Write Like The Hustle: The Boring Stuff About Writing That No One Talks About
Dearest Hustle friends and family,
What I’m about to say will win you the respect of your peers, a lifetime of happiness, a villa in the Bahamas, and a really good hair day.
Maybe. Who’s to say. But it’ll definitely make you a better writer.
Like we mentioned on Wednesday, it’s Thanksgiving week here in the states, which means:
- The Hustle writers are taking the Friday off to nap in front of the TV and see their dogs — I mean families.
- A lot of you are traveling.
And, if you’re like me, you have big plans to finish that writing project you’ve been scribbling on napkins for the past few months.
So, instead of the normal news, we’re giving you the kick in the pants to put some quality content out there that people actually want to read, and address something many of you folks ask us about: how to write in The Hustle voice.
Below is the step-by-step process John and I used to launch The Hustle back in the day, which allowed us to produce lots of high-quality content on a daily basis (sometimes 3-6 blog posts a day each!) — all without formal writing backgrounds.
If you’re new to writing, I guarantee copying this blueprint will help you power through your food coma and knock out your unfinished writing project over the holiday.
Let’s do this.
— Sam, CEO of The Hustle
1. Write the headline
It all starts here. Writing the headline first forces you to hone in on what you want to talk about. Make the headline 3-10 words. Write the headline in plain English as if you’re describing what the article’s about to a friend. We’ll talk more about headlines in a second.
Example: I went 30 days with no food, living off only Soylent
Note: I’ll refer to this Soylent post on the Hustle so we have real-life examples of my points.
2. Write the description
One or two sentences that describe what the article is about. It’s the subtitle you see in our articles and the text you see on Facebook below the headline. This further hones in on the topic and keeps you focused on the core idea.
3. Write your draft
This is the toughest part. Why? Most people are deathly afraid of writing and having their thoughts read. That’s why this draft is important. Accept that it will suck. That’s ok. Just start writing. Write anything. “I don’t know how to start, but I’m just starting now.” Literally write that.
Motion creates emotion. Accept that this is a dump and that it’ll suck. Get all your thoughts on paper. Do not worry about how good it is. Even if you only want a 300 word article, write as much as you want here.
Take whatever time you have to walk away from your work. Could be 2 minutes or 2 years. Whatever. Just get away from your work.
Ironically, not focusing on a problem actually helps you come up with new ideas — it’s called fixation forgetting (#showerthoughts). This step is incredibly important.
This is where the magic happens. David Ogilvy, the greatest copywriter in the world, once said, “I’m a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor.” Editing is where we turn crap into gold.
The first part of editing is cutting useless words and sentences. For most people, that means cutting the first 25% and last 25%. Since grade school, we’ve been programmed to write to hit a certain word count.
That’s wrong. Every single word must be necessary. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t use 1,500 words to explain something if you need 500. Too many words dilutes your message.
7. First sentence
Next, make the first sentence punch the reader in the face. First sentences need to cut through to the reader. In a world where people’s attention is hard to attract, the first sentence must be undeniable.
8. Create the slippery slope
The sole purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second sentence. The sole purpose of the second sentence is to get you to read the third sentence… and so on.
Lead with a personal story, give hints about what’s coming later, or pose a question. Give people a reason to keep reading.
Example: “I spent the last 30 days eating nothing but Soylent, a new age powdered meal replacement. Why would I do something so stupid? I’ll explain. But first, if you aren’t familiar with Soylent, here’s the gist.”
9. Write simple
Around a 7th to 8th-grade reading level. A great post has C+ writing and A+ storytelling, insight, or analysis. Use Hemingway to tell you your grade level. Contrary to what your 5th grade English teacher used to say, don’t use flowery, overly complicated language.
10. Use short sentences, paragraphs and simple words
A general rule is to keep paragraphs around 2-4 sentences. Keep sentences around 25 words or less. This makes your writing easier on the eye. Which of these 2 pages would you prefer reading?
In his famous Letters to Shareholders, where Warren Buffett writes about the complex insurance industry, Buffett averages 13 words per sentence. Even the most complex topics can be simplified.
11. Don’t use too many adverbs
Adverbs (words that end in “ly”) weaken your words. I yelled at the boy is better than I angrily yelled at the boy. The road to hell, Stephen King once wrote, is paved with adverbs.
12. Go back to your headline
90% of people will read your headline without consuming your article. Yet, people rarely spend time perfecting their headline. Write 25 of them. Show your headlines to a few friends and ask them which one they would click on. Select one of those. When you have your headline written, you have spent ninety cents out of your dollar.
13. Pick your image
Don’t make it your logo. Make it clicky. Use Google if you want, but you may be violating copyright laws. Be safe use Unsplash.
And finally…need inspiration? Do copywork. Find a blogger, author, or poet you like and write out their work by hand. See how they structure their writing. Feel their texture.
I spent two hours a day for 6 months copying my favorite authors. It worked wonderfully. You don’t need to do that, but just copying a few sentences before you start your work will help.
Ok. That’s all…now go write!