Review of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Should you get your hands on a copy of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley?

Short answer? Yes.

For the slightly longer answer, read on.

Confession time: I’m not sure if I’m exactly the type of reader that Ann had in mind when she wrote this book. As best as I can tell, she wrote the book mainly for people who:

  • have a strong aversion to writing, but need to write in their professional lives
  • are what she affectionately terms “adult-onset” writers (in other words, people who were scarred by negative experiences and swore off writing for a decade or so)
  • lack confidence in their writing abilities and need a friendly guide to coach them through some of the basics

I, on the other hand:

  • have been obsessed with writing for as long as I can remember (My earliest masterpiece was some text I dictated to a preschool teacher to accompany one of my drawings. “This is a monster. He scared a ghost. The ghost scared the monster. Last night I saw a Dracula and three debils [sic].” Chilling commentary on the post-modern condition or a factual narrative of Halloween? You decide.)
  • have loved every English teacher I’ve ever had (perhaps with the exception of Mr. Page, a cranky old Englishman who wanted us to write down everything he said verbatim. “It took me years to compile all this information and you’re not writing it down! TAKE NOTES!” But even he had a certain charm…)
  • have devoted the majority of my career to writing and pretty much spend a good chunk of every workday writing and editing

And yet, I’m not too proud to say that I still have a lot to learn. Especially since I’m relatively new to this whole content marketing gig and at work I often get asked to write or edit things like marketing emails or landing pages (which were decidedly not on Mr. Page’s AP English syllabus).

Everybody Writes appeals to me because Ann strikes a perfect balance between informative, entertaining, and straight up hilarious.

In one of my favorite passages, she alters a quote from Mean Girls to make a point about high school-mandated writing styles:

“What you learned in high school might’ve once been a helpful guidepost. But it’s time to let go. As Janis says in the movie Mean Girls: ‘That’s the thing with five-paragraph essays. You think everybody is in love with them when actually everybody HATES them!’

Actually, Janis was talking about the school’s mean girls—The Plastics. Not essays. But same dif.”

Whether she’s offering tips on the difference between “bring” and “take,” a cool app that’ll prevent you from opening Facebook while you’re trying to draft your latest blog post, or just making a Tina Fey reference (because… why not?), Ann’s writing is clear and helpful. And friggin’ hilarious.

In Everybody Writes, Ann talks about having “pathological empathy” for your readers. Basically, you always want to think about what benefits they’ll get from reading whatever you’re writing. What’s in it for them? I love this concept. Because even though writing can feel like a very egotistical pursuit, if you leave it at that, most people won’t bother to read it.

So, in the interest of anyone who happens to be reading this, I’ll stop telling you why you should read Everybody Writes and just let you get on with it!

P.S. Do you have a long, boring commute? Do you get amped up about listening to audio books while going for a run? Or maybe you feel nostalgic for your childhood days when your parents would read to you? Whatever the case, there’s good news! Everybody Writes is now also available as an audio book on audible.com. Check out a little snippet of it here.

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