Book:  Everybody Writes

Author:  Ann Handley

Purchase:  Print eBookAudiobook

Citation:  Handley, A. (2014). Everybody writes : your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking. Writing with a narrative structure rather than relying on messaging by numbers or bullet points also pushes people to think through problems within a fuller context. (pg. 4)

  • We're tempted to think that writing is an art, that only an anointed lucky few can do it well. But that's an excuse. The trust is that the key to being a better writer is, essentially, to be a more productive one. The key to being a better writer is to write. Simply set aside time each day when you're freshest. I'd consider writing first thing in the morning, before distractions hijack your day. Don't write a lot, just write often. Consider spending 30 minutes a day every day of the week, especially when you're just getting started. (pg. 17)

  • Much of writing paralysis is the result of expecting too much of ourselves the first time out. Sewing letters onto the page and expecting something strong and powerful and fully formed to emerge is unrealistic. Very often, the people you think of as good writers are terrible writers on their first drafts. But here's the secret - they are excellent editors of their work. Embrace the ugliness of the first draft. As painful and depressing as it might be to write badly - at least you're writing, you're getting the mess out of your head and onto the screen or paper. Then, when you get back to it you can start shaping it into something more respectable. Recognize that brilliance comes on the rewrite. (pg. 41)

Other Key Ideas:

  • Feeling stuck? Simply walk away. Put some time between your first draft and your second draft. You might not always have the luxury of a long break, so work with what you got. At least try to get out of the building. (pg. 31)

  • Good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It isn't self-indulgent. Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they're reading a piece, and it answers them. (pg. 44)

  • Revisiting a first draft to rework and rewrite it doesn't sound like much fun, does it? It sounds like drudgery. But it's not really, because there's a kind of freedom to it. You've already done the hard part of setting down the words. Now comes the easier part of distilling it to its essence. Revising is my favorite part of writing - because it's when I do the creative, fun part of writing. To me the first draft feels like pure ball-and-chain drudgery. The editing is where you get to make some merry. (pg. 51)

  • At the beginning of a piece, many of us take too long to delve into the topic. We offer too much setup and background. In other words, we take a metaphorical running start on a page - before getting to the real starting point. It's a great way to warm up a topic, but in most cases I got back and erase the running start, covering up my tracks completely and getting to the key point more directly. (pg. 56)

  • In general, the best web writing uses: Shorter paragraphs, uses shorter sentences, and uses straightforward words. So: use bulleted numbers or lists, highlight key points, use subheadings, add visual elements, and use lots of white space to give your text room to breathe. (pg. 79)

  • It's tempting to push through writing in order to finish a piece so you can be done with it and move on. But it can be useful to leave something undone - to give you reason to start again the next day. I like to end a writing session when things are going well and not when I'm sucking wind, so the next time I pick up that writing I have some momentum carrying me into it. Doing so gives me a place to start - which increases the likelihood of an actual start. (pg. 84)

  • Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there'll always be better writers than you and there'll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that - but you are the only you. (pg. 129)

  • As you think of ways to tell your story, consider that the way you tell it doesn't have to be original to the whole world. Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation. So look at what other people or organizations are doing - sometimes, even those outside of business entirely. (pg. 135)

  • Look at the news cycle for opportunities to become part of developing trends and events. Timing is key here, because it's important to catch a news story just as it's developing, not as it's dying. Look for timely and fun twists on popular culture - content moments that can be identified and seized. (pg. 147)

  • Ideally, you will create the citations as you write. It's surprisingly easy to forget what content was your own original work and what you sourced...if you let too many hours creep in between the writing and the citing. (pg. 165)

  • What if you discover unauthorized use of your own content? Here are steps to take: 1) Send the site owner a written correspondence (email) letting him or her know you've discovered the use and that you'd like it taken down. 2) If no action is taken, your next step is to have an attorney draft a cease-and-desist letter that explains the law of copyright. 3) If the owner ignores your attorney's letter, you have a few options: Litigation, contact the host company, report to Google. (pg. 172)

  • Copyright infringement cases come down to four things: 1) The purpose of the use (commercial vs. nonprofit), 2) The nature of the copyrighted work, 3) The amount of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and 4) the effect of the use upon the value of the copyrighted work. (pg. 174)

  • When citing online, provide all the information you possibly can so that your readers can find the book. Also, avoid using too much of the source information in your post. I'd probably make an effort to include details like full title, publication date, and publisher. (pg. 175)

  • Ideal length guidelines for marketing: Blog Posts - 1500 words; Email Subject Line - 50 characters; Paragraph - 4 lines or less; Story Description - 155 characters (max); Facebook Post - 100 - 140 characters; Tweets - 120 to 130 characters. (pg. 184)

  • Best times to post: Twitter & Facebook: Monday - Thursday 1:00 - 4:00pm; Wednesday at 3:00pm is best; Worst: Any time before 8:00am and after 8:00pm and weekends; The half life of a post on Twitter is 2.8 hours. (pg. 209)

  • Keep emails short and to the point. Remember, most of your readers are probably viewing their email on a mobile device with a limited screen view. Emails with 41 characters and 7 words seems to be the ideal email subject length. (pg. 219)

  • When writing headlines: Create a curiosity gap, promise what you're going to deliver, place your reader directly into the headline, test, use numbers, and use lively words. (pg. 236)

  • Writing better blog posts: Keep headlines tight (4-5 words), include a graphic, time it well, use bullets and numbered lists, be consistent, and experiment to see what works. (pg. 254)

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