Why I No Longer Want to Write "How To" Headlines (and What I'm Doing Instead)
As a nonfiction writer, how you communicate is as important as what you communicate.
I am drawn to writers whose personality shines through in their writing.
It's a combination of the content and the delivery that stands out. You can tell when writers write like they think and talk in real life. This is the kind of writer I want to be.
- How I lost 30 pounds in 6 months
- How I made my first million dollars
- How I’m prioritizing my health as a new parent
- “Why I” (e.g., Why I quit drinking)
- “What I” (e.g., What I took away from this podcast episode)
1. A subtle headline tweak for "How to" content:
One thing I don't like doing in my real life is telling people what to do. I prefer to educate myself, execute, level up in silence, and share my insights with only people who are interested.
I've been thinking of a different way to do this in my writing that better reflects my subdued personality. So from now on, I'm going to try to write less "How to" content and more "How I" content.
2. Examples of "How I" content:
vs. the “How to” versions of all these.
Here's why I've grown weary of "How to" content:
3. “How to” is prescriptive.
It implies there is one way to do this thing: the way the author says. I gives off kind of an arrogant vibe.
4. “How I” implies options.
The author is saying, “This is how I’m doing or did this thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way.” It shows humility.
5. “How to” is authoritative.
It feels like the thing has been vetted by a committee and set in stone.
6. “How I” is more open-minded.
It’s always subject to change as long as the author continues to learn and adapt. It’s like the saying (paraphrasing), “No one is ever 100% right. You can just hope to become less wrong with time.” To me, it feels less weird regularly updating a “How I’m” article than a “How to” article.
7. Other variations of "How I" I plan to start using more:
8. How will the "How I" content and its variations perform?
On one hand, real-life case studies can resonate more with the specific group of people they target.
On the other hand, this content may not be as popular as “How to” content because people love magic bullets. Everyone wants to know the one thing that is guaranteed to work for everyone, including themselves. It feels like we’ve grown accustomed to generic sound bytes and developed an intolerance for context and nuance.
So honestly, I have no idea how it will go. Regardless, it’s a step I feel I must take with my writing for the sake of developing congruency with my personality, which is the ultimate goal.