Why Most Writing Tips Are Useless (and How to Really Up Your Game)

writing tips

You’re impatient to become a better writer.

So naturally you love writing tips.

You eagerly devour each new one, hoping to give your writing brain a small but valuable upgrade.

But in practice, new tips appear so regularly that you struggle to keep up.

You don’t know which tips to try and which to ignore, and each new practice is quickly replaced by the next.

One week you’re trying to use more emotion in your writing. The next, fewer adjectives. After that, it’s all about empathy.

You end up switching tactics so often that you can’t tell which tips are working and which are simply wasting your time.

Surely there’s an answer? A solution must exist that lies somewhere between trying everything and ignoring everything.

The Unexpected Problem with Popular Writing Tips

The problem with popular writing tips and writing prompts isn’t that they don’t work – many of them do. The problem is that they can be overwhelming.

This is what typically happens…

You come across a promising new tip online – maybe even on this blog – and so you add it to your mental stockpile of writing tools and techniques.

But when you’re ready to actually start your blog or write your first article for a paying client, you have so many different approaches floating around in your head that you wrestle to combine them into a coherent strategy.

Some tips are complementary, but others seem contradictory. And weighing all the options can lead to paralysis – the tyranny of choice.

In fact, it’s a recipe for writer’s block if there ever was one.

So you don’t need more tips, but a smaller number of mutually-compatible techniques.

The “Many Hats” Model of Problem Solving

Walt Disney was said to wear several different “hats” in creative meetings – the dreamer, the critic and the realist. They helped him to create new ideas, refine them and then bring them to life.

Edward de Bono formalized the brainstorming process with his Six Thinking Hats, attributing different types of thinking (emotional, factual, creative, etc.) to each of six different-colored hats.

And this idea of “wearing” a series of different hats when approaching a task is a powerful one because it gives you permission to think about the task from a single point of view, without becoming distracted by other angles.

It also provides a finite set of perspectives, which helps you avoid feelings of overwhelm or of neglecting some important aspect.

The following hats will help you see the writing process from six different – but compatible – perspectives, so you can create powerful, well-rounded posts without drowning in a sea of tips.

#1 The Architect

The Architect is primarily interested in structure and form. They are concerned with how the component pieces are assembled to create a coherent whole.

With an Architect’s hat, you look at your writing from this structural point of view. Using this perspective, the various sections, paragraphs and sentences are simply the framework used to support the ideas contained within. But how successfully does it do this?

Is the structure elegant and balanced? Does each part play an important role in the structure as a whole? Are the main ideas presented in the most logical order?

In the real world an architect knows the function of the structure they are designing – they cannot create a successful design without first understanding its purpose. After all, what makes a great space for working might not make a great space for living.

So do you have a clear purpose for your writing? What are you aiming to achieve? What effect should your words have on the reader?

How to wear the Architect hat

To wear the hat ask: “What’s my purpose here? What are the principal elements and how should they be combined?”

With your Architect hat on, do the following:

  • Design the basic structure of your post before worrying about the details.
  • Reorder sections to improve the flow from idea to idea.
  • Remove elements that do not support the overall purpose.

#2 The Cheerleader

What state do you think the average blog reader is in when they click on a post?

Energetic, engaged and optimistic? Or exhausted, doubtful and on the verge of giving up?

Too often it’s the latter.

Most blog readers are trying to solve a persistent problem or pursue a big dream. They’ve worked hard, but success still seems distant, and frankly, it’s getting them down.

Worse still, their journey has been peppered with numerous broken promises of quick fixes and game-changing secrets.

Every time they give their attention to a new piece of content, it’s really another small cry for help. Deep down they know most shortcuts don’t work, and what they really need is to know that someone is rooting for them. Someone who can drown out the negative voices (imagined and real) by saying, “You can do this!”

So the Cheerleader is a source of pure positive energy. They don’t care where the reader has come from, only that they reach where they’re heading.

And they will not let the reader give up, no matter how tough the going gets.

