Everybody Writes by Ann Handley- A Book Review

Posted 12/15/2014 8:22 PM by Jeff Julian

I love blogging!  I founded one of the largest blogging communities back in the early 2000s on the principle that everyone had something to share, they just need a soapbox, megaphone, and a little help getting started.  Unfortunately, I have not always felt this way about writing.  To me, blogging was the anti-writing of the world I came from. 

Let’s step back a few years.  I have struggled with reading since I began to read.  I was in the remedial classes for reading and that meant I was behind in writing as well since the two go hand-in-hand in our education system.  I found a way to read better and with the use of a bookmark guiding me on each line, my mind stopped drifting.  Several educators felt that was a crutch and forced me to remove it.  After that the lines started to blur together and I gave up. 

After this point, you would not ever see a novel on my list of books checked out at the library.  The only classes I was content with a B were my English and Composition classes in High School and College.  I always had a jealousy for those kids who read A Wrinkle in Time in elementary school and that jealousy continues to fuel my passion to be a better reader.

Fast forward a few years, I became a Christian and from the beginning of my walk, I felt reading was one of the most important ways to grow.  I love modern writers, preachers, and podcasters, but to get anything beyond the past 50 years, you have to read.  At the same time I began to enjoy writing as well.  It’s funny that during the time I worked on Wrox’s Professional SharePoint 2007 Development, I had a dislike for formal writing that made me not want to write another book.  Now I can’t wait to get started on a book and I find so much value in the writing process.

I thought this was a review of Ann Handley’s new book?

Oh yeah, back to the present.  Once a month (about the time my Audible account gets a new credit) I review the Amazon upcoming book feed for ideas.  Around September I noticed this new title and I had to have it.  Not because I knew that Ann was the “Ann from MarketingProfs”, but it was the geeky glasses on the front and the title of Everybody Writes.  It hit home.

The title reminded me of Ratatouille from Pixar and the message of Chef Gusteau, everyone can cook.  My hope was that this book would help me realize what I had always wanted (set the bar high, eh) that I COULD WRITE.  Titles like the Copywriter’s Handbook and On Writing Well are on my bookshelf as well, but they have not had the same effect on me that Everybody Writes has.  Maybe it is because I finished this one where the others could not keep my attention long enough before another interesting title comes my way.

The books is not traditional

This book is broken up into small, focused chapters.  If I told you this amazing book on writing has 74 chapters and an appendix of content tools, you might think ugh.  If my next statement was “and there are only 275 pages,” your soul might rest after some quick math to calculate 3 to 4 pages a chapter.  The book is more like a blog, but it is organized in such a way, you feel the book was the purpose of the content and not the other way around.

My favorite chapters so far…

I know the next time I read this book, I will have a new set of favorite chapters based on the lessons I have learned and the new struggles I have.  I tweeted that I had to sharpen my pencil three times during the first evening with this book because I had underlined and circled so much.  This is a list of my current favorites and why.

Chapter 13 – Cross Out the Wrong Words

I used to be one of those “post and forget” bloggers who would write a draft, run spell check, and publish it right to the blog.  I have since modified these horrible practices and I edit twice and have someone review the final version before I publish.  This chapter gave me more ideas about the editorial process and set some practices in place.

Chapter 25 – Be Rabid about Readability

If you write content and no one reads it, what is the point?  I don’t know how many blog posts caught my eyes in the headline and first paragraph just to loose me in a sea of paragraphs.  For me, the big take away from this chapter that I would like to beat it into my brain is the use of straightforward words.  Oh how the years of technical jargon and consulting have violated me of this simple fact.  Instead of valuing your content on keyword saturation and ability to print in a college textbook, think about how many people will enjoy it.   Great follow up to this chapter is 29, Use Real Words. 

Chapter 32 – Know the Difference between Active and Passive Voice

I read this title as a question and my answer was no.  I do not know the difference.  Reading this one, I knew I needed to make a habit out of this during my editorial process.  I do this by making a sticker and putting it on the screen that I use for producing content.  Next to “TRouBLe” for the order of single line CSS values (Top Right Bottom Left) is “Pass on Passive Voice! Actively Choose Active Voice.

Chapter 34 – Ditch Adverbs, Except When They Adjust the Meaning

I definitely love adverbs.  I definitely liked using them before reading this chapter.  Case in point, the word definitely has riddled my content and emails for too many years.  I would find myself reviewing an email and removing two or three definitely instances from it.  I started to fix this problem, but once I hit this chapter, I went on mission.  Definitely has definitely stopped rearing its ugly head from my content.

Chapter 42 – Tell the Story Only You Can Tell

My favorite phrase in this chapter is “tell me why you matter to me!”  I love the word storytelling in marketing, I hate what is has become.  This phrase for me sums up what the 1,000+ ads, infographics, tweet, and whitepapers were trying to tell me this morning in my news feed.

Chapter 57 – Seek Permission, Not Forgiveness

This is a counter-cultural position.  I remember how upset I was the first time one of my photos was ripped off without permission.  I have given plenty of companies permission to use my photos, but the ones who assume it is ok because it is online, just make me mad.  I completely agree with Ann’s advice to use your own text, images, video, etc.  Buy a HDSLR and start capturing video and images that will actually tell that story chapter 42 talked about.

Get Through the Whole Book, Revisit Regularly

Read this book.  Read every word.  Read it cover to cover.  It is very easy to want to put it down and start practicing the principals discussed, but you will learn more by just continuing to the end. 

Once you are finished, keep the book on your desk, near your favorite chair, or next to the coffee maker.  Read through it again, but this time chapter by chapter and consider it a daily devotional of writing inspiration. In my office, I have a big orange chair for breaks and visitors.  I leave the book in this chair every day and pack it in my bag when I leave.  Once I arrive to work, I setup my standing desk machine and then set the book out on the big orange chair.  Once a day, I read a chapter out of the book during one of my Pomodoro breaks and it helps keep the content fresh. 

Thank you Ann!

Ann Handley, if you read this review, THANK YOU for all the time you spent on this title.  I hope this post will help others learn about it and more people will realize they can write! 

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