Want to Be an Amazing Writer? Read Like One

how to read like a writer

When it comes to reading, there are two ditches modern-day web writers may fall into. Both are notorious, unrefined, and dangerous — especially if you want to be more than an ordinary writer.

On one side, you have the ditch of never-ending digital content where you spend all your time reading online.

Your day looks like this:

  • You begin with the latest Copyblogger article and a heavy dose of articles from news sites by the time you down your third cup of morning coffee.
  • During lunch, it’s a dash through some popular and arcane sports, fashion, cooking, or interior design blogs (but not any by that potty-mouthed she-devil who can’t stop talking about her cowhide throw blankets).
  • In the afternoon, you gobble up several articles on LinkedIn, 99u, Fast Company, and the fun ones you find on Facebook.
  • Late at night, you start reading your third brand-new James Patterson novel of the year (and it’s only May!) on your Kindle (not quite online, but still digital).

On the other side, you have the ditch of “made-for-loneliness” wonkism where all you do all day is read about one topic — and one topic only.

Your day looks like this:

  • During your breakfast of Fig Newtons and yesterday’s coffee, you read Copyblogger’s ebook on SEO copywriting and then watch as many Whiteboard Fridays as you can during your hour-long carpool ride into work.
  • At lunch, you finish memorizing Search Engine Land’s periodic table of SEO success factors — and then recite it for your three sleeping lunchmates.
  • Before you leave work, you print out three ebooks on local SEO and read those during the carpool ride home.
  • And in the dead of the night, you thumb through a musty copy of SEO 2015 and Beyond while you drink your fourth “I heart SEO” coffee mug full of Belgian-style quadrupel.

There is nothing wrong with these two approaches to reading if you have no ambition to be a great writer. However, if you aspire to be an exceptional writer, follow these sophisticated reading habits.

Read more old books

Many books published each year will end up in the remainder pile — forgotten, useless, and cheap. Really cheap.

And while reading new books is a great way to stay on top of the latest ideas (or be reminded of the old ones), I think it’s much better to make a habit of reading older books.

Old books have ideas and stories that have endured for 50, 100 — even thousands of years. Darwin. Schopenhauer. Hobbes. Nicholas of Cusa. Sappho.

When you read a book, letter, article, or essay that has endured through the ages, you can be confident that it’s quality writing. Not as much with new books.

Another advantage of reading classics is that there are fewer to choose from. You could read Random House’s list of the 100 best novels in a few years. You couldn’t do that with all the new fiction published in just one year.

Or maybe reading 100 books is just too daunting. Instead, wrestle through James Joyce’s Ulysses or Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica for half an hour every day. It might take you a year to get through one of those books.

Or two.

If you need encouragement from others, start a book club where you tackle ancient classics by Xenophon, Thucydides, or Herodotus.

If you are really brave, write out your favorite short story or article by hand. This practice will help you notice and absorb the qualities that make these works so great.

In the end, there are lots of ways to skin this cat, so just remember the goal is to read more old books.

Read wide (outside of your discipline)

I recently shared a list of books every content marketer should read. You might suppose all the books on that list focus on content marketing.

But they don’t.

I recommended a book on web usability, a book on design principles (by a cognitive scientist), a book on storytelling, and a book on mobile marketing. This is called “reading wide.”

However, another trap we can fall into is not going wide enough.

While all those books are different from one another, they aren’t that different. When you take a step back, you see that they are all business books.

I’m urging you to study completely different categories. Like astronomy, Latin American politics, or medieval architecture. It doesn’t matter if these books are old or new. Just read something outside of your discipline.


You’ll be surprised by the associations that emerge in your mind after you read a book like The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic. Or the metaphors that emerge after reading The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco or Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz.

Illustrating that point was my intent when I wrote 10 Surprising Books that Will Transform Your Writing.

Read long-form journalism

Not long ago, I received a question from a reader whose first language was Chinese. She asked what she could do to improve her writing in English, specifically conversational English.

I understood her situation because English isn’t my first language either. I’m a native speaker of Mumblish, with a heavy obscurantist accent.

Speaking clearly, concisely, and compellingly was foreign to me when I got started.

A college-level essay writing class helped. As did learning about direct-response copywriting. But it wasn’t until I took a serious interest in long-form journalism that my conversational writing skills took a healthy turn for the better.

Here are some of the things I did:

I’ve learned so much about conversational writing from reading smart long-form journalism.

I’ve learned how to take facts and build them into a story, how to use dialogue, and how to make people the central part of every piece I write.

Speaking of people …

Read books about becoming a better person

Ultimately, if you want to become a better writer, you have to become a better person. Let me explain how I came to this conclusion.

