5 Keys To Powerful Writing

My grandma worked out video calls this week (apparently she’s been calling the rest of the family daily)… and she called this morning because she heard on the grape vine that she had “a new great grand pup.”

She’s all up on Messenger calls, Skype, and now she’s got a Zoom account too.

My gran is kind of my hero, actually, and not just because of the video calls.

See, my grandfather died in a tragic accident when I was just six months old — just a couple of years after they had lost their second child, my aunt, in similarly tragic circumstances.

Gran never remarried (not for a lack of options — at last count, she’s had five marriage proposals in the last 30 years, and I would bet good money there are still one or two pending).

She went back to university and got a degree in politics in her 50s. She taught herself to invest in the stock market, and has been building her wealth consistently as long as I can remember.

And even after a botched operation forced her to leave her beautiful beachside home to move into an assisted living facility, she kept a graceful, cheerful outlook.

Every time we talk, she’s made new friends, formulated critiques of all the movies she’s watched, trounced everybody at bingo, and gone for more lunches and coffees and happy hours than I have.

She goes to art exhibitions and listens to new kinds of music and is constantly reading the latest literary hits.

In short, my gran just keeps showing up.

She keeps choosing to thrive every day, despite having experienced some of the worst that life can throw at people.

When she called me this morning she said made a point of saying how marvellous it is to be able to keep each company so easily today — that just a few years ago, everyone would have been alone and afraid. Knowing that we’re all in this together helps her keep her chin up.

And now she’s leading the charge in her community to keep spirits high, to keep people talking, and to make sure no one is forgotten.

This is why she’s my hero. She’s out there sharing her energy and positivity with the people she is uniquely able to help. She’s helping her community keep an eye on the horizon, where hope is.

And she’s able to do it simply and effectively because her message is clear:

We’re all in this together. I’m here for you.

Now’s the time for all of us to keep showing up like this for the people we are uniquely able to help.

If you’re intent on showing up for your audience at this time, and becoming a leader in their eyes, there’s never been a more important time to hone your writing skills.

It can be hard to know where to even start ‘showing up’ when things are as weird as they are right now.

But compelling, clear communication is the best way to keep people paying attention to you, even when there’s so much distraction going on.

You can write about what you’re working on, ideas you’ve had during this period, what you’re planning for the future, specific ways you can help them, or even just reach out to see how they’re doing.

But no matter what you choose, there are 5 key elements to powerful writing:

1. Lead with story.
Everything is easier to understand when you learn it through a story. Humans are story machines: we teach children about the world through stories, we describe our lives through stories, and we make sense of the universe through stories. If you can open your piece of writing with a story, you’ll have a much easier time getting your readers to stick with you.

2. Say what you mean, as precisely as possible.
Keep your writing simple. Be precise. English is a massive language — we have one of the biggest vocabularies of any language in the world, which means you can be extremely specific. Specificity gives your writing intensity and clarity. It also means you’re far less likely to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Clarity is one of the most important tools you can use to get and keep people’s attention.

3. Tie everything together with a golden thread.
What I call a ‘golden thread’, others call a through-line or a narrative theme. This is the unifying idea that runs all the way through your piece of writing. Writing tends to be much more impactful when you focus on a single idea, instead of trying to cram lots of different messages into a single piece. Pick one idea, and be relentless in cutting away distracting tangents.

4. Get your information hierarchy right.
Information hierarchy is missing from a lot of advice about writing, but it’s critical, and I believe it’s the ‘X factor’ that separates great writers from everyone else.

The ability to organise your information in the most intuitive, engaging sequence requires empathy, theory of mind and flexible thinking. When the information hierarchy is right, it’s seamless: you don’t notice it at all, because the narrative just flows.

But when it’s wrong, it’s so obvious: the narrative is confusing, you have to double back to make sure you understand things, and you find yourself skimming ahead to see if anything will help you get to grips with what the writer is trying to say. Think carefully about what your reader needs to know, in which order, to really absorb your message and take the actions you want from them.

5. Stick the landing.  
To stick the landing is to emulate those Olympic gymnasts, who, after performing unbelievable stunts in the air, land perfectly, with not so much as a wobble.

Paraphrasing the poet T.S. Eliot, you want to go out with a bang, not with a whimper. The final part of your piece of writing should be urgent, a moment of intensity that grabs your reader by the collar, and propels them into action.

You can do that by calling on them to be part of of something greater than themselves, by ending on an uplifting and inspirational note, or by inviting them to take action in a way that serves them.