Improving your prose has always been in that “write better” category of skills development.
Sure, we’d all like to write better prose… but how?
In today’s episode of Write Bites, I’m going to break down four practical ways you can improve your prose over time.
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In today’s episode, I’m going to give you four different strategies that you can use to improve your prose over time.
And the keyword there is time. These are not overnight processes.
In general, improving prose has kind of always been in that “write better” category of skills development, where I can tell you “Hey, your prose is weak” or “You need to work on your prose”, but what do you actually do about that?
In a lot of ways, how we write prose is not about a conscious strategy that we’re following.
It’s more of a subconscious way in which our brain is processing thoughts into words.
And so improving the way that that happens is not easy.
That said, I’ve noticed some correlations between people who tend to write better, more engaging prose and people who really struggle with it.
And so I’m going to be focusing on those things in today’s strategies and trying to make something that is not typically actionable a bit more actionable.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Copy.AI, a toolkit that helps writers, marketers, and freelancers, skip writer’s block completely and quickly create first draft copy for themselves and their clients. Head on over to copy.ai/jacob, and you can get a full 30-day free trial.
Tip #1: Read More Fiction
Number one – the most enjoyable, in my opinion – read a lot more fiction.
Now, I have noticed a very strong correlation between people who are heavy readers and people who have great prose when they’re writing. And this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Like I said before, prose is more about how your brain processes ideas into words. That is how your brain is going to understand words and ideas: through the prose that you’re engaging with.
This is obviously easy for me to say. I came into the space as an avid fiction reader. I’ve been reading my entire life. I currently read one to two fiction books per week.
it may not be that way for you, but I’d say if you’re not someone who’s read a lot of fiction, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Particularly if you are wanting to improve your prose.
I notice a lot of people who come into this space – not really from the writing side, but more coming in from the marketing/money side – the thing that appeals to them about freelance writing is more of the career potential.
And while there’s nothing wrong with that, one of the defining factors I see with a lot of these individuals is they haven’t done a lot of reading.
When they come into this space, most of what they are reading is business books, and business blogs and things like that.
And there’s obviously nothing wrong with that. Obviously I write a lot of business blogs, myself.
But the style of writing that people tend to use in business books particularly is… frankly, shit.
It’s terrible prose.
It’s mediocre writing.
A lot of times it’s mediocre content and you are not going to become good at prose by reading business books.
If your brain learns to process words in terms of a business book, your prose is going to be weak.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed with weak prose.
I actually have some students who I would consider to have somewhat weak prose, but they are very good at focusing on substance.
They are very good at understanding subject matter and focusing on the right subject matter. And because of that, they can land some, some pretty solid gigs.
But if you were wanting to improve your prose over time, the single best thing you can be doing is reading great prose.
In my opinion, most of the great prose in existence is in fiction rather than in non-fiction.
Obviously that’s not exclusively true, but just as a general rule, that’s where you’re going to find the best prose.
Number two, study great speakers.
Tip #2: Study Great Speakers
I have this tip number two for a reason.
I don’t think it’s as effective as engaging with written prose itself.
But that said, I understand that – in watching this video – some of you are not going to want to read fiction and that’s okay.
So if you’re that type of person – if you just do not enjoy reading for pleasure – what I would recommend for you is to study great speakers.
Because ultimately, where you’re going to be able to excel is not in incorporating the type of engaging prose that comes with good storytelling…
But more on understanding how people position, thoughts, and communicate thoughts effectively via vocal language.
And then you’re essentially just going to be looking to incorporate a speaking style into your writing.
And the great thing about this is, if you’re a freelance writer, most of the type of writing you’re going to be doing actually functions better as a projection of speaking. If that makes sense.
You want to write in a style that emulates someone having a conversation even more than emulating a fiction prose style.
I think having an ability to write really great prose gives you a broader and more effective writing skillset in general, which is why I recommend that first.
But even if you don’t have traditionally great prose, you can still be effective at writing in more of a speaking style.
If you can’t do the former, but you can do the latter, that actually is still a great fit for being a freelance writer.
Now, both of those first strategies are focused more on what you study, what you engage with, what you read, what you listen to. And they’re going to take some time – this is not an overnight process.
That said, these next two strategies are a little more immediate and that’s why I want to include them in here.
Tip #3: Have Someone Read Your Copy To You
So strategy number three is to have someone or something read your writing back to you.
The optimal strategy here is to have a real person sit down and read your writing back to you for a couple of reasons.
For one, they’re going to engage with the piece a bit differently than you do.
There’s two aspects to writing. There’s how you’re processing it in your brain when you read and how a third party is going to engage with it and process, you know, the cadence, the flow, stuff like that.
The reason this is so helpful for improving your prose is because a lot of people who struggle with prose don’t really realize that their prose is weak because of how their brain processes their own writing.
So it’s like you have the core idea in your head. Your brain processes it into writing. And then when you read it back, your brain sort of reprocesses it back into the original thought without you really having an objective view of the writing itself.
When you have someone read the writing back to you, you’re going to process it back into your brain, through your ear instead of through your eyes and mind.
And that’s going to help you spot some of the issues in your writing that you wouldn’t otherwise see when you’re just reprocessing it back into your brain the way it came out.
And so that’s why having someone else read it back to you can be super helpful, super enlightening.
If you’ve never done that before, I would highly recommend – regardless of how you feel about your prose – I would highly recommend having someone read your writing to you.
And worst case scenario, you can get some software that will read it back to you.
The problem there is that you lose a bit in terms of cadence and comprehension and just the flow of how someone’s engaging with your writing. So it’s not quite as good, but it’s better than nothing.
That’s a really practical step you can take to improve your writing
Okay, last strategy. Number four: pull your prose from outside sources.
Tip #4: Pull Your Prose From Outside Sources
Now, this is not a long-term solution to writing better prose. This is more of a “in the here and now”. But one of the best things you can do in general as a copywriter is to pull the best bits directly from the client and the customer.
So when you’re looking to write copy, you’re often looking to pull different pieces of copy from outside sources.
You’re not even really trying to just create something from scratch.
You’re looking to get the best bits from the client, from the customer, from wherever, maybe even from competitors, and then structure your messaging around that.
And so with that, you can also incorporate the prose itself into that. You can use outside sources to help you in the creation of the prose.
Now a few practical ways to do this:
One: sending out really detailed questionnaires.
Two: asking the client to give you as much direct customer feedback as you possibly can get, uh, and then pulling full sentences, phrases, whatever, with only minor adjustments from the actual customer. It’s a great way to write copy.
You can also use tools like Copy.AI – which is sponsoring this video – where you can actually put in, you know, bullet points and ideas and little pieces, and it’s going to generate full paragraphs, full pieces of copy.
Copy.AI actually just released a blog creation tool that allows you to put in a few bullet points and it’ll turn it into a full paragraph with complete prose.
Prose language phrasing is one of the strongest aspects of GPT-3 and Copy.AI, and something in a way that they can help you improve your writing with an automated tool.
So again, I think in the long-term you want to be looking to include some of these earlier points to improve your writing and your prose over time.
But in the short term, getting feedback from a third party, using tools like Copy.AI, pulling prose directly from the client or the customer – all things you can do to improve your writing.
So, I hope that was helpful. And I’ll catch you in the next episode.
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Do you agree? Do you disagree with the fierce heat of a thousand suns?
Let me know in the comments below.
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