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    How to Fascinate Readers With Juicy Writing

    fascinate readers

    I love reading.

    But not just anything.

    Some writers arrest me on the spot and shackle me to their page. But others fail to keep my attention: I soon start playing with the cat or surf off to other sites.

    Our readers are exactly like that. Their attention is fickle and they will wander off if we don’t grab them with our words.

    That’s why it’s important to seize them from the moment they hit the page and get them to read our stuff in one gulp. In the following five steps I’ll show you how to glue readers to your page, whether you’re writing a blog post, an article, or a book.

    1. Sweep in; don’t creep in. Make an entry with your first paragraph and jump right to the core of your message. Return to your start as the final editing task. Hone those words.

    2. Floor the accelerator. Pick up the pace and increase the flow of your text. If you are writing a short piece you can push the pace right to the end. In a chapter or a longer article, you need to let up the pace at times for readers to catch their breath. Here is how to step on the gas:

    • Use short sentences;
    • Use frequent paragraphing;
    • Get rid of filler words;
    • Use only one idea per paragraph.

    See Jakob Nielsen’s bench-mark article How Users Read on the Web.

    3. Use zesty language. Choose words that trigger emotions and tell a story for high impact writing.

    Sol Stein’s book Stein on Writing contains great suggestions for juicing up language. I read his book a day before my Master’s dissertation was due and was so fired up that I stayed up all night to re-write it. Here is a clip of an ancient Zen story before and after that long night of the wild pen:

    Before: Another monk wanted to learn the older man’s answer, and after trying to find out to no avail for three years, finally threatened him with a knife to make him tell.

    After: A young disciple wanted to learn the monk’s answer, and—frustrated after badgering him for three years—finally bailed up the old man with a knife to make him tell all.

    4. Liposuction flab. Superfluous words and phrases slow the pace and weaken the reader’s attention. The following actions ensure a sleek text:

    • Scratch all adjectives and adverbs. Then reinstate only those few that are essential; (that’s a suggestion from Sol on Writing)
    • Cull all phrases that double up on what you said before;
    • Eliminate fillers such as: to sum up; I believe; note that; it has become clear; I would like to point out, and so on. Jesse Hines says on his blog Vigorous Writing: ‘When you catch yourself describing what you’re about to say, cut the filler and just say it.’

    5. Inject color. People are stirred by images and emotions, not by thoughts. ‘Show, not tell!’ is the catchcry of fiction writers. But non-fiction writers must also take this to heart. If we transform ideas into images, readers sit up and take notice.

    Here is an interesting use of colorful writing: Blog writer Skellie suggests that we ‘write dirty’ and ‘leave a big, colorful, human smudge on our words’.

    ‘Human smudge’ – that a wonderful expression!

    These five simple steps show that everyone can learn to write with more juice and zest. Using juicy language will not only excite your readers, it will also fire up your own passion for writing.

    The best time to explore juicy writing is … write now!

    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com. Grab her latest all new course Blogwriter's Bootcamp 2.0 or a copy of her free report, How to Create an Irresistible Lead Magnet in Less Than 5 Hours. In her “spare” time, Mary’s also the brains behind AlistBlogging.net. and GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

    • Chas says:

      “paint images with words”…..that’s what I get from this post
      Thank you

    • Alex Weber says:

      I love these short, awesome tips that you’re giving out on your blog!

      Also this post is especially awesome because you used the word “Zesty”… I used to write graffiti under the name “Zest”. Dig it.

      Alex

    • @Lary
      This is really interesting advice. I’m going to take it!

    • wande says:

      I have some true stories on my web site, please as proffesional writer can you tell me whether my writings are well presented and interesting.

    • Clement says:

      Excellent title Leo! I felt the excitation and necessity to read the article when I saw that title

    • Lary says:

      Great advice, but I have one other simple task to add.
      Seek out and destroy all the “to be” verbs. Those are the pesky creatures lurking in your sentences and making them passive. Occasionally you need to speak in past tense, and the ‘etre’ verbs necessitate their use but almost every sentence benefits from the removal and replacement with a proper verb. This is also know as E-prime writing. Try to delete or at least reduce the use of ‘am, is, are, was, were, be,been, being, become.
      eg.. before: The car was hot.
      after: The car smoldered in the sun.
      Replacing the ‘was’ forces you to use better verbs and better imagery.
      Try it. You and your writing will benefit from it.

