SUNBIZ

Writing As A Passion

Because I’m a professional writer people often ask me for tips on how to write well and I always struggle to put it into words, but here’s a try. All
13 May 2017 10:34
Writing As A Passion

Because I’m a professional writer people often ask me for tips on how to write well and I always struggle to put it into words, but here’s a try.

All my life I have been involved in writing, from my days at school but really starting with my first job, at the age of fifteen, when I managed to get into an advertising agency art studio through a relative and the work was extremely simple, basically cleaning and general chasing around. However, they did encourage me to try my hand at anything that came into the studio as I was studying at night for a design degree and a lot of what I was given also needed copy, so you could say I learnt on the job.

Over the years I moved up in the creative area, was also involved in strategy planning (now called communications planning) and was asked by  clients to write entries for the Hoover Marketing Awards, a competition that was used in those days to generate marketing case studies for Universities.

I wrote an entry year in a row, won five years in a row and was asked by the committee to stop entering because it discouraged other people ( I complied because it was made clear that any entry of mine would no longer win). I also thought the request was reasonable.

 

Extensive writing

At the moment I write a thousand word articles for the Sun each week, and in my other work I write extensively for submissions, position papers, marketing and on technical issues.

With any writing; I generally start at the beginning and work my way through to the end in one session. I find that this produces the most coherent result. If the document is very long I will break up the writing at convenient points and come back after a break doing other work. Before I write I think about what I want the writing to achieve, the tone I think it needs and roughly work out the logic glow.

Mostly I do this in my head, but occasionally (particularly with a complex subject with which I am not fully familiar) I draw a schematic of the flow. I will also talk to my friend Mr Google to get certain facts or to see if there are any connections I might find useful.

 

Communication in writing

The whole key to writing is to communicate clearly either facts, ideas or emotions. To communicate clearly you need to understand that when someone reads your copy they hear it in their head. That’s right, just as if you were talking to them.

Once you understand this a world of opportunity is in your hands. When you are talking to someone you use a tone appropriate to what you want to achieve. You use certain words for the emotion they will create.

You use a certain structure, smooth flowing, short and sharp, relaxed, urgent or you might mix up several different ways of talking to create emphasis or empathy. If you do that in conversation and it works for you, you can do the same in writing because it is heard in the readers head, just as if you were talking.

There are many things you do in conversation that most people avoid in writing. For example we are told not to use short sentences but in real life we do. Caught in a cyclone we don’t say “I think that the best thing for us to do is to get out of here to some cover over there”. Instead we say “Watch out. Run. Go there. Behind here”.

That delivery of staccato messages instantly stresses emergency, danger, self preservation. The most powerful communication is in the structure, not the words. We are told not to start a sentence with “And”. But if we say “We went to LA. And it was fun. And busy.

And exciting. And great” the structure of the series of short sentences creates a feeling of excitement, happiness, energy. Another thing we all do is describe emotional things in words, generally in longish sentences. A mate, Bryce Courtney, one of Australia’s best fiction writers, lectured in a Sydney university and for the first lecture each year he would ask the class to read the opening sentence of Hemmingway’s  book, “Snows of Kilimanjaro”.

It read “It was early dawn on the plains”. He asked for a short paper on why the line was so powerful and invariably the students would go on to talk about all the beautiful things to be seen. But the real answer was that it was so powerful because that was all it said. Everyone has images that they see in their head created by that line that are more powerful, emotional, beautiful than anything that words could describe.

His point was that there are times when you should just use a few words to explode a series of images in the readers mind, because they will get a greater emotional response than you can describe. Try this on yourself. “The door opened and a beautiful blonde walked in”. I couldn’t have describes what you just saw.

When you write, don’t use a word that makes the reader stop and figure out what it means. This breaks the flow of the structure of the sentence and certainly switches off the movie running in the readers head.

 

Write as simple as possible

When you are communicating a complex proposition or trying to explain a new and different idea, do so as simply as possible and use words that most directly communicate the message. Don’t repeat the message in a different way in the misguided belief that it will increase the understanding (that’s like shouting at a foreigner hoping that helps their understanding of your language). Remember that you are not always writing a legal review or a statement of scientific theory, you are mostly writing to communicate a message to someone, and you will encourage them to continue to read if they enjoy what you say and how you say it.

Don’t let the mechanics of writing get in the way of communication, don’t follow rules if breaking them will increase the impact or effectiveness of your message. Never try to prove to anyone that you are more intelligent, better educated of smarter that they are. By doing this you will prove that you are not.

When you write, enjoy it. If you can’t then how do you expect your reader to do so. Create highpoints in the copy, maybe a small bit of fun and give them a key to open some form, no matter how slight, of an emotional relationship with you or the subject. But most of all, write. And to write well you need to read well and widely.



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