Denver, Colorado. April 14, 2016. Sonia Simone, Pamela Wilson, and I were spread out around a large table talking about our favorite books that we had read in the last year.

Here’s a sample:

At some point during our conversation, a light bulb went off in my mind.

Nobody mentioned a book on copywriting, content marketing, or even business. The closest was perhaps Sonia’s pick (The Upside of Stress).

Instead, these were all difficult books — difficult in the sense that they are not light affairs you can dabble in on a lazy Sunday afternoon. They were also very personal.

A commitment is required. A commitment to become a better person.

When you do that, a nifty thing happens: You begin to care more about people. You begin to care about their sorrows, pains, joys, and dreams.

You begin to listen more, soften toward their plights, and lighten up about their moments of good fortune (instead of getting jealous).

Great writers strive to become altruistic and empathetic.

And they put in the hard work by reading books on difficult topics that challenge, stretch, and expand them.

Your turn

So, how’s your reading going? Are you satisfied with a steady diet of digital content? Are you obsessed with one subject — and only one subject? Or, are you reading more old books, long-form journalism, and content far outside of your comfort zone?

More importantly, are you reading books that help you become a better person?

I have a hunch you are. Especially if you stayed with me all the way down to this final sentence. It shows me you have grit. A necessary trait of great writers.

In the comments section below, share your favorite books you read in the last year. I look forward to hearing from you.

The post Want to Be an Amazing Writer? Read Like One appeared first on Copyblogger.


10 Amazing Web Designs that Tell a Compelling Story

Storytelling is a major component of every successful brand. The ability to tap into the emotions of your target audience by crafting a compelling story can help them identify more with the products and services your brand offers.

Below are examples of top-notch stories told through design that you should strive for with your own website.

Museum of Mario

IGN presents Museum of Mario

Made using HTML5, the Museum of Mario hosted at IGN traces the history of one of video game’s most beloved characters. The interactive site lets you click on different page elements to show cool graphics and animation using the latest markup language, capturing the magic of each game Mario appeared in.

100 Moments of McDonalds casestudies razorfish McD_100Moments

A campaign was launched by McDonald’s UK with the help of Razorfish and Goodboy to emphasize on the moments that customers have spent with this ever-famous fast-food restaurant. The result is a stunning interactive infinite grid built using HTML5 telling stories of customers about their personal McDonald’s moments. The site is optimized for mobile viewing due to its responsive design. Due to its brazen design, the site won the coveted FWA Cutting Edge Award.

Flat vs. Realism


A 2014 People’s Choice / Webby Award Winner, the Flat vs. Realistic Design website is one of the coolest to hit the end of 2013. The interactive design narrates two kingdoms that rule the design world – flat and realistic design. Realism is the preferred design choice of most websites until the fast-loading elements offered by flat UI usurped realism from its throne.

The website conveys the struggle between both contrasting design philosophies pretty well in a fun and interactive manner – it even features a 2-D fight gameplay that lets you pick sides!

Olympic Story

Olympic Story

The storied history of the Olympics is documented and captured in a single web page. The site was designed using Ruformat and made in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Games. Nonetheless, the Olympic Story is a great resource for people interested in finding out facts and medal winners starting at the very first Olympics event held in 1924 at Chamonix.



Visual storytelling does not have to use complex markup languages and command to craft a compelling story, just like Zensorium does with Tinké. This tool lets you track different health indices to measure your fitness . It tells a story by emphasizing social proof, tool functions, and tech specs as you scroll down the page. All leads to encouraging its target market to purchase and try out the tool for themselves.


Discover Bagigia   The Bag

There’s so much that you can say about a hot water bottle. However, Bagigia is more than just a water bottle bag, as shown by the website. Through its interactive design, It is able to showcase the sophistication and materials used to create this premium Italian hot water bottle. The bottle rotates to show you its full appearance from different angles as you scroll down the page.

Jess & Russ

Jess   Russ

With an online wedding invitation like this, who needs printed invites?

The website tells the story on how Jess & Russ before they met, the time they finally met, and the time they decided to spend their lives together. The screen is divided in half – the left part of the screen tells the side of Jess and the right is dedicated to Russ. The story is smartly designed with typography and illustration to achieve the quirky appeal it aims for. At the end of the page is an RSVP sign-up form for those invites so they can book themselves a seat to the wedding ceremony.

