I feel all sorts of pressure writing this post. How can I possibly review a book about how to be a better writer without second guessing every word I type?
Like many people, I have set myself some goals for 2015, one of which is to write more. At the moment, I write when I find the time, rather than finding the time to write. Typically it’s around something topical, something I’ve experienced or something I have witnessed others experience.
This, however, is a narrow view of the extent of my writing. As the title suggests, everybody does write, in many forms, for many different reasons. If I consider everything I write, it covers emails, social updates, blog posts, business cases, web copy and the list goes on. But underpinning all of this are principles that don’t change.
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs, and her second book (the first being the fantastic Content Rules, written with CC Chapman), is a masterclass in the written word – part framework, part high school English refresher, and all motivation to make you want to write better.
This truly is a book that every marketer, social media manager, media type and student needs to have. While I was reading it, I could feel myself deconstructing everything I remembered or had learned over the years, and rebuilding around the frameworks laid out.
No matter what it is you want to improve, it’s covered. Ann breaks the book up into a number of parts, although a smart reader will go cover to cover. Part one broadly sets out the writing rules, a set of guidelines to reframe your thinking on how to write well. The most important part of this is giving you permission to not get it perfect right away, and to understand that there is a process that every writer goes through.
Part Two is where everything you (hopefully) learned in English class at school comes flooding back, understanding sentence structure and proper grammar. And some rules you can break (see what I did there?).
Perhaps the section I found most interesting covers the ins and outs of publishing. Given the tools of creation are so freely available now, everyone is a publisher. With that comes risk – in ethics, sources, fact checking etc. Being able to navigate this part of the process is valuable, in a time where trust and reputation are everything.
From here, it gets into specifics around the different forms a marketer may need to write for, and an invaluable list of content tools, which I think is worth the cover price alone.
I was lucky enough to have Ann answer a few questions about the book and content creation and marketing:
With the growth of content marketing over the last few years, do you think the pressure to “always be creating” plays a part in the quality of the output?
Publishing is a privilege. Many brands jumped into content marketing without fully grokking as much — so much of the content they created lacked a critical respect for the audience. With freedom comes responsibility — to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt. And it seems to me that many companies and organizations are embracing that responsibility to their audience along with the freedom to publish. Or maybe I’m just optimistic. 🙂
I see a generational gap in creating quality written content, in that younger marketers talk about it but struggle with the written word at times because of their media use and consumption. Do you think some of the rules of writing, as you outline them in the book, have been lost in a world of fast, short communication?
I’m not sure I agree with that characterization of younger marketers. I think the ability to write well has less to do with age than it does an understanding of the opportunity that technology has afforded content marketers and businesses more generally. Very often, younger people get that more directly than others — but not exclusively.
The “writing rules” in the book are really more of a call to arms for us all to communicate more simply, directly, and with empathy for the people we are trying to reach. I don’t think that’s specific to any age group, or any number of years of experience.
I see this book very much as a companion to Content Rules, which to me provided the why and what of content creation, whereas this is very much the how. Was that the intent?
I like that. It wasn’t exactly the intent — but you’re right in that they both build on each other. The world didn’t need another content marketing book — many excellent ones already exist. With Everybody Writes, I set you to give business a useful writing guide framed for a content marketing age — whether that content is a blog post or a white paper or the story around an Instagram photo. So yes, I wanted to offer how-to instruction in a fun, accessible way — because I think our writing can be fun… and it should be a differentiator for any company.
As I said at the beginning of this post, this really is one of the best books any content creator can have. I highly recommend getting a copy – and carrying it with you wherever you find the time to write.
Big thanks to Ann for taking the time to answer my questions for the review.