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Writing forces a certain clarity in thinking. That’s why it’s such an important part of how some of the world’s largest companies work. Marketing guru Seth Godin writes a blog every day! It is not only a great tool in the entrepreneur’s arsenal but also helpful for everyone including employees who work in marketing, engineering, or sales. It’s super useful for people who are looking to create a personal brand as well.
If you got to this paragraph, it means I haven’t lost you already and that’s good enough for now. What I’m about to write is only for people who want to write better and have the time to invest in it. This will take about three minutes to read.
Good writing is the coming together of many things. But it boils down to how much of a grip a writer has on his tools. This is where I like to think of Stephen King’s toolbox as a useful heuristic. According to King, who has written 61 novels, every writer must have three things in their toolbox: grammar, vocabulary, and style. These can be mastered. Mainly by practice, reading, imitating, and then of course improvising and editing.
I started my career as a journalist. Which meant lots of practice in clear and simple writing. Some thumb rules: Put the important things first. Ask direct questions. Don’t try to pack too much into one piece. One idea. With the most important supporting statements. Weed out adverbs. Let the verbs do the work. Show, don’t tell. Use active voice.
Reading has helped me in many ways. Much of what I wrote in the early days was by imitation. You start imitating what you read the most. Once I had a grip on the basics, I started improvising. This is when you make magic of your own.
Edit after you write. Ideally, give it some time before you start editing. Let it rest and come back to it later. Find a good editor and have your drafts edited the first few times. This exercise will teach you a lot more than you think. You will make mistakes. Just like I do. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Now, on to some books that have helped me become a better writer.
- On Writing by William Zinsser
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- On Writing: A Memoir to the Craft by Stephen King
- Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth
- Elements of Style by Strunk & White
Tools like Grammarly and the Hemingway editor are helpful too.
Notice how I explained the words in bold on top in the same order in the paragraphs that followed? Order makes it easier for the reader. Do that.
Are we on time? Three minutes, yeah? One more detail before we go: Details matter. Here’s an example, courtesy of the brilliant Mark Forsyth.
I’m going to kill you. Not so scary. I’m going to kill you on Tuesday. Scary.