Writing advice, haphazardly collected

Writing advice, haphazardly collected

May 03, 2022

🌱 Seedling

I get asked for writing advice a lot, and usually start with a bunch of "umms" and "errs". So, I'm making this list as a starting point — it's what I've realised and/or collected over the past few years and definitely applied to my work. This is a WIP!

Rid yourself of the fear of writing.

This is usually inbuilt because of where we studied, what we were told about writing in English class vs others, and how verbose our 10-mark answers were. Most of us don't write for grades, and definitely don't need to spend time sounding like Lord Byron x10. When we recognise and remove this conditioned fear, we're able to write — maybe not better, but definitely more honestly. And that's what matters.

Read a lot, and then make notes.

What do you like about what you just read? Can you find more writing like this? What don't you like? Can you rewrite a sentence based on what you would like to read?

It doesn't matter where you start writing from so long as you write.

You can start from the intro, the middle or the end — readers won't know where you started from, anyway. I tend to start writing from the middle i.e. the meat of the essay unless I already have a banger of an intro in mind.

Organise each essay around one razor-sharp idea.

If you're writing about why penguins huddle together, speak only about the fact that its a response to weather changes. Don't digress into why penguins can't fly, or why they walk in lines, or why they even exist.

I know it's easier said and done, so leave your first draft for exploring all the twists and turns. Once you've vomited up all your possible directions, you can select the path down which you most want to guide readers. Paul Graham does this a lot.

Prepare to kill your darlings.

Trying to make a core idea stronger means ruthless self-editing and possibly a few existential crises.

Identify your personal writing style

I've come to notice that people aren't just looking for information, they're also looking for a story and a storyteller. It's one of nature's oldest laws. So whatever your topic and field of expertise, I always recommend sounding like yourself. You're not selling 100% content. You're selling 50% content and 50% you. Good writing is alive.

Probably every subject is interesting if an avenue into it can be found that has humanity and that an ordinary person can follow.

— William Zinsser in 'Writing to Learn'

Write by speaking

Take some time to write an essay, the best one possible. In a few days, record yourself talking about the topic without looking at the essay. Use a transcription tool to get a transcript, and compare that with your essay.

Ten to one you'll like the transcript better because it's more... you. It has subtle voicings and a unique conversational style that would probably not make it to the page otherwise. Refining this transcript would probably give you a much more interesting narrative if you struggle with a conditioned inclination towards academic and verbose writing. And if you enjoyed reading it, chances are others will too.

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