A-Z of better writing

A-Z of better writing

Posted by Clare Dodd
Speed Reading Mode

We've put together a little list for you:

A - Attitude. Writing requires attitude. Attitude is not aggressive writing. Attitude is a stance, a voice, a reason to write. Attitude is getting excited, intrigued and immersed. Attitude means you ask questions. Attitude is where you start.

B - Beginnings and endings. Your opening and closing sentences work as bookends to your writing: they define where you are going and where you have been. Without them, the reader won't know how to read the middle and it will fall out of their mind as fast as books fall from the shelf. Learn how to craft ledes and kickers and make your writing memorable. 

C - Concentration. There are tools that can help you concentrate. There are tons of tips you can read. At the core of them all is sitting down, shutting up and doing it. Trying to write is always harder than writing.

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D - Dictionary. Be sure you know what words mean. Be sure you know how to spell them. Learn new ones. Use the book or download the app, it does not matter. A writer must always have a dictionary to hand.

E - Every day. It's been said before, it's worth saying again. Writing is a skill that takes practice. Don't just write every day, but try to finish something every day. Learning to redraft, edit, proofread and decide that something is done is just as important as learning to put pen to paper.

F - Feedback. When you read your words they are in your voice and the gaps between what you have thought and what you have written are not always obvious to you. Find someone who knows how to give good feedback and show them your work.

G - Grammar. I don't pretend to understand all points of grammar, very few do, but I do understand the importance of grammar in communicating clearly and effectively. I went back to basics and read Grammar for Dummies, and I would recommend anyone starting out do the same. It's not just about memorising rules, it's about becoming more conscious of how you structure your sentences. Grammar helps you say what you mean to say.

H - Health. Writing means doing a lot of sitting. What you sit in and at matters. Think about posture, comfort and practicality. Make sure your desk and computer are at the right height, and as soon as you can afford it, get a really good chair.

I - Inspiration. Every body gets thinkers-block, when you cease to be able to have a single thought. Be prepared and develop a library of places, websites, books and activities that excite you. Then, if all else fails, boldly step outside of your comfort zone and let loose. Ever listened to apocalyptic industrial club music? Ever read Inked Magazine: Tattoo Culture? Ever been for afternoon tea at The Ritz? You might hate it, but it'll give you something to think about.

J - Jargon. Avoid it at all costs. Write how people speak, or they will not hear you.

K - Kawasaki. Guy Kawasaki has written the definitive and demystifying guide to self-publishing, APE Author, Publisher, EntrepreneurEven if you have no intention of writing a book, APE can still teach you about the practicalities and motivations of being a writer by profession.

L - Love. Not the soppy Valentine kind. The life's work kind. Love what you do. If you do not love writing, you cannot become a better writer.

M - Microphone. You can't rely on memory when it comes to interviews. Old fashioned note taking is great but it can get in the way of a fascinating conversation. For less than £10 you can get a plug-in microphone for your iPhone: a simple and cheap solution for recording interviews.

N - Noise.  Silence is golden. Often that is true. Be careful though, silence can be deafening. Finding the right music to write to can help you clarify the tone of your piece. Writing in the hum of a coffee shop reminds you that you are writing for other people to read. Be conscious of what you can hear when you write.

O - Osmosis. Be permanently engaged in the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas or knowledge.

P - Proofread. Silly mistakes look unprofessional. Always take the time to proofread, and if possible get someone else to proofread too.

Q - Quotations. Using the words of an expert, a thought leader or simply someone that isn't you is a great way to build credibility and interest into your writing. Check out these ten expert tips for using quotations.

R - Read. Everyone who has ever given advice about better writing has said to read, and with good reason. Study more, struggle less.

S - Story. "We are creatures of story, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with “Once upon a time.”" - Jonathan Gottschall. People are enthralled and persuaded by stories. Even if you are writing a blog post or a case study, delve deeper and find the story. Think about emotional engagement, suspense and resolution.

T - Talk to people. Whether you are conducting a journalistic interview, getting information on a press release or just down the pub with your friends, everything you hear forms part of what you write. Engage with people in the real world, listen to their ideas and be open to suggestions. You have to collate ideas, not just dispense them.

U - Understate. Don't exaggerate. Don't use hyperbole. Keep your writing simple and precise. Your words should be transparent, otherwise they will obscure your meaning.

V - Visualise. Mapping out your ideas often helps to show you how they connect. There is mind mapping software you can use, or sometimes I resort to my large white board: basically, you need to be able to move notes around and change the shape and connections on the map as your idea develops. Donald M. Murray actually draws shapes to represent his articles in order to help him structure his writing.

W - Word processor. There are many, many, many options when it comes to typing words on the page. Occasionally I map out an idea in TextEdit; for blog posts I often type straight into Wordpress; my standard, however, is Microsoft Word. Everyone understands Word, everyone can open a Word document and if you are looking to publish your work, according to Guy Kawasaki, Word is the standard starting point.

X - X. You know that little cross in the top left (Mac) or right (PC) corner? Know when to press it. Sometimes you try writing something before you have fully thought it through, sometimes there is not as much to say as you thought, sometimes what you have written is just bad. Know when to quit and move on to a different project.

Y - Yellow pads. Pen and paper (and computer) are the tools of a writer's trade. Aesthetics matter. For me it's yellow pads, leather notebooks, Paperchase pens and a Mac. For you it might be something else. Experiment and be indulgent. If it helps you write, it will pay for itself in no time.

Z - Zzz. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation affects your memory, your logical reasoning and your mood. Sleep more, write better.

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