When people ask me for advice about what to write it ultimately ends up being a a two part question. The first and perhaps the most difficult is “What should I write about?” or “How do you figure out what to write about” or “I don’t know what to write about”. The second question is, how do I write something that people will read? The second question first! Good writing is more art than science which means writing is easier for some people than others. That being said, good writing can be learned. I am one of those people for whom writing is not a natural gift. When I took freshman composition, I was required to write a major term paper. It was completely beyond my capability and I ended up with an incomplete. I only passed because the teacher died and all the incomplete grades were converted to passes.
There are three things you can do to be a good writer:
1. Read a lot.
As a kid growing up in the early days of television, reading was my primary form of entertainment. I would read one to three books per week just for fun. In what was essentially an osmosis effect, I was able to hear the difference between good writing and not so good writing. It gave me an ear for what which written words, sentences and paragraphs sounded good and what didn’t. Spend time reading the kind of material you would like to write.
2. Write a lot.
Write about stuff that interests you. Keep a journal and write in it every morning or evening. When you write don’t worry about how raw it is. Just put it on paper, let it flow, see what comes out.
3. Read what you write critically.
I know one professional writer who gets it right the first time, but it is a rare and unusual gift. Without exception every single thing I write needs to be read and corrected, then read and corrected again. When I write this blog, I start writing, and just let it flow. I know there will be wrong words, awkward sentences and paragraphs. I just let it all flow, knowing that because I have an ear for writing I can and will come back and fix it. I often spend more time in editing and rewriting than I do on the first draft.
4. Let what you write have it’s own life.
When I sat down to write this blog, it was going to be about picking topics. It immediately took on a life of it’s own and became an article about how to write. It’s no problem because, I will cover that topic next week.
5. Have someone else edit what you write.
I have two or three people who edit virtually everything I write. The reason I do this is that they have a different perspective than I do. They see things that I don’t see. Most of the time the corrections are small, but once in awhile my editor will flag a particular sentence or paragraph saying “I have no idea what you are trying to say.” You must be willing to have your editor, make dozens of changes or suggestions. Probably eighty percent of the time I agree with the changes, but sometimes I have a different perspective and reject a suggestion. I never get defensive about edits. I am always profoundly grateful no matter how extensive the suggestions. Steve Moran
Next week I will address the question of what to write.
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