“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Writing that is easy to read is certainly hard to write.
Many misinformed people think they will start their writing career by writing picture book texts for children “because they are so simple they must be easy.” This assumption is totally wrong.
Have you ever tried to write a very simple text for four and five year olds with the following criteria?
- Have a limited vocabulary
- Write within a strict word count
- Tell an interesting story
- Be relevant to the needs and interests of children
- Be age relevant
- Be sparkling text
- Be socially inclusive, non-sexist, non-racist and non-everything
- Be innovative.
If you have, and been successful, then you don’t need to be reading this post.
In the early 1990s I wrote a series of texts for a publisher. These were for three to five year olds, and I know how difficult, challenging, exhausting and demanding it can be. Throw a publisher’s deadline into the mix and you will appreciate how hard it really can be.
With much practice in the art of writing you can make your writing appear easy.
It may appear easy, but the process is very hard.
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the one who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott Card
Where do you get your story ideas from?
Do you have your eyes and ears open ready to receive story ideas, like some invisible antenna ready to receive the incoming messages?
Be on the lookout for story ideas everywhere you go, every person you see or listen to, snatches of conversation in the mall, the train, the television – if fact, wherever you are. Take a notebook with you and jot down those ideas, those words, the images you see. Record the sights, the smells, the sounds all around you and file them away for future use. Some of these jottings will never be used, others will be very useful and still others will be the gems that turn a good story into a great story.
Here are some examples:
- A white lily: I saw a white lily in the garden of a neighbour on my early morning walk. Write about what the memory of white lilies means to you about someone (friend or family) who recently died.
- A raven: A black raven flew over the house at sunset. Write a story about your cold feelings of impending disaster (death?).
- A rusty truck: Write about the joyful times you had on a favourite old truck on your uncle’s farm, and your sadness now that it is on the scrap heap.
- A singing bird: Write about the feelings you have when you hear a beautiful singing bird. What memories does it bring to mind? Who does it make you think of?
- The aroma of freshly baked bread or cake: Write about your favourite food, how it makes you feel and the memories it brings to mind.
Can you see the gem of an idea in any of these suggestions? If you can – start writing.
Make a list of twenty things you see on a walk around the block, or on your drive home from work or from the window of the train. Try to use as many of these things as you can in a story.
Remember: story ideas are all around you.
“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.”~ Charles Caleb Colton
While I think that this quote has been written a little tongue in cheek, there is much truth in it. It highlights three important stages in the publication path.
- Writing: The writing stage is usually the one that concerns writers the most. First, there is the problem of coming up with an idea, then there is the problem of converting the idea into words and then finally editing and checking the words until they are as near to perfect as the writer can achieve. Most writers think that the process ends here. Wrong.
- Publishing: The next stage, getting the writing published, is just as important as the first stage. Having done one’s homework and research, the writer then submits the writing to a print publisher. Here is where patience is needed. Normally it takes months to get a response, and in the case of book length manuscripts, it may take years. All of this waiting is then without a guarantee of even getting published. And if you are lucky enough to get published, you may not even make any money out of it. Writers who think the process ends here are also missing the point.
- Reading: The reading stage is just as important as the other two stages. Without readers, the writer would be better off throwing his or her work into the fire; at least they will be able to keep warm that way. The promotion stage of writing is just as important as the writing. Without promotion, how will potential readers be found? This is vitally important, especially to writers of book length works.
How does all this relate to blogging, the new kid on the publication block?
- Writing: There is little difference between writing for one’s blog and writing for print publication. The writer still has to come up with ideas, though in fairness, I’ve read some blogs that are totally bereft of ideas. The writing still has to be good – even better in many cases because on the internet you have only a few seconds, perhaps a sentence or two, to get the reader’s interest. Proofreading, rewriting and editing are still essential skills.
- Publishing: Publication of one’s writing in a blog is the easy part. Too easy. As a result there is little moderation of what is published. In my opinion, the ease of publication on a blog is both a strength and a weakness. Its strength is the fact that almost anyone can be published. Its weakness is that almost anyone can be published. This means that there is an awful lot of rubbish to wade through to get to the good stuff, and the great stuff is even harder to find.
- Reading: The reading stage on blogs is probably the most crucial part. Without readers one is just blowing words into the wind. The real strength in blogging comes if good content being written. When there is good content, readers will find your writing through search engines. Consistently good content that is worth reading will be found and readers will come back. Loyalty of readership is something every blogger must strive for and cherish.
I have read many articles, blogs, books and magazines about writing. I have read numerous books on writing and attended conferences, seminars and workshops.
Some principles stand out and are common to many lists of things writers (and bloggers) can do to improve their writing. In this short post I want to highlight just five things that will improve your writing. These are things most successful writers do.
- Successful Writers are students of the craft of writing. There is no excuse these days; the resources are readily available. There are literally thousands of books and magazines that can help you to hone your craft. There are tens of thousands of blog articles that can help. Every year there are numerous conferences, workshops, writer’s groups and seminars designed to help inexperienced and emerging writers.
- Successful writers are readers: this is an inescapable fact. In order to learn how to be a good writer, you need to read the works of great writers. Sure – read for the story or the content first, then analyse why that writer is great, or successful or popular. Do not just confine yourself to the works of great writers though – read voraciously. Have you ever read a story and said, “I can write better than that!” Or perhaps you have said, “I could have written an article about that – but even better than that hack writer!” Prove it. Go ahead and write a better article or story.
- Successful writers do their research: they know what they want to write about. They study the magazines they want to see their writing published in and write accordingly. They research carefully. They study the requirements of publishers before they submit their query letters. They study other books or blogs in their genre or niche and strive to write better that their competitors. Successful writers also check their facts.
- Successful writers rewrite and edit their writing: they refuse to submit rubbish and they invest time and effort to ensure that their writing is of the highest possible standard, the best they can possibly do. Bloggers please take note: it is not cute nor is it cool to have sloppy, careless writing on your blog. It is a sure way to lose readers fast. Learn to spell and learn to check your writing. If you can’t or won’t do that – get off the internet and stop wasting bandwidth.
- Successful writers are persistent: They never give up. Never. Ever. Successful writers are people who never let rejection stop them from writing. They just kept on writing and submitting until they found someone who liked their work enough to publish it. Successful bloggers are those who have continued to write for many months and even years before they had any significant numbers of readers.