10 Writing Techniques to Attract a Massive Audience
Writing techniques don’t make you a better writer. A bunch of writers preach writing techniques as if their secret formula will cause you to have massive writing success.
Building a successful writing career involves a ton of variables. One of them is pure luck. Just the way life goes. But there are writing techniques that can increase your odds of building an audience and making a living with your writing.
No guarantees, though, for real. I never make promises. I don’t know how naturally talented you are (it matters). I don’t know what topic you write about (some are inherently more popular than others). And I don’t know how hard you’re willing to work or how long you’re willing to persist at your craft.
I do know this. If you’re talented and work hard for a long-time, your odds of some success are high. You might never have a million subscribers or a New York Times bestselling book. But you don’t need those things to have a writing career you love.
Let’s dive into some of my personal favorite writing techniques.
Learn How to Read Minds
I always try to understand how my reader feels and mirror those feelings back to them as closely as possible. I don’t just want to write what they think, I want to say it in the exact words they used in their mind.
I love it when my readers say that they want me to get out of their heads. I’ve had readers tell me they are afraid to read my articles because I’m going to hit them with those hard truths they think about in the exact way that they think about them.
How do you achieve this effect? I got my start by reading this article from my blogging mentor Jon Morrow. Here’s a quote from the piece:
To really understand people, you need to know what keeps them awake until 2 AM, tossing and turning and unable to sleep.
He also taught me exercises to achieve this effect. When you’re coming up with ideas for articles, first start by listing out the exact thoughts and feelings your readers might have — their fears and frustrations or their hopes and aspirations.
Turn those statements into headlines for articles, which creates a framework you can use to write sentences that hit them between the eyes.
Don’t Talk Too Much
I learned this next writing technique from The Elements of Style: Omit needless words. The word count of your piece doesn’t matter, but every sentence has to earn its way onto the page.
I’ve noticed some patterns in my writing that I check for when editing:
- I’ll write two sentences that say the same thing, so I’ll delete the weaker one
- I’ll write a sentence that’s five words long that can be expressed in two, so I delete three of the words
- I always ask myself if each sentence drives the narrative forward. If it doesn’t, I cut it.
This is an intuitive process. You can’t perfect it, but you can aim to get better at it. You don’t have to write in the same punchy style as I do. This process works for all styles of writing. Adapt it to yours.
Sometimes I cross the line. I’ll write something that isn’t just politically incorrect, but totally insensitive. I’ve looked back on entire pieces I’ve written and think to myself “maybe I should have let up a bit.” I don’t normally pay attention to comments, but when I see a bunch of comments that point out the same flaw in my piece, I take note of it.
But I always err on the side of pushing the envelope instead of pulling punches. Some of the best comedians are the ones who ‘go there’ – they say the things we feel inside but are afraid to say out loud. I try to adopt the same approach when I write.
If you aren’t writing stuff that sometimes makes you nervous to publish it, you’re not doing it right. Some of my best pieces were the ones I felt were too raw, too personal, too in your face.
Especially in today’s climate, it’s more important to say what’s really on your mind, even if you face consequences for it. Politically incorrect truths are the bedrock of freedom of expression. If you’re not for freedom of expression, even the opinions you don’t like, you’re not a real writer.
Switch It Up
I try to blend different perspectives and styles into a single piece. You can do this by using the combination of “I” “you” and “we” sentences. Most beginner writers use the word “I” way too much and treat their blog posts like journal entries. Using the word “you” helps your pieces feel like they’re speaking to the reader, but if you use it too much it also sounds like you’re speaking at or down to the reader too much. I use the word “we” to create a bond with my readers and make them feel like we’re on a shared mission.
Most bloggers write advice pieces. The challenge is to be helpful without writing from a pedestal. When I write them, I try to combine practical recommendations, stories from my life showing that I’ve used the techniques myself, and I also try to push my readers to get better without making them beat themselves up too much.
I find my best work happens when I blend the first, second, and third person in my articles:
- First-person: the I/we perspective.
- Second-person: the you perspective.
- Third-person: the he/she/it/they perspective.
Play around with these writing techniques to create articles that have a balanced blend of ideas.
Pack a Punch With Your Words
Use words that pop and evoke emotions. There’s a great article with a list of 801 power words you can use instead of bland and common words. Take these two sentences that pretty much say the same thing, for example:
“Do you ever feel stressed out?”
“Do you ever feel like you’re on the verge of a total mental meltdown?”
If you want engagement, focus on high arousal emotions — both positive and negative. Always aim to make your reader feel something.
Aside from using power words, these writing techniques also help evoke emotion:
- Be specific – Instead of just saying something like ‘You’re afraid to fail’ say something deeper like ‘You’re afraid you’ll fall flat on your face, just like your friends and family thought you would.’
- Swipe your readers’ words – Do audience research by reading products reviews or blog post comments and copy and paste exact statements you find. I like to use Quora to practice because it teaches you to provide responses to real questions that real people are asking.
- Polarize – If you have a strong opinion, take a firm stance on one side of a hot-button debate. A lot of writers do this on Medium. Medium pays you for member reading time, which means you still get paid even if people hate-read your work.
Tap Into Your Idea Well
One important writing technique is learning how to consistently come up with good ideas. Sometimes the best ideas come from work you’ve already done.
