Monday, July 22, 2013

Four relatively easy things you can do to improve your writing

I don't claim to be Ernest Hemingway (or Ernest Borgnine, for that matter), but I can do a passable imitation of a competent writer.

Writing comes fairly easily to me. Many, many people are better at it than I am, while many others are worse. I'm not sure if that's enough to convince you that I'm an authority, but I'm hoping it's enough to convince you at least to stick around for a few hundred more words.

Looking to become a better writer? There are lots of things you can do. Some are difficult to learn, others are not. The following four items fall into the "not" category:

Write Like You Talk

You may have heard this before, and that's because it works. If you're confident in your ability to express thoughts and ideas orally, then your writing should merely be an extension of that. Writing in your own "voice" is generally more effective and certainly more authentic than trying to sound like someone you're not. 

For what it's worth, this tip reminds me of the excellent "Writes Like She Talks" blog maintained by Jill Miller Zimon. The blog itself and the associated blogroll of links to other blogs are both worth your time.

Try Not to Repeat a Word Right After You've Used It

Like I said, these are "relatively easy things." Nothing complex here. If you use a certain word in, say, the first sentence of a paragraph, you probably don't want to use it again in the second. Especially if it's an adjective or another distinctive word, the use of which will stand out in the reader's mind and quite possibly distract him/her. You want the reader focusing on your thoughts, not on your word usage.

Grey Blocks of Text Are Your Enemy

One of the greatest writing tips I ever received came from Joe Magill, a guy who served as one of my track coaches in high school and later was a colleague in The News-Herald sports department.

One time after I had written what I thought was a particularly engaging feature story, Joe called me over to his computer screen. First he showed me my article, then he showed me one he had just written. He asked what the difference was between the two, visually speaking. I immediately noticed that his story had lots of short paragraphs, while mine had relatively few and noticeably longer paragraphs.

Readers are subconsciously turned off by paragraphs that look like they require work to get through. Online writing, in particular, demands a short, punchy style. No long, plodding sentences or paragraphs. Make them short, and hit the "enter" key often.

Don't Worry, You Can Go Back and Edit It Later

A lot of people don't like writing because their first drafts aren't pristine and perfect. Here's a hint: Nobody's first drafts are pristine and perfect.

The important thing when you're writing something is first to get your thoughts down on paper (or computer screen), and then to worry about structure, sentence flow and the like. Unless you're writing a front-page story for tomorrow's New York Times, in which case you certainly wouldn't need me telling you how to write, you'll have time to revise your masterpiece.

So don't let your quest for immediate Pulitzer Prize-winning copy keep you from finishing. Plow through that first draft and then go back and see where things stand. It will be OK, trust me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Scott! Thanks so much for the kind words about my blog. I hope you're having a great summer and I love the title of this blog. Thank goodness they still call us at all, right!?