How to wear the Cheerleader hat

To wear the hat ask: “How can I get my reader in the right state to take action?”

With your Cheerleader hat on, do the following:

  • Use emotion-laden power words to create a highly-motivated state.
  • Harness the power of repetition to reinforce positive suggestions (much like a cheerleading chant).
  • Keep reminding the reader of the prize at the end of the struggle.

#3 The Teacher

While it’s true not every blog reader goes online to solve a problem or research a topic, you can’t escape the fact that practical, informational content is hugely popular.

And so for most bloggers, reader education is an important part of the content mix.

But being an effective teacher is more than simply communicating useful information. Having valuable knowledge, and being able to transfer that knowledge to others, are two quite different things.

A good teacher knows how to control the flow of information so their students are neither bored nor overwhelmed. They understand the current level of their audience, and pitch their content accordingly. They use striking metaphors and clear examples to explain complex and subtle ideas.

As a writer, you wear the Teacher hat to ensure you don’t lose sight of the need to leave the reader more informed or more skilled. You wear it to protect you from creating “fluff” content that diverts the reader’s attention for a while, but has little lasting impact.

How to wear the Teacher hat

To wear the hat ask: “What does the reader need to understand to be successful? And what do they need to be able to do?”

With your Teacher hat on, do the following:

  • Recognize your assumptions about what the reader already knows and be sure to create a safety net for those who know less (e.g., with links to external resources).
  • Check the consistency of your approach. Are you creating a tutorial to be followed step-by-step or a reference resource to be visited as required?
  • Identify the building blocks of understanding and ensure important concepts are clearly and carefully explained. Be ruthless in your search for better metaphors and more relevant examples.

#4 The Troublemaker

Many readers arrive at a blog feeling stuck. They might be trapped by circumstance or stuck in a certain way of thinking. But whatever the cause, sometimes no amount of encouragement or helpful advice can unstick them.

That’s why the Troublemaker exists – to shake things up. Troublemakers challenge the status quo and tear down old ideas so the pieces can be put back together in new, more powerful ways.

George Bernard Shaw famously wrote that “all progress depends on the unreasonable man” and the writer in a Troublemaker hat should certainly be unreasonable.

So you should have unreasonable ambitions for your reader. Make unreasonable demands on their time and commitment. Program them to expect unreasonable levels of success, and grab their attention. These traits will lead you to wonderful opportunities such as making money from blogging.

And use every method at your disposal to provoke unrest.

Stir up the reader by amplifying their frustrations. Show them the unfairness of failing where less talented peers are succeeding.

How to wear the Troublemaker hat

To wear the hat ask: “Which part of the reader’s world needs shaking up?”

With your Troublemaker hat on:

  • Target beliefs that are holding the reader back. Question their assumptions. Debunk popular myths. Try to make the reader unsettled, restless, and ready for change.
  • Explore new ways to solve familiar challenges. Try to view old problems through the eyes of an outsider unburdened by preconceptions about how things are done.
  • Indulge your mischievous side.  Play devil’s advocate. Challenge the status quo just to see what happens when you don’t play by the rules.

#5 The Friend

People don’t just want information and motivation, they want understanding.

Readers head to their favorite blogs not only to solve problems, but to find people with the same passions; people who use the same language and who understand what it’s like to be them.

So the Friend bonds with the reader over shared struggles and experiences. They understand the reader’s goals – and likely share them.

But while it’s one thing to understand someone’s goals and desires, it’s another altogether to fight for them as passionately you would your own. When you have a true friend, their triumphs are your triumphs, their failures your failures.

Wearing the Friend hat, a skilled writer can create that feeling of camaraderie – that sense that we’re all in it together – even with strangers they may never interact with directly.

How to wear the Friend hat

To wear the hat ask: “How can I show the reader I understand them and I’ve got their back?”

With your Friend hat on, do the following:

  • Seek ways to show you understand your reader’s fears and frustrations. Validate their goals and desires.
  • Be unafraid to tell it like it is. Friends don’t BS each other or sugarcoat hard truths.
  • Show them your support is not contingent on the speed or scale of their success. The only thing you will not support is giving up.

