The best writers are also designers.
As many of you know, I teach business writing at the University of Maryland. The first presentation I deliver each semester is short and simple; the whole deck is 11 slides.
What can I convey in such limited space? It’s a mantra I repeat throughout the course, which I suspect that most of my students can recall well afterward: How your work looks can be as important as what it says.
In other words: To excel at writing, you need to master both form and function, both style and substance. You need to think visually.
Four tactics when your op-ed pitch elicits crickets.
For 15 years, I’ve been writing and pitching op-eds. Here are the most memorable and useful lessons I’ve learned over the years — the hard way:
Always have a conversation before you provide your price.
Recently, a prospective client emailed me. The subject line of her message said it all: “Need a Media Trainer.”
As someone who delivers media-training workshops, I was delighted. So we scheduled a call.
Ten minutes into the conversation, however, it turned out that she didn’t want a workshop on how to talk with reporters. She wanted a workshop on how to talk with an audience. In other words, she wanted a presentation trainer.
To her, the difference was a mere nuance. To me, these were two entirely different topics. Sure, they were related and there was some overlap, but only in the same way that Fiat and Ferrari are both cars.
One for human beings and laymen; the other for search engines and insiders.
One of the greatest daily struggles faced by every professional, in every field, is to resist the allure of argot. That is, we think it’s easier and quicker to use jargon than it is to spell out and explain what a familiar word means.
This idea is hard to argue with, especially when we’re writing for people who are as knowledgeable about the given topic as we are. Yet even in those esoteric cases, it’s often better to use plain language.
This principle is particularly important when it comes to headlines, or titles. In general, your headline should speak to the public; you want to avoid insiderism. Let me explain by way of an article from last week’s Time magazine.
Every writer must also be a businessman. Here’s a simple trick to sharpen your savvy.
Seasoned ghostwriters know a secret: Writing is the easy part. It’s everything else — from researching to revising — which consumes most of our time.
And yet, the one thing that would dramatically reduce our labor is the one thing we’re often reluctant to do. Lest we be perceived as overly inquisitive or insufficiently independent, we hesitate to ask a critical question upfront: “How many people will need to approve this text”?
These nine simple words matter for one simple reason: The more people you need to please, the more your writing will become a game of Whac-a-Mole.
Most freelancers fail. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.
For a freelancer, time is money, so let me be frank: Freelancing is tough.
It’s tough from a financial perspective: You’re always hustling, and you eat only what you kill.
It’s tough from a psychological perspective: You don’t get a paycheck every two weeks, nor do you get to socialize with colleagues in an office.
And it’s tough from a productivity perspective: You have to be maximally disciplined and organized without a boss holding you accountable.
Don’t get me wrong — working for yourself can be deeply fulfilling. But before you try to realize your long-deferred dream, ask yourself if any of these constraints is a deal-breaker?
Want to make your op-ed pitch-worthy? Then make sure you address these four essential elements.
As a ghostwriter, I’m often asked to draft op-eds. Yet contrary to what you might think, writing is the easy part; it’s the other stuff that’s hard.
Perhaps the hardest part is what happens even before I set pen to paper. For example, it’s one thing to have a great idea; it’s another to convey that passion with precision.
So the next time someone asks for help with an op-ed, take a step back and first address the following four issues. (If you’re feline-friendly, you can remember this formula as “CATS.”)
One tiny tweak can make a big difference.
Whenever I deliver my workshop on LinkedIn, I always encounter pushback on the same point: How to write your headline on the social network.
What’s a LinkedIn headline? It’s the line directly under your name — on your individual profile page, in the sidebar of people similar to you, and in search results. After your name and headshot, it’s the thing that people view most.
Yet most people fail to exploit this opportunity. Instead, they fall back on LinkedIn’s default settings, which copy and paste your job title and employer into this critical field.
Résumés should show off your skills, not shotgun them.
In writing a résumé, many people include a “skills” section. Here, they cram together “hard” skills, such as programming languages or software, and “soft” skills, such as “conflict resolution” or “adaptability.”
Let me be frank: This is a waste of space. Instead of ticking off vague notions like “Excel” or “Photoshop,” tell your audience how you used these programs. Get specific.
A tale of two emails.
Sometimes an email is just an email. Other times, it’s an X ray of someone’s character. Here’s a perfect example of the difference.
Recently, a friend emailed me. He asked if I would forward the résumé of a friend of his to my clients that have intern programs. I did so happily.
Both people I emailed replied within a few hours (after all, they work at PR agencies). Yet while they basically said the same thing — “You’re too late” — the tones they used were strikingly divergent. Here’s what they wrote: