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May 30

Three steps to becoming a great writer

writerEvery self-employed person needs to be an effective communicator. Being a good writer isn’t a matter of innate ability. I maintain that every single person can become a good writer. But it takes practice. It also requires a commitment to ongoing learning.

I think there are three essential steps to changing your prose from unrelenting, execrable drivel into clear, concise communication.

Follow some simple rules

1 – Avoid using more words than you need to, or verbosity

The biggest rookie error I read and hear is when someone is verbose. There is not a single occasion when using more words is better than using the right words.

George Orwell once said “If it’s possible to cut a word out, cut it out”.

I add a corollary to that; never use a long word when a short one will do.

2 – Read widely and often

The best way to learn about the craft of writing is to read widely. Don’t just stick to authors and genres you like. Read different styles. By reading you will do two things. You’ll expand your vocabulary and you’ll learn about what works and what doesn’t. Even bad writing will teach you something.

3 – Write a lot

You need to write and critique a lot of words to become a great writer. We often see sportspeople who are exceptionally skilled. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James all make the game of basketball look easy. All three are extraordinarily talented. All three have worked incredibly hard to make the game of basketball look easy.

Science fiction and technology writer Jerry Pournelle says “I am sure it has been done with less, but you should be prepared to write and throw away a million words of finished material. By finished, I mean completed, done, ready to submit, and written as well as you know how at the time you wrote it. You may be ashamed of it later, but that’s another story”.

Practice writing every day. Set aside time every day to write. And set aside time every day to review something you’ve written previously.

Three resources

I’m going to suggest three resources to help you become a better writer. One will require a small investment of time each day. One will require a small investment each year and the third will require a slightly larger investment of time.

Subscribe to Grammarly¬†and read it each day. It will only take a few minutes when a new post appears but you’ll pick up lots of useful tips. They also have a Facebook page.

Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This is a short book that I read each year. It will only take a couple of hours to read and although it’s a little dated it provides great advice for writing clean prose.

The third is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. This is a interesting book as it plots King’s life so far and discusses what he’s learned about the craft of writing. It will take a little longer to read than The Elements of Style but it’s very valuable.

And don’t forget to keep reading

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