What are the secrets to great writing?

What are the secrets to great writing?

Do you want to write better? Put words together with more power, more finesse? Read on to discover the secrets to great writing . . .

What is the secret to great writing?

Okay, I’ve written about this before, but I never feel like I get my point across. So here ‘goes again. All truly great writing (and any form of communication or advertising for that matter) shares one common denominator:  It tells the truth.

That’s it. That’s the secret.

But what does this mean? How do you tell the truth—aren’t most of us already doing that?

Telling the truth is quite simple, and no, most of us aren’t doing it. Because when you tell the truth, you resist the temptation to say what you think people want to hear and instead tell what really happened and what you really want, even if it’s not pretty.

For example, a few years ago Domino’s pizza told the truth. The truth was that their pizza sucked, and everyone knew it. So, they launched an ad campaign and admitted it. And then they told everyone how they were going to change. Their pizzas now taste 100% better, and their stock is worth many times more than it was. All this never would have happened if they hadn’t faced some hard truths and then told them.

So, start telling the truth, and start making a difference.

What is the most important technique in writing?

Some say the secret to success is hard work, while others say it’s making a habit of doing what failures don’t want to do. Still others say it’s a magic formula of luck, persistence, and hard work.

I agree with all of those, but I want to add that the secret to success is about dealing with specifics.

A wise man (Thomas S. Monson) once said, “When we deal in generalities, we rarely have a success, but when we deal in specifics, we rarely have a failure.”

Think about that: general actions or plans often are weak, fuzzy, unfocused, and almost never work, whereas specific plans have force, power, and often reach their target.

As a writer, I deal in words, which are specific.

To write well, I have also found that I have to follow rules of good writing. Break them, and my writing suffers. Follow them, and my writing gets better.

Look at your writing. Do you deal in specifics? Do you use concrete details? Or do you make weak, vague statements and generalizations? Be bold and specific in what you write, and then watch the magic happen.

Remember, until you start to deal with specifics, you’ll be adrift in a sea of generalities.

What is the one best way to improve my writing instantly?

“When you want to help people, you tell the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”

Amen to that.

The way to improve your writing instantly is to make sure you are always telling the truth.

There’s more to improving your writing than that of course, but telling the truth is the start. Because when you fail to tell the truth, your writing loses focus, it becomes bland, and it never touches on what really matter, what you really care about.

Tell the truth, and watch your writing improve—instantly.

What is the most important part of writing?

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”—John 8:32

The truth is a funny thing. Everyone thinks they have a corner on it, but with so many conflicting notions of the truth, it’s obvious that we can’t all be right. When it comes to matters of taste, however, there is no one, central truth. So, if you prefer the color green while I prefer blue, neither of us is right or wrong.

But the truth is different.

Because if you contend that the earth is flat or that viruses don’t cause disease, then we have a problem. Such things can be scientifically proven, and no matter how much you insist otherwise, you will run afoul of the truth. So no, the earth isn’t flat, and yes, viruses and bacteria cause many diseases. And yet, many in the US—and the world—claim otherwise.


But the truth, as often displayed in scientific fact, is unforgiving. For instance, if you add chlorine to ammonia, you will release lethal chlorine gas. Always. My father’s cousin unwittingly did this once and almost died.

Now, embracing lies isn’t against the law, but it does have consequences, none of them good. So do yourself, and the world, a favor. Look truth straight in the eye and embrace it.

It might just set you free.

What is the secret to success in writing?

When I returned from my LDS mission many years ago, I had something I had lacked before:


I had learned how to set goals, prioritize my activities, and focus, focus, focus.

My GPA before my mission? A middling 2.7-ish. Meh.

My GPA after my mission? A much-improved 3.75.

Not straight As, but clearly a marked improvement. That’s what focus did for me.

Now, you don’t need to be a missionary to learn to focus (though it certainly helped me). But if you want to improve your writing, or write a good book—something I know a little about—your writing, and you, need to have focus.

At a minimum, your book needs to have:

  • A specific audience (everyone and anyone on the planet is too broad)
  • A specific topic or theme (don’t write about how to get rich; write instead about how to invest in a certain type of stock, for instance)
  • Concrete examples and stories to illustrate your points (stories are king at communicating messages)
  • A unique title that states what your book is all about

Sounds simple, right?

