We write as we narrate our life stories, as we think and speak.
We compose texts, posts, blogs, messages, and emails.
We create memos, reports, speeches, presentations, ads, press releases, and brochures for our organizations.
Students and teachers craft book reports, persuasive essays, research papers, lesson plans, textbooks, and Ph.D. theses.
And some write or aspire to write for a living—articles, roundups, lists, remembrances, columns, how-tos, features, short stories, sermons, science fiction, children’s tales, cookbooks, comics, online videos, poetry, podcasts, plays, screenplays, novels, memoirs, self-help guides, and more.
But are these works effective?
Do they do their intended job? Do they persuade? Do they captivate and delight? Do they not only inform—but inspire? Are they truly impactful?
Effective writing does a job. It engages, enlightens, and enchants. It tells a story (Pro Tip 2). It can be something you do for yourself, for family and friends, for teachers or professors, for your employer, or for the world.
Some may say that writing is no longer an important skill in a world of TikTok, Instagram, and Slack, a popular workplace communications tool. Just think about it, though: Every day, collectively we compose untold trillions of words. Indeed, I argue that written communication is a more important skill than ever.
MY WRITING LIFE
I wrote this book for creators who want to be effective for work, school, social media, publications, articles, books, blogs, journals, websites, marketing materials, video platforms—anywhere words matter.
My premise: You don’t have to be a brilliant writer to be an effective one. I believe most people can improve their writing by following some simple principles I call the Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing.
I’m a professional with more than 40 years in writing and editing who believes he can teach you something valuable, especially in the “creator economy,” which, according to venture-capital group SignalFire, comprises 50 million people worldwide.
My background as a writer and editor is in nonfiction, which is what this book is mostly about. I’ve tried my hand at a suspense novel, as yet unpublished. (Fiction writing may seem easy because writers make things up, but it is not.) I hope fiction creators learn something here, too. My writing life goes back to my childhood in English class and on the student newspapers I worked on, specifically the Hunter’s Call at Canoga Park High School in Los Angeles (my first editor was journalism teacher Timothy Weiner, to whom I am indebted).
I began to study writing in earnest at what is now the Boston University College of Communication in Massachusetts. There, my favorite magazine writing professor—Tim Cohane, a former editor at Look magazine—made us memorize The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, the latter the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.
It’s called “the little book” (for its brevity, not its impact) and offers specific rules for writing well. Strunk, a professor at Cornell University, composed the initial edition in the early twentieth century. White expanded it in the late 1950s. It’s a best-selling classic, but it can feel technical, literary, and—like a House Hunters kitchen—a little dated.
In honor of The Elements of Style, I developed this book. (Don’t be confused: No one involved in The Elements of Style is part of publishing this book.)
I believe that to be a more effective creator, the secret sauce is simple. When you create a “piece”—the word I use for any work of writing, from a post to a book (see Glossary, after My Story)—make sure it fits these seven descriptions:
This advice comes from my time as a journalist, including writing and editing all sorts of pieces. I’ve coauthored and edited two travel books—100 Secrets of the Smokies and 100 Secrets of the Carolina Coast—as well as edited dozens of specialty publications. And I’m an entrepreneur who has cofounded two successful small businesses so far. (For more, see My Story, after Pro Tip 41.)
In this guide, I explain the Seven Cs then break each into practical Pro Tips. Even though these are commands such as “Tell Tales,” “Write Tight,” and “Achieve Authenticity,” they are not stringent rules. Pick and choose the ones relevant to you.
I hope Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing finds a place on your physical or virtual shelf. My goal is to inspire you to grab pen and paper or sit down at a keyboard and create. You can—and should—develop this skill.
Navigate the Seven Cs and profit from your talent, imagination, and passion.