Tag Archives: writing

7. Read bad writing.

Of course, as a writer, you need to read a lot. But while you obviously should read a lot of exemplary writing, you should also read a lot of bad writing.

Now, in matters of taste, there is no such thing as good or bad. So what in hell do I mean? Three things: Continue reading

6. Good structure is made of desire.

You probably learned in high school how to structure an essay: “Say what you’re going to say, say it, then say you’ve said it.”

For high school students, this is a reasonable instruction. It helps them learn to organize their thoughts instead of just pouring their stream of consciousness onto the paper. It also makes essays easier to grade.

Just in case you missed day one of these gifts for writers: You’re not in high school anymore. You can outgrow the high school rule. Your readers aren’t there to grade you. They’re there because of desire. Continue reading

5. Professional writing is a group activity.

When you’re being paid to write something, you’re not the lone romantic protagonist doing everything yourself, expressing your true vision, et cetera, et cetera. You’re writing a thing that other people are going to read, and you want to make sure that they’ll be glad they’ve read it. I already told you this: It’s not about you, it’s about your readers. Continue reading

4. Don’t write from the heart. Write FOR the heart.

One time a medical editor friend told me about being introduced to someone who was “a writer.” My friend asked what kind of writing she did: technical, medical, magazine articles, fiction? She said, and my friend quoted, “I write from the heart.”

I put my hand over my mouth and said, “Oh noooooooo.” My friend joined in.

I mean, I’m sure she has good feelings about it. But if you’re writing for other people, it’s not your heart that matters. It’s theirs. Continue reading

3. Seek qualified advice.

If you’re just writing in your journal for your own fulfillment and you don’t care about anyone else’s opinion of it, congratulations: You’re in a happy place. On the other hand, if you want other people to read and enjoy your writing, you’ll want to get some opinions on it.

Here’s the problem: Your target audience may know whether they like something, but they may not know exactly why, or what you could do to make it more likeable. Continue reading

2. You can’t cast someone else’s spell.

You may want to write as well as some famous successful author – or anyway, you may want to be as famous and successful as they are – but you can’t write the same as they do, and the things that work for them won’t necessarily work for you.

This is because… [a hush falls over the room; I lean in close to speak in confidence] …YOU’RE DIFFERENT PEOPLE!

Many famous writers don’t realize this either. They got successful by writing as they do with their own particularities. They have their habits and their personal rules and they aren’t always so good at knowing which of those things made them good writers and which just made them feel less insecure. Continue reading

1. You’ve outgrown your high school grammar rules.

Many people cling tightly to the advice they remember from their high school English teacher: the stern prescriptions and proscriptions, the rules for writing. Good grammar, bad grammar, how to structure an essay. Cross one of these directives and they’ll say “But my high school English teacher taught me…”

There are two things I need to tell you about this, and I’m not going to be gentle because I’m damn tired of hearing this crap. Continue reading