Is your writing too dry? Here are some creative writing techniques you can use to add a splash of color to your content.
Working with him was a real headache.
As a writer, he did everything right. His content was organized, meticulously researched, and well-formatted.
Annoying, right? (Kidding. The bad part is still coming.)
I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something was ... off. Even though his assignments met all of the requirements, I still found myself rewriting chunks of his copy before publishing.
This went on for months. I could not, for the life of me, figure it out. What was I supposed to do?
It wouldn't be fair to let him go, because he was technically doing everything right. But at the same time, rewriting his content before publishing it wasn't working either.
How could I coach him on how to improve if I couldn't figure out what was wrong?
Then one day it hit me like a truck.
The content was just boring.
The assignment? Pop culture listicles. It's cotton candy content. It's supposed to be fun and engaging, maybe even a little humorous.
But his read like a dry, Wikipedia article. Just one fact after another in a bland, generic tone.
The facts and information were there. The sentences were short. But there was no flavor to the content. Nothing to keep the reader engaged.
And that's what I found myself adding in constantly. Humor, personality, fun — the creative flavor that was missing.
Let me clarify something
I'm being very tongue-in-cheek in my retelling of this story about how "annoying" this writer was. It wasn't the writer's fault at all.
It was mine, as his editor, whose role it is to help him improve.
But there's a happy ending to this story.
Once I figured out exactly what was going wrong, it was easy to coach him into the light. He became a better writer, and I became a better editor.
But what happened between us was incredibly instructive.
Indeed, "boring" content is something I continued to run into constantly with other writers.
There are a lot of reasons for it:
- Writers are unfamiliar with the topics they are given
- "Young" writers cut personality out of their writing to appear more "professional"
- The writer is simply disinterested in the assignment
Let me be clear: Your ability to creatively express ideas is a major part of why businesses hire writers.
It's a real, marketable skill that not everyone has.
But what are the boundaries?
It's a fair question. How do you know what will be appropriate for a given assignment? How much is too much and how little is too little.
That's why when I try to coach writers on either adding more creativity to their content (or easing up a little bit) I tell them to stick to the following 3 techniques.
These obviously aren't the only creative writing techniques you might use in your content, and there are some assignments that just don't call for a creative touch (technical writing, anyone?).
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But these techniques are ubiquitous in most kinds of content you find on the web, whether we're talking B2C, B2B, blog posts, sales copy, editorials, or those cotton candy listicles we mentioned earlier.
I hope it helps! But if you have any questions or follow-up, I'll give you some details on how to reach me at the end of the post.
3 creative writing techniques to use in your work
No. 1: Anecdotes
An anecdote is a short narrative intended to illustrate a point or a theme that will be the focus of an essay, book chapter, or article. It’s a fairly common practice for editorials at publications like The Washington Post and The Atlantic and in non-fiction books.
You should recognize this one because I used it to start this blog post!
This is a useful tool because it hooks a reader's attention and establishes a human connection by "putting a face on a problem."
Where this is most effective: direct response sales copy, blog posts of any kind, news stories, and editorials, as well as more advanced career assignments like non-fiction books.
No. 2: Similes
"Then one day it hit me like a truck."
Hopefully no one who read this literally thinks I was hit by a truck with the answer painted on the side.
This is a simile, or a figure of speech that uses comparison (e.g., "like," "as") to describe something in more vivid terms.
It would be fine if I'd said "then it hit me," but by adding "like a truck," I'm using a concept you can picture (the truck) to illustrate the actual impact I felt when I discovered the answer to my problem.
This is a great tool and you'll see this one more than any other. Watch how other writers use this in the content you read as well.
Where this is most effective: Pretty much anywhere, though I'd avoid it in something more professional like a press release.
No. 3: Self-insertion
You can also think of this as "breaking the fourth wall." It's a quick aside where you as the author step in to say "what everyone is thinking."
It can be used for humor or irony, but there's a version of it deployed in more serious, journalistic content as well. For example, if a political figure is quoted saying something that is not true, the writer may, in the next sentence, insert a detail that contradicts the quote.
You might not often have the opportunity to write in first-person, but that doesn't mean that you can't use self-insertion.
I did it in this article when I inserted the parenthetical (technical writing, anyone?) a few paragraphs up. That's a human insertion that isn't technically first-person, which just goes to show there are more opportunities to use this than you may think.
Where this is most effective: direct response sales copy, blog posts of any kind, news stories, and editorials. Anything that calls for a "relatable, human" tone.
Remember not to overdo it with creative writing.
While these techniques are incredibly useful when it comes to framing an idea in human terms, creating a visual to keep a reader engaged, and breaking tension, they can be abused.
You might make a conscious choice to use something like an anecdote to frame an article in the introduction. Doing so will certainly get readers engaged immediately, which every good intro is supposed to do.
Otherwise, I always tell writers to take a second look at their content before they turn it in, and to look for opportunities to add more creative writing techniques when the content starts to look dry or slow down.
Alternatively, look for creative writing you inserted organically in your first draft that doesn't actually work on a second look, and eliminate it.
If you have any more questions about creative writing, or anything you think I missed, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.