Be a Better Writer: 5 Lessons Learned From Yoga Teacher Training
Katie McKenna Feb 28 2017
Last fall, I began a 200-hour certification program to become a yoga teacher. I wanted to learn more about the philosophy of yoga, strengthen my public speaking and leadership skills, and teach one or two nights a week after finishing my day at work as a Content Specialist at Portent.
During the training, we learned the Sanskrit (the ancient language of Hinduism) word “svadhyaya,” which roughly translates to self-study. To embrace svadhyaya means that we must contemplate and examine ourselves in order to grow. Learning about this concept not only made me examine my personal life but my work life as well. Simply put: I wanted to know how I could be a better writer. Luckily, there were many lessons I learned during my training that were also applicable to creating better content.
If you’re currently a writer or even a digital marketer who occasionally writes, here is a list of 5 of the most memorable lessons I learned during my training that will help you strengthen your writing skills:
Beginner’s Mindset Leads to More Creativity and Openness
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” -Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Being a beginner is challenging because there is so much that you don’t know. But it can also be rewarding because the possibilities are endless. When you’re a beginner, your knowledge doesn’t serve as a roadblock. It’s about the practice and the process, not about seeking absolute perfection.
The first time I created a yoga sequence, I didn’t have to worry about repeating what I had already done a million times. I felt completely open to create whatever I wanted. It was okay that it was messy and imperfect because I was new and that was to be expected. With that expectation, I found a certain amount of freedom.
Even if you’ve been practicing the craft of writing for decades, you need to try your best not to have self-judgment when you write. Too much self-judgment can stop you from ever putting pen to paper or being open to new ideas. And with proper attention and editing, ideas that seem strange or idiotic at first can turn into strong pieces of writing.
What if you’ve written about the same topic many times? Or the new client you’re working with is very similar to one who you worked with a year ago? Bringing your expertise and prior knowledge to your work is imperative, but it’s also important to remain open to what might be different about the work in front of you. Be curious. Dig a little deeper. Continue to push yourself past the realm of what you think you know. In the end, you’ll strengthen your writing skills and your knowledge base.
Don’t Wait Until You Know Everything to Give it a Shot
This lesson goes hand in hand with being a beginner. If I waited until I knew everything before I allowed myself to teach yoga, I would never teach. This same ideology applies to writing. Being okay with not knowing everything leads to curiosity and curiosity leads to taking a more deliberate approach to your work.
One of the best ways that we can apply this to our job as writers is to test the copy that we create. Testing is synonymous with learning. Testing is admitting that you don’t know the answer yet and that you’re okay with that. It could also mean that you’re pretty sure you know that what you’ve written will work. Testing can verify whether or not you’re right.
Let’s say that you’re working on a website that sells yoga pants. You want to push people through the funnel faster, but you’re not sure how to write the call-to-action copy. An excellent way to determine what does and doesn’t work is to A/B test your copy over an allocated period of time. Here’s an example from Lululemon. Currently, the CTA copy on their website says “Must-Have Bottoms.” But if the conversion rate wasn’t high enough, Lululemon might try changing the wording on the CTA to find out if a different phase elicits more clicks.
Cultivating Your Voice and Tone is Essential
In yoga, the most powerful tool you have is your voice. Through your voice, you give cues and adjustments so that your students don’t injure themselves. And it’s through the tone of your voice that you show your authenticity and set the mood of the class.
When you write for the web, it’s important to know your voice and tone beforehand. Defining your voice and tone helps you articulate your value and define who you are. Whether you’re writing copy for your newsletter or social media platforms – when your content reads well and people trust the person who is speaking to them, they will move through the sales funnel with greater ease.
When communicating, your tone varies depending on who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, and the messages you’re trying to convey. Just as in conversation, your written tone and voice (or your brand’s) should have a distinct personality, style, or point of view. That voice should take on different tones depending on the situation and the audience to whom you’re addressing. If you haven’t already, develop a company-wide voice and tone guide to keep your communications on-brand and on-message. If you already have a voice and tone guide, look back on it to refresh your knowledge and check to see if it’s still in line with your brand, especially if you wrote the guide a long time ago.
Don’t Make Assumptions
During my yoga training, we read “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, which offers a simple, but powerful code of conduct to transform our lives. I’ve read this book a few times before, but the third agreement, “Don’t make assumptions” stuck out to me in a way that it hadn’t before. Ruiz says:
“We have the tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking…”
When you’re writing content, it’s incredibly important not to make assumptions. If you assume that you’re providing the information that users want and need, you’re missing out on an opportunity to provide them with what they’re actually seeking. You might be well-versed in your brand or product you’re selling, but at the end of the day, your customers know their needs better than anyone else. And although you might truly believe that you’re not making assumptions about what they need, you won’t know unless you ask them.
The Best Teachers Are Also the Best Students
The best yoga teachers I’ve practiced with keep their sequences, themes, and music fresh. Their secret? They are perpetual students and share what they learn on a daily basis with their students. This is also true when you’re a writer. If you want to strengthen your writing skills, read as much as possible. Reading other writers’ work can give you new ideas around subject matter and languaging. And the best part is that you can read about subjects other than writing to get better at your craft. Reading fiction and non-fiction of any subject can help strengthen your writing. If you do want to read about writing (so meta!) I recommend Nicole Fenton, Ann Handley, and the Gather Content blog.
Remain curious, learn from those around you, and ask a friend or coworker to edit. Different people will give you different types of edits, which will strengthen your work. If somehow everyone is too busy to edit your work, our CEO Ian Lurie offers his advice on self-editing and using apps.
Whether you write all the time or try your best to avoid it, my hope is that this post will spark your creativity. Perhaps you will think about your work in a new way the next time you sit down to write. Good luck!
Content Strategy Team Lead
Katie leads the Content Strategy team at Portent. She graduated with a Bachelor in Journalism from Indiana University. She loves helping brands tell stories through the content they produce and creating positive user experiences. Read More