iWriter Training Center

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Chapter 9

Writing a Sample that Always Gets Noticed

Create the “Most Amazing Thing I’ve Ever Seen” paragraph

Hiya fellow iWriters! I’m sure that you’re anxious to hear about the contest results so we will tackle that right off the bat.

Out of the 600+ total entries, there were about 35 total samples that would be considered “perfect”. In other words, those entries followed all the instructions, submitted two error-free paragraphs and met the submission deadline. Some were obviously a lot better than others, but I was merely looking for some discipline at this point.

There were also well over 500 samples that came up short in one way or another. That’s about 80% of all the applications I received, and I will admit that I was sorely disappointed.  When you’re given an opportunity to earn $100 or more an hour doing what you love, there’s no excuse for submitting an application filled with typos.  A quick three minute sample is not going to cut it.

614
total entries for the iWriter mentor contest
422
were disqualified for not giving the requested samples
70
were disqualified for not including their names/countries
52
were removed for extremely low-quality samples (no punctuation, etc.)
12
writers were officially given a “do-over” due to technical issues
12
more were removed for entering the contest more than once
8
people sent completely blank emails
6
writers with extensive professional backgrounds were removed
5
contestants were disqualified for breaking TOS
2
writers were disqualified for plagiarism
1
writer sent a link to a 3rd party site filled with viruses

By my count, that leaves 23 people still eligible for the iWriter Contest, plus there are a dozen more that have an additional few days to send me their sample in the correct document format (or simply pasted into emails). So that’s 35 entries total that are still technically in the running- I have sent emails to each of you.

Let’s change gears for a moment though to give you an idea of what I was looking for in a quality sample.  If I were entering this contest, this would have been my personal “Most Amazing Thing I’ve Ever Seen” paragraph

quote
Nothing could have prepared me for the thundering explosion of electricity that shook my entire home back in June of 2012. Instantly I heard a sickening crackle of voltage with a simultaneous flash of blinding light. The lightning was everywhere around me; it was a solid wall of the most intense brightness I had ever seen. A deafening soundwave only amplified the terror. Yet in a matter of milliseconds the threat was gone…well before I could even process what had actually happened.

lesson9-01

As you might have learned from completing this exercise, it is very difficult to tell a story in 100 words.  I had to leave out so much detail in the paragraph above because it just wouldn’t fit.  For example, my wife was sitting with me on the porch when the lightning struck.  Her first reaction was to jump up and run inside the house, which actually made me laugh.

I remember telling her, “If you’re not already dead, there’s no sense in running now.” For me to use that part of the experience though, I would have had to tie up extra words tying my wife into the narrative. So that got cut in my first edit. I also wanted to tell you about a number of trees that were scorched, how my pool equipment exploded and a number of other cool details, but there was no way to accomplish that in 100 words. That’s why I literally picked apart and studied every single word that was used- I packed in as much as I could in 82 words without sacrificing the writing quality.

A lot of the samples I received opened with things like-

  • “The most amazing thing I ever saw was one day when…”
  • “You won’t believe what I saw. It was the most amazing thing ever!”
  •  “If I live to be 100 years old, I don’t think I will ever see anything as amazing as what I saw one time on vacation…”

Think about this- those intros are between 11 and 28 words long…when you have 100 total words to tell an exciting story. Other samples repeated phrases like, “I looked at my friend and said…”  That’s just wasting words when you could be sharing something a lot more important, which is a big problem I see with iWriter assignments as well.

Novice writers waste so much space getting to the actual point that it dilutes everything else that’s there.

Make sense? Additionally, I want you to take a look at my sample one more time. I was talking about a lightning storm – but how many times did I use the word “lightning” to get my point across?

If you look closely, I was very careful not to repeat any of the main keywords that defined the story. I was also very careful to pick the best possible words to illustrate what I was seeing and feeling when that lightning bolt hit.

For instance, I could have said the thunder made a “loud boom” or a “thundering noise”. But that’s not what really happened. The thunder sounded like a massive explosion…and then it lingered for a number of seconds. So for that part of the story, I chose “deafening soundwave” to describe the moment.

lesson9-02

Another thing I want you to see about my sample- I told you what was happening right off the bat with, “a thundering explosion of electricity…shook my entire home.” Several of you waited until the very last line to tell me about the amazing thing you saw, and that actually defeated the purpose of the entire exercise. Why? Because the focus was on what you were doing before the amazing thing happened…when you should have been giving me detail about what you were seeing, hearing, and feeling.

