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How To Write Better

April 2nd 2009 00:18
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Quite possibly the scariest of all subjects for a writer is how to write better. Few are the authors who are satisfied with their work: you can be sure that even the greatest novelists of our time spend far too many hours wondering whether their latest tale will be a success, whether their readers will like it and - above all - whether their editor will shred it into tiny little pieces and force them to rewrite the whole thing!

There are, however, some basic tips from which everyone can learn, whether they're a beginner or expert, novelist or journalist. Here's a short list of those which I've picked up over the past few months (whether they suck or not!):

Learn basic grammar, punctuation and spelling. While it's not absolutely essential to know all the obscure grammatical structures and every word's correct usage, it is vital that your words convey your message. Your style may be literary or conversational: either way, getting sentence structures within acceptable limits of readability ensures your audience spends most of their time enjoying the content instead of trying to figure out what each phrase actually means.

That leads nicely on to the second tip, which is to be true to your personal style. We all write differently, just as we all speak differently. Given the size of the Internet, it's unlikely that any particular content will be unique, so style is why authors have fans, newspapers have readerships and blogs have subscribers. The readers like the author's style as much as the content and come back for more.

On the same subject, but specifically for bloggers, be ready for a rough ride. Someone out there will hate your style. They'll direct vehement remarks and irrational criticism at your poor little web page. Such is life. Constructive criticism is one thing, pettiness and nastiness are quite another and are not worth your time.

Regardless of your style, it's important to be succinct, direct and focussed. Concentration spans are significantly shorter than they were a hundred years ago and few readers want to dig through a thousand words to get to the point. If you can say something in two sentences, don't use two paragraphs. Waffling is a sign of insecurity and encourages your readers to skip; being bold and direct compels them to read.

Increase your vocabulary, whether literally - by increasing the number of different words you use - or metaphorically - by increasing your knowledge in your subject areas.

Finally, let your humour run around a bit. There are very few subjects that are not funny in some way. Being a writer is supposed to be fun, so let the laughs flow and enjoy yourself!

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13 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Morgan Bell

April 2nd 2009 01:03
Someone out there will hate your style. They'll direct vehement remarks and irrational criticism at your poor little web page. Such is life. Constructive criticism is one thing, pettiness and nastiness are quite another and are not worth your time.

good advice!

theres just no pleasing some people . . .

Comment by samaritan

April 2nd 2009 01:52
I also think it's good advice to remember that not everyone will like your style. Even when we look at what are considered the most brilliant authors, not everybody likes them. Shakespeare is considered one of the best writers of all time. But there sure is a lot of people who don't like his style!


Comment by Carolyn Cordon

April 2nd 2009 03:55
Good work/words here. Thanks. I hate writer nazis who say there way is the only way. If you talk to published authors, you'll find a huge range of writing methods.

The best advice is to write as much as you can, and find the style that works for you!

Comment by Postmodern Critic

April 2nd 2009 06:08
My personal style varies a lot... I started out thinking that writing as if you were having a conversation with someone was easy to do, but now I realise that it's actually not that easy at all... and quite rewarding.
I guess these days I'm not analysing how much I rely on the 'conversational' style, because I've reached a point where I can get too self-conscious about my writing (in a bad way, as opposed to a good). Am I post-conversational?

Comment by Spike 2

April 2nd 2009 11:08
Morgan/Samaritan: So very true. I have this thing about Terry Pratchett - everyone I know loves his work, but I can't stand it. The guy annoys the heck out of me. It's visceral and there's nothing I can do about it. Doesn't mean he's not good, though!

Carolyn: Amen to that. I'd make it "read and write" if I may, since reading helps lots too!

PmC: Dungeons and Dragons. That's where I realised I was rubbish at writing conversations. They always came out stilted and unrealistic. Writing conversationally is a bit easier, but you're right - best not analyse too closely for fear of sounding weird!!

Comment by Carolyn Cordon

April 2nd 2009 21:43
Some new writers have this crazy fear of reading other writers. They think their own voice will be lost and they'll start sounding like the author they are reading. They should be so lucky!

I say, read as widely as you can, and write, write, write.

Comment by samaritan

April 2nd 2009 22:14

Sometimes I read things and it actually has a negative impact on my writing because I think I could never write like that. So I suffer a complete lack of confidence in my writing ability. But it's weird, because then at other times I read stuff (just as good) and seem to be really inspired to try and write better. I think perhaps it's good to find the things to read that do improve your writing and inspire you.


Comment by Spike 2

April 2nd 2009 23:08
Carolyn/Samaritan: Oh boy, I know that feeling. Great writing can be both inspirational and depressingly good. My most fervent wish (no matter how far-fetched) is to one day have something I write compared to a favourite author. Man, what a buzz that would be!

Comment by Carolyn Cordon

April 4th 2009 11:05
If my words could affect someone the way Tim Winton's 'Cloudstreet' affected my, Oh heaven! I wrote a poem on Monday that excited me so much I had to ring a friend and tell her, then read it to her.

It was very exciting. Then I showed it to another friend yesterday, and she like it too, except for one line. I agree with her on the line, but I know how to improve it.

All I have to do now is actually send some of my good poems out to magazines. They don't do any good sitting on my computer. I've made a commitment this month to write a new poem every day. I finished my poem for today ten minutes ago. It's nowhere near as good as Monday's but I'll have lots to work with in May, which is exciting, there's nothing worse than having nothing new to work on, and not being able to think of anything to write.

This month will teach me how to get over that problem, and if I really get stuck, I have a gadget on one of my Blogger blogs that posts a new work of art everyday. Today was one of Monet's Water Lily paintings. It is absolutely gorgeous. I've copied it and with any luck I'll have written about it by the end of April.

Comment by Spike 2

April 4th 2009 12:24
Carolyn: Wow, you sound inspired! Only my partner reads my story-writing, but she loves it and that helps a lot. I can't do poetry: I wish I could, but I can only appreciate it, not produce it. May I ask what sort of magazines you'll be targetting? I have absolutely no idea where poetry might sell, but it's the sort of info that a LOT of people I know would appreciate (without giving away your best buyers - wouldn't want you to lose out!).

Comment by Carolyn Cordon

April 5th 2009 01:28
There are a lot of literary magazines out there, some online, some real.

Comment by Carolyn Cordon

April 5th 2009 09:42
When I said 'real' I meant paper rather than online, I didn't mean they weren't reputable. In Australia there are many literary magazines, and some of them actually pay you money for the privelege of publishing your work.

Comment by Spike 2

April 5th 2009 18:16
I'd understood that, Carolyn. Real instead of virtual. Nice to know there's still plenty of 'real' places to sell work, too: easy to forget when everything's online!

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