If you intend to write a book about writing, you certainly must practice what you preach. And if you intend to break the rules (like starting a sentence with the word and,) you must preach that it’s okay to do so.
If Ann Handley is the preacher, then consider Everybody Writes the Sermon on the Content Mount. After reading this book (twice,) I’ve become a converted follower, and here’s why:
Ann Handley proclaims that quality content is a combination of utility (it’s helpful,) inspiration (it’s uniquely you,) and empathy (it’s focus is on the content’s consumer.) You must have all three. Everybody Writes is buoy floating to the top in what seems like a sea of writings about writing. It does this by being filled to the brim with utility, inspiration, and empathy.
Every word in this book was useful. I’ve read books on writing before that were too touchy feely. These books are a match, meant to light the fire, but with no action items, no next steps, the reader is left to provide their own kindling. Everybody Writes is match and kindling – in reading it, you get writing advice and inspiration from Handley, and others, but also the practical action items to begin a writing habit.
Ann explores writing, grammar, story, and publishing with a tone and voice for those that love (or maybe hate) writing. Each part of the book is broken into easily digestible, well I don’t want to call them chapters, so let’s just call them lessons. At the end of the book, Ann has useful advice for writing very specific things, like Twitter, LinkedIn, email, landing pages, and more. There’s also a robust section on content tools. If you don’t find anything useful in this book, let’s chat.
Everybody Writes is written with a level of polish and personality that in itself is inspiring. You don’t typically see this kind of personality in writing these days. I read many blog posts, and even books, where the author’s content is not unique. Occasionally, I’ll read something that reeks of the author personal style and brand. (Spoiler alert: These authors tend to be more successful.)
Ann Handley’s style and humor shine in this book. The content is rooted in data, research, experience, and anecdotes from other writers. It’s not rabbit out of the hat stuff.
This is a book for people who wrestle with writing – either you love it, or you hate it, or you love to hate it. Either it’s something you have to do, in an “it’s your calling” sense, or something you have to do because it’s a role of your job.
Ann does a great job writing directly to humans, because after all, to write is human.
I also appreciated that Ann calls out readers who are likely committing poor acts of writing. I learned a lot about the importance of the “ugly first draft,” and how publishing is a privilege – surely after knowing this, I would never barf out and publish my first draft.
Seriously, read Everybody Writes
I intentionally didn’t structure this review by saying…”Here are my top learnings from Everybody Writes,” or “If you want to be a better writer, do these five things…” I don’t want you to hear them from me, I want you to drink from the source.
If you need more substance to get a sense of what’s in this book – here are some lesson titles that I enjoyed, and they speak for themselves:
- Shed high shool rules
- Place the most important words (and ideas) at the beginning of each sentence
- Follow a Writing GPS
- Embrace the ugly first draft
- Cross out the wrong words
- Don’t use weblish (words you wouldn’t whisper to your sweetheart in the dark)
- Ditch adverbs, except when they adjust meaning
- Use cliches only once in a blue moon
- Nonobvious interview tips
- How long should a blog post be?
- Writing better blog posts
- …and so much more
In the quest to write my first novel, this was the first “writing” book I’ve read. It is not focused on fiction writing, but it will greatly assist my efforts to deliver my research, progress, and story more effectively on this blog.
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