When you learn to write like you talk to your friends, you stop getting blocked
In a blog post from 2011, Seth Godin famously pointed out: ‘No one ever gets talker’s block.’ He goes on to argue that writer’s block should be equally uncommon because we shouldn’t be any more afraid of making mistakes in writing than we are in speech.
While I disagree with his suggestion that we should all write badly in public until we learn to write better (instead, write badly and then fix it before hitting publish!), he’s right about how easy most of us find it to talk about what we do.
Why is writing harder than talking?
When you compare writing and talking you find a lot of similarities. Both use language to communicate ideas and feelings to other humans. One of the big differences is our sense of the audience.
When you’re talking to a friend or even a new acquaintance at a networking event, you know who’s listening. But when you write a blog post, it just sits on your website. You don’t know for sure who’s reading it.
This uncertainty makes writing harder. Yet we all know that as readers, we prefer to read something that feels like the author is writing or speaking directly to us.
I don’t think it helps for writing coaches to keep telling their clients to write the way they speak. It’s not quite that simple.
How can you make it easier?
You could try finding a dictation app that is reasonably accurate and speak your posts into that. For some writers, this works brilliantly because you really are writing like you talk to your friends. For others, and I’m among them, it feels weird to talk to a machine.
I find it helpful to keep my ideal reader in mind. While I hope lots of people read my blog posts, I write them to one, imaginary, person.
If you’re thinking this sounds an awful lot like your ideal client avatar (ICA), it is; but it’s also more than that. When marketing people ask you to develop your ICA, you list her desires, her pain points, and some demographic details.
I’ve never come away from an ICA development session feeling like I really know my client. To fix this problem, I’ve applied what I know about literature – particularly about characterisation.
Characterisation is the construction of a fictional character. So, if you approach developing your understanding of your ideal reader the same way a novelist would approach the development of a character, you’ll end up with an ideal reader that feels more real and relatable than any ICA.
To do this, you need to go further than the ICA development exercises you’re used to. In addition to asking yourself what your ideal reader wants, what she fears, and what solutions she needs from you, you need to figure out who she is.
How you go about doing this depends on your preferences and personality. You could paste pictures of her living and working environments, food, clothes, friends, and family into a Word document or pin them in a private board on Pinterest. If you prefer words to images, you could also describe where and how she lives, works, and so on. All of these things are part of the setting in which she lives.
Exercise: Understanding who your ideal reader is
Once you have the setting figured out, you need to understand her feelings and personality. Start with a simple exercise of making a few lists. What does she read, watch, and listen to (music and podcasts)? Then take this further and spend some time writing about questions like these:
- Did she vote in the last election? If so, for whom?
- Does she practice a religion? Which one/if not, why not?
- How does she feel about major political issues? – Brexit, Trump’s second impeachment, …
- How does she feel about major social justice issues? – Black Lives Matter, Women’s rights, Trans rights, …
- How does she feel about herself? Is she happy with her body? Does she see herself as smart and capable, or is she always worried she’s not good enough?
- How does she feel about her relationships?
- How did she get to where she is now? What obstacles has she overcome? What are her achievements?
- What was her childhood like? How does she now feel about the people who were around when she was growing up?
Now that you’ve got a better understanding of your ideal reader, try writing a letter to her about your latest offer. Is it easier to find the words? Keep working on it – as your relationship with your ideal reader develops, it will get easier to write to her.
If you need some help with this, sign up for my Get to Know Your Reader workshop.
[…] How to write like you talk to your friends […]
[…] Once you've figured out in broad terms who your reader is, you'll need to spend some time getting to know them. For help doing that, click the button below to have a look at a post I wrote a while back called "How to write like you talk to your friends". […]