Unusual writing advice from a person who shouldn’t give writing advice


By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I constantly strive to create a more compelling writing style. Not just for show.

We’re living in a web age where access to information is omnipresent and soon robots will start cranking out perfect content. Pressure deluxe.

If we humans want to compete, we must establish an entrancing voice that bonds people to our writing. Like magnets on steroids. Let me tell you how.

Over the last few years, I have amassed myriad techniques that improve my writing ability, primarily because English is my second language and I need to hustle triple hard.

And it worked. I’m rid of my horrendous writing (English teacher: “Mars, you make too many mistakes. Your sentence structure is more twisted than curled spaghetti. I hope your career will never involve writing in English.” Oops.)

And I’ve turned my mess of words into something that people enjoy reading … and even pay for.

So you might not think I am the best person to give you writing advice. But whether you’re a native speaker or not, the following tips will help you create an unusual writing style that makes your content sparkle more than a diamond in the sky. Blinky dee blink.

Let’s start with …

You x 3. 

art 2A popular post I wrote a century ago in the internet age (offline age: approx. two years) described a basic concept of amplifying your personal foibles and traits. Vamp up da volume. Crank up ze character. Times three.

Become a writing caricature for maximum attention effect.

Channel your favorite writer.

This is an effective technique I used to learn Japanese.

Pick your favorite writer, learn as much about him/her and pretend you’re him/her before you create your content.

One of my current favorite authors is Chuck Palahniuk, who achieved world stardom through his debut novel Fight Club. I read the book 5+ times and channel his voice whenever I can. The goal is not to copy … but let their style influence yours and stream through to your readers.

Create your own dictionary.

art 3My dictionary is called the Mars Dorian Primer, and it’s an alphabetical list made with Scrivener, where I collect my word creations and unique expressions. I have the tab open 24/7, and whenever I come up with a new Dorian-worthy term, I type it in for for future reference.  This allows me to create a Mars style vocabulary which I can incorporate into my writing. Half of the unusual expressions you see in this post were zipped over from my primer.

Read content that pushes your comfort zone.

You create what you consume. The more original the input, the more original the output.

Half of what I read is beyond my initial interest. I may have to push myself to maintain attention, but I want to absorb a different view. Recent examples:

  • A book on how to spot psychopaths (“The Psychopath Test”)
  • The Bible
  • A Young Adult novel about a meth addicted teenager girl and her alter ego, “the monster”
  • Lyrics from artists I never listen to like Macklemore and Lana Del Rey

Why do I force myself to do this? Am I just a masochistic reader? Nah, not really.  I’m just practical. If I only read what I liked, I’d end up with a stack of Japanese comics and self-help books. Boo-ring. Variety is the spice of style.

Make unusual connections. 

art 1“My paper was white as snow.”

Zzzzz. And your sentence is lame as lime. No cookies for you!

When you want to fire up your prose with visual devices, aim for unique metaphors and similes. Stereotypes like white as snow are out! Unless you’re Snow White. Then you get a waiver.

Feel free to use your self-made dictionary to include unique connections. Here are some of mine:

Shiny as a crystal in the sky. As clean as white magic (white magic in the RPG world represents healing and protection). Enough passion to melt the moon.

Find unique visual descriptions that A) stand out and B) still remain somewhat clear.

As evil as a fish in Vegemite is unique, but what the heck does it mean? You may not even know Vegemite.

And last but not least:

Break the language when you want people to pay 100% attention. 

I do this all the time. I call it my anti-scanner measure or auto-break.

Since a lot of people scan and eye fly over content, they miss most of what you want to say. If you want their full attention, you can break their flow but including unusual phrases, words and mistakes. I may use a germanized sentence, e.g. using ‘ze’ instead of ‘the’ or write error-filled phrases like this” “WHAT ZE HELL ARE YOU SIMPLIFYING THINGS MaRs YOU SAUERKrAUt SUCKING GERMAN?”

It’s not a gimmick when it works. And it does work, based on Twitter mentions and messages I get about my style. People stop and pay attention.


Some of the methods above may seem unsettling. But if you want results that no one’s achieving, you must do things no one else is doing.

I challenge you to re-think your writing approach if you want to craft compelling content. Never go auto-pilot. In a world of too much samey-samey, a uniquely crafted content style will stand out like a naked guy with a feather on his face.

Remember, style matters. Find that advantage. Treat your writing as a never ending artwork in progress.

Are you?

mars dorianMars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at www.marsdorian.com/

Original illustrations by the author.

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  • Christine Webber

    Thanks Mars for such a useful article. I loved your ‘Evil as a fish in Vegemite’ as it made me laugh out loud! Will be trying a few of these techniques in my blogging.

