Here’s how to improve your writing:
- “Why would anyone care?”: If you can’t answer this question you’re in deep doo-doo.
- Actually sit down and write: Try skipping this one and let me know how far you get.
- Read: Learn rules. Break rules. Make your own rules. Then you rule.
- Structure: Tell a dirty joke. Then get rid of the dirty. Unless you’re writing something scandalous… in which case, please send me a copy.
- Simplify: (I’d be a hypocrite if I said a lot about this.)
- Know your reader: You know, the guy at that place with the thing. No, the other guy.
- Edit and rewrite: And don’t email me about typos in this post to be clever, wiseass.
- Just read alot and write alot
The Most Important Question To Ask Yourself
- Give the reader a reason to care about what you are writing. Engage people, grab their attention
- Ask yourself questions and come up with answers.Is it fun? Is it informative? Does it answer a question people are asking?
Take the time to craft a quick sentence or two that summarizes what’s interesting about what you’re working on. Test it on a few people. If they say, “Tell me more” you know you’re on to something.
Actually Sit Down And Write
The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.
- Surround yourself with things that give you confidence and make you feel more like a writer
Read, Read and Read Some More
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.
Why is reading a ton so important? As Harvard professor Steven Pinker explained when I spoke to him, if we’re going to learn the rules of good writing, it’s probably going to be passively from the books we devour.
I don’t think you could become a good writer unless you spend a lot of time immersed in text allowing you to soak up thousands of idioms and constructions and figures of speech and interesting words, to develop a sense of writing at its best.
- Study the books you love and imitate them
Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.
Tell A Dirty Joke
- Structure is important. Good writing has a clear beginning, middle and end and isn’t just a mass of ideas
When I’m reading something, what lets me know if I’m in good hands or not is whether there’s a sense of structure to it.
- How do we maintain a good structure in the body of our writing? The use of the word “but”
To keep the reader interested you want to keep them on their toes with surprises. Twists. Saying, “This happened, but…” keeps people wondering what is coming next.
But most writers structure their stuff around the word and. “This happened, and this happened, andthis happened…” Booooooring.
Which is to say inexperienced or poor storytellers structure their material with the words “and” or “then.” So “They did this, and then they did that, and then they did this, and then they did that,” which produces an episodic structure that doesn’t build on anything, and there’s no relationship between what came before and what came after…
- Cut out all unnecessary words
A good writer gets better only by learning to cut, to remove the ornamental, the descriptive, the narrative, and especially the deeply felt and meaningful. What remains? The story remains. What is the story? The story is the essential progression of incidents that occur to the hero in pursuit of his one goal.
- Stop trying to sound smart. Be accessible instead
One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes.
- Want your office reports to be read? Cool it with the jargon. Impress less relate more. Readers identify with people, not with abstractions like “profitability” or where people are not visualized to be doing anything
Know Thy Reader
Who is going to be reading what you’re writing? What can you assume they know?
And that leads to bad writing because we’re not putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and thinking about what they really need to hear to understand what we’re talking about.
- Imagine you’re telling a friend who is as smart as you are something they don’t know.
…imagine that you are in a conversation with a reader who is as competent as you are, but happens not to know some things that you know. And you orient the reader so that they can see something in the world with their own eyes that you have noticed, but they have not yet noticed… A symmetry between reader and writer. A conversational, informal style. A determination to be visual and concrete. An excitement about showing the reader something in the world that the reader can see for themselves, rather than concentrating on the activity of the people who have studied that thing.
- Emotionally connect with them as well. Reference things, events, beliefs they can relate to
When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story.
Edit, Rewrite, Edit, Rewrite
- Ask yourself: “What happens if I take this out?” If the answer is “nothing”, then start chopping.
The questions that you want to ask as a director are the same questions you want to ask as a writer, the same questions you want to ask as an actor. “Why now?” “What happens if I don’t?” Having discovered what is essential, you then know what to cut.
- Good writing means rewriting. Nobody usually gets it 100% perfect the first time round
Much advice on good writing is really advice on revising. Because very few people are smart enough to be able to lay down some semblance of an argument and to express it in clear prose at the same time. Most writers require two passes to accomplish that, And after they’ve got the ideas down, now it’s time to refine and polish. Because the order in which ideas occur to a writer is seldom the same as the order that are best digested by a reader. And often, good writing requires a revising and rearranging the order of what you introduce so that the reader can easily follow it.
- Rewriting clarifies ideas, makes what you wrote even better, your first ideas are rarely your best
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