#6 The Artisan

In contrast with the Architect, the Artisan is interested in the fine detail rather than the bigger picture.

In the physical world the artisan is the furniture maker, the jeweler, the pastry chef. They may produce many examples of their work in a lifetime, but each is lovingly and skillfully crafted to the same high standard. Every piece of work is a calling card, a demonstration of the artisan’s skill and commitment.

As a writer, you wear the Artisan hat to finesse your work, making the small changes and adjustments required to transform it from functional to phenomenal.

So focus less on what your writing says, and more on how it says it. Take joy in the execution and look for opportunities to entertain (e.g., by using humor) as well as inform.

How to wear the Artisan hat

To wear the hat ask: “What incremental changes can I make to improve this content?”

With your Artisan hat on, do the following:

How to Start Using the 6 Hats in Your Writing Today

The six writing hats can be used at any stage in the creative process.

Try reviewing a first draft wearing each of the hats in turn and notice how quickly you spot ways to improve it.

But if all you have is a headline idea and a blank page, here’s how to proceed:

Start as an Architect. Get clear on your purpose and create a rough outline for your post. Paint in broad strokes – steer clear of the detail. Be unafraid to discard whole sections. Move things around.

Write the opening as the Friend. Show your reader you understand their fears and desires. Show them you’ve walked in their shoes, and let them know that whatever happens you’re on their side.

To tackle the body of the post, be part-Troublemaker, part-Teacher. Show the reader what’s wrong with the status quo, and teach them what they must do to make a change.

In the closing, become the Cheerleader. A real-life cheerleader chants loudest in the dying minutes of the game, and in the final paragraphs, you need to push the reader hard to victory.

Once you have your first draft, become the Artisan and finesse your post until it’s as good as your current skills allow.

Get Off the Writing Tips Treadmill and Try This Instead

Becoming a better writer is not an arms race.

You can’t win the battle for your readers’ attention simply by having more weapons in your writing arsenal than everyone else.

The question isn’t how many techniques you adopt – it’s what combination.

After all, who do you think would win a fight between a karate student who’s perfected a few carefully-chosen techniques and one who’s tried to learn every move in the book?

Likewise, becoming a better writer is about choosing a few techniques and applying them consistently.

So stop chasing every new writing tip and try these six hats on for size.

You might find they’re the only writing tips you ever need.

Glen Long

Glen Long

Glen Long is the ex-Managing Editor of Smart Blogger. His latest project is Content Critiques, helping serious writers and bloggers level up their skills by getting expert feedback on their work.

57 thoughts on “Why Most Writing Tips Are Useless (and How to Really Up Your Game)”

  1. Hey Glen,

    Always a treat when you write for us.

    I like to call this information overload. There are so many writing (and blogging) tips out there. Much of them are good. But there’s so many of them, implementation can seem daunting. Plus, as you said, some of the tips contradict one another!

    “Mutually-compatible techniques.” How clever! What a great way to categorize the tips/techniques you learn. I love the way you show us how to start using the six “hats,” too. That’s usually the tough part. “How do I start?”

    Awesome work, Glen, as always. I’ll be Tweeting this shortly!


    1. Man – you are seriously quick on the draw when it comes to commenting on our posts. 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed the six hats Kevin!

      Thanks for your support as always.


  2. This is some great advice. Thanks, Glen. I’d also like to add, join a writing group. Get some feedback from your peers. Writing groups have existed for eons (mostly for the fiction writing crowd) because they work. I lead a biz bloggers group a few times a year and everyone who participates makes great strides in their writing.

    1. Thanks Tea! Great to see you on the blog. Yes – good point. Groups can work well if you find one that’s a good match for you. Sounds like you’re having success with your biz bloggers. 🙂

  3. Glen,

    These were some awesome tips.

    I see myself in alot of these hats, especially the Architect and the teacher, but what you said is right.

