If you have a message you’re passionate about conveying, you’ve probably already recognized the importance of good writing. As a social media and communication instructor I’ve been amazed at the array of writing levels I’ve come across in college classes. Some students (a very few) have such a challenging time getting the mechanics of writing correct, that I’m completely distracted from what they’re trying to convey to the reader. On the opposite end of the spectrum, writers like Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Harper Lee, and Shakespeare have changed the world through their excellent writing. If we ever want to convince anyone of anything, we have to be able to communicate well.
So back to you. You have a passion. You have a cause. You have a business. You want to promote something.
What can you do now, in practical terms, to inspire others to support it?
I want to encourage you to focus on improving your writing game. Here’s ten ways to do just that.
1. Do Morning Pages. One of my favorite books on creativity is Julie Cameron’s the Artist’s Way. Cameron’s book is chock full of wonderful ideas to get your creative juices flowing but her most formidable idea is to start each morning writing three full pages of unedited, stream of conscious writing. In her own words: “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” The more you write, the better you will get at writing.
2. Write 200 words a day. Make a habit of writing about aspects of your passion/work/message/thoughts/business every day. 200 words is a manageable goal (that’s about the length of a paragraph or two.) All it takes is about 200 words a day to begin to create a catalogue of content you can use for blog posts, social media updates, content papers, eBooks, workshop content, and eventually full-length books. A secret of creating great content consistently is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time you want to share your message with the world.
3. Use Hemingway Editor. Ever wish you had an editor who could look over your writing before you hit “publish?” The Hemingway app analyzes your writing and highlights text that can be improved by suggesting you use a simpler word, use active voice, simplify complex sentences, etc. Give it a whirl. In fact, when I’m done writing this post, I’ll use it myself.
4. Read Bird by Bird. Anna Lamott’s classic writing book is practical and inspiring. It starts off like this: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around mybrother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
5. Read On Writing Well. One of the most helpful texts I read in my journalism classes, Zinsser’s book has sold something like a million copies. Read it. You can start by reading my post celebrating his wonderful writing advice.
6. Use active voice. Sometimes in our first swipe at writing something we have trouble getting to the point at the top of the sentence. Let me rephrase that. Get to the point at the top of the sentence. It can be hard but it makes for better writing.
7. Draw readers in with an enticing introduction sentence. Make that first sentence pop. If you’re writing an article on a new coffeeshop write a first sentence that makes the reader feel like she is there. And if it’s a blog post make sure it clearly indicates what the reader can expect from the rest of the piece.
8. Edit ruthlessly. The quote has been attributed to William Faulkner, Stephen King and Allen Ginsberg. We don’t know who said it first but we do know it’s a hard truth. “Kill your darlings.” Some of the most beautiful passages have to go. Serve the story. Serve your audience. Don’t preserve text just because you like it.
9. Write like a person. This is a piece of advice I’ve stood by for some time. This separates the good writing from the trying-to-be-good writing. Write the way you speak. Yes of course you can be more articulate, more well-edited, and more clear (isn’t that one of the perks of writing over speaking?) but be sure you don’t sound like a robot, or a rambler, or (God forbid) a telemarketer.
10. Write what you want to write. Maria Popova of BrainPickings is a big advocate of this one. If you think the topic will be interesting or helpful to your audience but you're not into it then don't write about it. The spark starts with you! You'll write more and better if you write about things that interest you. So don't be swayed by what you think you should write. Write what you want to write.
These are my ten tips to implement for more effective written communication. They can be summarized like this: write a lot, read a lot, edit a lot.
Do you have writing advice of your own? I'd love to hear it in the comments!