Class Introduction: Why Your Writing is Falling Flat
Today we're gonna be talking about how to take your writing from good to great. We're gonna be talking about all kinds of writing because whether you're writing a book, whether you're writing a blog, whether you're writing an email, whether you're writing a presentation or a speech, anything that you write can be made better. In my work as a book coach, I see words everyday. I see a lot of words everyday in a lot of different contexts and presentations. There's really nothing that can't be made better. What an editor does, which is what I am, is take that writing from good to great. There's specific skills that you can learn and use no matter what you're writing to do that, to amp up your writing. I want to go through those with you so that you can take anything that you're writing and make it better. Who doesn't wanna be better? We all want to be better. So what we're gonna do is first of all, go through what makes writing fall flat. That's the thing that we're trying to avoid because...
when a reader, and you guys are all readers so you know what this is like. When you read something that's just sort of flat, it just, that's just the best description for it. It's just sorta like, it doesn't grab you. It doesn't transport you. It doesn't move you. It's just sorta there. It turns out that there are things that are in writing to make it fall flat. It's not just because. They're actual things that we can look at to improve. A lot of the times, our writing is filled with jargon. That's a thing that has just, once you're an adult and you're in the world and you're in an industry, you've got jargon. You've got words that you know that nobody else knows that are shorthand. We gotta look at jargon. A lot of us default to the rules that we learn like grammar rules. I find that a lot of us actually default to fourth or fifth grade, actually (laughs). I think those are the grammar years. We have these things in our head. Things have to be this certain way. There's this rule. My teacher will get mad at me if I don't follow this rule. Those rules often prevent us from being authentic and from amping up our writing. We wanna look at how to get outta that mindset. Then there's a logic to really good writing that we want to look at as well. So those are some of the things that we're gonna go through. We're talking about why your writing falls flat. I'm gonna take you through an email that is an actual email that I received. It's gonna illustrate what I'm talking about when I say that all of these things creep into our writing that cause it to be not great. Here is the letter, I'm gonna read it to you. Dear Jennie, I follow your work and think you are brilliant. That's a great opening, right? (laughter) Tell me that I'm brilliant, bring it on. At this point, I'm thinking, okay, I'll read this email. Then this writer goes on. I'm a firm believer that as leaders, our stories have the power to inspire millions and make a big difference in the world. I'm hosting a unique online event for creative leaders called "Write Your True Story: How to Use Your Story" "to Grow Your Business, Inspire Millions," "and Leave a Legacy." I think your energy and your authenticity are a perfect fit for the subject and audience I'll be attracting. I would love to feature your work and help others become more empowered about writing their true stories and using it to be more expansive. When I read that and when you hear that, I don't know about you but I sorta think, okay, to me, this feels very flat. It did not get my attention. I did not accept this invitation. It felt to me just sorta meh. I wanna go through and say why that is really specifically. I'm a firm believer that as leaders. My question is as leaders of what? What does that even mean? I don't know, leaders of businesses, of people, of movements? I don't know. Our stories have the power. What stories? What stories are we talking about here? Are we talking about novels? Are we talking about memoir? Are we talking about the stories of our business? I don't know what that means. Have the power to inspire millions. Millions of what? Millions of people? I don't think I actually have the power to inspire. I need to know what I'm inspiring. What kind of people? We've talked about that in these writing classes all week. You've gotta know who you're speaking to. Millions of people doesn't mean anything to me. Make a big difference in the world. That sounds great but what does that mean? What kind of difference? In what world? Everybody wants to make a big difference in the world. You can see that just the first sentence is full of vague words and phrases and jargon. It's just sorta is nothing. It's just sorta air. Then we go on into the description of this program. I don't know what a true story means. (laughs) Grow your business, inspire millions, and leave a legacy. My reaction I wrote down here was seriously, all that? All that? Grow your business, inspire millions, and leave a legacy. Who doesn't want that? Everybody wants that. But there's so many ways that you could do those things. It's so big and it's so diffuse that it ends up meaning nothing. The whole letter to me was filled with this. The line that this email started out with was telling me that I was brilliant. I was like, thank you, that's so lovely. But it turns out that this person doesn't really know who I am or what I do. They're saying, I think your energy and authenticity are a perfect fit for the subject and audience I'll be attracting. To me, that means they don't have any idea who I am or what I do. That's just generic words. Your energy and authenticity. That's not real. That's not right. That's not something. In contrast, I have had some emails and tweets and Facebook messages from some of the students in the Creative Live classes that I've been teaching who have said something really specific about a thing they learned from me or that they didn't know or that raised them up. It doesn't matter how their email is written or if it's full of grammar mistakes or whatever. I don't care about that but say something real. Say something authentic. That whole thing just goes on to be flat. That's what I mean, it's just flat. It's not great. If you're a writer, no matter what you're writing, your work has to be great to get through the noise, to get peoples' attention. You can't write like this if you want to have an impact in any way. What we wanna do is figure out how do we not write like this? Probably this is the type of draft that we all do the first time we sit down, no matter what we're writing. They're things in our head that we assume are in other peoples' head. The whole work of a writer is to get what's out of your head onto the page. That's the whole work of a writer. It sounds really easy, right? You just sit down at your keyboard. It comes from your head and comes out your hands and it's on the page. There's this whole translation process that is happening when we do that that we've gotta get our arms around so that we can do some great writing. I love this quote from Desmond Tutu, Bishop Desmond Tutu. He says, "Don't raise your voice," "improve your argument." I think that is so powerful. When we're talking about revising and making our writing great, this is the same thing. You don't have to use bigger words. You don't have to write more words. You don't have to know anything. You have to improve your argument. All writing is a kind of argument, it really is. Even if you're writing middle-grade fiction about dragons, you're making a kind of argument about dragons and about the world and about fantasy and imagination and all of that. We're all, in some ways, making an argument when we write, no matter what we write. That's the framework that we're gonna work in today.
For most professionals, writing is a major part of their work. Every day they write emails, cover letters, presentations, proposals, speeches and memos—all of which are needed to accomplish a specific goal. But if the writing is flat, fuzzy and unfocused, chances are the piece won’t have the desired impact.
What makes writing truly effective? It’s not about the grammar, word choices or sentence structure. It’s about being able to step back from the work and think like an editor. In this class, book and writing coach Jennie Nash will teach you the five key self-editing skills you need to take any piece of writing from good to great.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
- Figure out why your writing is falling flat.
- Build revision into your writing process.
- Take off your writer’s hat to assess the big picture.
- Get into your reader’s head.
- Test the logic of your argument.
- Consider issues of voice, pacing and authority.
- Listen to your words as if they were a song on the radio.