Post Reply Improve Your Writing In 3 Steps
Chief Editor
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32 / M / Tamriel
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Posted 5/14/09 , edited 5/14/09
This was originally a speech I wrote for Toastmasters (http://www.toastmasters.org/) but I thought it might be helpful for people here. Or at least, I hope it will.
Since it was a speech originally, if you want to critique it, feel free.

riting is magic. Not magical, but magic. It has strange rituals attached, odd incantations, secret terms, and of course, the routine and constant selling of your soul. Well, that may be exaggerating a bit, but writing is magic, reaching into another world, grabbing bodily onto a story or an idea, pulling it back through to this world, (an action similar to shoving a wet dog through a toilet paper tube) and then bending, twisting, or sculpting it until you have a living creature breathing before you on your computer screen. `
Writing, however, is not romantic. And by that I mean, it's not just “poof” like some David Copperfield stunt. It is a long, tiring, and at times painful process. Many feel that this work is beneath them, and their work is often very poor. However, if you, like me, feel that it is always possible to improve your writing, then here are a few tips for you. These are most useful in writing fiction, but most still come in handy with non-fiction as well.

The first point is to CHOOSE YOUR WORDS. Mark Twain once wrote that “Choosing between the right word and the almost right word, is like choosing between the lightning and the lightning bug.” Even that, however, is not quite right, I think, because even lightning bugs have a sort of transfixing beauty about them. If they didn't, then children wouldn't try to capture them.
No, I think a better analogy would be that the right word is like the sun, brilliant, powerful, burning with heat, while the “close enough” word is more like a light bulb, a mere imitation of what you truly want. So, when it comes to choice of words, show us what you really mean. Be specific, be powerful, be confident enough to show us what you're thinking. But don't be satisfied with “almost what I want to say.”
The best way to do this is to cut out weak modifiers and adverbs, while at the same time inserting more descriptive nouns and solid adjectives.

Next, the thing I find most important to tell budding writers is: DON'T FALL IN LOVE. I don't mean not falling in love with a person, or falling in love with a certain character. Even Shakespeare had favorite characters. No, you need to be wary of falling in love with your words.
I used to think this was most common in young people, who were so proud of having written something that they didn't want to change it. But as I've done editing for more people, I actually find that it's the older people who tend to be stubborn about their writing.
Writing, especially to a writer, is as addictive as a drug, and some writers say it's even more addictive than that. However, after we're done with the writing, we must take a critical view about what we have just written. As I alluded to at the beginning, writing does not spring full-grown from a person's head. It's important to be absolutely ruthless when editing your work, tightening the loose strings, tuning off-key notes, and even cutting dead words, until your final product sings like a perfectly tuned orchestra.

And thirdly, DON'T WORRY ABOUT YOUR VOICE. The term “Voice” or “Style” is something critics and teachers like to throw around a lot, and too many people put too much faith in it. “This is written in So-and-So's style.” It's fun for a warm up, trying to write like someone you admire, and it gives you a nice benchmark. But just as no one talks like anyone else, neither is their “Voice” the same. We all put words together in our own ways. As long as you're telling the story you want, and are being as clear and specific as you can be, your voice will show through.

Writing, despite the magic, is hard. I won't lie to you about that. However, it is also one of the most rewarding hobbies you can have, even if you never make money, or even get published. In my time as a writer and editor, I have read stories from people all over the world. Some of these writers have since become pen pals. Two of them I helped to get published. In addition, there is nothing as exhilarating as seeing someone reading a piece and watching the emotions that light up their face as they do. And best of all, anyone can do it, no matter your skill or vocabulary.
But, as I said, it is hard, and it takes a lot of practice to do well. But it's worth doing well. So, take these suggestions and practice, practice, practice. And then let someone read it.
Chief Editor
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22 / F / Among the Clouds
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Posted 5/15/09
This really helps. Thanks for posting this.
Head Writer
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23 / F / Philippines
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Posted 5/29/09
I forgot that I told myself I'd read this. And I found it very useful indeed. We don't always see our flaws but this can open our eyes to keep on improving. Thanks for sharing this.
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