The Day You Became a Better Writer — Writing Tips from Dilbert Creator Scott Adams

all right hello world this is Scott Adams coming to you from my studio in Pleasanton California with some writing tips these tips will be applicable to nonfiction writing specifically for blogging good for business writing but also good for any kind of humor writing so humor business blogging they're all very similar in the writing style and these are different from fiction writing if you get a write fiction you might want a little flowery prose in your writing but if you're writing for a humor or you're writing for information or news or just blogging you probably want to get to the point and that's what today will be about so I've made a little slideshow here I'm going to take you through it'll be really quick I'm not going to hit any of these points too extensively so this is the day you became a better writer at the end of this everybody watching it will be better I can guarantee it because these are really simple tips once you hear them you can't unhear them they'll just become part of you all right these are the topics I'm going to cover I'm putting this up here only in case you want to screenshot it and remind yourself later about it you don't need to look at these tiny words here the first tip is how do you know you have the right topic that's that's always the hardest thing with writing is finding a topic that somebody cares about and here's a couple of tips that I use if I've picked a topic that makes me feel something in other words I laugh or I groan or I get excited but some physical change in my body that's what I'm looking for because if it can't if it can't influence me it's probably not worth writing because it's not going to influence anybody else so you want to go for a feeling does it make you feel something that's the most important part of writing next you want to be you want to be writing in the way that your audience whatever kind of audience you have in mind finds it familiar in other words they understand the topic right you don't want to write strange things for an audience right there people can't change too much within the time that they're reading something so you want to match the audience that's a bigger deal than you think because I started out not doing that it took a professional to tell me hey you're writing for yourself you're writing things that just you would like but the audience doesn't and once you realize that you're writing for the audience you're not writing for yourself it does change how you're right I also use a technique that I call the invisible friend I use this mostly for humor writing my invisible friend is my brother Dave he's actually a real person but when I'm writing humor I imagine myself talking to my brother because he has a kind of sense of humor that I understand really well pretty similar to my own so if I say something that in my imagination would make my brother laugh it's probably pretty good all right so that's your first tip and then of course write for the reader not yourself so kind of covered that your first sentence in whatever you're writing and this applies to a longer form like a blog post or an article that one that the first I was looking at some of your comments that's why I got derailed the first sentence in what you're writing should be something that evokes curiosity alright because you don't have a lot of chances to make a first impression and people will judge whether they want to read the thing based on the first sentence so I try to make my first sentences in my blog post and that's a good place to go look if you want to see some examples at Dilbert calm you'll see that my first sentence is usually provocative and it makes people say oh why do you say that where is he going to go with this is he going to get in trouble where is he taking us all right so you want some curiosity in that first sentence next here's a trick from hypnosis and persuasion I use a lot of persuasion technique in writing because all writing is persuasion if you do it right you're either trying to persuade somebody to laugh or persuade somebody to give you money or or just like you so there's always some kind of persuasion going on pacing and leading is taken from the field of hypnosis and has to do with matching your audience or the individual in the case of hypnosis and being like them in some important ways if you looked at president Trump's campaign he tried to be like the normal people which was hard if you're a billionaire right but he managed to pull it off he spoke the way they speak in simple language he talked about the things they cared about and he showed a type of emotion that was compatible with how they felt about stuff so he paced them he became one of them in some ways not in every way because they they're not all billionaires living in you know penthouses in New York City but he finds big places they can be like them and that's enough you don't have to be like people in every way they just have to find something about you that they that they can pace and say yeah I'm like that or I think like that or I dress like that or I act like that so whatever you're picking the pace just make sure that you're consistent with it and then people will get comfortable with you and once they're comfortable at that point they can be led and what I mean by that is that once you become one of them and they say yeah I think the same way you do then when you start thinking a little differently they start moving with you because they think well if you went there why wouldn't I we think alike all right so this trick is very important in writing you'll see me use this a lot you'll see the phrasing like I know you're thinking this now so here's the answer so I'll actually call out what people are thinking and I'll talk about that a little bit more – all right here's one of the more important writing tips if you only remember if you then