Do what you love, we’re told, and it won’t even feel like work. Sounds good, yet the truth is that you’re not going to embrace everything about a job.
A friend recently announced that she was giving up writing fiction, because she didn’t enjoy the process enough. Other people, she said, loved creating novels. She realized that she didn’t.
Hold on, what didn’t she like?
Fiction writing has a number of components, including plotting, crafting sentences, writing dialogue, and editing the raw drafts. A bunch of skills are required.
Some people are natural story tellers. They get carried along by the power of their tale and can hammer out a first draft in weeks, though the prose may be unexceptional in quality.
Other folk love crafting sentences and paragraphs, while having trouble shaping the whole thing into a coherent narrative.
The tasks you don’t like doing can be a grind, but they’re part of the skill-set. You learn to be competent at those aspects that don’t come naturally or easily.
This is why any profession or trade is a love-hate affair. You can delegate or contract out stuff you really don’t want to do, but some of it can’t be avoided. It’s difficult to be a mechanic who refuses to clean engines, or a general practitioner who won’t talk to patients.
Too bad about my writer friend. You can’t love it all.
Write every day, we are told. It’s intended as good advice, whether we’re creating fiction, a blog, or other forms of non-fiction.
The idea is that a regular habit will maintain the flow of thought and get the job completed faster and better than a spasmodic effort.
Yet if we undertake other focused disciplines on a daily basis, we run the risk of overtraining. Anybody who has worked out hard knows the bad feeling of not being able to face another session at the gym because neither the body nor the mind is ready for it.
What’s so different about writing?
In defiance of commonsense, people are expected to be able to push beyond a funk, favor perspiration over inspiration, force themselves through the wall.
This makes little sense. The mind can become exhausted, no less than the body.
By all means look at your writing every morning, assess it, think about where it’s come from and where it’s going. But don’t feel you must churn out another 500 or thousand words, just because today is another day.
Nothing is as good as coming back fresh from a period of rest.
Stuck with your content writing? If an article won’t flow, chances are that you’re suffering from a common problem, which is that you don’t have a clear picture in your head of whom you’re writing for.
The result is that you can’t think what to say or how to say it.
Stop and consider. Work out who your audience is and try to envisage a typical member of that audience. Start writing again.
This trick is usually effective. Vague sentences are replaced by precise, targeted phrases and everything seems to flow.
You can’t write for everybody. Try instead to write for somebody. The likely outcome is that it will be read with pleasure by many.
1. They start the story with a hook and end with a punch. If these two parts of the content are sound, the rest of the material will sit easily in between.
2. They treat words like goldleaf. Each one has its own glint. They don’t need to elaborate with adjectives or adverbs, or say the same thing in three different ways. People will get it the first time.
3. They know that writer’s block is a form of stagefright. Practice of your craft will give you the confidence to write under the toughest conditions.
4. They understand that writers also get stuck when they don’t have a clear picture in their mind of whom they’re addressing. Clarify that and the writing will flow.
5. They’re happy for their first draft to be rough. And the next two rewrites. After that, they’re getting close to the finished piece.
6. They find that reciting a story aloud is an excellent way of checking its flow. (That doesn’t apply if you’re writing for The Guardian, where tortuous prose may be a sign of cleverness. For every other media brand, it’s good advice.)
7. They never write on a per-word basis of payment, which is a blueprint for poverty. They charge per article or by the hour.
8. They understand that while everyone can write, few people can do it really really well. Most of us are able to cook a meal, but that doesn’t make us Gordon Ramsay.
9. They’ve found that working to a word limit is a tough but good discipline. Most online articles are fewer than 400 words. Any clown can add more. The hard part is leaving stuff out.
There are only three types of sentences in written English.
- This is the first sort.
- This is the second sort, which has a number of clauses, normally separated by commas.
- This is the third sort that is separated by conjunctions and just runs on and on until it stops.
Good writing isn’t hard. Create variety in your prose by using a mixture of all three types of sentences so that the readers don’t get bored with your style. It’s simple, it’s attractive, and it works.
The previous paragraph is composed of these sentence types. See what we mean?
Browsing online isn’t like reading a book, but is more like scanning a newspaper. Most newspapers (yes, they still exist) have short paragraphs because they’re easier to skim through without losing your place.
Online copy tends to be consumed in the same way. Most of it is free, so is often attracting an uncommitted readership. A simple format is therefore a key to holding people’s attention.
This means short paragraphs of no more than two or three sentences.
For proof of this, check the comments section of your favourite online forum. Remarks that are written in huge blocks of unrelieved type tend to be ignored.
Comments displayed in short paragraphs are the ones that get attention. So press Enter to make your copy friendly!
Twitter comes under fire for the inaccuracy of its information, for publishing rubbish, and as a mecca for trolls.
Yet the social medium remains popular.
Tweets are brief, often mercifully so. This is Twitter’s virtue. It forces writers to be concise with their messages.
Adding unnecessary words is the most common fault of amateur scribes. Their wordiness and length of copy bores people. Thus Twitter is less boring.
Of course, you can always spread your tweet across consecutive posts, but readers will hate you for it. As well, the messages are less likely to be retweeted or Liked.
“Brevity is the soul of wit,” wrote Shakespeare. It’s also the pulsing heart of Twitter.
If you’re unsure that your media release or blog post hits the right notes, try reading the first four or five sentences aloud, as if they’re an item in a radio or television news bulletin.
Do they sound okay? Are there any places in your flow of meaning that the listener would puzzle over?
If so, rewrite your opening paragraphs until the words are a golden, liquid stream of clarity.
Once these initial sentences are sorted out, the remainder of the story should flow along nicely until the end. You’ll have captured the reader, who is likely to stick with you.
Yes, there are a few stylist differences between media stories written for radio or television news and those in the print format – but not enough to negate the value of this exercise.
Write, listen, revise. It’s the mantra of good language.
If you don’t know how to wrap up your article or spoken piece, here’s a Mills Blog tip.
Re-read or listen to the opening paragraph. Then, in your final sentence or paragraph, refer back to what you said at the beginning.
This will create a nice start and finish. It bookends your content. You’ll feel satisfied, and so will your readers or listeners.