Here’s the secret to successful writing according to Stephen King:
Take out the bad parts.
While those 5 words sum it up perfectly, some people don’t really get what concise writing is all about. Some think that communicating less information and having a low word count is the mark of great writing.
That’s not it at all.
You simply take out the bad parts by taking out the words that aren’t necessary.
Which Words Are Necessary?
Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. ~Samuel Johnson
A reader once mentioned that he’d seen a well-known guru take Strunk & White’s famous adage “omit needless words” and represent it this way:
Let me be frank. This could be viewed as clever, but if taken literally, it’s some of the worst writing advice ever. It’s not only bad, it’s downright dangerous.
Let me tell you why.
Needless is the most important word of that famous phrase from Strunk & White. You can’t just omit words indiscriminately. You get rid of words that serve no purpose. You cut out verbiage that slows down the reader and detracts from the persuasiveness of your writing instead of enhancing it.
You can’t screw up and leave out the necessary parts. The Samuel Johnson quote above refers to us feeding our own egos with our writing, instead of serving the needs of the reader.
The necessary words are those that ensure the reader’s complete comprehension and result in the action or result you want. The rest can be tossed out.
Let the Fire Show Through the Smoke
You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. ~Arthur Polotnik
The whole point of concise writing is to pack more power per square inch of copy. When every sentence of every paragraph of every page burns with focused intensity, people find it tough to stop reading.
Many online writers simply don’t say enough. They write the bare minimum, and expect that because they understand the value of the offer or idea, the reader will too with only a sparse bit of copy.
But that’s pretty rare. Nike may communicate volumes with just do it, but they backed up those three words with hundreds of millions of dollars of some of the best image advertising the world has ever seen.
Something tells me that approach is out for you. So instead, say everything that needs to be said, but ruthlessly edit to let the fire show through the smoke.
People Want to Keep Reading (If It’s Easy)
Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
In the real world, people want as much information as they can get before making a buying decision. With blogging, getting someone to read an entire article is usually a prerequisite for them to link to you or subscribe to your feed.
If people are interested in what you’re saying, they’ll keep reading as long as you’re imparting new and valuable information. However, you can lose even a perfectly-targeted reader if you don’t take steps to keep them engaged.
The trick is to make the reading easy without being lame.
If you’re a long-time Copyblogger reader, you’ve already been exposed to these tips for writing engaging content and copy, because these steps are what this blog is all about. Since it never hurts to review, here are seven steps to make your readers stick with you until the end and be impressed when they get there.
The Seven Steps
I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard
- Beneficial Topic
Is what you’re writing of interest to the reader? Does it solve a problem they have and add value to their lives? If not, nothing else you read here matters.
- Magnetic Headline
Likewise, nothing else matters if your prospective reader never makes it past the title or headline. Your content could be amazing, but if no one is compelled to invest the time to read based on a boring or vague headline, all is lost.
- Strong Opening
The purpose of the headline is to get the first sentence read, and each subsequent sentence needs to keep the reader rolling towards to the close. The momentum you create with your opening can make your job easier the rest of the way.
- Helpful Structure
- Smooth Transitions
Good writing uses transitional words and phrases to help the content read more smoothly. But good copy also uses psychological connectors to persuade and keep the reader engaged. We’ll talk more about that soon.
- Instant Understanding
Orson Scott Card once said that metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. The same is true of stories, and being highly specific facilitates understanding, holds attention, and enhances credibility in ways that general assertions cannot.
- Actionable Close
How you close a piece is determined by what you are hoping to accomplish. If you’re not sure what you’re trying to accomplish, you might ask yourself why you’re writing it at all. That actually helps you to determine whether to revamp the content or to put it out of its misery.
Now, Make it Concise
Once you’re sure that every necessary point has been included, go back and take out the unnecessary words. Your goal is to deliver the most concise writing you can for the topic, whether it be 100, 1,000 or 10,000 words. It’s that simple, and that complicated.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I’ll leave you with this:
Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~Unknown