Writing is easy. Open notebook. Un-cap pen. Unleash your creative genius onto the page. Right? Sometimes, not so much. Half of the time, it looks a little more like this: Open laptop. Start new Word document. Stare at the little blinking cursor for two and a half minutes. Write a sentence. Delete it. Get up and go make coffee. Sometimes I will stand up and sit down again at my laptop up to five times in a day before I get actual words on the page. Then other times It comes flying out of my fingertips faster than I can type.
However it comes out on a given day, I use a few key guidelines to keep it easy and enjoyable to read.
1. Keep it conversational.
Nothing ruins getting into a really great piece more than having to push through a formal register to get to the meat of the writing. Depending on the context, you want it to read like you’re talking to anyone from an acquaintance to a good friend. It’s really nice when readers can identify with the writer of an article. That, my friends, is the beauty of literacy. I love having those aha moments when I am reading through something and I can exclaim “I thought that was just me!”
But. Having made this point…
2. Try not to over-use exclamation points.
We’ve all been there. You’re halfway through a *killer* paragraph about the miracle of DIY/juicing/boutique fitness and you’re about to congratulate yourself on being such an exemplary human being when you read it back and spot at least five of these “!!!” and suddenly it’s time to check yourself. Over-using exclamation marks is distracting in the same way that over-using “um” and other filler words are in public speaking. Think about how exclamation marks are traditionally intended to be used in the english language. Do you want your readers to feel like you’re proclaiming every point you make from the rooftops like a town crier? (If so, then go right ahead; do your thing.) You might also run the risk of sounding like a 13-year-old girl (or Elle Woods. Maybe it’s just me, but unnecessary use of multiple exclamation marks in a row always conjures images of those pens with the fluffy pink poufs on the end, or dotting your i’s with hearts.) Readers may not take you seriously if you sound like you’re breathily squealing about everything like it’s the greatest thing ever. Just be confident and let your writing speak for itself.
3. Break the rules (juuuust a little.)
At the risk of sounding contradictory in everything I’ve been saying, don’t be afraid to stray a little away from the formal structural qualities of writing. If you write more genuinely and naturally using unconventional methods or structure, do your thing. As long as it helps you to write how you speak, and you’re speaking from the heart, naysayers be damned!
4. Don’t be afraid of a little (word) vomit.
Some people would say “write drunk, edit sober,” because it helps the words to flow onto the page. Now I’m not endorsing this process as a foolproof method (although, a good glass of red while writing is always nice. Maybe a scented candle… ) Anyway, the premise is what I am recommending. Don’t hold yourself back when you tap a good creative vein while you’re writing. Don’t let worrying about arranging your thoughts into cohesive order lead to not getting your ideas out on the page. You can always word-vomit onto the page, then come back and edit later when your mind is fresh again. I like to think of it like drawing: sketch out the bones of the drawing fast to get it on the page, then add shading gratuitously and step away and come back to the work as needed to add and subtract with your pencil and eraser until it is just right.
I have found that you can always benefit from asking yourself where you can improve, however little. Your writing can only become stronger for it.
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