The Secret to Writing Success

May 19, 2010


If you’re like me, I get really skeptical when I hear some guru claiming to have a silver bullet to achieving lasting success, be it a magic pill, number, formula, or mantra. However, there is one success formula or ‘magic number’ if you will, that I can wholeheartedly recommend: 10000.

‘10000?’ you ask. Yes, 10000. 10,000 hours to be precise. That’s the magic number for success.

According to Canadian journalist, author, and pop sociologist, Malcolm Gladwell, who has studied the common denominators shared by successful people around the world, you need to invest 10,000 hours practicing your craft to reach a level of professional success.

He goes on to cite examples such as Bill Gates, who practiced 10,000 hours of computer programming since high school before becoming a mega mogul. Even Gladwell asserts that he spent 10,000 hours of practice at The American Spectator and Washington Post, putting in about 20 hours work a week for a period of 10 years before becoming a successful author.

I decided to validate this theory in my hometown of Toronto by asking Aurora Award-Winning Science Fiction author, Karl Schroeder about Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule” at a short story workshop he was hosting. He admitted, yes, that was about the time it took for him to reach professional success in his field as a sci-fi writer.

If you were to spend just 2 hours a day practicing your craft (writing, editing, polishing, rewriting), you’d reach a professional level of success in your field in about 14 years. Given the fact that (according to Nielsen Media Research) the average American spends 5 hours a day watching television, investing 2 hours a day in your dream vocation should not be all that difficult to do.

Now, if you were to push yourself and simply work an additional hour a day (that’s 3 hours a day) notice what a difference your minimal effort would make over time. 3 hours a day would get you to your 10,000 hour mark in about 9 years. Subtract 9 years from 14 years and you would save yourself 5 years of wasted time working on stuff that you either detested or were not fully
passionate about to begin with!

I think you see where I’m going with this. It takes a decade or more to become an overnight success. Put in your 10,000 hours of practice. Start now, thank me later.

Sharif Khan

Writer, Author of “Psychology of the Hero Soul”
An inspirational book on awakening the hero within
(As mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, Toronto Sun)


Overcoming Writer’s Block

August 30, 2008

Have you been bitten by the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ bug? Do you find yourself staring dumbly at a blank page not knowing what to write next? Not to worry! You are not alone.

Here are some suggestions for you that have worked well for me:

Free flow writing nonstop for about 15 plus minutes on any topic related to the story I’m writing helps me overcome writer’s block. The trick is to keep writing nonstop without pausing to edit or think.

Another technique that helps me is reviewing all my story notes before going to bed and asking my mind to ‘work on it’ while I sleep. The first thing I do upon waking is start writing! It’s like a dam of creative energy building up overnight that needs to be released.

Happy Writing!

Sharif Khan

Freelance Writer, Consultant
Author of “Psychology of the Hero Soul”

Business Writing Tips for Professionals

November 17, 2007

Business Writing Tips for Professionals
by Sharif Khan

Learn the art of effective business writing to help increase sales, improve business communications, win business proposals, generate new business leads, and develop better business letter writing and report writing skills.

Effective business writing skills can help you win that million dollar contract, earn a promotion, resolve a dispute, or generate a significant increase in new business leads. Poor business writing, on the other hand, can never be undone; it can cause you to lose business to your competition and even cost you your job. Here are 11 easy ways you can improve your business writing skills:

1. Before you write a word of copy, make sure you know who your target audience is and what specific result you’d like to achieve. If it’s an important business communication, take five minutes to visualize yourself in the shoes of the recipient and imagine what this person’s world is like.

What does their typical day look like? What are their unique needs, goals, and challenges? What problem is keeping them up at night? The more thought and research you invest in understanding your target audience and how you can help them, the more powerful and effective your business writing communications will become.

2. Avoid using your company acronyms and buzzwords. While they might seem cute and clever to you, it’s very annoying to a busy executive who has a pile of documents and proposals to read. Avoid using academic language like ‘ergo,’ ‘henceforth,’ or ‘so to speak,’ and as a general rule of thumb avoid use of technical jargon. Simplify big words: write use instead of utilize, send out instead of disseminate, fair instead of equitable, etc.

