You don’t have to be a reluctant writer to get value from Ann Handley’s latest book, Everybody Writes.
With content marketing gaining ground, more people are now on the hook for creating content through blog posts, articles and other written pieces. The book is useful for anyone who finds themselves writing for work, and particularly on behalf of brands.
The blogosphere is awash with rave reviews – there’s no need for me to add another. (Read Doug Kessler’s entertaining review of the reviews of Everybody Writes – that’s how many reviews there are.)
This review is for the subset of writers who feel they are beyond the need for a ‘how to write’ book – people who are already comfortable with writing mechanics and their own personal styles. These are the writers who:
- Are more comfortable composing a written email about a complex subject than calling someone on the phone
- Are happy to engage in discussions about the pros and cons of the Oxford comma with like-minded individuals
- Shudder when they see typos on billboards or in newspaper headlines
- Majored in English or journalism
- Are the ones that everyone goes to in the office before posting a blog or sending an important email
- Leave comments on blogs to point out grammatical errors to the author
If you fit any of these descriptions, you might ask yourself why you need a book on writing. You’ve already got The Elements of Style, right?
I had those thoughts, too. But I bought Everybody Writes when it came out for two reasons:
- I enjoy Ann Handley’s writing, so I knew the book would be fun to read.
- As a writer, I always have room to improve.
After her earlier book Content Rules (which she co-authored with CC Chapman), Ann once again produces a book that is a joy to read and earns its place on the bookshelf.
Here are a few of the reasons I found the book valuable:
Well-articulated rules for the next time I have to explain my edits to others
Some grammar rules I know by intuition rather than by rote. Ann offers pithy explanations of those. For example, you don’t hyphenate a compound modifier if the first word is an adverb ending in ‘ly’. Here’s how Ann illustrates the rule:
“Not cool: This is an extremely-simple rule to understand.
Cool: This is an extremely simple rule to understand.”
She’s gathered data on the ideal length for website text lines and paragraphs. You may find this helpful when justifying your ruthless edits.
Fun new words and facts
I did not know the terms mondegreen or eggcorn (misheard terms that gain a life of their own). My life is richer for the existence of these two words.
New tools and resources
Ann has done a great job of curating a collection of tools for writers. I have only started exploring these resources. For example, did you know about the site 750words.com to help you write at least 750 words each day?
Validation and support
The final take-away for the professional writer is this: people do care. When writing for industry, it’s easy to get sucked into jargon and industry-speak. Swimming against the tide can become difficult after a while. Throughout Everybody Writes, the unifying message is that it does matter – because everybody is also a reader.
I love the concept of having “pathological empathy” for the reader. It’s a guiding principle in content marketing and beyond. Here’s how she describes it:
“…empathy for the customer experience should be at the root of all of your content, because having a sense of the people you are writing for and a deep understanding of their problems is key to honing your skill.”
I’d recommend this book to writers at all phases of their careers and capabilities. Because while everybody writes, we all can find ways to do it better.