  • Chuck Kent

    I was going to suggest another point: Write something that matters… But I see you’ve nicely covered that in the previous post you link to in line two (“robots will soon start cranking out perfect content”). I particularly like the three key recommendations:
    Define your edge and go there
    Create caring connections
    Create art and change your client’s life

    If anyone is reading this comment and hasn’t read that post, make it your next click.
    Thanks Mars.

  • A very interesting and fun blog post. You made me laugh and think, not easy to do first thing in the morning. 🙂

  • Suffolk_Graphic_Designer

    Another good idea is not using bold for body text. It makes it very difficult to read.

  • Vegemite is the perfect scapegoat…

  • heh, that’s my golden double – entertain and inform.
    Hard to achieve, golden when you do 😉

  • True, I never do that. Have you ever seen someone do it ?
    Probably with all caps on as well.

  • Yeah, it sounds like sci-fi, but since robots / algorithms can now craft decent reports, it’s only a matter of time before they crank out good enough, more complex blog posts. You have to constantly “up your game” and find better ways to make your written message read…and heard.

  • Chuck Kent

    I know it’s technologically impressive, but I can’t help but cringe at the thought of services like Narrative Science that make it all about feeding the data into an algorithm, seemingly for the sole purpose of cranking out a greater quantity of copy at a lower price

  • another fun thing I like to do when I write is create personal word coins. When you couple a made up word with a story, it’s pretty powerful. great read, Mars! I appreciate your insights.

  • Great stuff – as always, Mars.

    Sometimes I think that non-native speakers have an advantage when writing English. We’re less likely to use gobbledygook, we tend to make text simpler and easier to understand, and it might be easier for us to experiment with language. I can be wrong of course, but I like to see this so-called weakness as a strength.

    My English has often be ridiculed (especially my pronunciation), but I’m glad to have overcome this negativeness as I now hugely enjoy writing in English and connecting with so many people.

    And thank you for reminding me to open up my reading list to a variety of books again. I’ve become a little sloppy with that lately. Ssthank you 🙂

  • Suffolk_Graphic_Designer

    Er, which browser are you using to check this? In everything I’ve got, this post appears in bold. It’s ok on my mobile though.

  • It’s not in bold. I would never attack people like that. How were you viewing it and I will look into it.

  • Laura Rivera

    The tone of your illustrations matches the tone of your writing perfectly! Love it!

  • Love ZE tips. Will likely implement them as often as a ‘mangy thirsty camel is likely to head to the sparkling natural spring fueled watering hole after a long trek in seemingly unending dunes’ 🙂

  • that’s the mix I ALWAYS want to achieve 😉

  • wow, now that’s a sentence. Don’t hold them bak 😉

  • Thou rocketh.

  • Hey Jessica,
    what do you mean by word coins ? Do you mean you use specific words to anchor a sentence/meaning (NLP style) in your target audience ?

  • heh, I believe that using English as a second language has its advantages – you’re not as attached to it
    (maybe that’s just positive thinking, but whatever, if it helps, use it 😉
    The book reading helps me soo much, Henneke, almost more than the writing itself. Especially if you read more from the same author – it feels like you’re absorbing the writer’s voice over time.

  • Suffolk_Graphic_Designer

    OS X Firefox 22, Safari 6.0.5 and Chrome 28

  • Great post. There is a lot on the blogs these days about content, but little about authenticity and creating a voice for yourself. I was just working on a post titled, “How to Write Stupendously and Why You Should.” The idea is that there is so much writing that sounds so dry it is incredibly boring.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said to make people stop and pay attention. Thanks for the reminder.

  • writing is such a unique and personal journey, so I probably shouldn’t give writing advice. But I was referring to words that are completely made up. it’s fresh on my mind because I wrote about a made up word (squinzie) in a post last week. it’s simply another silly, fun way to put a unique spin on things. does that make sense?

  • Love. One blufficky comment Jessica. Admontey … and thank you! : )

  • Pingback: Unusual writing advice from a person who should...()

  • ArtaGene

    Think you are rite..(!) So much “content” I read is so sterile I wonder what vending machine they zapped it from….perfect form from beginning to end…

    All the right keywords in place…grabbing that slurp so it can be slopped on us when we search…

    Need I say more?

  • Maggie Dodson

    Unfamiliar with Vegemite? Here is the flavour.

  • Great article Mars!
    Since English is my second language as well, I’ll definitely copy some of your tips 😉

  • Mars, just wanted to say … Mark was certainly correct when he mentioned in today’s post that you hit it out of the park! Now, maybe I should learn some German 😉

  • Pingback: Saturday Edition – What We’re Writing and Reading | Live to Write - Write to Live()

  • This is exceptional, @marsdorian:disqus! With the inundation of “me-too” posts out there, I find your take at breaking up the monotony completely refreshing. I might have to start working some of these concepts into my own writing. Not only is it fun and more engaging, but it really gives a writer a chance to show off more personality. Let’s be honest, that’s what we should strive to do in our writing anyway. Great post!

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