1. Now that I have this, what else does this make possible? I call this “The Ultimate Leverage Question.” I ask it to myself all day, everyday. And it comes from Edward DeBono, who defines the movement value of an idea as, “The ability of one idea to lead to another.”
So, every time you finish writing ANYTHING, you need to ask yourself the following question: Now that I have this, what else does this piece of writing making possible? A new list? A new chapter? A new module? A new podcast? A new website? A new blog post? A new book idea? A new video clip? A new philosophy? A new area of study? A new niche market? A new program idea?
A new type of reader? A new marketing idea? A new level of thinking? A new product category? A new type of customer? A series of related modules? A new joint venture opportunity? A new reason to email a prospect? A new set of smaller sub-modules? A new reason to email a customer? A new dimension to your philosophy?
A new expanded version of an old idea? A new submission for a contest or award? A new domain of your existing philosophy? A new series to supplement your flagship program? Good writers leverage everything. Do you?
2. Package truth as nuggets. Thanks to the evil overlords at CNN & USA Today, we live in a soundbite society. And people are DYING for someone to cut out the crap and just give them the meat. They’re too busy, too self-involved and too inundated with information to remember anything beyond eight words.
So remember the secret: Meaningful Concrete Immediacy. Keep it relevant, compact and credible. Make it short, memorable and repeatable. Ooh! There’s a few soundbites right there. I should be a writer. Is the packaging of your words reflecting the cultural reality of your readers?
3. Personalize autobiographical elements without being self-indulgent. Remember that nobody cares about you. Remember non-brilliance is forgivable; but time wasting isn’t. And remember that if you’re going to tell a personal story, there HAS to be a tangible, practical; use-today takeaway that people can distill easily, quickly and obviously.
Yes, stories are powerful. Yes, stories beat statistics or quotes any day. And yes, stories are the most effective way to communicate any message. But without punctuating them with universal human experiences, immediately take-home value and/or calls to action, your stories will remain inherently impressive and interesting, yet obviously irrelevant and inapplicable. Why are you telling this story?
4. Publish thoughts and ideas that mountains of interpretation will accumulate around. This was a suggestion of Seth Godin, one of my favorite writers. And I think the key behind this strategy is to write about ideas in a way that leaves the readers with multiple dimensions to explore and add on to.
To approach your topic, expertise or school of thought in a Van Gough-esque, “no great work of art is ever finished” kind of way. The hard part is, this practice requires humility, editability and the willingness to accept new and different interpretations of ideas you’ve been writing about for years. Are you open to looking and your own ideas differently?
5. Render everything you experience. You are a writer. An artist. The authentic recorder and reporter of your own experience. And your job is to find the sentence that absolutely defines the moment. It’s part patience, part listening, part remembering and part capturing.
But once you find it – once you hear a sentence that hits you like a ton of books (i.e., “Writing is the basis of all wealth,” or “Action is the engine of credibility”) – that’s when your rendering process begins. And your life never quite returns to its original shape. This is the kind of thing that should be happening to you ALL day. What have you rendered this week?
6. Say what most people are already thinking, but say it better than they are thinking it. This was the suggestion of Scott Adams, another one of my favorite writers. “Most people don’t want to risk having their mind changed,” he said. I agree. And I think the challenge is to perfect your process.
For example, here’s my approach for writing about an old idea in a new, better way:
(1) SUMMARIZE IT: Trim the fat. Make it shorter
(2) DEMOCRATIZE IT: Extract the generic principle that applies cross industrial
(3) AWESOMEIZE IT: Make it stronger, more vivid and more vibrant
(4) ME-IZE IT: Put the stamp of my uniqueness on by using my branded language
(5) RHYTHM-IZE IT. Make it musical, melodious, singable, symmetrical
(6) BITE-IZE IT: Final delivery in an easily digestible and repeatable way.
How can you write about this idea better than anybody?
7. Serve your readers; don’t strut to them. That means don’t overwhelm readers with your knowledge. That means don’t overly cross sell your other services. That means don’t needlessly drop names of big-shot clients you worked with once and never talked to again.
And, most of all, that means don’t gratuitously use twenty-five cent words like “propinquity,” “cogitate,” and “pedagogy.” Nobody understands them and you DON’T sound like a professor – you sound like a poser who just discovered www.thesauraus.com. Does your writing leave a feeling of vanity or value in your readers’ minds?
8. Start with one true thing. That’s what Hemmingway did when he sat down to work. At the top of the page, he’d write ONE thing. One sentence. One phrase. One thought. One truth. And Ernest knew that if he did that, the rest would follow. The Italian term for this process is called un ligne dogne, and it’s a crucial element to becoming a great writer.
Personally, this process has opened up countless new worlds, philosophies and schools of thought for me. Sentences like “Consistency is far better than rare moments of greatness,” “Don’t be stopped by not knowing how,” and “Impatience is underrated” have been a few of the un ligne dognes that I’ve written at the top of blank pages, expanded upon, and changed my whole life as a result. What one true thing could YOU start with today?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
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