Every Last Drop

Every Last Drop – An Interactive Website about Water Saving

Nice and Serious, in partnership with Waterwise, raises the awareness of  water consumption by people in the UK through this website. The flat design bring the story to lives as the site delivers the exact amount of water used, consumed, and wasted during the day by scrolling down the site. At the end of the page, visitors are treated to a video on how to conserve water and help other people to gain access to clean water.

Land O’ Lakes

Cooking Recipes   Baking Recipes with Butter  Cheese and Eggs   Land O Lakes

Some of the examples above may not fit the voice and tone of some of the more serious online businesses out there who prefer to focus on providing actual content instead of visual magic. Land O’ Lakes is one example that proves to all that you don’t have to be a design wizard in order to tell compelling stories about your brand.

In this example, the brand is able to elevate its core products (butter, cheese, milk) by associating it with family life and homemade cooking. By showing different recipes of healthy and easy to cook food to be enjoyed by the whole family, Land O’ Lakes creates a collective experience on how their products are consumed.

La Roche-Posay

La Roche Posay   skin care  sun protection  facial care  hair care and make up for sensitive skin

Another website that non-design businesses should take cue from is this French cosmetics company that tells a story on how effective its skincare products are. Instead of listing down their products from the site menu based on their respective names, La Roche-Posay lists down the skin type. By clicking on the skin type that you identify with, you will be brought to a page filled with specific products that you should use to treat your skin problems.

While not necessary a design element, the site architecture and the inlinking of the pages provides for a more convenient and seamless user experience. This helps the brand tells their audience about their products more effectively.

Final thoughts: The examples of visual storytelling above are by no means an easy task to pull off. You will need an expert designer to help flesh out your brand concepts and ideas much better. Nonetheless, by investing on a story told through web design that best describes your branding, you can help make an indelible mark with your target marketing and help elevate your online business to new heights.

More on visual storytelling:

Top Free Sites for PSD Voice Balloons and Fonts

Top 4 Web Design Trends for 2014

The post 10 Amazing Web Designs that Tell a Compelling Story appeared first on SpyreStudios.


Twelve Traits that Define a Truly Amazing Boss

Happy Business Team photo from ShutterstockSurprisingly, people love or hate their jobs based on their interaction with their immediate supervisor. An amazing boss is also a great leader and has the ability to connect employees to an organization. The boss is likened to an umbilical cord for the employee to the organization. If that cord is damaged, the employees will eventually leave. An amazing boss helps employees develop a strong sense of self-esteem, gives employees the tools they need to succeed and gives people the space to show their talents.

Great supervisors or bosses share many of the same character traits.  They gain loyal followers because they focus on the big picture and the needs of their team.  They can dream big, allow others to dream big with them and help their subordinates get things done.  They cultivate an atmosphere that’s fun to work in. Great bosses invest in their employees’ physical and emotional well-being and reward and promote those who excel at what they do.

If your goal is to build a great company, one that attracts the best talent and retains them, then it would make sense to know how to become an amazing boss.  A great supervisor creates a team of inspired, highly engaged employees who become stars in every position and help each other to be great. Your company will be more likely to thrive (assuming you offer a product or service that’s in demand) because people will become inspired to follow you. The next thing a great boss needs to do is to build trust.

Build trust

Building trust doesn’t happen overnight–but there are important steps leaders can take to foster a more trusting climate that will positively impact business results. So what are the steps to building trust?

3  important steps to building trust:

1. Involve people in decisions that directly affect them 

When people are involved in a decision, even if they don’t make the final call, they are more likely to support the decision. This means bringing people in before you’ve made the decision. If you’ve already made the decision, and you’re not open to changing your mind, don’t go through the motions of bringing people into the process. You won’t strengthen your connection with those people. In fact, people will feel ‘conned.’ On the other hand, treating people as capable decision makers shows you trust them to be part of good decisions. They’ll be more inclined to trust you when you treat them as equals. This shows respect and ultimately giving respect results in gaining respect.

 2. Be transparent and consistent in your actions

We tend to focus on outcomes and ignore the process. Understanding how a decision was made, and the thought process behind that decision, can have a huge impact on how people feel about the decision. In one study, employees who understood how their performance bonus was determined were more satisfied than employees who received more money, but didn’t know how the bonus had been determined. If you are transparent and consistent, people will see your motives and learn to rely on you.

3. Foster relationships

The connection between employees and managers make a huge difference in the degree of engagement and involvement people will feel. If people know, understand and care about what matters to them, they’ll trust you to act in ways that align with their interests. Showing genuine concern for your employees perpetuates a positive cycle of caring in the office. What matters to you will also matter to them more when they see you are a genuine ally.

