Why You Can’t Become An Expert Writer In 3 Or 8 Or 26 Steps

By July 3, 2013June 29th, 2015Writing & Content Marketing
Why You Can’t Become An Expert Writer In 3 Or 8 Or 26 Steps

A few weeks ago, I received an email solicitation from probably the most well-known press release distribution service in the country with a headline that read, “Become an Expert News Release Writer in Minutes!”

If I downloaded the free guide, I would receive 25 percent off my first release. They’ve also used this gimmick as a paid advertisement.

I’m sure you’ve read or viewed some type of content that made similar claims. Just read these pearls of wisdom and you can expertly write a better press release, headline, blog post, call-to-action, Linkedin profile, “About” page, brochure or bio – as long as you follow these simple steps!

I hate those articles. With a passion.

Can you learn the difference between a good headline and a bad headline? Can you learn how to construct an effective call-to-action? Can you learn what kind of information in a press release will be appealing to reporters?

Yes, yes and yes. Anyone can become better educated. But…

Reading A Few Tips, A How-To Guide, Or Even A Book About Writing Won’t Make You A Great Writer

It’s not like learning how to assemble a prefabricated birdhouse.

Not to sound arrogant, but the ability to write well is a talent you either have or you don’t. If you have some level of writing ability and a desire to get better, this talent can be cultivated over time. A long time.

Articles that promise to make you a better writer overnight often provide helpful information and sound advice, but the promise isn’t true. This type of content may make you more knowledgeable, but that doesn’t instantly make you an expert writer or even good writer.

There’s no silver bullet solution that simply injects writing talent into your body. And you can’t learn instinct or gain real-world experience by reading a single piece of content, regardless of what the headline promises.

Why These Claims Are Dangerous

Some writers of these articles are well-intentioned and just want to help. Others are deliberately misleading you, using a gimmick to get you to read their article, download something or buy something.

Regardless of their motivation, this approach is a recipe for disaster. When people who shouldn’t write their own content feel empowered to write their own content, bad things happen.

Poorly written content can quickly damage the reputation of an individual or a brand. It can also let down and turn off potential clients who expected more. Best case scenario, you end up with average content, but we all know “average” anything isn’t good enough.

If you were to read content from a person or brand for the first time and find that this content didn’t offer anything of value – or was poorly written – would you read anything else from them? That kind of damage is virtually impossible to repair.

Writing Talent Isn’t Developed In Minutes

Personally, when I see a headline that essentially says someone can be transformed into a good writer by following a few tips or best practices, I find it more than a little insulting.

I would never claim to be anywhere near the best in the business as far as marketing copywriters go. But I like to think I have some shred of writing ability that I started tapping into at a very young age. Hell, I had a press pass before I had my driver’s license.

Over the course of many years, I’ve been educating myself so I could use that talent to become a better marketing copywriter. That’s because even the best writers won’t be effective marketing copywriters unless they put sound marketing strategy behind the words.

My point is that content writing, like most special talents, requires some natural ability, and it takes time to hone one’s craft. The education never ends.

The Bottom Line

I could read a fantastic article about photography, which might show me how to compose pictures in a more aesthetically pleasing way. But it wouldn’t give me the natural ability to go out and shoot consistently great photos like a professional photographer could.

I could read a how-to guide that takes me through the steps of building a deck. And I may actually be able to build one. But would the deck look like it was built by a professional carpenter? How much time would it take me to produce average results?

I could take a cooking class and learn how to prepare a few gourmet dishes, but that wouldn’t make me a chef.

The same applies to content writing. Knowledge doesn’t equal talent, and talent doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Non-writers who get sucked in by a headline that promises to make them a writing genius in minutes tend to produce content that’s dangerously bad.

Yes, those articles can make you smarter. No, they won’t make you an “expert” writer. End of somewhat subdued rant.

Do you agree, or am I just an arrogant snob of a copywriter?

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • LesAnn620 says:

    I totally agree with you. I’ve worked dead end, entry level writing jobs where I thought, “A monkey could do this, why do they need me,” or, “Can’t an intern do this?” Then I read writing by people who aren’t writers and feel shocked at the poor quality. I think when immersed in writing all the time, it’s easy for writers to forget that what comes naturally to them is difficult for many others. I often hear people say to me, “I can’t believe you write for a living. I hate writing.” I can’t imagine doing much else — I love words. But it’s not for everyone. If it’s not your strong suit, move on. And pay for a good writer. On a separate note, I think it’s funny that I feel as if I write more now that I’m in corporate communications than at my last job as a journalist.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      LesAnn, I think it’s one thing for writers to take their own talent for granted. But when others take it for granted by writing this kind of content, it sends the wrong message to people who really need the help. And it obviously rubs me the wrong way 🙂 Ah, corporate communications… nothing like having your work dissected by people who can’t construct a coherent sentence! Thanks – Scott

  • Sylviane Nuccio says:

    Excellent post, Scott,

    What you said last about reading about photography which wouldn’t make you a photograph, also applies to writing indeed. Actually it’s the same for just about anything. While we can improve in anything we might not be able to be great or even good at them. A lot of it is talent. Either you have it or you don’t.

    As for those outrageous claims that will make you this or that in minutes, they are really kidding people, aren’t they?

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Sylviane. These claims are misleading people more than anything else – some intentionally, some not. I would almost equate it to one of those ads that sounds to good to be true – and it is, if you actually pay attention to the disclaimer.

  • Adrienne says:

    Oh Scott, you are not an arrogant snob of a copywriter. Not by any means and I get people asking me all the time how can I get more visitors to their blog right now when they aren’t paying for traffic. It’s not that easy, it’s a process you have to learn and then become very good at. I believe if you have the heart for it though you’ll get there.

    Writing is an art I believe and we all aren’t gifted. I only wish it were that easy but I think with time, the desire and the education “most” people can become very good. lol.. I’m certainly not going to claim any of that myself.

    The people who make those claims though I hope they don’t sleep well at night knowing they are taking people’s money and not able to help them. If it were only that easy.

    ~Adrienne

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Adrienne – I’m not sure why people who write that content just can’t be transparent about what they’re offering. There’s nothing wrong with educating people, but promising instant talent is just silly.

  • Andi-Roo says:

    Right on, Scott! I find those spammy advertisements so annoying! 🙂

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Andi – Same here, but I wouldn’t expect it from such a large and respected company. I wonder what they’re larger clients think of that approach, although I guess the larger enterprises aren’t being targeted with such cheesy offers and headlines. Thanks – Scott

  • Les says:

    For a wanna-be webmaster starting out on a shoestring budget, writing is a necessary evil (sorry authors!), especially if those nice words just won’t rise to the surface of your consciousness, or that sentence construction just doesn’t ever seem quite right… So, one could certainly learn from guides, such as the wonderful copywriting manual freely available on the Resell Rights Weekly forum. You can certainly learn how to make your writing skills take a crafty background role while subtly pushing the product’s benefits and the emotions you want to elicit in the reader’s mind. But I suspect your blog post specifically excludes this kind of very helpful advice, which helps you analyze whether your sales pitch has all the necessary elements included, as well as how to skilfully evoke pictures in the readers mind. But I agree: learning these tools alone won’t turn you into a persuasive and suave wordsmith!