Start With Why + Other Writing Tips to Cut Through The Noise

Start With Why + Other Writing Tips to Cut Through The Noise

A friend of mine is a passive aggressive tweeter. You know the kind I mean, right?

“Dear Uber driver, it’s six degrees outside! What’s the deal with having all four windows open!?”

Rather than politely ask the driver to close the windows, he opts instead to make a noise on the internet during his cold, uncomfortable ride to work.

While the din often seems loudest on social media, noise abounds online in general. Everywhere you look, you see articles claiming to have “5 super fast ways to do this!” and “103 best ways to do that!”

These ideas aren’t necessarily bad. If the article delivers on its headline promise, you’ll be 103 ways better off.

Unfortunately, it’s more often than not wishy-washy clickbait. In addition to annoying the reader, this kind of content damages your reputation as a writer.

As I was drafting this post, a piece on Gorilla Marketing by Seth Godin landed in my inbox (serendipity I love you). The excerpt below offers a soberingly accurate description of the ‘noise’ I’m referring to.

“Today, because noise is everywhere, we’re all surrounded by a screaming horde, an open-outcry marketplace of ideas where the race to be heard appears to be the only race that matters. And so subtlety flies out the window, along with a desire to engage for the long haul. Just a troop of gorillas, all arguing over the last remaining banana.”

Why do you write?

If you’re a freelance writer, chances are you’re trying to turn your writing business into a money-making machine. As a blogger, perhaps your focus is more on getting your brand out there. In which case you’re likely after guest post opportunities.

In each of these cases you’re clear on what you’re getting out of the deal: money, recognition, maybe even both (if you’re lucky).

But how much consideration do you really give to what the reader is gaining from the transaction?

The world is inundated with information

According to Worldometers (a website that counts the number of blogs posts written on any given day), more than three million have been published today so far.

No wonder the human attention span has dwindled to a point where it’s lower than that of a goldfish. Although to be fair, if our finned friends had access to smartphones they’d probably be just as easily distracted (just not by cat videos).

Given how busy life is nowadays and how much harder we have to work to stay ahead, it’s understandable that we writers sometimes forget how easily distracted our readers are.

It’s not an excuse, obviously, but when the deadlines are piling up alongside the dishes and the bills, it’s bound to happen. We need to change that, but how?

The ‘adding value’ pact

It starts by making a pact with ourselves that we’re going to quit squabbling over bananas and instead engage for the long haul. No more excuses.

Let’s make a deal with our readers that from now on, we’re putting them first.

There’s a reason why good SEO practice dictates writing for humans first and search engines second. Writing for the latter may well get us to the top of page one on Google, but what’s the point if what we’ve written amounts to nothing more than keyword-littered noise?

We’re human and it’s human connection we’re after (Google’s spider bots don’t make for great coffee companions, or so I hear), so let’s focus a little more on what we can give. Approach it from that angle and the ‘what we can get’ part will take care of itself.

Start with why

For once I’m not referring to Simon Sinek’s ridiculously popular TED talk (32,658,808 views and counting). If you haven’t seen it you should absolutely set aside the next 18 minutes to rectify that.

We’ll wait.

In this instance, I’m talking about something I learnt from my ex-boss. She told me she won’t write a single word unless she’s one hundred percent clear on her ‘why.’ As an inbound marketing aficionado, she walked her talk.

Purpose is different for everyone.

For my boss, it meant ranking for a specific keyword or generating new leads. Freelance writers might be looking to land new clients or impress existing ones. Bloggers are likely focused on increasing page views or building a reputation as a thought leader in their niche.

Content is about more than purpose

My boss was on point. Purpose is key. But purpose is about more than ranking for a specific keyword or increasing page views. While certainly important, these goals are secondary to our ultimate goal of adding value.

This means writing for the sole benefit and enjoyment of our future reader. Yes, getting paid is important, as is achieving whatever other goals we may have for furthering our career. But first and foremost we should be thinking about how we can add value in a world that’s marinating in information.

