When you’re writing for readers easily distracted by the common ground squirrel, you need to know how to write powerful words that grab – and keep – their attention. Your readers’ attention, that is. Not the squirrel’s.
I’ve recently been mesmerized by The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Power Words by Scott Snair, PhD. Almost every page of my copy is dog eared because of the powerful words, phrases, and paragraphs that are ever so carefully crafted and shared by Snair. My biggest disappointment – nay, heartbreak – with Power Words is the measly little 3 star review on Amazon.
This is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read on how to write powerful words that grab attention! Why? Because Snair provides actual examples, phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs that are strong and powerful. He includes anecdotes that illustrate his tips on how to write powerful stories, and shares insights into everything from how to get a job by writing strong cover letters to how to disarm your opponents by letting ‘em vent.
A few years ago an editor (or perhaps it was a literary agent, I can’t remember) asked me to make my writing more powerful. She encouraged me to use words that grip and enchant readers. So I researched how to write powerful words and shared 10 Easy Ways to Make Your Writing Edgy and Quirky. Today, as I was jotting down Snair’s most powerful tips for writing, I realized that this, too, could be a treasure to share with you. Shall we?
First, though – I bet the reason Snair’s Power Words isn’t a bestseller is because of lack of promotion and marketing. Other books on how to write powerful words (or just how to write) are far more popular, but not necessarily better.
Getting on the bestseller list and procuring hundreds of 5 star reviews on Amazon is about creating a “tribe” of “1,000 super fans” (or is it 100? I can’t remember) and actively engaging in “permission marketing.” It’s about “engaging” with your readers and “building relationships.” Yes, sharing solid content and meaningful experiences and knowing how to write powerful words that grab attention…but more and more it seems like writing a bestselling book is a big old popularity contest.
Alas. Let’s move on.
How to Write Powerful Words That Grab Attention
I’m not rewriting Snair’s Power Words in this blog post. Rather, I’m sharing three valuable lessons I learned from just the first chapter of his book. This is what I was planning on writing in my “most important writing tips” notebook.
After the three lessons from Snair, I share a list of powerful words and phrases. I also highlight the only thing you’ll ever need to do if you want to be a great writer. It’s easy, but it’s not simple.
Exaggerate to kick things off
“Don’t write about small changes,” says Snair. “Instead, introduce your readers to an idyllic place, and then tell her how you plan to help her get there.”
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This is the promise of transformation. How will your readers be different after reading your article, essay, or blog post? You might exaggerate or ham it up a little, like this: “A wonderful future for our writing blog is just around the corner. Here’s how we can get there. As your Blossom blogger, I promise to make your job easier by teaching you how to write powerful words so you attract and keep more readers.”
Instead of subtly promising a transformation, be obvious and direct. I sort of did this by using the title How to Write Powerful Words That Grab Attention. And I’d do it further if I promised in my first sentence or two that if you click this link, you’ll learn how to write about a boring topic.
What are the powerful words in the above example?
- Wonderful future
- Around the corner
- We can get there
- I promise to…
- Attract and keep
Don’t exaggerate the facts or benefits of what you’re suggesting. Don’t lie! Do enhance your writing by using powerful words that promise your readers that they will be changed after reading your marvellous magazine article or memoir.
Suggest a hypothetical reality
In Power Words, Snair starts each writing tip with a weak example and a powerful example.
“It’s a good opportunity, filled with lots of possibilities” is an example of a weak phrase.
However, “It’s as if we discovered a wondrous path to a new world of marvels” is a strong or powerful phrase.
If you invite your readers to imagine a situation more appealing or fascinating than the one she’s currently in, you’ll hook her. You could encourage her to picture a world where learning how to write happens in her sleep, or imagine a space pod where writing powerful words happens as easily as breathing.
Bury the similes; grow the metaphors
Perhaps you were taught the difference between similes and metaphors when you were in school. I was. And I taught how to write using similes and metaphors when I was a Grade 8 Language Arts teacher.
But I didn’t know that metaphors are much more powerful than similes. A metaphor is a comparison between two things that aren’t alike. A simile is also a comparison, but it uses ‘as’ or ‘like.’ If you’re serious about learning how to write powerful words that grab readers’ attention, get rid of the similes.
Test it for yourself. Take “The future is like a horror story by Stephen King?” versus “The future is a horror story by Stephen King?” Which is more powerful? The one without the word ‘like.’
Examples of powerful phrases and a list of power words
Powerful words and phrases aren’t pushy or aggressive. They simply offer punch to an email, text message, letter, essay, article, or even a book. Strong words hook readers and keep them reading.
Examples of powerful phrases:
- Powerful writing adds value.
- Don’t let your readers down.
- How will they judge us?
- Let’s focus on the dream.
- Time is running out.
- Powerful words create a visceral response.
- If you give me this writing job, here is specifically what I’ll do for you…
- Here’s what we should be afraid of…
- I have decided that…
- This immediately addresses the problem of weak writing.
- Here’s what will happen if you don’t learn how to write with powerful words.
The above examples of powerful phrases are from Snair’s book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Power Words. Remember that “power words” can’t simply be plunked into any type of writing; they need to be carefully crafted to fit your content.
A list of power words:
Learn the best way to use powerful words in your writing. Or suffer the consequences of weak writing.
The only thing you need to do to be a great writer
Edit your work.
Editing isn’t just the best way to liberally dose your writing with powerful words, phrases, and stories…it really is the ONLY way. If you want to grab your reader by the throat – metaphorically speaking – you need to learn how to write that crummy first draft that Hemingway proposed. Then edit it brilliantly.
Why? Because even the best most successful bestselling authors can’t write freely and creatively while they’re editing their work. Not even Hemingway. Or Scott Snair.
2 steps to weaving powerful words, stories, and images into your writing:
- Writing freely and creatively with your left brain (without thinking)
- Editing your work, using your right brain and a bevy of powerful writing tools
This is why you need to get, read, and continually refer to resources for writing. Find practical, helpful, concrete books on how to write and edit your work. You can’t learn how to write powerfully unless you study writing books.
And, notice how other writers use powerful words in their writing. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work. Think about why.
Want to learn how to write better?
Read This Book Will Teach You How to Write Better by Neville Medhora. You’ll learn how to get what you want from your copywriting, your blog, or your pitches to magazine editors. You’ll increase your conversion rates and make it easier to write anything.
Don’t expect one piddly little blog post called “How to Write With Powerful Words That Grab Readers” to magically equip you to write well. This is a drop in your well of writing wisdom, fellow scribes. You need to keep filling that well.
What say you? While I can’t offer writing, publishing, or blogging advice, I do read every comment.
I encourage you to share your experience of learning how to write powerful words. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process what you’re learning about your written word.