How to instantly make your writing better

There’s one trick to great writing that you’re almost certainly not using. And it’s really, really simple.

You ready for it?

Read everything you write, out loud.

You’ll feel stupid and self-conscious at first. Do it anyway. Push through. Don’t just read it under your breath. You have to literally verbalise every single word, from start to finish.

If you do that, you will instantly notice:

  • awkwardly-worded phrases
  • unnecessary repetition
  • spelling and grammar mistakes
  • boring, run-on sentences that never seem to end, even when you think they should, but instead you just keep using comma, after comma, after comma, until you fall asleep

I know multiple best-selling authors that use this trick. It’s why, if you’re writing a book, you should always produce an audiobook as well — not because the audiobook will sell a ton of copies, but because being forced to sit down and read your book out loud will make it at least 10% better, and often 40-50% better.

In fact, one writer I know who has worked on multiple books, screenplays, magazine articles and more — he’s a complete rockstar — told me he never submits anything without reading it out loud first. Not a manuscript, not an article, not even a tweet or an email. He reads literally everything out loud. And it’s a big part of the reason why he’s now a professional.

Sure, it takes time. It’s much easier to skip this step. Which is why doing it is valuable.

Are you a creator or a consumer?

I’m an information addict.

I have a regular pattern I follow every few months. I want to learn a new skill or a new hobby, so I instantly head over to Amazon and buy 3-4 books on that topic. On my bookcase right now, I have books on the basics of HTML, card magic, golf, screenwriting, motor racing, meditation, weightlifting, and about 10 other topics.

I usually subscribe to a bunch of blogs and podcasts too. I read all the most popular posts, and listen to the best expert interviews. If I’m felling really productive I might even make some notes in Evernote, or bookmark some pages in Delicious.

And yet, there’s always one thing missing: actual output.

I’ve coded very few websites. I know maybe 3 card tricks. I’ve never written a screenplay or competed in a real car race. I don’t know the exact number of times I’ve ever meditated, but it’s definitely less than 50.

Finding and consuming information is easy. It’s interesting. And for someone as curious as me, it’s usually pretty exciting too.

But it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It’s pseudo-work. Intellectual masturbation.

It’s much more effective to create. To get stuck in and start making things — websites, golf shots, screenplays, whatever — and then one of two things will happen. You either realise that you’re not that interested in it, or you love it, and go really deep on it. That’s worth doing. Mindlessly consuming surface-level information is not.

Which one are you doing?

To make something great, start by creating something crap

I read a story just now about iterative learning, the danger of perfection and how to get better by failing:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot”albeit a perfect one”to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work”and learning from their mistakes”the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.


That’s from a book called Art & Fear, which I’ve just added to my wish list.

Write to sell – intro to copywriting, part 2

Here is part 2 of a series of posts detailing what I learnt from Write To Sell: The Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting. If you’re interested, grab a copy on Amazon.

Part 2: It’s not about you

Without taking our reader into consideration, we’re heading for trouble. All we can do is talk about ourselves – and we know what happens to people like that at parties. – Andy Maslen

The hardest thing about copywriting (particularly online) is that your reader literally has millions of other options. Every website in the world is a click away. So why are they going to stop and read what you have to say to them?

You get and keep the reader’s attention by giving them a message aimed squarely at them – their interests, their concerns, their lives. A message delivered in such effortlessly good English that they don’t notice the writing, just the content. – Andy Maslen

When you’re writing copy, remember, your readers will always be thinking “What’s in it for me?” So if you’re trying to sell your new fitness program, you don’t spend ages telling everyone how you came up with the idea, how you researched the market first, where your suppliers are based, etc – you focus on telling them how your product or service will make them lose weight, gain muscle, look more attractive, become healthier, and so on. Your readers are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”, and you need to constantly be answering this question.

How to sell to Jared

A good place to start is by putting together a basic profile of your reader. This is the same sort of process that Proctor and Gamble go through when they’re producing and marketing new products. How old is your customer? Are they male or female? What job are they in? What do they want from their life right now? What are they struggling with, what do they need help with? What are their values? How do they see themselves?

Example: you’re writing copy for a new fitness product aimed at reducing body fat and giving people six-pack abs. What does your customer profile look like? He’s probably someone like me, actually. Let’s call him Jared.

