Seven tips to kick-start your writing
‘Simple English is no one’s mother tongue. It has to be worked for.’
Jacques Barzun, French-American historian
From time to time, we need to stand back and re-assess our writing skills to make sure our writing is clear, concise and engaging.
1. Just write
It’s a truism that the more you write, the easier and quicker it becomes.
Just don’t expect writing to be quick and easy all the time, because it’s often difficult even for professional writers. Some emails can be quick, but complex, thoughtful pieces can take ages.
Find a writing process that works for you. Some people plan thoroughly first, some jot down a few points on the screen or on paper, and others just start writing. I heard Lee Child describe fiction writers as ‘planners’ or ‘pantsters’. I think many of us are somewhere in between – we write a few dot points or headings and then start writing.
If you’re not a person who plans thoroughly first, you need to leave enough time for rewriting because your first draft will often be poorly structured.
2. Read and learn
But what if you keep making the same mistakes? Writing repetitively may ease the pain of writing, but you need to do more than just write.
You need to read. I’m not saying you have to read novels (though why not?); I’m suggesting you:
- Read and analyse previous documents that have survived the reviewing process – but don’t copy them because you need to find your own writing style.
- Analyse news items and blogs as you are reading them – what is it about their sentence structure and word choice that makes the writing flow?
- Read blogs and books about writing – I used to read a lot of books about writing and still occasionally refer to books on my bookshelf. These days, I mainly read blogs and online articles.
3. Use resources to check your writing
I couldn’t live without dictionaries. I also regularly consult my three favourite style guides:
- Style manual (Australian Commonwealth style guide)
- AP Stylebook (US Associated Press)
- The Chicago Manual of Style
I’m not suggesting that you buy these guides, but some online sites you may find useful are:
4. Enrol in writing courses
Many people get the opportunity through their workplace to attend a writing course. If you don’t, I suggest you register for a public course, take an online course – or do both.
I’ve done a lot of writing courses and I still learn something new every time.
My Business Writing and Grammar Bundle is a great place to start!
5. Learn from feedback
Most of us will receive a lot of feedback about our writing during our careers and it’s not always fun! Sometimes reviewers seem to change things for the sake of it because they think their way is better, and this can be frustrating. However, other reviewers will improve your content and writing style.
Distinguish between edits that are irritating and edits that make a difference.
6. Apply basic writing principles
Some of the modern writing principles are:
- Write clear messages with your readers in mind
- Put the most important information upfront – provide brief context if necessary
- Structure your writing from your readers’ point of view, not yours
- Write short paragraphs with the main idea in the first sentence
- Write clear, concise sentences
- Use words your readers will understand and engage with
7. Analyse your own writing
Print off a few of your documents and look at them as if someone else wrote them. Apply the basic principles above to see where your writing strengths and weaknesses lie.
Or even better, ask a colleague for some honest feedback. Another person may notice things that you missed.
No matter how competent a writer you are, it’s good to assess your writing style from time to time.
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