And yet, many bland and unfocused books get written every year.

Too often, when people write nonfiction books, especially business books, they try to say everything to everyone, but instead they end up saying only a little to almost no one.

So, write a focused book so that you say what you want to say to the people you want to say it to.

Why is writing hard?

You don’t want to write a book. Not really. Books are hard to write. They require time, effort, and—worst of all—thought. There are thousands and thousands (millions?) of books written yearly. And most of them, well, a lot of them, could have stayed unwritten.

Very few become bestsellers. Even fewer become classics.

But every once in a while, someone writes a book that actually helps others, that actually makes a difference. So, if you are going to write a book and take on all that work and effort, please do us a favor: Make sure you’re saying something that can help others.

Because when you leave your ego behind and tell the truth, great things happen.

What is the one best tip to improve my writing?

“Words, words, words.”—Hamlet, Act II, Sc II

Words are funny things. Use too many, and your sentence loses its punch. Use too few—or the wrong words—and your meaning evaporates. While we were growing up, our teachers taught us spelling and the difference between a noun and a verb. That’s all well and good, but now that we’re adults, we need to up our game—in all areas.

Let me explain.

Recently, I was attempting to sway a potential client to hire me.

I stressed my process and follow-through and expertise, but I missed a chance to tell her the main reason I’m different: I strive for excellence in every word, every sentence. Striving for excellence in writing may seem like overdoing it, but I regularly read prose that just misses the mark.

It’s either a little (or a lot) too wordy with sentences that lack clarity, or the writer used a good word when a better word was available. Sad, really, because the difference between good writing and great writing is small. But the impact that great writing can have is enormous.

So, whether you’re hiring a plumber or a web designer or a wordsmith, try to see if they strive for excellence. This striving should be evident in all they do, which is a shorthand way to say that you’ll know it when you see it.

Because you owe yourself excellence—in every word.

Does it matter which word I use?

Believe it or not, words are sacred. Words have power. Using just words, you can start wars or end wars, ruin friendships or save friendships, inspire or demean, and teach as well as deceive. So, watch what you say, and watch how you say it. Also, you need to use words sparingly.


Often, the more words you use to say something, the less impact you have. This is why no one remembers the hours-long speech that was given before Lincoln gave his rather brief Gettysburg Address.

So, yes, Abraham Lincoln understood words and their power, and how to use them.

Want to know more about words and their power? Let’s talk.

What is the one biggest way to improve my writing?

“Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, . . . But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be. ”―Brenda Ueland

“Remember that you own what happened to you. . . . Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”―Anne Lamott

“If you expect to succeed as a writer, . . . . The least of [your concerns] should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”―Stephen King

Today’s topic? Tell the truth when you write, which is the absolute foundation to all good writing.

This means telling us things as they really are to you, not as how you hope they should be.

Why is telling the truth so important? Because to become adults we all learned to lie: for convenience, to get along, etc. But when you write, you must break that habit. And for your writing to be worth anything at all, it must say what you really mean, even if that shocks, startles, or upsets others.

Oh well.

But when you do, your writing will finally speak for you. And it will be interesting. And it will matter.

So just tell the truth.

Tips to make your writing more powerful

There is a time for every season, as the Bible says. In other words, there is a time to be short (and sweet) when writing and speaking. And there is a time to write, and speak, a little longer.

It was Voltaire, I believe, who apologized at the end of a long letter to a friend that he wished he could have written a shorter letter, but alas, he just didn't have the time. In other words, being concise and succinct takes work, and it takes time.

Trust me, as a technical writer for over 18 years, I know. But there is a time to expound and expand, too. Just know when to do both, which is the trick.

Tips to improve your writing today

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–‘tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”—Mark Twain

Often, we fail to appreciate the power of words, especially to move others.

To me, words become powerful when they, 1) hit their target, and 2) are used sparingly.

Regarding the first, words hit their target best when they refer to ordinary objects. For example,

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”—Winston Churchill

Regarding using words sparingly, be aware that there are several facets.