3. Use a strong, active voice instead of the impersonal, passive voice. “The meeting agenda could be discussed further” is passive. “Let’s discuss the meeting agenda” is active. Express confidence and decisiveness in your business communications. Instead of writing, “I intend to write a report on sales performance measures,” which comes across as weak and indecisive, write: “I’m currently writing a report on sales performance measures for completion on or before end of the second quarter.”

4. Write in a conversational tone instead of alienating your readers by being too formal and bureaucratic – unless you’re writing to a bureaucrat or someone who prefers formality. Know your audience!

Even if you are writing a marketing communications piece that will be read by several thousand potential readers, make your writing as inviting and personal as possible. You can accomplish this feat by writing to one specific person who you can visualize as an ideal customer. Pretend you are sitting down with this person in a bar and having a casual conversation. Write your piece with this one person in mind and you will positively engage thousands of readers who will feel that you are writing directly to them!

5. Replace hyperbole with solid facts and reputable testimonials. Phrases like, “We’re #1,” “We’re the leader in our field,” or “We provide the best service,” aren’t going to get you anywhere. Instead, use a fact such as stating that the President of a leading association ranked your company with the highest quality score out of 500 certified companies.

6. Convert product features into benefits. Mentioning that you provide automated billing or an automatic domain name renewal service does not engage your customer emotionally. Here’s an example of benefit oriented copy: “Our automatic domain name renewal service will provide you with the added security and comfort of knowing that your domain names will never be hijacked by your competitors while freeing up your administrative time to focus on growing your business.”

7. Don’t rely on editing all your important business documents from your computer desktop. Print out your document and read it out loud. If you encounter any awkwardness in speech it means you need to re-write your piece to make it more conversational and flow better.

By reading your document out loud, you will also be able to spot typos and errors that your computer spelling and grammar check program might not have detected. As an example, you might have written ‘echo friendly’ when you really meant ‘eco friendly.’

8. In writing a business letter or business proposal, it is vitally important to write from your customer’s perspective and what will interest them. Start off by writing about how great your customer’s company is and what specific attributes you like about the company instead of bragging about how great your company is. Too much use of “I,” “me,” or “our company” is a sure sign of ego getting in the way of business. Make sure to generously use “You” and “Your” in your business copy if you want to make more sales.

9. Business writing is very different from writing poetry or literature. Don’t meander or get carried away with flowery language. Write the most important point you want to make in the first sentence. If you are writing a sales letter, you can significantly increase sales by simply including a powerful P.S. at the end of the letter that summarizes the main point in a fresh way, creates a sense of urgency, or adds further credibility. Here’s a powerful example: “P.S. I’ve been invited to speak at your association’s annual conference this coming Friday and hope to see you there.”

10. Be clear, concise, and to the point. Don’t assume readers will know what to do. Guide them by including a specific call to action: “click on the link to get your special report” or “call me to set up a no-cost 15 minute consultation.”

11. Use word pictures to get your point across. Can you imagine the thrill and excitement of driving a rocket-fast, cobalt blue Porsche 911 Turbo as it whisks you to your desired destination? A well-written article or report can be like that Porsche and generate a ton of new business in half the time with more fun! After all, what’s more exciting, cold-calling prospects or having them call you? (If writing is a challenge, consider hiring a professional).

Sharif Khan is a business writer, copywriter, book consultant, and author of the leadership bestseller, Psychology of the Hero Soul ( If you need help with an important writing project or ongoing assignment and would like a no-cost, no-obligation quote, call 416-417-1259 or send an email to: “Sharif knows how to write clear and concise copy for business. He is quick, to the point, and a pleasure to work with,” writes Carl Nanni, former VP, Kraft Canada

Keywords: copywriter, ghostwriter, freelance writer, effective business writing, tips, corporate, communications, marketing, proposal writer, sales, business development, report writing, author, management, leadership, web content writing.

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