remember this one right indirect sentences a direct sentence is the subject did something in this example the boy hit the ball an indirect sentence tells you exactly the same information but it's indirect so if you said the ball was hit by a boy anybody who read those two sentences the boy hit the ball or the ball was hit by boy they know exactly what you're saying those two things mean exactly the same thing but your brain processes the direct sentence quicker more effortlessly right and if you're writing a long piece you need your audience not to get tired in the process of translating what you mean to how they understand it so if you write indirect sentences it just goes right in oh boy yet the the boy at the ball if she say the boy the ball was hit by the ball if you say the ball was hit by the boy then people have to do a little extra work you barely notice it when you're just looking at one example but if you did a lot of this sort of thing where you make people worked too hard for your writing they get exhausted right so direct sentences when you can really you should always there's really no exception to that direct sentence every time right next tip is about jargon and adjectives and adverbs if you're doing business writing and blogging you usually want to avoid adjectives and jargon adverbs and cliches and one of the tricks to doing that is something I heard a long time ago and I found it very useful so I'm going to pass along once you've written something and you're going over it to edit it and tighten it up imagine that somebody is offering you $100 on the spot for any word you can take out of your writing this still keeps the meaning about the same so an example I like to give is if I were to say tomorrow is going to be very hot you would know exactly what that meant oh it's going to be very hot tomorrow but suppose I said tomorrow is going to be hot and I leave out very well you might say to yourself those are slightly different because very hot makes me think a little hotter hot well that could be hot too but you know I feel like there's something that's different about those two things but here's the important point your reader can't tell the difference and by tomorrow they're certainly not going to remember that word to vary you know what they're going to remember tomorrow is going to be hot alright so it turns out that there are a lot of words that you as the writer think are important but when you realize that your reader is only going to remember a tiny amount of what you wrote the next day and that's why you're writing for your writing to make somebody remember you right if you if you're not remembered after your read you haven't done anything okay so keep in mind that the reader is going to subtract down all those words that didn't mean much to them so they're going to take out the adverbs they don't care that you're running very fast you're just running fast right or even just that you were running does it matter how fast probably not depends on the context but if you get rid of all your jargon your you know your buzzwords and all that stuff your readers going to be much happier and that's one of the more important tips you'll see people will translate brevity in their minds into thinking that whoever was so brief so long as they made their point is smarter than people who take too many words to say the same thing now we're just wired that way now you could say it's Occam's razor you could you could give lots of reasons for why we think that way but the fact is that brevity is equated with intelligence we all process it that way now some people go the other direction and they think especially in a corporate context they think I'd better throw in some big words and some technical jargon I'd better be complete because that will show how smart I am turns out we don't process it when people hear somebody who's really technical and they know a lot and they're explaining it in great detail even if the explanation is very complete and very good it's not going to register as being entirely smart it will look like somebody was knowledgeable like they knew a lot of stuff but they were kind of dumb about the way that presented it compared that to someone who can who can condense all that into a statement or a few brief important points that person is going to look like the brilliant person in the argument all right so when you're writing brevity brevity is key try to stick with something like a sixth-grade vocabulary you probably also remember when President Trump was being criticized over a year ago for having such a simple vocabulary now most of us believe he does know big words he just chose not to use them and it was probably exactly the right choice because it allowed him to pace you know his readers to be like them to talk the way they understand but it also is just better a communication it's it's a better way to write it's a better way to talk you've been listening to me now for ten minutes or whatever I don't use very many big words and that's intentional it's not that I don't know big words I know a few big words I choose not to use them here's a tip that I haven't seen from other people but it's important to me so I'll include it sentences have a musicality to them and by that I mean there are certain letters that have hard sounds like K and T and if you string together a sentence that has them in the wrong place it's just going to sound ugly now I can't put more formula on that but some things just sound ugly let me give you an example of something that has a good what I call percussion meaning that the hard sounds are in the right place they're spaced out just right and it makes it fun to say it in your head all right here it is make America great again do you hear the percussion make America great again you can almost feel it musically when you say it right now compare that to Hillary Clinton one of her more famous campaign slogans was stronger