What Published Writing Tips Always Miss
Are there enough writing tips out there for you? You don’t have to look far for free advice, do you?
The trouble is, in my experience, most free advice is worth every penny. I mean, do we need one more list that shares the astonishing idea that you should write about your passion?
My passion, for example, one of them, is J. D. Salinger. Hasn’t that territory already been covered? Sometimes, you’re better off if your passion stays as it is, something you enjoy and never write a word about. Unless you’ve got something new or original to say, don’t.
Here’s an idea. Why not write about that subject, that product, that song, that movie you checked out and couldn’t find enough good information about? If you’re still looking or if it takes a half-dozen clicks to get it what you want, that topic is itching for your expertise and writing skill. Pull those diverse sources together, add the personal touch, give it a hot headline and watch the searchers come looking.
So, that’s not a secret. You’ve still got 10 coming.
How about this? Have you got the kind of imagination that can infuse an old topic with new color or an exciting new slant? If so, a lot of people on the internet need you. Otherwise, the internet has enough duplicates already.
As a full time writer for a few years and part time for decades, I think I’ve learned a thing or two I can share, ten to be exact, and most aren’t going to be what you’ve heard before.
Secret #1: No One Can Teach You How To Write Well
Let’s start with something I figured out a long time ago. That is, no one can teach you how to write, after the basic school lessons for structure and grammar, and you shouldn’t get too hung up on even those rules. Rule breakers also break ground and become unforgettable. Just don’t push it too far all at once.
If you have a passion to write, practice will teach you how to get it right. Practice includes putting your strings of words in front of readers and seeing what scores with them. Then, keep sharpening your arrows and painting prettier pictures.
Secret #2: Your Unique Voice/Your Unique Reader
Just as you have a unique voice you’re trying to pry out of your fingertips, you have a unique reader (listener).
They may be words on a page, but we speak them as we write and readers hear them. Mastering this is easier than you think because you already know how to talk to someone who likes and respects you.
And honestly, that’s all you really need to do. Find your true voice. You know, the one you talk with? Imagine a conversation where you get to revise and edit your side of it. That’s what you’ve got.
Secret #3: It’s a Conversation
Yes, it’s a conversation.
Everything that was ever written anywhere at any time is a conversation. The biggest difference is how much room you leave open for the person you’re conversing with.
Writing shouldn’t be a sales pitch, not if you want anyone to enjoy reading it. Don’t drive so fast to your point. Give your reader some room to savor and consider. Make it interesting, not demanding.
Secret #4: Writers Are Deities
All writing creates an artificial world. Makes you kind of a deity, doesn’t it?
Don’t be shy. Words are never real things. They’re symbols standing in for real things.
You’re always painting a picture with words. It doesn’t matter if you’re reviewing a pen that will chat with you during breaks or telling the story of your amazing Aunt Minnie, your words are nothing but objects suggesting a reality otherwise unknown to your reader.
Deities, by the way, often speak in metaphor. They get so much closer to the truth than facts do.
Secret #5: A Passive Voice Creates a Dull World
Deity that you are as you sit there writing, you want to create an enticing world that others love to visit. That’s why they are always telling you to avoid the passive voice.
The passive voice just sits there. Readers stop looking. Don’t go home. Walk home. Diddy-bop, if you can. Get some action going.
And paint pictures. Don’t let the sun rise or set. Your sun spills rays of fading promise as it sinks in the Sargasso Sea. Your mother isn’t beautiful. Her face radiates a gentle warmth softening every curve and wrinkle with compassion and wisdom.
Secret #6: Great Writing Doesn’t Drown in Wretched Excess
Stephen King is a great writer. Here’s a quote from him on writing: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Or John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorenson: “I told you a million times, don’t exaggerate.”
The thing is, over-writing is a hazard. If a lack of confidence inspires you to write that something is “really great,” make sure your inner editor is ready to ask, as opposed to what? Unreally great?
No one is deeply sad. Everyone who’s ever been sad was deeply sad. What do you need the deeply for? Sad alone has far greater impact. Simplicity always does.
Sometimes, it gets the best of us. Henry David Thoreau advised, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Wouldn’t one “simplify” have done it, Hank?
Secret #7: Good Writers Do It Every Day
(Maybe that too.)
I live with cats. They have to be cats every day. It’s the same with writers. If you want to be good, you do what you do every day. You write.
You write something. Trust me, if you develop that habit, blocks will no longer fell you.
In the meantime, if you feel like you can’t write, type something. You can always scratch out the legend of your first crush. Or your latest one. Making it come to life with words will prime the river of dialogue waiting impatiently inside you. Who cares if what you write is flat? That’s what rewrites are for.
In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell explained that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at anything to achieve expertise. Maybe you should get started.
Secret #8: Storytelling Is What Writing Is All About
All writing is storytelling.
You know that potato masher you reviewed earlier? Did you tell your readers about the first time you mashed a potato? Or how much your kids loved the recipe that included garlic and cauliflower?
If it doesn’t fit into your life in an engaging way, your readers won’t see it fitting into theirs. A huge motivation for readers is the same thing that spurs them to watch Australian Rules Football for Lady Wrestlers – the vicarious thrill of piggybacking on someone else’s experience.
None of us have time to do everything. Or the nerve. Put your lucky, eager readers inside your Doc Martins.
Secret #9: The Look of a Page at First Glance Matters More Than You Think
Except for Bonnie Diczhazy, I’ve never read any guide that pounded on the significance of how something looks on a page. Your readers take in the concrete form of your page first. A huge percentage online will hit that back button instantly.
Your job is to draw that number back from the precipice of insanity. Bonnie points out that online readers consume small chunks by preference. There’s something short attention span inducing about the internet.
Internet readers don’t eat tuna steaks. They want sushi. If you’re lucky enough to see your words in print, the rules are different, but how the structure fills the frame on the page may determine who bites and who doesn’t.
Secret #10: Rewriting Is Where the Real Art of Writing Is Found
I saved the most important thing I ever learned about writing for last. The truth I resisted for decades is that the excellence and joy of the written word is discovered in the rewrite.
It may be controversial, but I’m convinced that the reason so many people love reading the Bible is because, originally derived from oral tradition, the stories, poems and essays were told and retold for centuries, inching closer to perfection with each revision. There isn’t a wasted word in the Good Book.
I see successful writing as similar to Michelangelo’s take on sculpture. He didn’t think he was chipping out a work of art. He was searching for the art waiting inside the marble. When you get this, your best gems will begin emerging as you coax them forward the fifth and sixth time through.
No one ever gets tired of polishing a beautiful diamond.