Look at my sample again. My first sentence tells you a big lightning strike shook my home, and the 2nd sentence describes what it sounded like.  Then I vividly describe what I saw and how I felt in that moment so you could experience it as well.  The sample works because I focused on what you would need to know in order to share those feelings with me.

One last point and I’ll move on to talking about the finalists.

You may have noticed that I stopped at 82 words. Some of you may be thinking, “Why didn’t Keith add one more sentence to summarize the experience?” Believe me, I wanted to…but there was nothing else that I could think of to say that would make the piece stronger.

For example, I could have said something about being scared after the lightning bolt had disappeared. Would that really help though? Anyone in their right mind would be scared in that moment since it easily could have been instant death. Besides, my line about, “before I could even process what had actually happened” let’s you make that discovery on your own, which I believe is more powerful.

Or maybe not…it’s just my personal opinion. But I’m trying to let you see how my mind works as I prepare something for a contest or a client.

lesson9-03

Likewise, I could have ended with a sentence discussing how I’m more careful in lightning storms now.  It ultimately comes down to a personal writing style, but I felt like that would take away from the fast pace of the story.  After all, I was describing something that happened in less than a second; it just didn’t feel right to step outside that timeline.

And for the record, I’m not trying to brag about my writing skills…I’m still learning just as much as you are.  This is purely about helping you see the bigger picture in what makes powerful writing.  My personal style is made up of hundreds of great writers I’ve read over the years and it what makes me unique.

So even though you’re learning from me here, the ultimate goal is NOT TO write just like I do…it’s to find your best possible voice and create a unique style of your own. I highly recommend for you to go back to your original writing sample and re-write it as critically as we just did with mine…whether you’re still being considered in this contest or not.

Remember, the magic is in the repetition.  I can’t stress that enough!  Keep re-writing until you can’t find a single word to improve on.  That’s why I chose such a small sample piece to begin with, so you can focus on one perfect paragraph.

As for the 35 people still in the running for one on one mentoring and Elite Plus status, I’m giving you approximately ten days to take what you’ve learned here and get a polished sample in my hands. What you submitted in the first round is the starting point- and the end goal is 100 total words of pure awesome.

So what are you waiting for? Get to writing!

I also want to thank everyone else that entered the contest and gave it a valid effort- I tried my best to reply to every single one of you. There are still a large chunk of emails I haven’t had the time to write back to though, so don’t feel bad if I haven’t contacted you yet.

LOL, you try giving feedback to 614 messages in a week. =)

Please note that this contest ended on December 31st, 2016 and the winners have already been selected. Keep an eye out for our next iWriter challenge in the months ahead!

And one more thing- if you need a simple question answered about this or any of the lessons, please post it below in the comments so everyone can see it.  I’m making it a point to go through the replies at least once a week so I don’t leave anyone hanging.

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  1. Julius14 -

    Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to be writer and also I must say congrats for your guidelines , I feel very educative every time I perused through your lesson.

  2. NOUMAN HABI -

    I RECENTLY GOT THROUGH YOUR EDUCATIONAL ARTICLE IT WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR ME AND YOUR WRITING STYLE ACTTRACTS PEOPLE

  3. Neha Bidwai -

    Nice information and I got that no of words doesn’t matter if you cover short story in less powerful words.

  4. Roselyn -

    Interesting tips, I have been searching for this kind of guide line on how to structure article, now its clearer to me. Thnks to you Mr Koons. Hope to become professional writer soon.

  5. Vivienne wendy -

    Thanks not questions just learning

  6. Mercy -

    Amazing! I can read this again and again….you are an inspiration ….i love it continue with the good job

  7. Well Keith that was interesting to say the least to be honest with you right now I do have a very strong peace, something I wrote in a fictional book a wrote a while ago now that it would really make a difference right now since the contest has ended 2016 but it would definitely be interesting what you would think of it.

  8. Wow! Thanks a million, sir, for this lessons though I can’t say for sure how blessed I am for choosing to pursue my writing career with your Company! These lessons are really amazing. Am going to use your tips and guidelines in all my subsequent writing. Once again thanks!

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