together hmm it just doesn't have the same musicality to it now I can't give you more definition to it than that but you know musicality when you see it you know that a sentence feels right it has the right pacing has the right beat to it so I look for those things that's one of the filters I do in a final pass I try to get the musicality of my sentences right I also try to avoid ugly words like moist and talc most people recognize those words as justjust ugly and you learn after a while that this is true of most words almost every word if you gave somebody a choice and say what do you think of this word people say I like that word or I don't like that word people have a preference for just the word so if you have a choice of using the ugly word versus the good word use the good one now some of you watching this know that I have popularized the phrase moist robots and I'm doing apparently what I said you should not do the word moist in writing is so ugly that you shouldn't use it but because I'm a professional don't try this at home I have combined a moist with robot two things that don't go together so I've taken your brain a whole different place so in that specific context I can use the ugly word because I'm pairing it with a robot the two don't fit it makes you wonder what I'm up to you makes you curious is sticks in your mind so there's a there's other things going on when I use it in that context here's a tip I've never seen in writing I don't know if I invented this one or maybe other people saying I'm just not aware of it but sometimes people make the mistake of putting a wrong Association together harmlessly but they don't realize that simply associating two things cause people to think in a certain way let me give you an example let's say I said to you two things that I really like are and and here's my list two things that I really like our babies I love babies babies are cool and automatic weapons right really like automatic weapons I like owning them and shooting them and stuff do you see the problem already now all I was doing is listing two completely unrelated things that I happen to like I like babies I also like automatic weapons it turns out I don't really like automatic weapons but I'm using that for an example now the problem is and I think all of you experienced it as I was doing it as soon as I said automatic weapons and babies you automatically associated them in their mind and it came to this horrible things like are you talking about using an automatic weapon on my baby right I didn't say that wasn't thinking that I was I was was not trying to do anything like that but your brain just associates them automatically some of the biggest trouble I've ever gotten into are because I made this mistake some of you know that story yeah I will repeat it but I have made them a story of a suit made the mistake of associating two things in the sentence very clearly not saying that they're the same or even related but people read it that way all right use visual language wherever you can we're visual people or visual sense dominates every other one of our senses Google something called the McGuirk effect if you want to see that in the most stark way that's McGuirk MC G urk it's the first thing that will come up on a Google search it's a little low and and here's how stark this is it's a video of a guy who's saying the word bah bah bah bah bah bah and then they changes the video so his lips are forming what you think would be FH Fah Fah Fah but they play over it the bah bah bah and what happens is your brain is the lips making up ba movement and your ears start hearing Fah even though you know it's saying ba and it happens in real-time now when you've seen this you realize how powerful the visual is that seeing the lips form one kind of sound makes your ears hear another sound in real-time while while you know it's happening and you know the trick and it still works it's the most freaky thing ever that's how powerful visual persuasion is so when you see let's say Donald Trump say I'm going to build a wall instead of saying well I'd like to beef up border security in a number of ways it'll probably be different solutions for different parts of the territory nobody cares about that it's easily forgettable but if you say a wall suddenly people can see it when he talks about Isis he doesn't say well it's a problem and we need to take care of it he says they're chopping off heads they're putting people in cages and drowning them it's all visual this comes directly from the most famous person who talks about this is Jerry Spence famous trial lawyer who wrote a book in which he talks about – how to convince a jury by using visual persuasion you put them in the scene you describe it now it also helps if you can add a few other senses you know put them in the scene and have them smell something feel something hear something taste something that's even better but if you're in a hurry just go visual I like to violate a norm when I'm writing and by that I mean there should be something about your writing that makes the reader a little bit uncomfortable if you go too far they don't want to read it there they're just going to click off but there should be something about your writing that feels a little dangerous alright and I choose that word carefully danger is something we love to read if it's if it applies to other people we don't like to be in danger ourselves but if you're reading something by an author and you're thinking to yourself as you're as you're reading it man that author is going to get in a lot of trouble or this group is going to be really mad at this author that's where you want to be you want to feel there's some danger there's some some norm has been violated not everybody's going to like it you should end your pieces on some clever or provocative thought that's easier said than done the most common way to do it is what's called a callback in other words