If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to developing written content that will hold its own against the online onslaught and keep readers enthralled to the very last word. Then, who knows? Those readers might even share your work on Twitter with a #awesomewriter and a few ?s.