Writing Better

writing betterI enjoy writing. I believe words matter. When I’m asked how I have time to write, I sometimes snidely answer “How do you have time to watch TV?”

I’ve shared writing advice from famous authors, including the very practical from George Orwell:

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

and the humorous recommendation from Ernest Hemingway:

Write drunk, edit sober.

Colin Nissan’s advice in The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do is as good as I’ve ever read.  Here are his 10 recommendations:

  1. Write Every Day.
  2. Don’t Procrastinate.
  3. Fight Through Writer’s Block.
  4. Learn From the Masters.
  5. Find Your Muse.
  6. Hone Your Craft.
  7. Ask for Feedback.
  8. Read, Read, Read.
  9. Study the Rules, Then Break Them.
  10. Keep It Together.

All solid recommendations. But Colin is a humorist who writes for The Onion so you have to go beyond the headlines and scratch a bit below the surface. Just try not to laugh when you read “Write Every Day“.

Under “Read, Read, Read” he says:

It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer. Similarly, if you can read but have to move your lips to get through the longer words, you’ll still be a pretty bad writer. Also, if you pronounce “espresso” like “expresso.”

Luckily, even if you can’t pronounce it, you can still drink it. And a triple dose of caffeine might improve your writing.

While all ten are witty, I think I can improve on “Keep It Together“. Starting with Colin’s intro, here’s my version:

A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. Life smacks you on the head at random times causing these gifts and demons to appear. Write about them in the moment because they will disappear like snow in Vegas. And if your piñata contains too many demons, try watching this movie.

So, what do you think of my revised advice?

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11 Responses to Writing Better

  1. Joan Sherlock August 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Our local author Wallace Stegner said “We write to make sense of it all.” In his classes he encouraged his students to always write from experience. So I’d agree that getting the little gifts down while you’re experiencing makes sense – no matter how scary. Looking forward to the sequel.

  2. kevinjenscox August 8, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    I grew up in the David Ogilvy school of writing. I like to share his manual about business writing with colleagues; even though it is old, it still a powerful primer in this world of email and social writing. Here’s a list of his top recommendations. “2. Write the way you talk” is something that I have embraced– this can however lead you to writing in Dinglish at times though :-) http://bit.ly/14oBtHC

  3. Battered Employee August 10, 2013 at 5:54 am #

    I love it! It’s all about getting all those little critters into sentences and paragraphs and then using cut and paste and “expecially” the delete key. I’m so glad we write in the age of computers, not typewriters. I also read that while caffeine sharpens focus, it can stifle creativity, but I’m not giving up my coffee. Great post!

  4. Jon Reed August 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Smart stuff. As someone who has authored books but also dry spells I have grappled with my own creative ups and downs. It’s hard to offer universal lessons for writing, but this is as good a list as any. Feedback loops are important but then at some point you have to ignore them and speak your style/truth.

    My only nitpick is with “write every day.” Some would find that daunting. In day of blog churn, so many of them disposable, I’d argue a busy person can have more impact with one great blog post a week than several quick bursts that come out unformed. That’s one more reason I’d replace “write every day” with “find a writing routine that works and stick with it.” If you do it every Sunday, and stick to it rain or shine, that could work for you. A consistency that is manageable with your other life commitments so that you can stick to it is everything.

    Other great writing tips would be: have conviction, admit frailties and bias, and be open to humor when it strikes. These things can disarm and engage the reader but they can’t be forced. I was tempted to add “get outside more.” :)

    • Jonathan August 12, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Jon,
      I don’t think “write every day” means publish every day. Instead, try to write some words every day. As you know, my publishing routine is nearly every Sunday for this blog. But blogs rarely get written in a single session. I’m constantly collecting ideas and adding on to them.
      At any given moment in time, I have 10+ blogs in the works. Some just sketches of ideas which may or may not ever be published. Others more complete that just need a compelling intro/conclusion and some editing.
      For your additional advice, I particularly like “get outside more.” A good hike is a great way to clear my mind and help me focus my writing thoughts.
      – Jonathan

  5. Michele Hicks, HonestlyHR August 12, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    Personally, my favorite tip was Ernest Hemingway’s-”Write Drunk, Edit Sober”. Not just because it is funny but because there is a truth to it. When you are drunk-whether it is from alcohol or a passion for your topic- there is a truth and unrestrained creativity that just happens. We tend to lose some of our inhibitions when under the influence. Not that I am advocating getting drunk, mind you, but my point is that we need to let down our guard. Using spirits or just cutting loose is a personal preference .

    Sometimes the ideas are truly inspired and sometimes they are simple babbling but that is where the “edit sober” part comes in to play. Writing when you are in the moment is vital because as stated, the muse can vanish like “snow in Vegas”. You can always clean it up later.

  6. Kate Mcneel August 13, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    My favorite writing book of all time is “If you want to write” by Brenda Euland. Info on her is here: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/145456.Brenda_Ueland

  7. Sona Venkat August 13, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    I absolutely agree with the principle behind “Write every day” meaning put yourself in a routine. The more I write, the easier it flows and the less writer’s block I have to fight through.

  8. Dave Hannon August 14, 2013 at 5:06 am #

    Great post JB. My two cents: I think #8 is perhaps the most vital. I recently gave a training session on blogging and presented the “Del Griffith Rule” which states to be an engaging writer you must first “have a point” or a goal before you start to write. Be curious an look for inspiration everywhere. For business writers and bloggers it often comes from reading other sources and talking to people and then analyzing what you read or heard–ask questions to yourself and those questions will lead you to engaging topics that you’ll be eager to write about and others will be eager to read about. Read every day and you’ll write every day.

  9. Anonymous September 4, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    JB, remember its “only words”. Sharing your ideas and passion amd of course being interesting is key – none of which you struggle with.

    “today you are you! This is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” Just be yourself

    TSG

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  1. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it | Manage By Walking Around - November 4, 2013

    […] part writer’s block and one part overloaded schedule. For inspiration, I reread my own advice in Writing Better and was reminded of the fourth rule: learn from the masters. What do the greatest writers say about […]

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