Book review: ‘Everybody Writes’ by Ann Handley

Ann Handley is Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs and our very own Matthew Stibbe is speaking at their 2014 B2B Marketing Forum in Boston in October.

Everybody writes review book cover

Many of us become complacent as writers, believing the ability to write well is an innate gift. Balderdash, says Ann Handley.

In a refreshing take on mastering the written art, ‘Everybody Writes’, the new book by Handley, reminds us writers (and would-be-writers) of a couple of important facts:

  • ‘If you have a website you are a publisher. If you are on social media you are in marketing. And that means we are all writers.’
  • In the words of New York Times’ David Carr, ‘Writing is less about beckoning the muse than hanging in until the typing becomes writing.’

Who’s it for?

Although geared towards business and marketing writers, ‘Everybody Writes’ offers general tips that are useful no matter what you write or how experienced you are at writing it.

Handley advocates that as writers, we can always improve and evolve, so this book isn’t one to be flicked through once, and then left at the back of the shelf; it’s a book you can constantly refer back to.

Following Handley’s lead, here’s a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what you’ll learn from ‘Everybody Writes.’

How to write better (and how to hate writing less)

As Handley writes, writing is something we all do all the time and if Buzzfeed can find internet success with ‘3 Bananas That Look Like Celebrities’ it can’t be that difficult or mysterious.

Like driving, good writing is more habit than anything else. As advertised, this section provides would-be writers with some guidance to hone their skills and habituate the writing process (or at least make it less painful).

The strength in this section (and the entire book actually) really lies in the fact Handley practices what she preaches in the first rule when she says that to write well we need to read a lot, as well as write. The volume of clever and insightful quotes shows that Handley is clearly well read.

Writing rules: Grammar and usage

Many writers won’t feel they can benefit from yet more grammar advice (although arguably many of them probably can).

This section, however, is useful for novices and pros alike. Rather than pontificating about the finer points of grammar (that most people don’t really care about), Handley concerns herself with what readers really do find annoying.

Rule 37 even suggests old-school rules we shouldn’t bother following anymore, like ‘never split infinitives’.

As a former French student, the word grammar strikes fear into the very core of my being, but this section is significantly less painful than the majority of grammar reading out there.

Story rules

As an inherent storyteller, this section really resonated with me.

Handley succinctly and smartly theorises how you inject the storytelling spirit of writing into writing for business: ‘your content is not about storytelling, it’s about telling a true story well.’

This is an excellent tip for those who generally view storytelling as something utterly fantastical, as well as those who are disenchanted with what they’re writing, or writing about.

Handley not only provides solid advice on how to create a story around just about anything, but provides some genuinely inspiring accounts of real-life businesses doing this.

Publishing rules

For anyone writing without journalistic experience, this section is incredibly helpful.

Although most of us have experience with sourcing and referencing others’ work, with free range over the internet and of all the information it holds, research can become dangerous territory, rife with blurred lines.

In this section, Handley handles some of the copyright and fact-checking issues that come with responsible, journalistic writing. She also summarises some of the other lessons journalists can teach us about writing and the general practices we can adopt to make sure our writing is ethical and interesting.

13 things marketers write

Every professional copywriter will, at some point, have to write something they’ve never written before, or that they’re not too familiar with – whether that’s social media posts or the annual report.

The beauty of this section is that it provides a short boost of confidence in how to approach specific writing tasks such as tweets or blog posts, offering the core information needed to do it well.

As a writer who has spent the past two months almost exclusively writing the unfamiliar, this section was of particular value to me.

Content tools

‘Everybody Writes’ has tips even for the master-writer, so if, by some strange turn of events, you make it all the way to this final section without finding anything helpful, you’ll find something here.

From word processing tools to productivity aids, this section contains a plethora of different tools for you to try out and give your inner writer the best possible chance of success. For procrastinators, like me, the time management tools may be a revelation, while for others the more practical resources, like image sourcing sites and blog idea generators, will make this section.

The verdict

In the foreword, author Nancy Duarte writes, ‘this book inspires you to become a stronger writer. And it does so with style’.

With some epiphany-inducing points, inspiring examples and excellent references, including, but not limited to, ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Mean Girls’, I don’t think I could sum this book up much better myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read ‘3 Bananas That Look Like Celebrities’.

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One Response to Book review: ‘Everybody Writes’ by Ann Handley

  1. Thanks for this review, Charlotte! (And that banana DOES look like Ron Swanson!)

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