Her voice pierced the silence of the waiting room from behind the closed office door.
“Entrepreneurs start businesses for ALL kinds of reasons. Shit, wait. Hang on, cut.”
I looked up. My wait for my acupuncture appointment had just gotten more interesting.
“Entrepreneurs START businesses for all KINDS of reasons,” the voice continued with the flavor of forced cheerfulness you find in particularly desperate infomercials.
“Every PROBLEM is an OPPORTUNITY. So the next time you hear someone say ‘I’ve got a problem!’ that’s your OPPORTUNITY to step in.”
She continued in this way for a while, apparently recording some sort of intro to business podcast or course promo.
And, me being me, couldn’t help but analyze the messaging … and note that it made a perfect hook for teaching you all three super-common mistakes I see people making with their writing
1. She violated the “No shit” principle.
The no shit principle goes like this: if what you’re saying could reasonably be followed up with “No shit,” you have to cut it.
“Entrepreneurs start businesses for all kinds of reasons!” Yeah, no shit. Cut it.
Following this principles is wildly harder than it sounds, because when you’re writing or speaking, it’s super tempting to use no shit sentences as filler until you get comfortable enough to say what you actually want to say. But doing this bogs down your writing and makes you sound goofy. So cut it out.
2. She fell prey to the Curse of Knowledge.
Add this book to your reading list: Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick. In it, they talk about something called the Curse of Knowledge, which is where you know so much about a topic that you forget that your audience doesn’t. So you unintentionally skip over important bits, leaving the audience lost and confused.
In this case, the woman told us all that problems are opportunities. Great. Sounds lovely and inspiring. And she told us that when we hear someone talking about a problem, that’s an opportunity for us to take.
But she just dropped that knowledge-bomb on us and moved on.
How do I respond to the person with the problem? How do I take advantage of that opportunity? Does that mean that every single problem is the RIGHT opportunity for me? How do I know?
See, loads of questions. This is super uncomfortable for your audience’s brains (because biology), so they’ll almost certainly tune you out to get away from the bad feeling.
3. And I’m guessing — just guessing — that she’s trying to be someone else.
OK, so I can’t confirm this one. But I’m pretty sure I’m right.
Because I recognize the kind of underlying uncomfortability and wrongness of tone that comes across in your voice when you’re trying to take on someone else’s personality.
People do this a lot. They look around for someone they idolize, or someone who’s really successful in their industry, and try to create the same kind of success by acting like that person. And it just comes across weird.
Because — as infuriating as this is to a super private, mega-introvert like me — people can only fall in love with you if they can see YOU.
And that means showing up as yourself, for real.
For instance, I’m weird and slightly awkward on video. But that works, because I’m also weird and slightly awkward in real life.
I do things like get so excited about what I’m saying that I try to force 8 sentences out of my mouth at once, and have to roll things back and start over. I drop the occasional reference to something extremely obscure that I just happen to be fascinated about, like WW1, or antique punctuation.
I’ve had to get over myself enough to just roll with it, because wonder of wonders, when I show up as myself, people are really into it.
It’s just human nature.
We’re attracted to the raw humanity of those brave enough to show it to us — even more so because we’re surrounded by so many mocked up “authentic” personalities that are anything but.
If you’re writing something, check that:
1. You’re not violating the “no shit” principle.
2. You’re not falling prey to the Curse of Knowledge.
3. You’re actually being you, and not your favorite online marketer.
Get even one of those things right, and your writing will be miles better. Get all three right, and you’ll fucking nail it.