Writing is one of my most coveted skills, so when I think about the (vast number of) improvements I want to make to my online space and indeed my general self, it always comes out on top.
One of my aims this year is to make the things I write better – to make them more, basically, not in volume (please god no Soph, enough with the reams of text) but in terms of how hard they work. In part, this includes the subject matter, of course, but it’s not just about the message. Good writing goes beyond it’s content, and as snobbish as I know it is, I do feel somewhat irked when I see people using ‘so well written!’ about something which is essentially quite shoddy, where ‘I agree with the sentiment of this’ might be more apt. My favourite writing to read sings with personality, musicality and wordplay; words are powerful things, after all, and wielding them well is a real skill.
Like many other skills, it’s something that you can work on, hone and improve – you’re not either born wonderful or born woeful at it. Some people are naturally very gifted in that area, yes, and some people perhaps are just not that way inclined, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t strive to get better, and as a (hopefully) passable writer, I’m aiming to become a good one.
With that in mind, today I thought I’d share what I’m doing to become a better writer this year. If you consider yourself a ‘serious writer’, whatever the hell that means, this won’t exactly be insightful – nothing here is revolutionary – but if you’re not from a background focused on the written word or find that it’s not your biggest strength, perhaps you will find it interesting. Alternatively, you may not, which is also fine. Come back another day to hear me wax lyrical about basket bags or drone on about personal development.
When I started writing a blog, I quite stupidly allowed it to prevent me from reading as much. There are only so many hours in a day, admittedly, but reading is so integral to writing; how can you possibly expect to write things that make someone laugh, pause for thought, or feel in any way if you haven’t experienced writing that does those things for you? This is not about getting ideas from others, because again I’m not referring to the content, it’s about – pause to do a little sick because I’m about to say something that can only be described as ‘a bit wanky’ – observing someone’s craft. For this reason as well, it’s about reading good stuff.
Yes, ‘good’ is subjective, but also; there is a lot of shit writing on the internet. This probably counts as some of it, so leave immediately and read something by someone who is genuinely good at it, because there’s also a lot of wonderful writing out there.
Potentially overused but definitely true: writing is like a muscle. I used to consider writing something that I wasn’t going to post a bit of a waste, but I’ve started scribbling or typing things I don’t necessarily intend to publish more often. It helps me to thrash out ideas or shrug things off, and it helps me to exercise that muscle so it can grow and develop. Some might become fully fledged ‘things’ one day, some will forever remain little writing seedlings, and many I’ve lost or forgotten about, but I think I’m seeing general improvement through practice.
Finding an environment that works
For a long time, I would sit in front of the tv, or in a room with other people, type some words, then struggle to shake off my disappointment at the results. It turns out I need a specific set up to get into my writing groove; I think this is probably true of a lot of people, and it will vary from person to person (in front of the tv may be perfect for you). For me the ideal environment involves solitude, no distractions, and preferably silence. Background noise can work too, but only if it’s quiet or doesn’t involve words.
Thinking about storytelling
We love stories. This is not only a highly annoying favourite line in marketing/PR/social courses and resources (sorry fellow marketers, I just can’t not roll my eyes at those things), it’s also a simple truth. Despite working in that area, when I first started writing outside of my job I would often forget that one of the most effective ways to communicate a point was by using a story as a framework. It’s actually easier to write that way anyway, so I’m trying to keep it in mind whenever I approach a post which could easily become woolly or confusing.
Summarising the message
At times I feel almost lost and intimidated when writing – which is easy to do, particularly when you’re a rambler like I am – and end up losing the essence of what I’m trying to say. When this happens, stopping to consider what the overriding message I want to communicate is and doing an exercise where I summarise what a post is about in one or two sentence/s helps me to get back on track. Sometimes I actually end up including it somewhere, and sometimes it’s just for me, but either way it helps to get to grips with my desired outcome and hey – it’s also handy for Instagram captions.
While being overly self-critical is never a positive, failing to cast a discerning eye over what you’ve written is probably going to work against you. ‘Editing’ for me used to mean correcting spelling and grammar, but for a couple of months now I’ve been spending longer doing it properly. Depending on the topic I’ll rearrange, delete chunks, attempt to bring paragraphs to life a little more, and basically try to make it stronger – it can take a little time, but it’s been worth it.
I’m also trying to get better at removing gratuitous waffle. This is pretty difficult for me, since it’s the type of thing I produce in swathes (this post was originally 2000 words). What I’m trying not to do is spend a long time desperately trying to make what I write as inoffensive as possible, which leads me nicely on to my final point.
Finding my voice
Friends who read my blog have said that it sounds just like me, or that they read it in my voice. I think this has to be a good thing, except if you hate me and the way I express myself (and if you do, I assure you I have every sympathy with that). For me as a reader it’s a writer’s narrative voice which draws me to them, sometimes regardless of subject matter, and while I do think I’ve always written with my own, I’m working on allowing it to come through more strongly this year. I’ve been experimenting a bit with what I’m writing and how, playing with words and tones and structures, learning what feels most natural and making sure to put my personality into everything. In a digital world where there will always be someone to take exception with what you’ve written, it can be hard to resist the temptation to go through your work and make it more vanilla; but unless you’re being an utter tosspot, be more of yourself. Voices are important, so let’s not dilute them.