I’m not going to lie, I feel like an arrogant, presumptuous dickhead publishing a post telling people how to write better.
Seriously, if you’re reading this, then you’re an intelligent adult with a successful career and the respect of your peers… at the very least, you know how to work the internet, so you know what you’re doing in life.
But Adam and a couple of my friends have suggested I try to channel the years of experience I have had cranking out inordinate amounts of copy and scripts, into something that might help those who don’t make a living wading through the verbal swamp of modern corporate communication.
So let me share some of the lessons I’ve learnt the hard way, so you don’t have to.
1. Define objectives
All writing shares one common aim- to communicate. To tell someone about something.
What are you writing, who are you writing it for and what is your desired outcome of the communication? Have that in your head from the offset- and keep it in your head as all those tempting tangents present themselves like the wanton distractions they are.
Check your finished efforts against your intentions.
For example: What are you writing?
Who are you writing it for?
My neighbour who keeps getting drunk and crapping in my garden.
What is the desired outcome of the communication?
My neighbour will stop crapping in my garden when he’s drunk.
Good job. Now you know where you want to be, the next step is to find the best way to get there.
2. Remove emotion
“Kill your darlings”, says Stephen King, and he’s got a body count as high as the Carlton Centre. Writing angry, happy, or sad will undoubtedly colour your prose.
Writing from an emotionless void allows you to find the most efficient path to your making your message effective.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to inject emotional resonance or personality into your work, but this needs to be done consciously to be effective…. Otherwise you might as well be 16 again, pouring your heart into terrible, terrible poetry about unrequited love and your misunderstood artist’s soul.
No one cares about how you feel. They care about how you make them feel.
So where do you find the void? Why, at the bottom of a bottle, of course.*
3. Embrace order
This has to be the most common thing I see people struggle with. They know what to say, but when they see the impact or their words, or the efficacy of their message failing to hit the mark, they claim that they ‘don’t have the right words’.
I argue that more often, they don’t have the right structure. Every sentence and every paragraph needs to follow a logical progression, culminating in the crux of your message and rounding off with a neat summary.
If something cannot comfortably be accommodated in your structure, then dump it. There should be no room at the inn for extraneous sentences.
4. Abandon the thesaurus
Unless you’re a professional writer (in which case, you are in deep trouble if you’re trying to learn something here), the right words are your words.
Here’s another Stephen King-ism I remember every time I feel tempted to look up a tarted-up synonym for the word I actually want to use:
“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
This isn’t high school, there is no minimum word count, you won’t get extra points for double barrel adjectives.
You already have the right words.
5. Be brief
This is my biggest personal challenge. I love writing. It allows me to communicate more articulately than I ever could in person, but that means I tend overdo it a bit. I have written copy decks and scripts so flowery they could have been used to wallpaper Barbara Cartland’s home.
I have been trying to become more Hemingway-esque in my sentences. I have tried to make them shorter and more concise and… ah, piss… this post is already almost 700 words…