What was the last online article you were able to read to the very end?
Take your time, I’ll wait.
I bet you had to go through your browser history.
The general consensus is that the internet has sounded the death knell for creativity. In a digital world where likes, followers and claps measure the success of content, and listicles are the go-to format, learning the art of creative writing no longer feels necessary. After all, we have to give the people what they want, no?
What if I told you that this is the same reason why creative writing is so important today?
“But we have AI-powered writing assistants and bots now,” I hear you say. “Let them do the heavy lifting.” This may very well be true, with writing assistants like Grammarly promising to help you churn out pristine copy and AIs publishing full actual novels. But is churnalism really what we need more of?
One of my favourite sites to visit is venture capitalist Fred Wilson's AVC blog. The post that made a believer out of me is titled ‘Minimum Viable Personality’ and I suggest you read it. Why? Because of one simple line that still resonates with me:
SELL TO FRIENDS, NOT STRANGERS.
No, you don’t need to hide your writing from everyone but friends.
Instead, Wilson’s guest blogger Grimster (Giant Robot Dinosaur) shares this pearl of wisdom:
Read that again, I assure you it starts to make sense the second time you read it (reading it in a robot voice helps immensely).
The gist of the post is that people react to your unique personality, and your audience will often buy into your idea or product if they can relate not only to your content but to you as well. “Personality is API for loyalty”. Become a friend to your reader and watch them buy into your idea because that’s what friends do for one another (according to Grimster). And you know what? It makes a lot of sense.
So write as though you are speaking to an old friend, as if you have a history with your reader. But write as though you are writing to an old friend with little to no patience and tonnes of other old friends vying for her attention. And tell her about the irony of taking advice on beating AI at the writing game - from a giant robot dinosaur.
This is where we get the advantage over technology. Artificial Intelligence has yet to achieve consciousness. Try though they may (and they have), developers can’t get AI to feel. That algorithm simply doesn't exist yet. Meanwhile, both writing and reading are about emotions. You write about what you feel and you relate to what you feel, just as you write from experience and about the experience. Our ability to empathise and connect is what continues to give us the edge. Personal, relatable content is what gets your audience to engage with your writing.
That and a good set of writing skills.
Headlines, for instance, are a tricky thing online. You want to walk the thin line between attention-grabbing and descriptive. The point of posting an article online is for it to show up on search engines when readers browse and to do this, you have to use frequently searched keywords. People tend to search for exactly what they are looking for so it's really important that you hit the sweet spot with your headline. It has to attract readers and convey your message.
Another trick is to keep your sentences mixed and your paragraphs bite-size. This includes your long-form articles. How do you eat an elephant? One tasty nibble at a time and it’s no different for your readers. It also helps to use the simplest language possible. No one is impressed by your big words so keep those to a minimum because the internet has no time to make out what you are trying to say.
So go on. Find common ground with your audience - so much so that they read your piece to the end.