When we do that, everything else will follow: money, happy clients, soaring pageviews and more. Why? When we write intentionally people will take notice, for the simple reason that it shows we give a damn.

These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves every time we sit down to write.

  • Will this help the reader?
  • Is it worth their time to read it?
  • How will it make them feel?
  • What can they do with the information?
  • Will it make them think?
  • Will it make them act?

We’ve all read something so captivating that the world around us just disappears. There’s no room for noise here, no room for anything but the words we’re so intent on absorbing. It’s a magical place to be (until you look up and realize you’ve missed your stop).

Seth Godin summed it perfectly at the end of his blog post on gorilla marketing when he said, “We don’t need more hustle. We need more care and generosity.”

When we sit down to write, that’s what we should aim for. We may well fall short of our mark, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.

Filed Under: Craft
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23 comments

  • Angela Horn says:

    You’re welcome Lionel. 🙂

  • Brenda Hill says:

    Excellent article, Angie. Many thanks for the timely reminders of what is important, and why we write.

  • Angela Horn says:

    Thanks Thomas, I’m super pleased you liked it. I also agree wholeheartedly. We need to make the effort, which means putting in the time, but if we do it’ll show in the end result! I also believe it’ll ensure readers come back for more. 🙂

  • Angela Horn says:

    Sorry Percival! I went and called you Thomas by mistake. #ptf

  • Cherry Iley says:

    Great article. I often read articles with a great headline and find the content very banal. Even with a clear ‘Why’ in writing, it seems incredibly hard to make an impression on social media.

    • Angela Horn says:

      Hi Cherry.

      Yip, totally agree. Clickbait headings followed by underwhelming body copy is unfortunately very often the norm nowadays.

      With regards to making an impression on social media, I suspect a lot comes down to timing. There is so much out there that it’s hard to stand out. 🙂

  • Erika says:

    Great article, Angela. A wise friend and writer recently reminded me that, in a world full of noise, people crave authenticity—honest stories from genuine people. We may not be able to control the noise, but we can control how we tell our own stories. It may be a slow play, but it works.

    • Angela Horn says:

      I love that Erika! 🙂

      “We may not be able to control the noise, but we can control how we tell our own stories.”

      That’s exactly how I feel about being online and sharing our stuff. Thanks!

  • Raheemah says:

    This article resonates with me so much. I have just started my writing coaching biz and I am doing 1:1 and group coaching. I have decided to help as many writers as possible to get their writing going for free for now and help them with materials they might need from me. It’s not all about money sometimes as you mentioned. Thanks for this, Angela.

  • nofluer says:

    “learnt”?
    ——-
    When the noise to signal ratio favors the noise, meaningful communication will not occur.

  • Amber Roshay says:

    Thanks for the great reminder of why we write, not what we will gain. I’m guilty of click bait posts, but I also always want to provide something useful, honest, and thought provoking.

    • Angela Horn says:

      Hi Amber

      I think if we’re honest, most of us are occasionally guilty of writing clickbait posts. I think the first step is recognizing this and then figuring out what we can do to change that! 🙂

  • I’ve written many articles for a newspaper that has folded. Now I’ve written an article very provocative; Heaven or Hell. I’m retired, a senior citizen hoping to be published and I’m not in the least interested on advertisement. Therefore, I’m ready to submit for evaluation and I’m wondering to who: potential publisher?

  • Nicholas says:

    I completely agree Angie. We all have to write to pass Information to our readers, and not make money alone.

  • Bryan Carlile says:

    Angie,
    I’ve watched the TED talk in question and found it very helpful. I think your article is on point. I write daily. I am a novelist, blogger and social media intuitive. Writing clearly is my goal. Finding the why within ourselves seems difficult, but only when we have found our own why can we share it with the world authentically.

    • Angela Horn says:

      Hi Bryan

      It’s SO true! Some time again I found myself questioning why I was running my own blog. I took some time off to figure that out and it’s much such a difference!

      It seems so simple, but in reality it’s everything. If you don’t know why you’re doing something, sooner or later you’re going to lose interest.

      Thanks for weighing in. 🙂

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