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9. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley (2014)

9. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley (2014)

Part of my job description, as a Senior Content Writer at Capture Higher Ed, is to write. That seems so ridiculously obvious that you may think it beneath notice, but the fact is that writing is not as simple as it seems. It follows that another aspect of my job description is to research what good writing is—to improve writing, and not only for myself but for the other writers I work with. Those other writers do not include only those with the title “Content Writer” affixed to their name.

As Ann Handley points out in the introduction to Everybody Writes, “we are all writers.” We are all of us writing blog posts, emails, social media updates and the like. What we generate—and I will admit I do not like this word—is “content.” In terms of the company, content is what fills our website, the emails we send to students, and the information we would include in a PowerPoint that we show to a college admissions officer whom we are trying to convince can use our services. How we do that well, if not with excellence, is the task.

Some years ago, the communications department read Everybody Writes and discussed how we might arrive at quality content. Quality, according to Handley, means that the content has a clear utility, is inspired, and is empathetic to the audience. That is the definition of good writing in general, and under this guise a well-written email is really no different from a poem. A well-written proposal acts as a concise essay.

That may seem like a stretch, but I assure you that this idea has served me well when I wrote a number of long-form pieces (some were essentially books!) that were meant to engage and interest the reader, as well as teach them something about the enrollment management history or Generation Z, and finally to convince them that our company can help them achieve their goals. To write something like that is itself is a lofty goal.

Most importantly, it is possible.

For my part, I’ve studied writing for years. I graduated with a B.A. in English, which means that I read a lot and I wrote a lot, two things that are integral to good writing. One task models, the other practices. Later, I earned a Master’s in writing, and finally an M.F.A. in poetry. In 2017, I took a month’s leave of absence to go to the Vermont Studio Center to work on my writing, and in the summer of that same year I used a week’s worth of vacation time to attend the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop. I’m not the only “professional” writer in the company; others have published their work and acted as editors, as well. Any of us could teach you the basics.

Write every day, for one. Get a firm gasp of grammar. Imagine your audience. Produce the “Ugly First Draft” as Handley calls it. And then learn the fundamentals of editing. You’ll soon discover, at least in theory, the secret to Upworthy’s success.

Everybody Writes is a fairly breezy read. The chapters are brief, sometimes only a few paragraphs, and it is easy to pick up and set down at will. From drafting to publishing, Handley covers all the bases to offer at least an initial run-through. There are many other books on writing, of course, but this one is as good as any to give you a jump start in how to think about writing.