My "rabbit out of the hat" method for writing emails under pressure
👉 tips for writing emails quickly when you're struggling for ideas
Hemingway famously said "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein".
If only it were that easy ;)
At least with opening a vein, there's a method you can follow. Most of us just flap around in circles.
So if you ever suffer from writer’s block or get stuck staring at a blank screen struggling to start - this will help.
Because despite recommending that you plot out your email topics and how you're going to illustrate them well in advance, I'm just as human as everyone else and don't always do it.
So every now and then I'll be sitting in front of that blank screen with a blinking cursor taunting me and the clock reminding me I have just 30 minutes to write this email.
It's then I need to "pull a rabbit out of the hat" and this is how I do it.
Firstly, I think "what do I want to teach in this email?".
But I try to narrow down the field fast because you can spend forever on this.
These three questions usually allow me to come up with something quickly:
Can I expand on something I talked about in a recent email or continue riffing on a theme?
Has someone asked me a question recently I can answer?
Did I have a problem myself recently that I can talk about how I solved?
The connection between these three things is obviously that they’re all recent events so you should be able to recall them quickly.
For this email, for example, I'm obviously continuing the theme of writing emails. But writing an email quickly was also a problem I had recently when I left it a bit too late before a long car journey up North.
Remember, you don't need to hit a home run with every email. Just share something useful.
So as soon as you hit an interesting topic that would be useful to your audience, run with it. Don’t go round in circles hoping for perfection.
Next I think "do I have an interesting story, fun analogy or bold statement I can make to open the email in an entertaining way?"
You've probably heard a lot of people talk about how storytelling is the essence of good business writing.
I think we've overcooked that advice.
Stories are inherently interesting, but if we only came for a story we'd reach for the latest Jack Reacher, not open up an email from some marketing guy.
Stories are a good way of making our emails more engaging. And of teaching so the message sticks, persuading and building a relationship. But there are plenty of other ways too.
Don't try to write your whole email as a story - that's really hard. Instead, use a short story encapsulated in a couple of sentences to open your email, then get to your advice.
That's much easier.
For this email, the first draft opened with the little story about how I often end up staring at a blank screen needing to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Then I remembered the Hemingway quote. I quickly looked it up to make sure I had it right, then used it to open the email.
The danger with quotes is that a lot of people use them so if you use a common one it can seem a bit passé.
So I subverted the quote and added a bit of humour by saying "If only it was that easy".
Boom! That's the intro done.
Now we need to transition into the advice.
In this case I just restated the "rabbit out of the hat" theme and said "and this is how I do it".
In other cases you can say "Here's my advice" or "Here's how it works" etc.
No need for anything fancy. You can link it better after a re-read of the whole thing when you’ve finished.
Then you give your advice.
For an email you need to write fast, the easiest thing to do is just to list the steps in your solution.
First you do this...then you do this...finally you do this.
Or if they aren't actually steps, it's "the first factor is this..." or whatever language is appropriate.
Again, you don't need to be a literary genius with this bit. Just lay out your tips and ideas in a simple, clear way.
Finally, you need a call to action.
Sometimes you might just want to summarise your advice. Sometimes you might want to encourage your readers to actually implement what you've told them.
And sometimes you might want them to click a link to go off and do something. Maybe even look at the details of something you're hoping they might buy.
All you need to do here is make what you're asking them to do a logical next step from what they've just read.
So if you've given them 3 tips on Linkedin profiles, it makes absolute sense to say "if you'd like to learn how to take your new profile and turn it into more clients using Linkedin, then you might want to check out my Linkedin Content Accelerator program here".
It makes rather less sense to pitch them your Facebook Ads course :)
One last step: do a quick review to fix any grammar and spelling issues, make sure any links work, and see if any extras you could add jump out at you like the Hemingway quote did for me.
The best way to do that is to send yourself a test email and read it on desktop and mobile.
So that's how to write an interesting and useful email quickly:
Quickly pick a useful tip or idea to share based on recent experience so it’ll be front of mind for you
Think of an interesting story, analogy or statement to open with
Use a linking phrase to transition to your advice
Give your advice and tips in a simple, clear way
Suggest some next steps in a call to action
Could you follow this process next time you have an email to write in a hurry?
I bet you could.
Subscribe to get every Unsnooze update direct to your inbox - and a free copy of my “Double Espresso” Welcome Email template.