Give public recognition of others accomplishments

Forbes recent research noted that organizations that give regular thanks to their employees far out perform those that don’t. Those who recognize the importance of recognition and appreciation as integral components of a winning strategic reward system tend to attract top talent and retain them.

Not surprisingly, another part of joy comes from a simple pat on the back. Globoforce, a software provider of social-recognition solutions, said 82% of employees it polled said that receiving recognition makes them more satisfied with their jobs. “A workplace is far likelier to be a happy place when policies are in place to ensure that people regularly get acknowledgement and praise for a job well done, and where people feel that their happiness at work matters to their employers,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling Happiness Project.

Recent gallop poll research shows that if your boss ignores you, your level of disengagement goes up by 45%. If your boss criticizes you, it goes down to 25%, because you’d rather be criticized than ignored. If your boss notices your strengths, your rate of disengagement goes down to less than 1%. How we treat people has huge economic implications and yet many leaders totally ignore this dynamic in the corporate world.  One of the fastest ways to change a business is to find ways to engage people emotionally.

Make people feel they belong

Implement peer to peer recognition, not only top down

Recognition from leaders has less of an impact than you may think. While HR managers believe this is a key criteria for success, employees told Forbes researchers that they feel much better when they are recognized by their peers. Why is this? Peers know what you’re doing on a day to day basis, so when they “thank you” for your efforts the impact is much more meaningful. Top-down recognition is often viewed as political and it rarely reaches the “quiet but critical high-performers” in the company.

Frequently say, ‘How can I help you?’

Asking how you can help an employee engenders a connection.

Employees want more than just a paycheck. They want to work with and for people they respect and admire, and with and for people who respect and admire them.

That’s why a kind word, a quick discussion about family, an informal conversation to ask if an employee needs any help, make more of an impact than any formal meeting. A true sense of connection is created when there is a personal connection. That’s why exceptional bosses show they see and appreciate the person, not just the worker.

Show employees that there is a chance for a meaningful future

Every job should have the potential to lead to greater things. Exceptional bosses take the time to develop employees for the job they someday hope to land, even if that job is with another company.  LinkedIn does this by offering career paths within the firm and actually asks new hires what they would do if they were to leave the company? The point is, the best way to learn what an employee hopes to do someday is to ask them. Employees will only care about your business after you first show you care about them. One of the best ways is to show that while you certainly have hopes for your company’s future, you also have hopes for your employees’ futures.

Create a safe environment to be creative; one where employees feel they express views, no finger-pointing

LinkedIn offers an exceptional model for how to develop a work environment that encourages creativity. Employees there get dedicated time to work on special projects. For example, they offer employees free time to work on projects outside their normal daily grind. For LinkedIn, these are called “inDays” and they happen one Friday a month.

LinkedIn’s spin is to give each one of them a different theme. For instance in July, the theme was “LinkedIn for Good” where LinkedIn employees worked on 54 projects that got them out volunteering in their communities.

Employees also get inspired by world-class speakers.

YouTube/Linked LinkedIn is also known for its Speaker Series, which it makes available to the everyone via YouTube.

Every month, LinkedIn hosts up to three of these lectures. Past speakers included Seth Meyers (head writer at NBC’s Saturday Night Live), Fred Kofman (the author of the book, Conscious Business), new age guru Deepak Chopra, and Martin Luther King III. LinkedIn employees get $ 5,000 per year for professional education. They also offer online training tools like “LearnIn” which offers all sorts of courses, and “ManageIn” which is a months-long manager trainee program. Employees get to pitch and run startup-like projects.

Another thing LinkedIn does to inspire creativity is something called “Incubator.” Once a quarter, any team of LinkedIn employees can pitch an idea to executives. If the execs like the idea, the team gets to spend up to three months of dedicated time working with a mentor to develop the idea.

That’s how UI designer Hans van de Bruggen got to work on on his project called “Hopscotch” which gives step-by-step tours of new features on LinkedIn. It was launched in August when LinkedIn introduced a new search tool.

Foster Leadership

The top companies for leadership don’t just talk about talent development. They are far more likely than other companies to have formal leadership training programs in place and to offer mentoring by senior managers. Hay Group research shows that top leadership companies are more collaborative and more encouraging of outside learning, and they more often reward employees for novel business ideas than other organizations.

Top companies take a holistic approach to leadership, employing strategic practices aimed at developing and motivating up and down the organization. The Hay Group report says that 73% of what it considers the Top 20 leadership companies make development opportunities available to every employee, compared with 47% of other companies.

The best companies for leadership “recognize that many of the skills once required solely for senior leadership roles – high levels of emotional intelligence, commitment to continuous learning, analytical thinking – are now critical at every level of the organization,” Ruth Malloy, global managing director of Hay Group’s Leadership and Talent practice, said in a news release.

