Sneaky writing habits that zap your authority
Remember when you were 2.25 years old and you cuddled on the couch with your mom? You both stared at a picture book splayed out in your lap, and she pointed to an illustration and asked, “What animal is that?”
“DEER!” you shouted, beaming.
And your mom smiled back.
Or perhaps you gave the wrong answer.
“SHEEP!” you yelled, pointing at a drawing of cows.
And when your mom explained that the animal was, in fact, a cow, you nodded seriously and echoed her words. Cowcowcowcowcow.
Truthfully, I have no idea what I sounded like as a baby. I base this expert analysis on reading a book to my friend’s 26-month-old daughter. Look at that grin.
When you were little, you didn’t hesitate to speak up.
You didn’t pause, doubt, fret, and stall in an effort to avoid wrong answers.
You simply took pleasure in expressing yourself. You took your best guess and learned from the process.
But when we grew up, all that changed.
We were taught that being wrong has consequences (ever shown up in costume to a non-costume party?).
We were taught to make sense before we opened our mouths.
Now we mistrust our instincts. We second-guess our ideas. We even avoid declarative sentences.
Babies are a powerful reminder that no one starts out this way. They’ve got the conviction all future thought leaders need (including you and me).
As business owners, we get scared sometimes. We don’t want people to question our judgment or call us out as “frauds.”
Like Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Whether you’re an expert at making paleo lasagna, e-courses, or star charts, you owe it to yourself (and your readers) to OWN your expertise.
The internet NEEDS more thoughtful wisdom. As long as your insights are rich, honest, and educated,* they will improve someone’s life.
*Like my ideal man! (Just kidding. I’ve got 2 out of 3 and that’s plenty.)
Unfortunately, most people get stuck in writing habits that diminish their authority.
I’ve worked hard to eliminate these bad habits in my speaking, especially.
Instead of using an imperative sentence like, “try meditation,” I say, “I think it might make sense for you to try meditation, if you want.”
When we operate from a place of fear, we default to weak language,
It’s a truly sneaky power zap.
Strong language makes you sound like a reliable, trustworthy expert, whereas weak language begs people to like you.
Writing gives you power…or sucks it away. Simple as that.
If you dish up wishy-washy copy, your audience will sense it.
If your WORDS are unfocused, vague, or mincing, readers assume you are too.
The good news?
YOU are in control of your writing.
So check out this list of common authority killers…and steer clear in the future. 🙂
- You don’t own your beliefs.
Let’s say you’re writing an eBook called 5 Quick Tips to Operate at Your Personal Best. You’re developing the book so you can establish your expertise and thought leadership in the field of balanced personal development.
When you don’t own your beliefs, you add a lot of qualifiers to your ideas. You avoid giving straight instruction because you’re scared you might be wrong.
Compare the difference between these two sentences:
A: I think you should drink more water because your organs need it for healthy functioning.
B: Drink more water. Your organs need it for healthy functioning.
Which one sounds like an expert, and which one sounds surprisingly Valley Girl in my head?
Ding ding—B is the authority winner on this one.
Phrases to eliminate: “I think,” “seems like,” “if you want”
- You don’t own your power.
When you recommend taking action, as in the example above, you suggest that certain outcomes or results are likely.
In sales copy, it helps to spell out the results that our readers will get if they take action. We need to clarify WHY our recommendations can improve their lives.
This might make you nervous, too. You might back away from a result because you’re afraid to promise it.
Here’s an example:
A: If you get 8 hours of sleep a night, it might boost your energy.
B: If you get 8 hours of sleep a night, it will boost your energy.
Don’t those SOUND different?
“Might” does not inspire me to take action. (Like I “might” take action, right?) But “will” gives me faith that you know what you’re talking about.
Of course you will encounter scenarios when you cannot promise of a specific result. In that case, “might” is a better bet—or you can play with the concept until you hit on a result you CAN promise.
Phrases to eliminate: “should,” “might,” “could”
- You don’t own your presence.
Not to go grammar school on you, but changing passive verbs into active verbs makes a HUGE difference in the tone, influence, and authority of your writing.
A: I have been studying these techniques for years, and they are going to change your life.
B: I studied these techniques for years, and they will change your life.
Can you see the difference?
Active verbs pack your writing with…action. Things happen. Ideas move and shake.
Passive verbs make your voice sound…passive. Things sit still while other things happen to them. Ideas are moved and are shaken.
Here’s the difference between active and passive verbs:
- Active verbs occur when the subject of the sentence (typically a noun or pronoun) is doing something. The tree falls. The shoe fits. The course sells.
- Passive verbs occur when the object of the sentence has something done to it. The wind was blowing into the tree. The foot is cramming into the shoe. The marketer will be selling the course.
Here are two easy ways I spot (and eliminate!) passive verbs:
- Look for the words “was,” “is,” or “will be” + a verb. Like in the examples above, “is cramming,” “was blowing,” “will be selling.”
If you can easily shorten a sentence by tightening up the verbs, you’ve got passive construction. For example:
- The wind was blowing into the tree. –> The wind blew into the tree.
- The foot is cramming into the shoe. –> The foot crams into the shoe.
- The marketer will be selling the course. –> The marketer will sell the course.
- Plug your copy into the Hemingway Editor app.
If the above explanation makes your head spin (or you just need more examples), try copying your latest batch of writing and visit hemingwayapp.com. Any phrase highlighted in green is passive construction. Spot it and change it. Easy peasy. 🙂
Employ all these 3 tips in your next batch of writing, and you’ll go pro in no time!