In the first article in this mini-series we looked at a facet of Tiger Wood’s practice that a seasoned golf journalist considered extraordinary enough to write about. And we talked about how when he’s playing golf that’s exactly what Tiger is doing – he’s playing, not practicing. You can read that article here:
Lessons For Content Marketers From Tiger Woods Part 1
But when he’s practicing, he chunks his game down into discrete units that he can then work on individually and strive to improve in those areas.
In the second article in this mini-series we looked at the process of written content creation – the El Dorado for all content marketers – and I broke down the task of written content creation into four main sub-categories. And then broke those sub-categories down into smaller, discrete units. You can read that article here:
In the third article in this mini-series I introduced you to the system of practice that all the champions use to get better. That system of practice is called Deliberate Practice.
In this article – the last in the mini-series – I’ve taken on a challenge. My friend and fellow blogger Marlee Ward from MarleeWard.com wants to practice this topic: how to use good grammar and write how you speak.
So before I started writing this post I quickly emailed Marlee to double check I understood what she wants to achieve – basically she wants to write how she speaks, but she wants her written work to also be grammatically well presented.
So here’s what I’m going to do in this post – I’m going to lay out the steps necessary for her to do this, and along the way I’ll suggest some resources she might want to consult, and some exercises she can do.
So let’s get going.
Step 1 – Understanding How To Write As You Speak
What I’m guessing Marlee wants to do is not to write exactly as she speaks, but create a writing style that’s conversational in nature. And one that also sounds enough like her that anyone who’s watched her videos, or chatted to her on Skype, or hung out with her will recognize to be authentic to Marlee.
When most of us speak we use lots of repeated phrases, plus ‘thinking’ words like ‘you know’ and ‘basically’ and ‘well, at the end of the day.’ (What I mean by ‘thinking’ words is that they add nothing to the clarity of the sentence being spoken, but they do allow the brain a few seconds to think about the next part of the sentence.)
And in spoken language we all make a lot of ‘grammatical’ mistakes that aren’t noticeable in actual conversation. The chief one of these is subject-verb agreements – how many of us frequently say something like: “There’s a bunch of those…” or something similar.
To be grammatically correct we should say: There ARE a bunch of those. These are the kind of verbal ‘glitches’ we all have that work fine when we’re in conversation, but will not hold up so well in written format.
So what Marlee really wants is to create a writing voice that does the following
(i) speaks with her authentic voice
(ii) cuts out unnecessary repetitions and ‘thinking’ words
(iii) corrects any obvious grammatical flaws
There are two further editing tasks to be done once she’s reached this point:
(iv) replace generic words like ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ – the kind of words we all use when we speak – with specific words that create stronger images and create clearer communication
(v) consider ‘slang’ words or phrases that are part of her spoken speech patterns. (E.g. Gary Vaynerchuk uses the phrase ‘Crush It’ all the time. Marlee needs to identify those kinds of phrases in her speech and make sure they are layered into her written content).
What’s nice about this list is that the first task is a writing task, whilst the rest are editing tasks. So in both the content creation process, and in terms of creating exercises to work on these different areas, we’ve got some nicely delineated sections.
So let’s go to work.
Step 2 – Creating A Speaking Template
To be able to sit down and deliberately write in a style that’s representative of her speaking voice, Marlee first needs to identify the components of her speaking voice. And create a model of her speaking voice, or a template that she can work from.
The elements that she’s looking to find out are:
- What kinds of words she uses?
- How she strings sentences together?
- What kind of sentence lengths does she use? Is she a long sentence kind of a gal? Or does she speak in sentence fragments? Does it vary with mood?
- What rhythms are present in her spoken language? Does she mix it up – or does she speak with predominantly one type of rhythm?
- What kind of imagery does she use when she speak? Does she reach for stock phrases – or does she have a poetic turn of phrase?
The best way I can think of for Marlee to create this speaking template is to record a series of ‘monologues.’
I’d recommend Marlee create anywhere from 10 to 20 monologues – and I’d recommend that she record them direct to audio capture, and not use something like Dragon Dictate. And these monologues should not be business orientated – they should be about subjects Marlee is passionate about and knows a lot about.
Like her favourite hobbies. Or her favourite style of food. Or her favourite music.
The reason we don’t want business style monologues is so that we can truly gauge how Marlee talks – and talking about things she is passionate about will reveal her spoken style more truthfully than a ‘business’ style monologue.
Once Marlee has done the monologues, then they can be transcribed. And she can start analyzing them, looking at the specific topics I noted above. That analysis should give her substantial clues about how she speaks. And then she can take that to the next phase….
Step 3 – Trying Out The ‘Write As You Speak’ Model
Now that Marlee has a good idea of the characteristics of her speech, it’s time for her to try and adapt her writing style to take on that voice.
As with the monologues I’d get Marlee to avoid writing about business topics for now – if I were coaching her I’d be asking her to write a series of 10 to 20 short pieces about more of her favourite things: TV Shows, Sports, Books, Colours, that kind of stuff.
Only this time after Marlee has written each piece, I’d get her to record it onto audio as she did with the monologues. Then she can play it back against one of her ‘spoken only’ monologues and contrast and compare.
Undoubtedly there will be sections where she gets it right – and possibly there will be sections where her written pieces don’t sound quite like Marlee. The gold in this exercise is to highlight the sections that DON’T sound like Marlee and work out why.
Are the words outside of her normal vocabulary? Is the word rhythm too stilted? Has she used ‘correct’ words – and not ‘Marlee’ words.
After each such exercise then it’s back to the drawing board. Select another ‘favourite’ topic and write another short piece. And again, record it and compare it against the earlier monologues. And use this feedback to correct mistakes. And then move on to the next….
After a number of these written exercises, Marlee’s written pieces will start to take on the flavour of her spoken pieces.
