“You fail only if you stop writing”- Ray Bradbury
Whether you’re a great writer or learning to become one, you need to sharpen your skills regularly, otherwise they become blunt, just like a pencil.
Sure, writing amazing content is an important ingredient in keeping your audience engaged, but if your sentences are too long, use passive instead of active voice, or pompous words, your reader’s attention will dwindle, and inevitably, move on to something else.
While embracing your voice and developing your own writing style is important and encouraged, engaging your reader, making sense, and being understood is even more so -your success and credibility as a writer depends on it, especially if you write for a living, or have ambitions of doing so.
N.B: These writing ‘rules’ aren’t set in stone – always use a style or convention that best suits your audience.
7 ways to sharpen your writing skills.
1. Be Concise: Each word you use has to earn its place in your post. Being concise means using as few words as possible to say what you mean and turning wordy sentences into short ones without losing information.
Example: Use car instead of motor vehicle, house instead of dwelling, hurry instead of expedite.
The same applies to phrases; instead of using as a consequence of your actions use because of your actions; at the present time becomes now; with the exception of becomes except.
2. Avoid Pompous Words: Sometimes writers/bloggers add fancy words or phrases to try to impress their readers or to sound more scholarly or important. In my experience new or nervous writers use these fancy words or phrases as a shield.
I came across this phrase the other day from a beginner writer: “We must action a needs assessment of the downturn in entrance applications for the course.”
What they were trying to say, I think, was: “We need to understand why no one is applying for the course.”
3. Prune Empty Words: This is where you can unleash all your anger and frustration. This is where you can ruthlessly take revenge on all those unnecessary words that gate crashed your eloquent prose! The best way to do this: practice, practice, practice!
Which words are unnecessary in the following sentences?
“Our new fitness program includes the added feature of water aerobics.”
“The knitting was of an inferior quality.”
“The police relied on the element of surprise to capture the thief.”
4. Choose Strong Nouns and Verbs: Instead of “the girl finished the exam in no time,” try “the girl breezed through the exam.” I am sure you agree this sentence is lively and tells us more in fewer words.
5. Use Active Voice: “The bike was stolen by him” is passive voice; the subject of the sentence is being acted on rather than acting. Passive voice is wordy, weak and dull. In active voice sentences, the subject is the ‘doer’ of an action.
Active voice is concise and strong and delivers the information immediately: “He stole the bike.”
Use Parallel Patterns: In the excellent and highly recommended book Write to Publish, Gina Perry and Vin Maskell point out how “using parallel patterns makes your writing flow smoothly and helps the reader make connections between elements of the piece”
The following examples illustrate this point:
Version 1 “Activities included in the package are blogging lessons and how to monetize your blog, and blogging case studies are also available”
Version 2 “Activities included in the package are blogging lessons, how to monetize your blog and blogging case studies”
The final phrase of version 1 has a jarring effect – your reader is ‘pulled up’ abruptly and thinking “what exactly do they mean by that?” Not a good thing.
Version 2 flows and the meaning is clear.
List posts are great ways to keep readers engaged. Sometimes, though, a list post lacks impact because it has no rhythm or parallel construction:
5 ways to reduce stress
- Take deep breaths
- Good friends can help if you talk about your stress
- If you make a list of what needs to be done, you’ll feel more in control
- Soaking in a hot tub relaxes muscles
- Play your favourite music
5 ways to reduce stress
- Practice deep breathing
- Talk to a good friend about what’s worrying you
- Make a list of all things that you have to do
- Soak in a hot tub
- Play your favourite music
In version 2 each point begins with a verb. Having a pattern like this helps your reader anticipate what will follow. It is easier to read, and easier to understand.
7. Keep Your Writing Lively: Avoid over used words and over the top phrases. Most importantly don’t use tired and worn out words on fresh and interesting ideas. Examples of stale expressions include: ‘leave no stone un-turned,’ ‘white as a ghost,’ ‘by the same token.’
Overall, the best way to sharpen your writing skills and become a better writer is write every day.
Answers to section 3 Prune Empty Words:
- ‘the added feature.’ Thus: “Our new fitness program includes water aerobics.”
- ‘of an…quality.’ Thus: “The Knitting was inferior.”
- ‘relied on the element of…to capture the…” Thus: “The police surprised the thief.”