Jared is a single 25-year-old male, a college graduate who went to work in financial services. He lives in a large city with his room-mate, and likes going to bars after work. He used to work out a bit in college, but he’s working a lot now, and it’s hard for him to find the time. He’s not hugely overweight, and goes to the gym once or twice a week, but he would love to get back to the body he had when he played football in high school. He would feel much more confident if he had lean, six-pack abs. He’d feel more attractive to the opposite sex, and he would probably get laid more (or at least he thinks he would). He has a good amount of disposable income, but can’t quite afford a personal trainer. He’s worried that if he doesn’t do something about his physique now, then the problem will get worse over the next few years, and he’ll suddenly wake up, middle-aged and overweight. He wants a solution that won’t take over his life, but will give him the results he needs, and he’s happy to spend money to do it.

Write about your product or service from your reader’s perspective. Don’t tell them what it is: tell them what it does for them. Tell them how your product will make their life easier, better or more rewarding. – Andy Maslen

Now that we have a good idea of who our customer is, we can think about what effective copy would look like. But it is IMPOSSIBLE to write good copy without this first step. We need to know about the customer so we can write copy that appeals directly to them and will capture their attention. If Jared hears me talking about removing fat in order to tone up his bum and fit into that old pair of jeans, then he’s going to get bored. That’s not what he wants to hear. But if you start talking to him about how good he’ll look on the beach, how good he’ll feel, and how much attention he’ll get with his new body, then Jared starts to get interested real quick.

Knowing your customer will make you rich

Of course, the best way to get to know your reader or customer is simple: talk to them. Do some research and find out what your customers really want, or what they’re worried about. What keeps them awake at 3am?

Ramit Sethi is a perfect example of this. On the subject, he says:

When you can truly deeply understand people, in fact better than they understand themselves, then your sales skyrocket – Ramit Sethi

Ramit spoke to hundreds of his readers on his book tour, and found that they really wanted to learn more about freelancing as a way to earn more money and give them an escape route from their day jobs. So Ramit went away, created a fantastic course to help them do just that, and then wrote amazing copy to convince people to buy it. Then he released that product, called Earn 1k, and promptly took over $100k in the first hour.

That’s the power of getting inside people’s heads.

(Quick note: on Ramit’s email signup page for Earn 1k, he has a quote from the Wall Street Journal. That’s another important marketing concept called social proof – I’ll be posting about that soon as well.)

Benefits vs. Features

ALWAYS talk benefits. Your customer wants to know what’s in it for them, so you should spell it out for them. Here’s the difference. Say you’re writing copy for a new sports car.

Features Benefits
Big engine You get that awesome feeling of driving fast
Good brakes It’s safe
Leather seats It’s comfortable
Big, expensive tyres Car handles better so it’s more fun to drive

Benefits are what make the sale. You’re not buying a car, you’re buying the feeling you get when you’re cruising at 75 with the top down on a gorgeous summer’s day. You’re buying the feeling you get when you drive through town and a hot blonde girl checks out your sweet ride.


  • Write for your reader – you need a direct, relevant message to capture and keep their attention
  • Your reader is a normal person with hopes, fears, desires and vices.
  • Do the research and find out what your reader is like. Put together a reader profile – what are they like?
  • Appeal to your reader by talking about benefits, and how it will help them

That’s it for part 2 of my intro to copywriting series – look out for part 3 soon.

Write to sell – intro to copywriting, part 1

I’ve just finished Write To Sell: The Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting. Here is part 1 of a series of posts detailing what I learnt from the book. If you’re interested, grab a copy on Amazon.

4 things you should always remember about copywriting:

1. Copywriting is about selling

It’s a world apart from academic writing, business memos, or fiction. Copywriting simply means writing in a persuasive way to convince someone to do something that they wouldn’t have done otherwise. That’s it.

2. Focus on the reader

Don’t get carried away with telling everyone when your company was founded, your career background, what you think about the economy at the moment – it’s not about you. You have to focus on the reader – what do they want to hear? What are their fears or needs, their hopes and dreams? What will motivate them to pay attention to your sales message and then act upon it?

3. Beautiful things come in small packages

Focus on using simple, easy-to-understand language. You don’t win points for using multi-clausal sentences and trying to sound like James Joyce. Keep it simple. Bigger is not always better.

4. Most people suck at copywriting

Most writers don’t have any sales experience; and most salesmen aren’t good writers. To write really good copy, you have to combine these two skillsets effectively. You need to look at your writing as a sales process. The good news is that if you can do this, you will be better than 95% of people out there.

If you can remember these 4 simple rules, you’re on your way to writing good copy.