Proctor & Gamble, Microsoft, G.E., Coca-Cola, and Unilver were ranked the top 5 companies for leadership.

Have ‘Soul’

Deepak Chopra, the new age guru, business professor and best-selling author of The Soul of Leadership, says that the leader is the symbolic soul of a group consciousness.  That group could be a family, a political party, or a business.  When you as a person represent the dreams, longings and aspirations for those you care for, you are in a sense in touch with their soulful existence. Chopra suggests that managers get in touch with their core consiousness so as to develop a spiritual bond between them and their employees. He says, ‘Every leader has the opportunity to help make their employees whole.’ And in doing so will automatically increase employee engagement. He suggests you can do this by incorporating these six behaviors:

Listen in a way that shows you care and appreciate people. This creates a bond with your employees.

Be Aware: Understand people’s needs and find ways to meet their needs. This gives others hope, compassion, trust and stability at work.

Empower: Use their strengths to empower people. Good leaders nurture employees strengths and understand their values. Help them live up to their values, and use their talents. This will boost their self-esteem and empower them to achieve.

Dare to Dream a new reality and do it: Help employees stretch themselves to achieve goals beyond their immediate responsibilities. Then set limits on their time frames for achieving these bigger goals so they happen.

Take Responsibility

Invest in your employees health by giving them the time and a place to exercise every day. This helps energize them and allows them an outlet to release stress.


Great leaders realize that the nature of the universe is connected to everything else. They inspire others to act like owners and pursue excellence.

Ask How Can I Help?

An employee’s relationship with his or her direct manager is the most critical single factor in employee engagement. If your managers are doing their job (assuming of course you offer products or services that people want and need), you’ll have a productive work force. Employee engagement is strengthened when employees are asked what matters to them, and are offered training to achieve their goals. Engaged employees are happier and more productive.  Disengaged employees are frustrated and more disruptive.

Oshkosh Corporation offers lots of training classes so that employees can get promoted quickly. Trainings can be instructor-led, web-based or video-based, and the company also offers tuition reimbursement for advanced degrees.

They list job opportunities specifically for internal candidates, and host a Rotational Engineer Program that gives engineers the ability to learn multiple skills in a variety of different units.

They also encourage employees to continue their educations, and offer tuition reimbursement. Hess, a leading independent energy company shows loyalty to its employees through extensive training and advancement opportunities.  They offer recent college graduates and highly motivated students the chance to take on meaningful roles and make a difference right away. Every Hess employee is encouraged to continually learn and develop. New graduates participate in formal training and development programs designed to take their career to the next level. The Hess Global Professional Development Program is a two-year program for all Hess university graduate hires. The program helps entry-level employees expand their understanding of their company and build their baseline professional skills – providing a solid foundation for successful careers.

Offer meaningful work

Managers who delegate work that is challenging and interesting are known to be more successful at engaging employees.

Another way to reduce employee apathy and disengagement is to cultivate a culture of mindfulness and meaning, according to Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “New research shows there is a strong correlation between happiness and meaning–in fact, having a meaningful impact on the world around you is actually a better predictor of happiness than many other things you think will make you happy,” Aaker says. “When we can cultivate mindfulness and meaning in all that we do, including our work, we have the opportunity to influence not only our own well-being, but also the well-being of our family, friends, coworkers, and wider community.”

Provides space for both social and private time

The most exceptional managers recognize that a happy employee is a healthy employee so they encourage their employees to take time to improve their physical health and provide services that could reduce stress in their daily lives. For instance, Campbell Soup offers childcare. Cisco, LinkedIn  and Hershey Foods Corp. have their own fitness centers for employees. Hershey extends membership to family members and dependents. Google has a bowling alley and bocce courts; Boeing gives its employees 12 paid holidays and a winter recess between Christmas and New Year’s Day; Johnson & Johnson offers private concierge services to its employees; Mattel, Inc. allows its employees to take paid time off for their kids school field trips. Employees at these firms give high ranks to their bosses.

Great leaders combat complacency and reduce attrition by paying close attention to the needs of their employees. They don’t just talk about improving employee moral, they actually take action to understand their employees’ needs and create ways to help them live a more enriched and purposeful life. These exceptional leaders consider people’s emotional, physical and even spiritual well-being (at least in a general sense of helping them to see their own value and encouraging each person to develop his strengths).

Over time, investing in workers pay off; as what’s good for individuals is also good for business and the effect is greater engagement, motivation and increased productivity.

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