Often during the days of lockdown, there has been a lot of time for me to reflect, and be re-reading my earlier material on my thoughts I have seen how my personality has evolved. When I first started I used to copy passages from books and the internet instead of using it to articulate my thoughts. It was a lazy writers’ way of writing, and it takes time to develop your own style. It’s important to read what you have written so you can eliminate any spelling and grammatical mistakes, and that the story flows. If something sounds long-winded, simplify it. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Don’t say something in four sentences when you can say it in two. Quality matters. Even when you have written something that is to a mass audience, you have to make it sound that you are writing for one person. Therein lies the skill.
Great writing is something that takes the reader on a journey, they make you think, and to question your prejudices and assumptions. They use emotions to drive you to action. And turn something that is complicated, easy to understand. Great writing is an art form. It opens minds and it is sometimes lost with the age of the internet and social media. You have to write in a way that is simple, but not patronising, and also to make the reader feel like an expert. You can have many ideas that can be written in a book or a blog post, but it should always ride along a central theme that the reader gets. It’s not telling stories, it’s selling stories.
One of the writers that I have always admired is Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is a Canadian journalist who is a staff writer for the New York Times. A few of the books that he has written include Tipping Point:How little things can make a big difference, Blink: The power of thinking without thinking, among others. In some of his books and essays he tells a story, and within the story he drives a narrative. I feel that Malcolm is a rare breed of writer, using vivid imagery and emotions, he tells a story and then relates that with factual information to deliver a viewpoint. Even his podcasts are emotive, you feel his joy and anger in the tone of voice when he speaks.
When I first started my journey of writing, I read a short essay by George Orwell, Politics and the English language. Although published in 1946, I still feel that it is relevant today as it was back then. Orwell wanted people to write clearly, and avoid long complicated sentences and hackneyed metaphors which is so common in political manifesto and pamphlets. His argument was the long complicated jargon, cliches was used to confuse the reader and is devoid of any imagery. Near the end of his essay he has six points to combat jargon.
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
The only way to get better at writing is to write more. I often find that the more I write, the more ideas that I will have. Sometimes it will give me ideas for my next article. You go into different avenues. Sometimes I will talk to myself and reflect on my ideas. Other times I will read what I have written out loud to see if it makes sense. In order to make it sound authentic, I will try to write it in the same way that I will speak. It adds my own personality to my work, and it’s something that I can call my own. Now over to you.