      Shakespeare said,”To be, or not to be, that is the question.”
      The answer, in writing is it is far better not “to be”

      .

    • Blogs have the power to connect people, and that is worth doing well!

    • 99ppp says:

      I write as sincerely as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.

      Enjoy your writing Leo, not too fond of your titles though:

      http://99ppp.wordpress.com/2008/02/07/how-to-or-10-ways-to-waste-time-reading-productivity-blogs/

    • @ Romee
      Here is an example of juicy writing quoted by Sol Stein:
      “His accountant is an owl of a man who keeps one eyelid half shut not because of an affliction but because there is much in this world he is not prepared to see.”

      @CatherineL
      Yes, ‘Stein on Writing’ is a tremendous book! I was all prepared to migrate to fiction when I stumbled across his book. Then I realized that writing non-fiction can be wild and creative too. No need to move anywhere!

      @Peg Thompson
      I don’t think an academic background necessarily makes us bad writers. Everything we bring to writing is both strength and weakness. As an academic you’ll know how to put together a well-researched article. That’s a great plus! On the minus side we may tend to use convoluted sentences in passive voice.

      There are three simple thing that I look for when I edit my stuff:

      1. I turn passive voice into active voice and add detail So, instead of saying “It has been said that…”, I might say, “yesterday, when I was leafing through the National Geographic, I saw that…”

      2. I cut long sentences into shorter ones.

      3. I turn ‘you’ into ‘we’ or ‘us’ to be more inclusive and to avoid a preachy tone (which I sometimes fall into). For example, I might say:
      “All of us experience low spirits at times.”

    • Thanks for the excellent refresher. It’s been a long time since college. Also I need help for writing on my blog, and the advice to cut, cut, cut is so helpful. And academic background makes one a terrible writer!
      Thanks again, Peg

    • CatherineL says:

      Great post. That Sol Stein book is wonderful isn’t it? I refer to it lots.

    • Romee says:

      Can you give me some juicy writing examples?

    • Josh says:

      Thanks for a great post Leo.

      As an engineer by trade who just started writing a blog (not engineering related though) I have been really taken aback by how much my writing sucks! It doesn’t help that I just read “On writing well”, which was enlightening yet left me feeling like I have a lot –maybe too much– to learn. I remember in high school winning several regional and even state level awards for bland articles flowered with cliches. I’ve finally learned to cut the flab and get to the point. People do not have time or patience to read most of what I’m writing so I need to cut the fat.

      I’ve never been so interested in the nuances of writing. That is an overstatement. I have never been interested in it until now and it is severely hindering the speed that I can produce blog posts!

      -Josh

    • Megan says:

      Another great book that talks about writing attention-grabbing stuff is “Made to Stick” by Chip & Dan Heath (www.madetostick.com/). They talk about the six key qualities of a “sticky” message – something readers will not only enjoy but remember.

      Thanks for this post – it’s great!

    • I wonder if I can’t shed some light on Nat’s comment. Too often, I think, articles on writing come across as light little exercises, things to chat over latte about, etc. In reality — writing is personally and mentally difficult and very private – a sense you don’t get from your article. There are some great points in what you’ve said, and some interesting new ways of saying them, but as Nat pointed out…there are SO many blogs out there now, all trying to do this same thing…draw in readers, reinvent smoothly turning wheels and re-tell what’s been told.

      I don’t know if it’s of interest to anyone, but I just answered a writing challenge in my journal. The original challenge was posted by best-selling novelist John Mason Skipp over at http://www.storytellersunplugged.com – he challenged people to write one thing with brutal honesty – to shed whatever guise they normally wear and write from the heart. I have long been a preacher of just this thing, and took a day to write out my thoughts on honesty in fiction.

      They can be found at:

      My Journal

      -DNW

      PS – I did enjoy the article. It has a level of energy about it that is catching.