    “The question isn’t how many techniques you adopt – it’s what combination.”

    And I need to start using a combination of these techniques before I write my posts. I sure do like the steps you provided to proceed with a blank page. I may try that process, starting with Architect, then using each step there-after, to compose my next post … or a future post.

    Lots of great, practical information here, Glen. Loved how you described and showed how to implement them.

    – Andrew

    1. Thanks Andrew. Yes the right discipline here is to stick to one hat and spend some time using that perspective before moving to the next. Good luck with your next post! Cheers, Glen.

  4. Glen.

    Thanks for sharing such pearls of wisdom on writing.

    Six thinking hats is lying on my bookshelf for years. After this awesome post, I will surely read this book. Those few techniques are really worth it.

    Looking forward for more posts from you 🙂

    1. Thanks Abbey. The basic idea is taken from Edward de Bono but I created the six “hats” specifically for bloggers. The book should be interesting too though. De Bono was the guy who first talked about “lateral thinking”.

    1. Hi George.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Yes I think lots of bloggers naturally gravitate towards the Teacher. If your first draft is usually written from that perspective try switching to one or two of those other hats on your rewrites.

      Cheers, Glen.

  5. True, Glen. Newbies collect writing tips like Pinterest folk collect memes. Problem is, the tips contradict each other. ‘Cut all adverbs and adjectives.’ Sounds good. But we end up writing like Elmore Leonard and only kiddies at Reddit and Squidoo will like our stuff. ‘Pack in more sensibility and sensual description.’ Great. Then we sound like Jackie Collins. TinyBuddha, anyone? The answer is to write like ourselves. Then let a writing coach comment on our gross mistakes. Leastwise, that’s what I tell my story writing students. They win awards, so it seems to work 🙂

    1. Hey, John, yes, I agree, just write like hell and then see where the thing can be bolstered and massaged. What kind of writing is it that doesn’t have the writer’s VOICE? The final drafts of my blog pieces seem to go through these six sieves, but before then I don’t give a damn about “how to do it.” Don’t get it right, get it written! (Who said that?) Cheers.

    2. Good point John. And of course writing like ourselves is the one thing we can all do that no-one else can, so we shouldn’t lose that in the pursuit of tips. Cheers, Glen.

  6. Hey Glenn,

    I definitely agree – information overload is a big problem for those who have to write for a living, whether for their own business or for others.

    I think in order to simplify your writing there are two main things you need to keep in mind:

    1. Who I’m writing for
    2. How I want them to feel when I’m finished writing

    When you’ve figured out those two things its a lot easier to figure out which tips are important, which aren’t, and which are totally useless.

  7. Hello Glen,

    This is excellent advice! I’m quite familiar with the 6 Hats but hadn’t thought to incorporate them into my Blog posts. This will definitely help. Thank-you!

    1. Hi Jan,

      Thanks for your comment. Glad you’ve heard of the hats idea before. I think the “6 hats” are a little like Steven Covey’s “7 habits” in that you can recreate them for all sorts of different topics.



  8. JON:
    You are high on my list of helpful writers. I know our paths will cross in the near future. Thanks for a simple idea to solve a complex problem, probably a sign of genius on your part.

    1. Hey Elsa,

      Thanks for stopping by. Actually Jon didn’t write this one but you can find all his posts here:




  9. Marilyn L. Davis

    Glad I chose to read this. Besides deciding if I’m an enchanter, teacher, or storyteller, the concept of wearing different hats was quite helpful.

    Running a women’s recovery home for over 20 years means that I am familiar with wearing hats, caps, fascinators, bonnets and boaters, so why shouldn’t my writing and editing reflect this as well. Again, great tips, nicely presented and I even printed it for my better writing reminders file.

    1. Hi Marilyn,

      I’m glad you chose to read it too! You’ve got me planning my next post now:

      6 Fascinators That Will Make You a Better Writer Overnight 😉



      P.S. I’m honored to have made your reminders file.