Say you write a listicle and you get a bunch of comments about how point number two was their favorite point. You can write a new article expanding on point number two in more detail. You can write an entire book that has a concept in it that’s so important an entire book should be written about that concept. Nassim Taleb did this with his book Antifragile, which was a key concept in his previous book, Fooled by Randomness.
I re-work pieces all the time. Sometimes I’ll expand on an idea I had before but didn’t have the knowledge to fully flesh out. I might combine two smaller pieces into a mega-guide that serves as cornerstone content for my blog and gets a bunch of SEO juice. I’ll run through the data on all my work and see which recurring themes are most popular and write more pieces about those themes.
Don’t be afraid to re-visit what you’ve already done. You might have new experiences to add or better writing skills to portray the same ideas in a better way. You’ll develop a wheelhouse of ideas that are core to your writing philosophy and those ideas become the foundation for your voice, brand, and catalog.
Perfect the Package
There are a few key elements to a blog post you have to knock out of the park if you want engagement and retention:
The better you package the frame of the article, the more likely you are to have a viral hit. So, re-work those sections each time you write a piece. I used to do this quite a bit at the beginning of my career. After I chose a headline, I’d re-write it 5 times and choose the best one. Same with subheadings. I’d chop off the intro and conclusion and re-write them every single time.
Readers pay attention to and remember those areas of a blog post the most. They’re not going to remember the body content as much as the frame. Of course, the body content is important. But getting the frame right makes it even easier to write solid body content.
Here are some guides I followed religiously to get each section right:
- How to Write Headlines: A Step by Step Guide
- The Ultimate Guide to Writing Irresistible Subheads
- A 3-Step Formula for Captivating Your Audience With a Few Opening Lines
- 15 Engaging Ways to End Your Next Blog Post
The Draft Finishing Formula That Works
I write fast and prolifically. I can spit out the first draft of a blog post in an hour or less. Granted, I’m a naturally fast writer, but you can use the following writing techniques to get your first drafts done quicker:
- Use placeholders: I never research while I write. If I’m missing a fact or anecdote, I’ll use a notation like this [add fact here] and come to it on the second pass
- Crappy first draft: Too many beginner writers beat themselves up about first drafts. Just get the damn thing done. No judgment.
- Map out ideas beforehand: Don’t just stare at a blank page expecting magic to come out. Create an outline first. This is one of my best pieces of advice that hard-headed beginners avoid. Don’t be hard-headed.
- Move your fingers: Literally. Start placing your fingers on the keyboard so letters appear. Staring at the page equals creative death. Start your post with ” I don’t know what to write yet” if that’s what it takes to get you in motion.
- No breaks: No checking social media. No checking your other open tabs. If you want to take a break, stretch or do a quick 5-minute meditation, but don’t stop writing the first draft until it’s done.
After you finish the draft, you can decide what to do next. Sometimes I’ll move right into editing. Sometimes I’ll let them sit for a day. There are times where I think the drafts are rubbish and I never publish them. Sometimes I’ll come back to an old draft that didn’t click back then but does now. But I always get my drafts done.
Hit the Button
That being said, I don’t make it a habit to have a bunch of unfinished drafts. I publish 90 percent of my drafts. I look back on some of my published work and cringe. I usually think anything I wrote six or more months ago sucks. But that’s okay because publishing is the most important writing technique of them all.
Without published work, you have no catalog. You can’t truly know whether or not your work is good until you expose it to the world. You need that feedback, even if it’s negative. And make no mistake about it, people will receive your work negatively. You can’t avoid it. If you can’t build a thick skin, you shouldn’t be a writer, period.
Real artists ‘ship their work.’ If you don’t share your work with the world, then what is the point of writing? “My work is for me.” Nah, you want people to read it. All writers want readers. But some never get them because they’re scared. I can’t fix that fear for you. Only publishing does that.
Just hit the damn button. If you’re afraid of criticism, don’t read the comments. Some people turn theirs off. But still, put it out there.
Tying it All Together
The ultimate writing technique is learning how to find your voice. There is no topic or genre on planet earth that hasn’t been covered a million times. You stand out by adding components to your voice that no one can copy.
No one can copy your life experiences. You don’t have to cover every little detail of your life or empty the skeletons from your closet, but your experiences create a unique worldview you can use in your writing.
Nobody can copy your personality, which is why you shouldn’t try to be like someone else when you write. I look up to James Altucher, but I can’t use his overly emotional and expressive style because I’m not an overly emotional and expressive person. I’m pragmatic and blunt, so I write that way.
Nobody can copy your inputs. Learn from a wide variety of sources so you can combine them in a unique way. Study contradictory ideas and philosophies. Take observations from your day-to-day life and use them in your work.
Then, write your ass off. Some say it takes about 100 blog posts to find your voice. Sounds about right. There are writing techniques that can’t be explained. You can only learn them through your own experience. Your voice will emerge and develop over time, so be forceful about getting the words out in the beginning until writing becomes more effortless.
So many writers say they want to write like me. You can’t. It’s impossible. I earned my stripes through years of relentless work. It’s the only way. I can’t make you practice, but if you do, you can become a household name. Learn the basics rules of the writing game and follow basic writing techniques. Use those frames to build your body of work until you’re so good they can’t ignore you.