Once that starts to happen then Marlee can move to the next phase…
Step 4 – Careful Editing
In this phase Marlee has to finely tune her pieces with considered editing. As I mentioned earlier, words like ‘stuff’ and imprecise words have to be weeded out and replaced with more concrete words.
More concrete words will add specificity to her writing. Specificity brings more clarity to her writing, which allows her readers to understand her more. With what she wants to achieve it’s a fine line though between correcting words that are too general, and stripping out some of the words that form a core part of Marlee’s voice.
At editing stage if she’s ever unsure, the ultimate check is to read two versions of the same sentence or paragraph aloud and compare them.
NOTE: The speaking aloud of your writing is a great way to develop your ear for rhythm, cadence, alliteration and other devices normally considered the province of poets. Poetry is merely a stylized form of writing – any tools they have that work are tools that other writers can borrow, adapt and use for their own purposes.
Another topic to consider at editing stage is what ‘slang phrases’ to edit out, and what to keep in. For example Gary Vaynerchuk says ‘Crush It’ a lot. He even called his first book Crush It too…so his ghostwriter is never going to take that two word phrase out.
Similarly, Marlee needs to think about what words or phrases reflect her character and are kept in for that reason – and what words or phrases don’t, and are just general spoken slang. (Phrases that should probably be struck out include: ‘you know;’ ‘at the end of the day;’ ‘basically speaking;’ those kinds of phrases.)
You might be wondering why I’ve recommended Marlee do all this work and she still hasn’t got round to writing articles for her business or her blog.
There are two reasons: firstly, when she talks (or writes) about topics she is genuinely passionate about, that’s when she’ll reveal her true thoughts and feelings. And that will give the best model to analyze for structure, rhythm, etc.
The second reason is that if she was asked to immediately start creating business related articles then all of a sudden she’s trying to apply principles that she’s only just learned – or is still learning – in a work environment. And that’s really putting her on the border between the learning zone and the panic zone.
From a teaching practice – and specifically a Deliberate Practice teaching practice – it is much easier to teach her this new skill in the context of topics she is comfortable with and passionate about. And have her repeat this until she gets comfortable with it. When, by definition, her learning zone has expanded outwards and suddenly writing using this method is no longer a panic zone activity, but has become a learning zone activity.
Which brings us on to Deliberate Practice.
The Use Of Deliberate Practice In The Exercise(s)
In Part 3 of this mini series I looked at Deliberate Practice – which is the system of practice that all the champions of every discipline use to keep getting better. And which YOU can use to get better at something.
Deliberate Practice is built into this process at several levels. Let’s look at them:
(i) The Learning Zone – once Marlee starts transcribing her spoken pieces and then analyzing them she will be firmly in the Learning Zone. Breaking down her speech into different areas such as what types of words she uses, what lengths of sentences she uses, what rhythms she uses will definitely put her in the Learning Zone.
(ii) Repetition – repetition is built into the process with both the repetition of the original speaking exercises when should provide enough raw material for the speech template analysis, and then with the repetitive loop of writing a new piece, recording that piece being spoken out loud, and then comparing the recording with the original set of recordings.
(iii) Measurement – measurement can be built into the process in several ways. There’s the initial spoken monologues – there needs to be enough of those done to properly analyze the patterns and rhythms of Marlee’s speaking. 10 is a bare minimum. Then there’s the repetition of analyzing each of those monologues – looking for common patterns, rhythms and words. Then there’s the repetition of writing pieces in her voice using non-work topics – that allows her to master that process before she then applies the process to work related topics.
(iv) Feedback – feedback is built into the process in the comparing of her written pieces when they’ve been recorded with the original spoken pieces. That feedback will highlight areas that need to be isolated, focused on and improved – which in turn throws Marlee back into the Learning Zone.
How far Marlee wants to take this depends on her goals and what she wants to achieve. But with some hard work and careful attention to the process Marlee should be able to create written content in an authentic sounding voice within a few months or so.
The art of capturing how people speak in written form so that it sounds authentic – but omits all the repetitions and other idiosyncrasies of how we actually speak – is an art that fiction authors and screenwriters have to deal with as a daily part of their writing process.
Dialogue is covered in just about every screenwriting book there is – but here are three books that helped me back in the day when I wrote fiction and screenplays:
- Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella
- Four Screenplays by William Goldman (this is not a book about dialogue – but is rather four screenplays by William Goldman. Goldman is one of my favourite writers AND screenwriters – and this book is filled with great dialogue).
- If You Can Talk You Can Write by Joel Saltzman (this is not a book about dialogue per se – but if you feel insecure about the thought of writing, this is a book that could help you overcome that fear. After all – you can speak can’t you?)
Two further books that I want to mention:
- The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk
- Crush It! By Gary Vaynerchuk
At first glance neither of these books would have anything to do with our topic. Except for the fact that Gary Vaynerchuk didn’t write a single word of them – instead he dictated them, and a ghostwriter transcribed his thoughts and edited them in the way we’ve been talking about in this article.
If the thought of writing a lot of content leaves you cold, then you could adapt this process and create your content in this manner. As with all writing, careful editing is needed before hitting the publish button.
When I wrote the first article in this mini-series I never anticipated writing three follow up articles to it! I have at least three other articles on lessons for content marketers from other sports stars – and those articles were supposed to create the series with the original Tiger Woods article.
That’s the power of comments I guess. The questions that I got asked along the way via comments – and a couple of emails – steered the original article into a new direction
I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series – and more importantly, I hope you’ve learned some stuff that can help you improve your ‘game,’ whatever that game may be. I’ll be writing more about Deliberate Practice in the coming weeks and months – it’s a topic that I feel passionate about, so look for that.
As always if you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments box below.