Whether you think you’re a natural writer or not you can always improve. And it’s quite easy.
Did you think writing is a skill only a few are born with? That you either have it –or you don’t?
Well, the truth is, some people do have more inborn ability than others. But it’s equally true that no matter how much or little of that ability you have, you can improve by studying technique – tricks, if you like.
For example, the headline at the top uses no less than seven tricks that are likely to get it read. Don’t believe me? Here they are:
1. Putting quotation marks round a statement increases readership
2. The word “How” makes people think (rightly) that they will get some advice.
3. The word “these” makes the advice sound specific.
4. “Simple” makes it sound easy – and the word “easy” in the subhead also increases readership – because people hate hard work.
5. “Tricks” makes it seem easy as well.
6. The phrase “that get your writing read” increases readership because it makes the sentence active – that those simple tricks will do all the work for you
7. The word “your” helps, too, because people are interested in themselves.
In fact the words “you” or “your” appear 7 times in the first 44 words of this piece. That is certain to increase readership.
But that’s not all.
The subhead encourages people to start reading your full story; it’s a bit like the hors d’oeuvre in a restaurant.
The use of questions keeps people reading – because they suggest answers to come. So does a list of specific examples – because when someone suggests something to you, you often say to yourself, “What do you mean?”
And did you notice that the paragraphs in this piece vary in length? One is only four words long. The eye and the mind enjoy variety.
Winston Churchill – and what causes much bad writing
There are quite a few other things worth remembering, starting with Winston Churchill’s advice: “Use simple words everyone knows. Then everyone will understand.”
One cause of bad writing is mental stiffness. It’s like the discomfort you may feel in strange surroundings. You may start to behave rather stiffly, not as you normally would.
In the same way many who do not feel entirely comfortable writing start using words they never normally would; words they think are literary – like “purchase” instead of “buy”. A little voice inside them says, “I am writing. This is different. I must use different words.”
It is true that writing is not the same as casual chat. It is more formal – but it is really nothing more than well-organised speech. You have time, as you write, to think things out and arrange them well in a way you cannot in the rush of speech.
One thing that helps is the crosshead, which has three functions. It marks a sensible break in your story; it gives the reader a breather; and it should tell that reader something about what comes next. It should never be incomprehensible or too clever.
Two things are essential if you wish to write well.
One is to read a lot. If you don’t, you have no chance – any more than a composer who never listened to music would write well. If you are writing for ordinary people, read popular newspapers and books. Copy them.
The other is to work hard. Never be satisfied with your first draft. Even a very good professional writer can rarely do something perfect in one go