4 Simple Tips for Better Writing
Writing skills are important today more than ever. In the twentieth century, people used to call each other to chat or discuss business. Now we email and text. Not only do we produce more text per capita than we used to. Our texts are often public. We blog. We twit. We update statuses. We add comments. Therefore, written eloquence is a must-have skill for anyone. How do you achieve it? Here are some simple tips.
Battle the block
You have certainly heard of the importance of planning and writing umpteen pages a day. Yet sometimes writer’s block threatens to throw you off the schedule. Now, there is quite enough information on how to overcome the psychological causes of the block. On the practical side, the only way to break the block is to begin writing. “But what?” you ask. “Anything”, says a helpful article on the internet.
Now, this does not make your life easier. The unrestricted freedom is one of the reasons why block exists in the first place. Here are simple exercises that will make your creative juices flow when you just have to write.
Use every opportunity
In my years as a college teacher, I’ve seen students who attended creative writing classes and at the same time ordered some of their essays from a paper writing service. When confronted and asked why, they would usually answer that they struggled with history/philosophy/you name it and generally thought that it was boring and not worth their time. They wanted to be writers and did not want to waste a moment on writing anything but their bestsellers-to-be. This is rubbish!
They thought they just can sit down at the desk and their thoughts will flow, elegantly enrobed in exquisite expressions. However, at the same time, they did everything to avoid writing! They thought they escaped some tiresome chore. Instead, as I see it, they missed an excellent opportunity to practice.
If you want to write better, you should practice. Use every opportunity to put your thoughts in words. You sure have those opportunities – grab them! Emails count. Birthday cards count. Captions under Instagram photos count.
Do not shirk – write something every day. If you need an incentive, make a public commitment to write a daily short post on some topic for a month (or even a year). Alternatively, start a journal where you will creatively write down your dreams.
Writing with limitations
If freedom blocks you, create limits. Say you have to write a short account of a walk in the park without using a single verb. Challenging, right? How about without using letter A? Or using only words that start with E? Only six words?
Too technical? Try writing this same walk-story as if a blind person told it. You can describe fresh smells, cheerful sounds, a soft wind in your hair – everything but the things that sight provides. Or try to describe it from a perspective of a very young child who does not yet know the names of everything she sees.
This needs not be long. Say 250 words. This will be enough to make your brain alert and ready to write.
This is how it really happened
As the saying goes, there is always at least three side of the story – her side, his side and the truth. Try breaking your block by taking a well-known story and retelling it from an unusual perspective. Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples is a great example. It shows the events of Snow White fairytale from the Queen’s point, portraying her as the struggling and innocent victim. Of course, your account of the story does not necessarily have to make a novel. For the sake of exercise, make it a page.
If you speak more than one language, you are in luck and there is another exercise for you. Try translating a short fragment from your favorite book or a random article. You will have to put thoughts in words (exactly what you are trying to achieve). Only to make it easier for you, all thoughts are already there.
Write Three Drafts
For each piece of writing that is going public, there should be three drafts. I do not mean twits or something as instant as that, but if we talk about books, blogs or essays, this technique is very beneficial. Here it is in short.
First draft. You write it for yourself. The goal here is to get it down, as messy as it is. Then set your text aside for a few hours or days (depending on a length of your text and proximity of your deadlines).
Second draft. You write it for your friends. Now you put the reader first. The goal for your text is to make sense and be useful. Shorten, delete, and rewrite anything that does not add to the meaning.
Third draft. You write it for you frenemies – people who will scrutinize your work and will see all imperfections and inconsistencies. This one ought to be polished to the T. Edit ruthlessly.
Do Not Let It Get Stale
Leaving your draft for a few days or hours is important, but you should not brood over it for too long. After three drafts that make your text mature enough, it’s time to let it go into the world. Otherwise, you will never be satisfied with the result. Not everyone is a perfectionist, but people who write for a living tend to be. We can edit the text over and over until it gets stale and loses the spark that made it alive. We lose the feel of the text and cannot tell what works for it and what doesn’t anymore. Do not overthink.
In his Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity Ray Bradbury wrote one simple but powerful thing “When you write quickly, you write honestly.” Let it be your guideline against excessive perfectionism.