You want to share your message with power?
The following article was originally written for a how-to-write website in India (March 2016). Here’s a new, updated version for you — today.
Neil Gaiman wisely once said, to write, one must sit down at the keyboard and “put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.”
Another wise one—Master Yoda—once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.”
Neil and Yoda have the same idea: writers must simply sit and write. But there is more to writing than meets the chair.
Readers are demanding. If you and I don’t produce in the first lines, the reader moves on. If we don’t produce in the middle, the reader leaves in a huff. If we don’t produce at the end, the reader complains and lets everyone know: That was disappointing. Don’t read it.
One must not simply sit and write (the easy part). One must also create exactly what readers want and need (the hard part). It’s that simple… and that abrupt.
As a reader, I want you to do five things for me:
Help me follow your ideas.
In both non-fiction and fiction writing, good ideas flow linearly. Readers want to travel a reasonable, plausible, rational path with a beginning, middle, and end.
Practical Writing Hint: At the very beginning, when imagining what in the world to write, bullet point ideas (brainstorm in a list). Next, place the ideas in 1-2-3 order. Then, and only then (with a clear path before you), write. And don’t stray. Stick to the path. Readers want you on the path.
Move me forward.
Just like music, good writing has a physical sound and pace. First, single words hook up together to carry the clicking drive of consonance and the mellow, singing sounds of assonance. The sounds of language create rollicking puppy-dog leaps and bounds or hushed, swaying, lulling boats to carry our ideas. Second, sentence length adds to—or takes away from—movement. Short is strong. Long carries the reader along for the ride and doesn’t let her sit and mull. (Read the sentences above again.) And finally, where we place our punctuation—whether in full-stop periods or a series of catchy, clickety-clack commas—completely changes the writing’s pace and feel, too.
Practical Writing Hint: Read your work aloud. Listen to the sounds. Change words that don’t sound right. Change up sentence lengths, using both short and long sentences. If a word sounds awkward, change it. If it feels like something is missing, fill in the gaps. Rewrite.
Engaging the reader means we must touch the reader’s mind and emotions. The mind loves to find answers, and writing with breadcrumb ideas—unfolding information little by little—keeps the mind happy. (Curiosity not only killed the cat, it kept the reader reading.) Emotion pleases, allures, rivets, or horrifies. Emotional engagement can incite terror or pleasure, feed rage or inspire contentment. You and I are drawn to emotional engagement.
Similarly, the emotions in our words must also move us. Nonfiction moves us to act; a story moves us to feel (and often act, too). Well-written words shift us, drive us, and pull us forward.
Practical Writing Hint: Even in nonfiction, tell me a step-by-step story that I can relate to. Leave the reader with a poignant idea. And always give the reader with an action to do. In fiction, after a period of character action, give the hero a time to reflect—so that the reader can reflect and feel the emotion, too.
Show me something powerful.
Even in academic settings, a writer’s goal is to unleash the power of words. Powerful writing takes the breath from our lips, makes our heart race, and creates desire. The power of writing lies in our ability to choose single words as well as smoothing and stacking words into phrases that elicit powerful feelings.
Practical Writing Hint: Use the right-click thesaurus or Thesaurus.com to find more powerful, specific words to elicit feelings. Match ideas to word pictures: create an analogy carrying deeper power than simply stating the original idea.
Make it clear.
Clear writing gives complete understanding. The footsteps of a writer’s thoughts and intentions must be followed completely, or our reader looses the way.
What is most critical to know? Write it. What is the point? Get there quicker. I tell university students and professional writers the same mantra: the delete key is my friend. Clarity reigns supreme.
Practical Writing Hint: Make your point in the least number of words to carry the strong idea, forward movement, engagement, and power.
Yes, to write is to sit there on the chair.
But American novelist Philip Roth rightly said that to write is to “turn sentences around…and turn it around again.” When we write again, and again, and again, the art and skill of writing pours itself over our shoulders as an enchanting perfume, attracting and captivating readers.
Writing is about sculpting, re-working, and turning.
And it’s in the turning that we become better writers.
Erin M. Brown (author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with a terminal degree in Creative Writing (MFA) and over 20 years as a professional writer. She’s the author of nine books; thousands of articles, marketing, and web pieces; multiple courses and curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses created and used across the world. A former university professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communications, Erin writes, coaches, and speaks internationally.