How to Improve Writing Skills: Our 'Ask Me Anything' with David Leonhardt

How to Improve Your Writing Skills: Interview with David Leonhardt

Written by:
Samantha Lile

how to become a better writer AMA with David Leonhardt

Some of the best bloggers and content marketers pull from their experiences in completely separate fields. David Leonhardt is one of those writers. The Montreal native may have served as co-editor for his high-school newspaper, but after he enrolled in Carleton University, he changed his major from journalism to political science and mass communication.

Before long, Leonhardt embarked on a career in politics, assisting a member of Parliament.

Of course, David didn’t hang around in politics long. He served as a consumer advocate—and later Public Affairs Director—for the Canadian Automobile Association, even as he continued to hone his writing and interviewing skills.

In fact, David only ventured into the world of content creation after writing his own book, “Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 Habits of Maximum Happiness,” as well as a follow-up ebook, “The Get Happy Workbook.” When he began taking on web-promotion clients, David quickly earned the monicker, “The Happy Guy.” The name stuck, and he thus named his company, “The Happy Guy Marketing.”

David’s writing and promotion skills are so sharp, he is known as a thought leader in the worlds of social media and website promotion, where he focuses mainly on creating and promoting compelling content for new audiences.

In order to continue offering our readers important insights from industry leaders, Visme has chosen David as our next “Ask Me Anything Subject.” We scoured the crowd via Skype, Twitter and Survey Monkey to find out just what you want to know from David. Check out his Q&A below:


How to Improve Your Writing Skills: AMA with David Leonhardt

What tips would you give other writers to get "in the zone" faster?

I don’t know if this works for everything, but for writing skills it helps to shut everything else down and draft an outline. Even better is to draft an outline ahead of time, before starting to write. An alternative to an outline would be the opening paragraph or the closing paragraph, as these often summarize the article.

If I am preparing a list post, such as “7 ways to get in the zone faster,” I’ll usually go with the outline. Posts like that need structure.

If I am writing more of an analysis, such as “Interruptions more frequent with Twitter’s new beer-for-tweets policy,” I’ll start with a summary, which is probably going to be my intro paragraph.

Just two caveats about that last statement:

  • Twitter did not actually announce a beer-for-tweets policy. Sorry.
  • I often end up rewriting the summary once the post is complete. But that’s OK, because the first draft of the summary serves to focus my mind on what I’m writing.

The key to getting in the zone quickly is to start with something that focuses your mind on what you are about to write.


How do you pick what to write about when it's for your own blog or website?

Most of my topics are experiential. In general, that means one of two things:

  • something I came across in my work, dealing with clients or even out there in real life
  • something I read or responded to on another blog, on Quora or on social media

In other words, once something gets me thinking, it’s hard for me not to start writing.

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How do you best promote and build links and social signals with an infographic?

Let me say from the outset that I don’t consider myself an expert on infographic marketing. But I will say that I like simple infographics that focus on one key message. I find these are easier to promote, just as a news release is easier to promote with a tightly focused message.

I also find shorter infographics easier to promote, because they fit better on a screen on Pinterest and Facebook. The workaround for a long infographic, or even a mid-length infographic, is to create mini-section graphics and promote each one separately on social media.

This works especially well if the overall graphic addresses multiple audiences. For example, an infographic on “The highest cities in the world” might appeal best to bloggers from each of those cities if their local section can also be presented as a stand-alone image.


How has your past career in politics affected your current professional endeavors?

I’d like to think it hasn't! Although … one thing politics does teach us (most of us) is how to communicate better, to focus less on what we say and more on what our audience hears. There is a big difference between the two. Working for a cabinet minister definitely taught me to think strategically.


What type of content will audiences demand in the next five years?

Cut-the-crap content. All this media coverage of “fake news” will make people desperate for fact-checking and truth-vs-fiction content.

Trust will become the top commodity.

We are just a half-year into the term of a U.S. president who long ago realized that he doesn’t need to worry about fact-checking, and has yet to show any recognition of the difference between fact and fiction. Every media outlet is painting the others as fake. Already this insanity has sent the whole world of communications topsy-turvy. Imagine where we’ll be after four years of this.

People are desperate to know “the truth,” even when there are many truths.

I predict that the trickle-down effect will be that, in each of our respective niches, it will be more important than ever to prove that our version of reality is actually real.

This might help you get in the mood (it is even better live, in concert).


In your opinion, can anyone become a successful blogger?

No. Some people won't make a good blogger. Some people make better lawyers or accountants of circus clowns.

Here’s what it takes to be a good blogger:

  1. Have original ideas, seeing in new ways the things that interest people most. Blog about what you know, what love, what you have your own views on. You need something worth saying to be a good blogger.
  2. Learn to write or hire a ghostwriter/editor. Your blog needs to be well written.
  3. Learn to promote. Shadow a few bloggers you feel are successful, especially those in a similar niche, and watch what they do online—where they post, who they engage with, what tools they use. I've learned so much from Gail Gardner, Ann Smarty and Eren McKay, for example. A blog lost in the wilderness won’t be successful.


What's the best piece of advice you would give to those looking to build a successful website?

Focus on the user. Make it easy-peasy to:

• read
• navigate
• contact you
• take action

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The easier you make it, the more successful your site will be. One of the things we do is plain language writing and editing. And make sure to do essay reviews. It makes a huge difference in engagement and conversions, and often even in traffic.


What are the most common errors you've seen bloggers make?

What makes me cringe the most are blog posts with no image. So many times I want to share a really well-written (or at least well-thought-out) blog post, only to realize that it’s pointless to share on most platforms because it has no image.

Almost as bad are posts with stock photography. Sure, I could technically post the link on social media, but do I really want to fill my Facebook feed with stock photos? Sometimes the post is just so good that I’ll do it, but other times I won’t.

As for writing, there are two big sins, which is why many people get help writing essays:

  • dry writing, lacking the blogger’s personality (or any personality)
  • long-winded writing, sometimes with many sesquipedalian words, in long paragraphs

Often, these two sins go together. I’m not being paid to read the post, so why would I make the effort to wade through all that. The writing has to engage the reader. It has to excite. It has to entertain, in a manner of speaking. And it should be easy to read. Yes, back to making things easy-peasy for the reader.


Your Turn

Ready to become a better writer? Whether you're a blog post writer, an essay writer, a copywriter or another type, implementing these tips can go a long way.

Is there an expert you’d like to see included in Visme’s AMA Series? We’d love to read your suggestions in the comments below.

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    About the Author

    Samantha Lile is a web content creator with a journalism and mass media degree from Missouri State University. She contributes news and feature articles to various web publications, such as the Huffington Post. Currently, she resides in the beautiful Ozarks with her husband, four dogs and two cats.

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