When I first started writing, I sat down and worked on a small article for nearly a week. The problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to squeeze my idea into the 1,500 word limit. I was lost, frustrated, and almost gave up. After some years of work, many rejections, and a lot of determination, I finally figured out how to fine-tune the process and reduce the time involved so that this “writing stuff” would work for me.
— Au Naturale —
From various writing experiences, I learned that one must be rigid and unemotional in technical or informational writing. As time crept by, a few books and articles went to market and several documentation sets were completed, I found that the idea of rigidity in writing, regardless of the arena, was terribly boring for the reader—not to mention “the writer.” This rigidity was very unnatural for me and the entire process became “a job.”
If you write in a way that is not natural for you, your writing will be bad, boring, and broken and it will take you an enormous amount of time to write. Always write in a way that flows out of your fingers and always understand your material BEFORE you write. In this way, your brain can stream the information out and you can write from an expert’s point-of-view—you!
— What’d you say? —
To write in a natural way, you have to learn your own “verbal” style before you can master a “written” style. If you feel that you don’t have style, you’re wrong. Say something out loud and listen to your words, voice, and inflexions. This is a general example of YOUR style of communication and is what can make your writing unique as well as smooth.
I found that, if I read out loud one hour a day, I am better able to understand my style. Sounds loony? I got this idea from my actress/singer wife. On her days off, she roams around the house talking to herself, reading scripts, reading books, and singing—all out loud. She said it allows her to hear herself and better understand her voice and style. I tried it … and it works! This little exercise has allowed my written words to flow like my spoken words using MY style!
— Does this please you master? —
If you find writing a chore, you’re either in the wrong business or you’re not writing about what you should! It’s “always” more fun to write about what you enjoy. Why do something you hate? Pick a topic you like and jot notes about it. If you feel compelled, write a short article. Write what you want to write!
Once you get going, make sure that you are doing multiple assignments at the same time. In some cases, you might be doing what you enjoy, but you’ve hit a wall on the specific topic. Change gears! Work on something else! You are not only exercising your brain and reducing boredom and block, but you are also producing more work.
— Tell me more. —
Many new writers sit and wonder how they can shove all their information into 1,500 words or less. The secret is in writing less and saying more. I’ve edited manuscripts that explain one small point in four sentences. One minor adjustment brought it all down to one sentence! One secret is in the use of active voice.
Many new writers are afraid of being taken as too bold or brash. Tell the reader what it is they need to know in as few words as possible. If you write, “the Web site’s promote-ability is increased by ensuring the proper content of the first paragraph and the Meta Tags”, you are boring and confusing the reader. Try using the active voice, as in “Proper content of the first paragraph and Meta Tags increases a Web site’s promote-ability.” That cut the number of words from 19 to 14 and still provides the same information. Active voice is more authoritative and is easier for the reader to understand.
It all boils down to just telling the reader what they need to know. Consider the following sentences. Which one is more natural when spoken?
* A: “The suggested manner of baiting the hook is to, first, take the worm out of the can, hold it just so, and slide it onto the hook such that it covers the hook so as not to frighten the fish swimming in the lake.”
* B: “Open the container, grab the worm, and slide it on the hook.” I hope you picked B. You have to consider the context in which the content is delivered. If you’re sitting on a boat in the middle of a lake, I’m sure your audience will understand that you are baiting a hook to go fishing. If you’re in your living room, of course A is a better choice, but I would have to ask … why would you bait a hook in your living room? Be natural in your writing and understand the context. Base written content on how you would present it verbally. Use active voice where appropriate to reduce content and increase clarity. — Finish your math, or no dessert! — To fully understand the material for a piece, do your homework. Always develop an initial set of questions that need to be answered. For example, I use the following questions to begin my research:
* Why I am writing this piece?
* What is the focus of the piece?
* Why is this important?
* What group is my primary audience?
* Why would the audience be interested?
* How would it benefit the audience?
* How can the audience use this information?
Try to answer each question with ONE sentence. This not only saves time by defining the direction of the piece, but it also helps you think about the piece in depth—writing one sentence about anything is a chore requiring some examination! If you can’t create one sentence answers, stop now! There’s no sense in writing about something that has no real purpose. If you can’t understand it, no one else will either.
If you can get the answers down on paper, research the topic. However, when do you stop researching? When it clicks into place! Just like writing something you hate, or writing outside of your own style, you cannot force organization. Everything has a natural order and if you let it, self-organization will take place—once you understand the topic. The key to doing research is that you aren’t done until it makes sense to you! As you begin to understand the topic, it will organize itself for you.
So, don’t panic! If the topic doesn’t look right, research it until it does! By allowing the information to organize itself through research, you are combining two tasks into one.
— The Three-Pass Rule —
I always write in three passes. This approach saves a considerable amount of time by grouping tasks together.
* Pass 1: The Rough The rough is just a brain-blast. You want to write all the information you already know about the topic. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or format … just write.
* Pass 2: Substantive Edit During the substantive pass, determine context and content. Organize the information and research, fill in the blanks, and make sure that your information is presented completely for the reader.
* Pass 3: Final The final pass consists of final editing, content checking, and flow.
Don’t try to write to perfection, as you will never get it perfect. Write to make it right! I have seen myself rewrite something 20 times to find out that the third pass was better than the last. Write the piece such that it is solid, easy to digest, and presentable—you want something that you can be proud of and something the reader can use.
— Fugitaboudit! —
Many writers I know sit and dwell on their last piece. They wonder if anyone will like it, or how many people will send them hate mail. Don’t waste your time! Once you send it out, forget about it! It’s done, don’t dwell, and move on!
I find that the readers that usually dislike my pieces have valid comments from their own perspective. Every person is allowed to have an opinion, and you can guarantee that you will hear a good percentage of them. You have to take the good with the bad and learn that criticism is a good thing—at least someone took the time to read your piece!
Edward B. Toupin is a published author, technical writer, web developer, coach, and producer living in “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” Las Vegas, NV. One of his primary objectives in his work is to provide information to help others achieve fulfilling lives. Visit his site at http://encouragement.netfirms.com and http://www.toupin.com or contact him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.