  10. Hi Glen, So happy to see you address and solve the dilemma of overwhelm. Thank you. I personally find that millinery is the answer to many of life’s problems – I recommend a pickelhaube for a stiff letter of complaint.
    Seriously, perhaps it is connected to NLP but just mentally picturing the various hats inspires an appropriate body language and psychological attitude.
    So thank you again. Kindest

    1. Hi Zara,

      Well you just taught me a new word – pickelhaube. 🙂 And yes I think if you actually wore real hats that would make it work even better. But no-one would actually do that, right? *straightens beret*



  11. Man, you guys are great (I thought this was Jon until the end). I started blogging and content marketing full time in 2012, after a lifetime of writing business strategies and environmental reports. My head has spinning ever since. I really didn’t expect the transition to be this hard.

    There’s so much advice out there and most of it is fluff wrapped around an affiliate link. The single most helpful thing I’ve done is 3 years is read Jon’s “Headline Hacks”. This post is a close second – things were clicking together left and right as read though the hats we wear and how to break them down into manageable chunks.

    This post is going into Evernote.

    Thanks for this.

    1. Hey thanks Sam. We do try to avoid the fluff content wherever possible. 🙂 And yes, Jon’s headlines report is tough to beat. So I’m flattered you feel this is a close second! Cheers, Glen.

  12. Hey Glen

    Like always I love when you write for us.

    The biggest compliment I can give you on this post is, that I have just printed and stapled the post, to be used as a physical reference every time I write.

    I am confident it will improve the quality of my writing, it will be like having you looking over my shoulder as I write 😛

    I have only done this a few times with any post and I am happy to say they have all been from Boostblogtraffic. I hope you understand just how highly I regard to quality of your writing.



    1. Hey Paul,

      Love it when people print out my posts. In these digital days I think it’s a better endorsement than a tweet or a bookmark. 🙂

      And if it ever gets creepy with me peering over your shoulder let me know and I’ll stop. 😉



      1. Yeah its much easier to tweet and forget, than to print.

        I have already used it as a reference point when editing my guest post.

        Haha will do Glen 😛

  13. That makes sense!

    You guys here at boostblogtraffic.com are making science. Glen, you explain so well how we need to approach our readers. One and the same reader may be in a different mood every time our headlines glimps in front of their eyes. Tackling one situation in different angles we bond with them.

    Now, I’m going to open my wardrobe and pick the hats.

  14. Thanks for a really good and educational post, Glen.

    I like the part where you are showing us the different types, explaining the definition and how to wear the hat in practice. Further, it is good to see that you are telling us that the it`s the combination that works.

    If each hat is a martial arts style and you are doing MMA (mixed martial arts), it doesn`t matter how many different styles you know – it`s all about the combination when you enter the ring and the game is on.

    Thanks for using the example at the end of the best, teaching new MMA fighters what do.

    Tor Refsland

  15. Super useful post Glen. Your advice is instantly implementable! I gravitate towards cheerleader with a splash of friend and a pinch of architect. Great to have this awareness.

    1. I’m really pleased you felt there was enough detail here for you to implement. With my Teacher’s hat on it’s something I specifically aim to do. Thank you! Cheers, Glen.

  16. I love how you give the example at the end to make it all come together. It is difficult trying to write and think of every possible reader while still trying to keep your voice. This is great way to present different writing tactics and combine them together.

    1. Thanks Addi.

      It’s funny – that end part was a late addition to the post. To make sure I hadn’t missed any important “hats” I asked myself “Could I create a post from scratch using these six perspectives?” And once I realised I could, I thought it would make a good addition to the post too.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂



  17. Great post…which reinforces to me why I rarely give out writing tips. I even did a post about why I won’t tell you if your writing is any good or not. (Why listen to me? Listen to your own inner spark that tells you you’ve got something to share with the world, something unique.)

    Writing is so individual…what’s wrong with your writing isn’t what’s wrong with someone else’s. So generic tips may or may not help.

    And if you’re writing fiction, there’s so much you can do to bend the language stylistically, that you can get away with if done right. Why focus on rules?