if there's something you mentioned and it was kind of funny or interesting in the body of your article and it was let's say it was the most interesting or provocative thing you said then it's often good to make a clever reference to it in your closing statement or to be provocative about something that's coming because of all this being clever or provocative is easy to say it's hard to do you probably have to be clever to pull it off writing is like every other skill if you do it every day you'll get better at it if you do it once in a while when you feel inspired you won't and I have experimented both ways I've gone four months without writing something in blog or book form and then when I try to do it again it's really hard and it can take weeks weeks of writing to get back up to where I was when I was writing a lot so one of the reasons I blog is not just for the readers benefit it's practice I blog as often as I can primarily for practice and it makes a huge difference if you're if you plan to be a writer and you're not writing every day you're not really taking it seriously because people who want something practice and they don't do it just once in a while let's talk about my humor formula this applies to comic strips or stand-up comedians or any kind of written form I discovered this formula this is my own years ago I realized that there was a formula to what makes something funny and specifically the formula says you need at least two of what I call the six dimensions of humor all right they are a clever naughty bizarre a cruel cute and recognizable and I'll talk about each of those in a second now if you can work three or more of those in that's better but you need at least two to be a joke all right to be humor you need two of these elements now I know what you're thinking see what I just did there I anticipated what you're thinking that's another persuasion trick you're thinking I don't believe this is universally true right you're thinking I don't think there's a formula for humor I think it's just surprise or or something like that no this formula works every time I've been track I've been tracking this for I don't know 15 years or whatever it's been I've never seen an exception so I can't say there isn't one but I haven't seen it all right so let's let's run through these clever would be lets say a play on words you recognize clever when you see it it's just combining things that people didn't think you were going to combine but yet you somehow made it work let me give you an example of that I tweeted the other day that France was expecting to elect a trump-like candidate here I was referring to lepen and then the clever twist on it was but instead of instead of electing a trump-like candidate they elected a rich white guy with business experience and not much government experience which of course describes Trump so most people would just simply recognize that as being clever so clever is one of those things you know when you see it right I naughty is usually just sex or bathroom jokes I don't need to go into that I'm not a big fan of naughty but the fact is that it's one of the dimensions of humor and if you can fit naughty into a joke in a clever way it almost always works even people who don't like naughty jokes if there's a clever component there also the two of them are very powerful all right bizarre just means two things on a place if you remember the old comic comic the far side Gary Larson used to have talking animals and just about every comic is seemed and when you have an animal talking well that's bizarre so anything that's bizarre is automatically you know powerful in terms of humor but it's not enough simply a talking animal would not be funny he needs something else you need one of the other dimensions of humor all right and there's more than one way to be bizarre talking animals are not the only only way cruel cruelty is a staple in humor so cruel just means something bad happened to somebody or you said something unkind to somebody you know cruel when you see it cute is usually just kids and animals if you look at the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes there was a cute kid and a cute animal and the animal talked and sometimes it was a stuffed animal and sometimes it was a real tiger so he had bizarre he had cute in every comic and here's the key before he even started writing he had cute and bizarre covered all right so if you're wondering why people say oh that Calvin and Hobbes comic was the best comic of all time it's not an accident all right it might be an accident that he settled on this formula but once he had it this thing worked I mean this is hardcore really good humor formula if you start with something bizarre and cute kids animals talking animals whatever they do if they do anything even a little bit clever it will register in your mind as oh my god that's good now I I've said before that Watterson looks like a great writer who really isn't but the the outcome of his art does look like great writing because he combines it with so many levels and the humor dimension that when you read it you think man that is good writing and it is but in the sense that he's combined all the elements so in that sense it's great writing recognizable humor usually requires that you recognize something about the subject of the the joke being like your experience or like yourself alright it's either like somebody you know like you but has to be familiar something you recognize this is the trick behind Dilbert success originally Dilbert was a generic comic in which Dilber would sometimes be at work but it really wasn't about with the workplace and it wasn't until I listened to readers who said hey we like it when he's at work put him back at work that I did that and then then Dilbert took off because people said yeah I recognized that it's automatically funny to me because it's about me alright so if you make a comic or any