First, use shorter, simpler words. Again, read Winston Churchill:

“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

At the same time, don’t be afraid to repeat key words to make your point, like Churchill:

“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the hard may be; for without victory there is no survival.”

So, there you have it. Keep your writing direct and simple, and don’t be afraid to repeat key words.

And if you do all this, you may even move others to action.

If not, at least they’ll understand what you’re saying.

How can I tell what word to use?

As a ghostwriter and business writer, I love sharing writing tips.

Today’s tip? English has two powerful voices—use both when you write. What the heck am I talking about?

Just this: The English language has two main influences (among many) for its words.

First, its main everyday words, like you, me, pig, horse, cat, etc., come mostly from its Germanic roots.

Second, English’s more esoteric, flowery words tend to come from French (and Latin), like many longer words and those ending in –tion.

I love English because it marries the short, blunt words from its Germanic origins to the longer, more flowery words from French and Latin.

The result makes English the most powerful language in the world, in my opinion.

So, to write well and make an impression, mostly use shorter words and simpler phrases while spicing up your writing with a few longer, more esoteric words, when appropriate.

Try it; you’ll like it!

Why is good writing hard work?

Good writing comes from clear thinking, which means that it’s hard work. Rewriting is hard work too, sometimes even harder than writing something the first time.

Thus, when a potential client wants me to perform a heavy edit on their already-written book, I do one simple task: I take one of the first pages of their book and revise it as if it were already my project, and then I present it to them before we move forward.

Doing this yields two benefits:

1) It tells me how much work I’ll have to do on their manuscript (so I can better judge how much work I’ll have to do and what to charge).

2) It tells my potential client what to expect when I work on their book.

Again, I do this only for books that need heavy, developmental editing.

If the potential client hates what I did, then we have avoided potential problems that would have come up after I had gotten started.

If they love it, then we move forward.

You see, I don’t want my clients to be surprised by what I did to their writing, nor do I want to find out that my client doesn’t really want me to work on their book—they just wanted someone to rubber stamp it and tell them it’s great, for instance.

Writing is hard work, and I want my clients to be able to see that work when they look at a small before and after sample.

What is another great secret to writing well?

Dealing in generalities gets us nowhere. Working with specifics is the way to go.

When I write book proposals for my clients (a book proposal is used to sell a book idea to a publisher), I try to be as specific as I can.

For instance, instead of saying, “The author has an extensive social network,” we list their various social networks and the number of likes, friends, followers, and/or connections. And instead of merely listing the author’s website, we provide detailed statistics about the number of site visitors, how long they stay, the bounce rate, etc.

Being specific can improve your writing and speaking, too. When you want to make a point, use specific examples or stories to support your point. When you do, you help your reader understand your point, even if they don’t agree.

And when it comes to setting goals, you are much more likely to achieve specific, measurable goals than generic ones. Thus, setting a goal to lose 15 pounds in thirty days by cutting out added sugar is better than a generic goal to just lose weight.

Thus, the more specific, measurable, and quantifiable a goal or a task is, the more likely you’ll achieve it, especially when it comes to writing.

Specifics rule.

How do I know if my book is publishable?

Clients often ask me if their book idea is publishable. While I can give them my best guess or ask my agent what she thinks, no one really knows what will sell, not even publishers or agents.

Instead, what my clients should be asking is, “How can I improve my book/book idea?”

Because in the end, the best books, those that sell for years, have good ideas and are well-executed (we’re talking nonfiction, but this can apply to fiction too).

You see, every day, lots of mediocre books get pushed out the door, many written by people with famous names. Sometimes those books sell (in spite of themselves), and sometimes they don’t.

But every once in a while, a book from a new author comes out and rocks the marketplace. Almost always, that book is well-written and relays its info in a new and authentic way. Rather than a retread of old information, the breakout book tells us something new.

So here it is: despite what some slick marketers may say, that only packaging and promotion matter, what matters most and what matters first is quality. Therefore, no matter what you do, do it with integrity and strive for quality.

And then watch good things happen.

If you still have questions or want to know more about how to write well, fill out the form below:

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