Ann Handley's Book Everybody Writes - Make your writing shiny sparkly

Make your writing shiny sparkly – Everybody Writes

Everybody Writes book review

In sixth grade, Sister Agnessa taught grammar as a strict disciplinarian.

Make a mistake and she’d rap your knuckles.

I was terrified of her, mainly because she’d taught my mom and dad in sixth grade. She seemed older than Genesis.

Her grammar lessons still stick with me. But as a newspaper editor, I learned which of her rules to break, gleefully:

  • “Never end a sentence with a proposition” was one rule I couldn’t put up with.
  • No sentence fragments, ever.
  • And never begin a sentence with a conjunction.

I’d learned to relax into informal grammar – and to love reading and writing.

What if … writing and grammar became a pleasure?

Given that history, it’s hard for me to admit: Ann Handley’s book Everybody Writes makes learning about grammar and writing a pleasure. She simplifies the rules and empathizes with us writers.

Wherever you are as a writer, her book will help you write even better than you do today.

cover of book Everybody Writes by ann handley
This is a book review of the second edition of “Everybody Writes.”

This how-to book is for businesspeople who don’t consider themselves writers, yet they write for employees, customers, and websites. It’s a “handbook for businesses like yours to create better content with more care and discretion.”

For people who are writing pros, it’s a handy reference book. For example, it rounds up a crowdsourced list of dozens of tech tools for writers – including research, writing, editing, word-finding, readability, keyword research, and AI (artificial intelligence) writing tools.

Everybody Writes provides a writing GPS to guide you.

Take baby steps first to convert people to customers
Learn how to break down the writing process into 17 baby steps.

To navigate your way to ridiculously good content, Ann breaks down the monolithic task of writing into 17 baby steps with a writing GPS – Go, Push, Shine.

Yes, you could skip 10 steps and get away with only seven: goal, ask “so what?”, organize, first draft, second draft, headline, and publish.

But your writing will sound stronger and fuller when you take all 17 steps. Namely:

  • Go: set a goal, ask “So what?” add data and examples, and organize your thinking.
  • Push: write an ugly first draft, walk away from it, write a second draft, rewrite it to one person, add your voice, and make a headline.
  • Shine: do a robot edit, do a human edit, read it out loud, eyeball it for the scanners in your audience, publish it, let it go with love, and reconcile your emotions.

Write to an audience of one!

Little girl writing in an old photograph
To write better, choose your audience of one.

Writing to an audience of one is fantastic advice. Write to the one person in your audience you care about most.

For example, Warren Buffet writes his renowned shareholder letters to his sisters Doris and Bertie. He removes the salutation “Dear Doris and Bertie” only on the last draft, he told CNBC.

Having a consistent editor over the years makes your writing shine. It’s a true luxury. I tip my hat to my business partner Ariana Nikitas, my prized editor for many years.

Think before ink!

Although Ann does not believe in writer’s block, she calls procrastination prewriting.  “Think before ink,” she advises. “The more you think about what you want to say, the easier it is to say.”

Ask yourself:

  • Why are you creating this? What’s your objective?
  • What’s your key take on the subject? What’s your point of view?
  • Why does it matter to the people you’re trying to reach?
Ann Handley's Book Everybody Writes - Make your writing shiny sparkly
Forget about writer’s block. When you procrastinate, it’s because you’re thinking and prewriting.

Other treats in this book:

  • New-to-me words like cheugy.
  • Ideas such as 15 ways to organize blog posts or articles.
  • How to apply the Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer framework to business writing.

This second edition of Ann’s book, Everybody Writes is organized into 91 crisp chapters. It’s easy to scan, since it’s broken up with lots of subheads and bullets. It follows Ann’s advice, “The simplest version of a word is the strongest.”

It weighs in at 391 pages. Yet it was totally worth bringing along a hardcover copy on a transatlantic flight.

I’m taking Ann’s book, Everybody Writes back home to my shelf of reference books, where it belongs, next to my favorite marketing books.

Everybody writes -Printed book with yellow highlights, notes and flags.
Really useful books merit highlights, notes, and flags. Here’s my copy of “Everybody Writes.”

This book is not for everyone. Poets, fiction writers, and PR people can find other books that better fit their needs.

But for every other writer and nonwriter, take the time to read Everybody Writes and you’re sure to learn something new about writing.

P.S. This is a book review of the second edition of Everybody Writes. We reviewed the first edition eight years ago.