    Maybe it’s the college dropout in me, but most of the people who ask me for writing tips seem to have a fine command of the language. It’s just another way of asking for that outside validation that most writers should really be less reliant upon.

    1. Carol… yes indeed, “listen to the inner spark.” and it sounds so simple but perhaps not, and perhaps that’s exactly why good writing is so rare, because we are so conditioned to conform, to spew conventional wisdom, to follow the tried and true. What writers need is not more writing tips, but more encounter groups, more practice in discovering how traitorous most of our beliefs are about just about everything. I think writing is a great way to go out on a limb. Who doesn’t love to hear the bough creaking?

    2. Hi Carol,

      Always great to see you on the blog. 🙂

      I hadn’t thought of tips as a form of validation seeking before but it makes a lot of sense.

      In general aspiring writing seem fascinated with the process of writing – myself included. I recently read on James Clear’s blog that George R.R. Martin writes using an old MS-DOS computer and a copy of WordStar. I don’t know why that’s interesting to me but it is. Just because that works for him it doesn’t mean it’ll work for me.

      Anyway, very glad to hear you liked the post!



  18. This is….delightful. I’ve worn these hats in writing, and love seeing them defined in a way that I can conjure them at will. I typically wear teacher and artisan and forget friend and troublemaker.

  19. I always earn amazing information with boostblogtraffic and your article Glen is an outstanding source of great ideas. As a blogger, one of the most challenging goals we have is how to keep our readers engaged with what we’ve written. Thanks for your ‘hats’, I find answers to most of my troubling questions.

  20. “Every time they give their attention to a new piece of content, it’s really another small cry for help.”

    I loved this. I have found that the people who most appreciate my writing are those who needed to know that they were not alone, that they were not crazy, or that they could actually do it. It’s part cheerleader, part friend, part teacher.

    This was probably the best post on writing a blog post that I’ve ever read. I recently started using the Architecht method to start off, designing the headlines and subheadlines first. But I’ve been neglecting to go over my posts as the artisan and I often play the role of the teacher too harshly. The flow from architect, friend, to teacher/troublemaker, to cheerleader to artisan is perfect and will add a ton of clarity to my post.

    Thank you for this!

  21. I like this post a lot, Glen!

    I think we all get stuck in particular roles. For example, as a writer, I’m comfortable being the Architect, or the Teacher, or the Artisan.

    But I just about never wear the Troublemaker hat!

    Maybe we could all try this as an experiment: write a post wearing a hat we don’t usually use.

    Would be fun, wouldn’t it?

  22. Charlene Woodley

    Ah, I love it when a plan comes together and your post is the epitome Glen! As I read about the different hats, I noticed that all of them held their own certain significance in how I want to get my message across to the reader. I actually had an ‘uh-oh’ moment as my mind began to ramble on about which one (or two) hats I should wear, but when I came to the last section where you brought it all together, my ‘uh-oh’ moment became and ‘Aha!’ moment. Although I still have some preparatory work to do yet, your post has given me a clear path to follow for writing blog posts, guides, etc. I no longer feel overwhelmed with trying to juggle one tip after another while still not having the confidence to show my work which is as awesome as can be! Thank you! 🙂

  23. Trying a new tactic. Hiring content writers. I have tons of tips and tricks for powerful and innovative marketing techniques but always have trouble putting them into quality content articles. Has anyone had success with hiring content writers or have any referrals?

  24. Thanks for the concise way you’ve suggested these six chapeaus Glen. I like the idea of the different caps and the ways to invoke the characters. I think that by consciously doing that, more fun can be brought into the process.

    It’s true what you say about the multitude of helpful hints being “a recipe for writer’s block if there ever was one.” It certainly was for me. I spent more time learning, unlearning, changing my method and then going back to the first thing again than I did writing.

    Now I sit down, decide the angle I want to present, and start creating. After I think I’ve disseminated enough information, I delve into the editing process and get rid of half, because I am, invariably, far to verbose.

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