form of humor that people recognize as a halt that's that's me we're all that's my spouse or anybody recognize the bar for making that funny goes way lower it just is so much easier to make a joke about something that you recognize in the beginning alright so those are my tips for writing when I'm when I edit this later this is live streaming originally I will probably edit down the part that comes after this but I'm going to look at your questions now they're streaming in from on YouTube does anybody have any questions about writing we'll just keep it on topic for today yeah if you want to see more on my writing you would look at this book let's go it's this is my latest book had a fail that almost everything and still win big so you'll see examples in there of of everything I talked about the visual writing the the humor formula it's all in there it's all in there in the form of execution not lessons and then my other book gods debris is a good example of using simplicity to make somebody sound smarter there's a character in God's debris that's fiction by the way that is allegedly the smartest person in the world and the way I write for the smartest person in the world since I'm not the smartest person in the world is I keep his language simple and it doesn't seem like that should work but when you read it you'll see that it does where do you get your ideas from what inspires you all ideas are combinations of other ideas so the more things you expose yourself to and I'm kind of an autodidact meaning I like to learn things on my own and I also have a wide field of interest so I'm always you know dipping into articles online in different fields and different disciplines and if you see enough stuff things just come together in your mind you go oh that reminds me of this thing but if you added this to that that would really be funny how can I overcome laziness and write more you know writing is a sort of thing that I don't think you should do it unless you have a lot of discipline or a lot of you know I suppose passion I hate to say passion because it's overrated but you need something to make you do it and if you can't get out of your chair and do it it doesn't matter that you're good at it right if you're not going to do it it doesn't matter if you're good at it any advice for using titles and subtitles well nothing that isn't obvious I mean your title has to grab people has to be easy to remember you don't want it to be associated with something that hasn't negative connotation so most of what I said about writing would apply to the title as well who are some of your favorite writers let's see David Sedaris Siddharth Dave berry pretty much anybody named Dave is NLP BS much of it is but the it's based on real stuff what writers make you think I wish had written that Scott Alexander and I can't remember the name of his blog his name is apparently a pen name so that he keeps his real name hidden yeah but Scott Alexander if you just google him you'll you'll see stuff that blows you away what do you do when people attack you for something you wrote taking it out of context it depends what it is 99% of time don't care it's just somebody saying something will have no impact on me or my reputation or anything else once in a while I have to use my persuasion to clarify but in general I'm not bothered by it emotionally I'm sort of well past the point where people's complaints would bother me all right do I draw a mindmap snow is there difference between speaking and writing yes there's a big difference when you speak to an audience for example the standard for humor is much lower you can make an audience laugh more easily than you can in writing there's something about being in person that makes people just a little more likely to laugh do you agree with Orwell and using dramatic over latin derived words when writing i've never that writing tip actually so I don't know what that's all about what's more difficult the thinking or their writing probably well I would say that the thinking is more rare but the writing is more difficult you know in other words to have a thought that is so good that people want to read about it that's hard well it's hard in the sense of being rare all right usually the idea is just pop in your head so there's there's not really a sense of working at ideas but the writing itself is work have you ever written a written a book with pen and pencil first no I would never do that it's been computers all the way luckily I was born in the right era and I I'm a very fast typer or typist are there exercises used to practice you tips just writing a lot the more you write the more you run into these situations in writing fiction has outlining plots helped you well one of the one of the reasons that my fiction books are unusually short is that I don't do that I don't outline my plot in advance and by the way I would not claim to have a special talent for fiction I do think I'm above average as a writer it for nonfiction but for fiction absolutely you would not look to me for tips on fiction I don't use mark down and how do I do research usually just online same way everybody does all right I'm going to sign off now because this is getting too long and people will say hey that's too long I don't want to see it I'll edit out some of the parts for a final product on YouTube let me ask one more question did this work so just a simple question did this work for you for those of you watch some of the tips was it effective totally yes good all right well I like to give back if I can so some of you are going to find this does make you a better writer probably all of you probably every every person who watched this just became a better writer it would be hard not to because once this stuff's in your head it's hard to get it in alright thank you so much sincerely thank you for watching thank thank you for your comments and thank you for your feedback and I will see you again