    • This is a great post. I have an example of this streamlined approach, and invite comment if folks would be so kind:

      http://activeengine.wordpress.com/2008/01/24/discipline-is-the-mind-liberator/

    • Chris says:

      Again, this is great website for me. I love this quote from Jesse Hines, ‘When you catch yourself describing what you’re about to say, cut the filler and just say it.’

    • Jo'el says:

      A very useful article, this is! Some great points to work on, I have now, plus some other resources on writing to check out. A few more times this page I’ll read, in the future, until all the points incorporated into my system I will have.

      @ NAT: I recognize what you’re saying; I often have this when reading articles on life improvement. When you get that feeling of “Yeh yeh, I’ve read this a bunch of times before” too often, it means you should stop reading and put the knowledge to good use! 😉

    • @ Kiley
      Thank you for your encouraging comment, Kiley.’Perfection’…phew (wipe brow).

    • @ Nat
      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Nat. For a writer all comments are important. Including negative ones, like yours. It made me wonder what it would have taken to hook and hold you. Actually, there is something interesting here. In my first draft I jumped right into the midst of the theme. That was certainly a stronger beginning. But then I decided to write an intro because the start seemed a bit too sudden. I find it challenging to keep the pace on and still take the reader along with me. It’s like driving a car. If you take corners too fast and sharp, your passengers are thrown around and they start reaching for the sickbag. If you drive too slowly,they go to sleep (or jump out of the car and walk… like you).

    • @ Sterling
      I agree Sterling, I too want to edit everything I every wrote!
      Maybe that’s what I love about writing -it’s always evolving. There is never an end to our journey as writers.

      @Al at 7P
      It was a long, long night! But I was carried forward by passion. When I applied Stein’s suggestions on juicy writing to my first (dusty) sentence and it suddenly came to life, I got so excited that I decided to forget about sleep.

      @Eugene (Editor, Varsity Blah)
      You are right. Writing zesty with no depth doesn’t do much for the reader- or for us- in the long run. For me the challenge is to produce thoughtful articles AND write them in a way that is arresting.
      Not so easy…
      Personally I’m don’t write with an eye to attracting a large readership. The readers that enjoy my writing find their way to me in time.
      I’m much more interested in keeping my passion for writing alive. And that happens if I work hard at honing my craft and bring forth a message that lives.

    • Kiley says:

      Mary, many thanks for the article. I usually HATE reading articles that tell people how to write (except for this blog of course). This was short, had an easy to read layout, and included links for further information. Perfection!

    • Nat says:

      I don’t mean to be rude, please don’t misunderstand.

      I didn’t even finish point two of your article, so I can’t comment further. Your story didn’t grab me. It didn’t tell me anything new.

      I have read so many of these articles, perhaps that’s the problem, this is not a new topic.

      I was not glued to your page.

    • Interesting post! Still, I’m a little worried that writing simply for the sake of attracting tons of readers might affect the quality. Isn’t it better to take the time to “hone your craft” instead of churning out whatever zesty and sensational stuff you can for the sake of readership?

    • Al at 7P says:

      Hi Mary – you re-wrote your master’s thesis overnight? That’s some inspiration!

    • Sterling says:

      So that’s what it feels like to be instantly arrested and shackled to a page. Very helpful tips. Makes me want to go on a lipo spree and edit everything I ever wrote. Mahalo!

    • “Sweep in; don’t creep in.”

      Great advice for all of your writing projects–grab readers’ attention immediately and then hold it.

      I enjoyed this post as it is and on top of that, it looks like I was quoted in there somewhere.

      Good stuff.

    • Leo Babauta says:

      @Joost — great points. I agree, but in general, I think scanning happens more often than close reading. It’s good to keep both types in mind.

    • Good advice in general, but obviously not universally true. I’d like to emphasize the following:

      Jakob Nielsen’s text (as linked under 2) should not be taken as definitive. He has a tendency to present opinion as fact, and at least parts of this article aren’t as clear as he says. It has since been researched extensively that the way texts are read online differ for different types of text. His first sentence “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. ” is only true when people are doing just that: Scanning. People regularly read full articles on the web, word by word.


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