3 Ways to Be a Better Writer Starting Today
by Robin Sacks
Why do actors have to audition?
If the casting director hands each actor who walks through the door the same script, how could they read the same words that differently?
If you've ever witnessed actors reading for an audition - or if you've ever seen a really good or really bad movie - you know that it takes more than some well written words to keep your attention.
You can hand two people the exact same script and one may read it flat and monotone, while the other uses inflection and tone to bring the words to life. When speaking, we use our voices to convey energy, emotion, and ultimately engage the listener. We pause, we speed up, we slow down, we reiterate and we use different tones to make sure our message is clearly understood.
It's usually not the words that accomplish that, it's how those words are said.
When you are writing, you don't have the benefit of those vocal tools. You literally have words on a page...that's it. If you've ever sent a text or email that was misread, you know that words alone can lose something in the translation. So how do bring those words to life in a way that brings energy, emotion, and meaning along with them so that a reader not only understands what you are saying, but also wants to keep reading?
Let's put one thing right out there first! ;) The way we were all taught to write in school is not the best way to engage your readers. Learning to write in an engaging and interesting way looks different than that.
In 'real life,' writing that is interesting to read often feels like you are on a pleasant ride. Punctuation creates your pace and pausing on the track, short sentences mixed with longer sentences are your rhythm, and spacing helps to set your tone and flow as you experience the ups and downs. When you learn to put these elements together well, you build a ride that creates enough enjoyment, emotion, and entertainment that readers want to get back in line again.
How do you learn how to do this? Here are three ways to start being a better writer right now:
Have a Conversation
Please stop writing like you are in a 10th grade English class. Life does not sound like a high school essay, and neither should your writing. When a reader reads your words, they should be able to "hear' a voice in their head; the voice of a storyteller. Think about when you read a good book. Are you just reading words on a page, or are you "hearing" the storyteller in your head? A writer pulls you in and engages you by making his or her writing real.
An easy way to get in this habit is to just start typing what you would say. In other words, don't think too much about what you are writing, just "talk it" onto the page. Later, you can go back and rework it through editing (if you need to).
If you keep it conversational, you will keep it readable. If you keep it readable, your readers will want to keep reading (and they will!).
Use Punctuation to Help a Reader "Hear" Your Words
The only reason we have punctuation is to let readers know when to stop reading (a period/full stop), let them know when a question is being asked (a question mark), and when a pause or emotion should be experienced (comma, exclamation point or ellipses). Punctuation helps a reader to process what was just read. Words are just information, your punctuation helps add the meaning to that information. Punctuation is to writing what vocal intonation, tone, and pace are to speaking.
Think about this...
If we didnt use punctuation we would have no idea what the writer meant by what they wrote would we because it would all just be a bunch of words on a page and that would be annoying and confusing the longer a sentence went on and how would you know when a new thought got started it would be read differently by each reader and they would think it said different things so the writer couldnt communicate what he or she really wanted to it would be bad no one would ever be on the same page crazy to think that
That was painful to write, but it makes the point.
Punctuation makes reading easier. When you use punctuation to help tell the story, your reader doesn't have to work so hard. If your reader has to work hard to read what you've written, they are not going to keep reading.
Also, punctuation is like giving your words to a great actor. It is a tool that allows you to bring life into the words and create feelings that words alone cannot.
For example, read this simple sentence without punctuation:
You can do it. I believe in you.
Now, read it with punctuation:
You can do it! I believe in you!
Did you read the sentences differently? Did you feel differently when you conveyed the second message? Just by adding the exclamation points, the voice in your head most likely became more enthusiastic, stronger, and you may have "felt" the words as you read them; you may have even believed what you were saying more. The first time, you probably read the words as just that, words with no meaning behind them.
Even if you are not the best with grammar, punctuation, or style - most people are not, so you'd be in good company - don't overthink this. Simply pay attention to where a pause might be if you you were reading your writing, or where you want someone to feel an emotion when they read a certain sentence or paragraph. Learning to use punctuation to your advantage will engage your reader and keep them reading your stuff!
The best way to learn how to do this is to read more. Pay attention to how good writers use punctuation to get their readers to react a certain way or think about what they just read.
Separate Writing From Editing
It has been my experience that most people try to edit as they write. They begin by thinking too much about what they want to say and then correct sentences and look for 'better' words in the middle of typing.
This is like attempting to cook from a recipe and, after you've dumped a cup of sugar into the bowl, trying to get some of the sugar back out because you decided you only wanted to use a half cup.
When you write, just write. After you are done writing, then go back and edit.
The first step of writing is to get whatever is in your head out of your head. Get it out and onto the paper or screen first. If you try to begin tweaking those thoughts as they are coming out, you may think you are being efficient, but instead you are altering the message you felt you wanted to communicate in the first place. You will also most likely miss things and the uniqueness of your voice will be lost.
It is so much easier to edit what is already written because it's already in front of your eyes. When you write first and edit second, as separate tasks, you can more clearly see what fits and what doesn't, what flows nicely and what is confusing, and whether or not what you wrote makes sense.
Editing while writing is like trying to figure out what the puzzle picture will be from looking at the pieces; editing after writing is like trying to figure out what the puzzle picture is after the pieces are put together. Which one is easier?
You don't have to have an English degree or be a 'grammar nerd' to be a good writer. By following these three suggestions, you can share your stories and experiences with the world and the world will want to keep reading.