26 thoughts on “The Day You Became a Better Writer — Writing Tips from Dilbert Creator Scott Adams

  1. I wrote a piece and asked MSWord about the level of my writing. It reported 9th grade. I thought it meant my writing was weak. I have a better understanding now. Thanks you.

  2. I noticed you did not say be more concrete I.E. "driving 100" over "driving fast"? I've heard we should be concrete.

  3. If Scott's writing is anything like his speaking, then it would be lacking. Scott chronically misuses the word “literally”, for example. It's so bad that it's practically a vocal tic, an unconscious habit. Plus, he often speaks in absolutes and exaggerations (all in the name of “persuasion”, of course) – “100%” this or that, “the worst statement/argument ever made”, “never seen anything so despicable ever”, “zero chance” of this or that, “best of all time”, etc.

  4. As Frances Halpern told me one day, If I had more time, I'd write a shorter letter.

  5. Thanks Scott. Powerful lessons. I appreciate you. Yes, this worked.

  6. As a singer/songwriter, I can definitely say these tips work for writing songs (a genre within fiction, I guess) as well! Enjoyed the video and look forward to applying the tips!

  7. I'm just getting back into writing and this was great to watch. Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I like the word "moist," damn it. I happen to be a writer, and my last girlfriend was an editor. This was an actual issue in our relationship, because I kept using "moist" in pieces she was editing.

    Moist, moist, moist, moist.

  9. Thank you much.

    Moist loses the "t" when you combine it with "robots".

    That's why it doesn't sound bad.

  10. Thanks Scott. The reason I watched this video is because of Naval Ravikanth. Your blog post "The day you became a better writer" and this video is the most precious time I have invested on when it comes to writing. There's lot of useful insights here. Great work.

  11. Thank you, you are entirely right about writing! I have visited billions of seminars to understand that subject, and I can safely say that your video was more helpful than most of them. Only this site can help you too Hope to see more content on that subject soon. You who are reading this – if you are a content manager if a writer, stop wasting time and watch.

  12. This can also be used in real life when you first meet someone say something they will remember something funny or a compliment. You know that thing about first expressions ? You only get one try..

  13. The norm I gone break is that I will use ugly words and bad assosiations ✨✨✨✨

  14. MY lasy brain forgot the hardest part "write everyday" ✨✨✨✨✨🙏👌😙🤓🔵❔😀😬😂🖇

  15. Imaginary friend, write about things you care about, brevity, keep it visual, avoid horribel assosiations, direct sentences, pacing and leading, 100 dollar technique, get to the point, beat (T,Ks), first sentence, break norms, last sentences, repetition,

  16. Death likes cats and curries but not necessarily at the same time: Terry Pratchett.

  17. Brillant an example on what he is talking about: A goal leads to strategy. Strategy leads to action. Action leads to experience. Experience leads to methods. Methods leads to results. Organizing does methods gives you a process. The process leads to uniform results. Organizing different process into a whole gives you a system.

  18. 11:23. This guy is brilliant ⭐️✨🌤🌤🌤☁️🌩🌩. On example of what he is talking about. Andrew Carnegie read the origin of the spieces. After he had read it he summed it up this way "all is good and every thing will become better".

  19. Thanks Scott. I am now making my first non-fiction book actually readable, thanks to you 🙂

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