“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
From Through The Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
For creative spirits like us, the difficulty in producing quality writing does not lie in the generation of ideas, but in conveying them in a way that their meaning will be fully appreciated.
Perfecting the craft may take years or even decades, but you can become a good writer by putting in the appropriate amount of dedication, creativity, curiosity and a little patience. These four factors will make all the difference in your writing, helping you to say what you mean… and much, much more.
The first step to becoming a good writer is to establish a good foundation through keeping good literary habits.
1. Do a lot of reading, and be as well-rounded in what you read as possible. While the type of writing you do (or are intending to do) might be targeted to a specialized audience, all quality writing has some common attributes. Thus, the more reading you do, the better of a writer you become: as a writer, what you read becomes a rich repertoire you can tap into.
2. Do a lot of writing. Even if you are a terrible writer, write anyway; even if you can’t think of anything valuable to say, write about anything you can think of. Everyone has to start somewhere, and no one starts off writing masterpieces off-the-top-of-their-head. Continue writing crap, and before you know it, that “crap” will evolve into something beautiful, and you will be that much closer to becoming an accomplished writer. Just as you should aim to read a wide variety of texts, you should also aim to write with different voices and styles. Experiment with every type of writing – poetry, plays, journalism, fiction, and nonfiction. Every type of writing will help you to delve deeper into who you are and the voice (or voices) that best fit your personality.
3. Know Your Audience: as explained in my blog post of the same name, it’s crucially important to take your readership into account when writing, especially when writing the final drafts, as good writing is worthless if it cannot be appreciated by those who read it. Read over your writing carefully, both as you write it and while you are editing it, and try putting yourself in the proverbial shoes of the type of people who will be reading your writing.
Another exercise you can do is to try to imagine how your writing would fit in the context of its target demographics– women/men/transgenders, Caucasian/African/Asian, layman/white-collar/politician, Atheist/Christian/Buddhist, feminist/racist/anarchist….
There are millions of different cultures in the world, and people are heavily influenced by the cultures they live in or conform to, and will be heavily biased by these cultures when they read your writing. You need to frame your words in such a way that best take advantage of these cultural differences, so that people might appreciate your writing in spite of their culture differences, or perhaps, to appreciate your writing because of them!
4. Eloquence: As expressed most eloquently in this post.
Your choice of words is key to writing powerful writing– and a helpful tip to keep in mind might be to try to say what you want in as few words as possible. Following the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” due to the sheer magnitude of information it conveys in just a single object, using few, well-chosen words is often more powerful than flooding your reader with a river of adjectives, adverbs and unnecessary clutter. After all, even if the words you use are pretty, if your reader gets lost between them, the value of your words will be lost also.
5. Elegance: Why complicate your ideas, when you can make the complex elegant? Elegance– the ability to express complex ideas in a profoundly simple way, is a necessary skill for good writers, especially when creating entire worlds filled with sensory information and feelings. The reason why (in my humble opinion) Anne Rice’s stories are more exciting to read than J.R.R. Tolkien’s, for example, is because Tolkien wasted far too many words trying to create a complex literary world, whereas Anne Rice gave her readers just what they needed to immerse themselves in her world.This leads me to my next point, which is:
6. leave your readers free to dream: Throwing in too many details hinders the reader’s imagination. The truth is that, the more simply you express your ideas, the more receptive your readers will be to it– even if that simplicity comes at the expense of completeness! Instead of trying to reveal all the ins-and-outs of your ideas, let the readers fill in the blanks; rather than spending much of your writing explaining and justifying your ideas, trust your readers, and let them interpret and justify your reading for you. (You’ll be surprised how good they are at it.)
7. Diction: Diction isn’t just a good thing to have for writing– it’s a fundamental necessity. Even if you have the most amazing ideas in the world, if you lack the vocabulary to properly express them, all that creativity will go to waste for lack of linguistic proficiency. Learning new words usually comes from reading (#1) and writing (#2) more, but it should be emphasized that this is one of the important reasons why that reading and writing more is so important.
8. Experience: This aspect of writing often takes a bit more time, and (depending on the scope of your writing) a bit more money than most amateur writers have;
It’s not news that it’s easier to write about a topic you now well, something that touches your very soul. While many experiences are off-limits to the writer (i.e. pregnancy (for a man), murder, or extra-terrestrial contact), getting as much and as relevant of real-life experiences as you can get is important. Travel, or pretend to be a homeless man like George Orwell did when he was writing about London. Also, get used to living outside the proverbial “comfort zone,” and don’t be afraid to step outside the lines. The more unusual real-life experiences you have, the more experiences you have to draw from as a writer. After all, fiction is ultimately the product of an alternate version of reality; all fiction stems from real life, one way or another.
If you dedicate yourself to habitually developing all eight of these literary cornerstones, you will become a excellent writer– I guarantee it. There are many, many other aspects of writing that are also essential to mastering this craft, but building up these areas are a good way to get you started!
Adapted from a post that originally appeared in The Epiphany Project.