By the age of 23, I’d written articles for the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and Los Angeles Times. By 25, I had signed my first book deal. My publisher told me I was the second person they ever contracted without an agent.
What was my secret? Connections? No—my most prestigious pieces were simply submitted to open editorial inboxes like firstname.lastname@example.org. My book manuscript was also picked up through cold emails… and I got not one, but two publishers interested. Simply put, my writing spoke for itself.
I had the “it” factor.
And I wasn’t writing about rainbows and butterflies. Most of my pieces were either about Middle Eastern foreign policy dilemmas or mathematical statistics and probabilities found in Texas Hold ‘Em poker (ex. The 2-3% equity changes a hand like King-Ten suited has vs. King-Ten offsuit). For the general public, it wasn’t fun stuff.
But that’s where “it” comes in—the unique beauty of making dense content relatable.
Here are my tips and tricks on how you can do it too.
1. Raise Your Voice! First order of business, we have to know that article is distinctly coming from you. No one else could’ve ever written it. No one else could’ve possibly dreamed of using your same vocabulary, pacing, and tone! Generally speaking, confidence is key. Not sure what I’m talking about here? Then don’t start with writing—start with reading. Find favorite authors and develop your taste. You don’t even have to like their opinions. Just their way of communicating things. For me, those two journalists are Derek Thompson and Jennifer Rubin. I don’t agree with half of what Jennifer says and Derek’s economic analysis is almost always beyond me, but I like their style. I’ll never forget how struck I was when Ms. Rubin started a Washington Post article with the word “bizarrely.” No matter what followed, I was already hooked. You want people to feel that same way about you too.
2. It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It. Many people have heard that when you’re talking to someone, 70% of communication is non-verbal. What you say isn’t nearly as important as how you say it. Believe it or not, this applies to writing as well. Style, flow, and finesse matter. You can’t simply rest on the content of your message; you need to deliver it with ease. Writing is like a dance. When you read it out loud, it shouldn’t have two left feet. Or two clunky syllables. Great writing is incredibly agile, nodding its head to literary grace.
3. Be Fearless.Say what needs to be said. Say what you mean. Don’t fear a controversial conclusion—people are drawn to strength. It takes bravery to express our ideas clearly, but trust me, it gets rewarded.
4. Set Limits.Whenever I write, I limit my commas. I never let consecutive sentences contain three or more of those little squiggly marks. I also try not to stuff too many big words together. People get tripped up here because they confuse accuracy with greatness. Just because what you’re saying is valid and true doesn’t make it readable. In order for your brilliance to reach wider audiences, you need to dial down the density. Information should be given as a slow drip—not a dam-breaking explosion.
5. Use Three Words. It is punchier.
6. Make ‘Em Laugh.It is funnier.
7. Encourage Critical Thinking. We’ve drilled down pretty hard on the delivery of your message. Now we need to address the substance. Obviously, hot takes generate buzz. But you don’t always need a controversial opinion in order to make your work sell. People are struck by simplicity. The bolder you can state your claim, the better. It doesn’t have to be original. You can move the masses just by being unapologetic. I don’t care if your stance is saying something as mundane as, “We need to stick to our diets!” or “Kids need to read more!” If you can articulate your ideas clearly and powerfully, you are bound to reach people. Most of us ‘overthink’ things—by taking affirmative stands, your writing will inspire people to think more deeply.
Transforming dense content into something relatable requires practice, creativity, and—dare I say it—a touch of your own personal magic. You need to be able to charm your reader. This includes when discussing tough subjects. Yet I guarantee that if you can incorporate the above strategies into your writing, your dazzling prose will breathe new life into your most meaningful findings. Sometimes the best way to convince someone of an argument is to demonstrate conversational mastery.