My 5 Top Tips for Great Writing

This week I challenged myself to prune my favourite writing practices down to five concise tips, and I think I’ve achieved it.

Writing is a complex task requiring thousands of hours of study and practice to master, but just implementing these five writing tips will help you lots when it comes to crafting text.

Writing Tips – #1: Authenticity

In my eyes, one key to amazing writing is to stamp your individuality on it. Sure, all professional writers (ideally) know the conventions for commas, hyphens, en-dashes and capitals. And there are some rules that it does little good to break, like the spelling of words.

Yet if we all follow style guides to the letter, the writing world becomes diluted and sterile. I like writers who favour context and appropriateness over the prescriptions of style guides. Mindlessly following the rules betrays a lack of thought, care and purpose.

As an example, I often omit the comma after a short clause at the start of sentences, even though that would shock many editors and writers. Take the very first sentence of this article. Why write a comma after “This week”? I can’t see any benefit in doing so.

These commas encourage the reader to pause right after the pause that came at the end of the previous sentence. This ruins the rhythm of the text, making it clunky and slow, with no discernible benefit to compensate.

On my writing journey I learned the rules, then learned how to break them.

Writing Tips – #2: Natural and Graceful

The beauty of a top-class athlete is found in their grace, their ease.

Let’s imagine the Olympic 100m final. Millions of people are watching nervously. The athletes have trained their entire life for this moment. You’re tempted to think that they’ll be nervous, clumsy, awkward.

But no. Invariably, the athletes make their discipline look so easy, even under extreme pressure. Their movements beautifully blend into a seamless whole. We can’t see all the moving parts. And though we all know that sport of any kind isn’t easy, they move so well that for a moment we believe the 100m is a cinch.

But wait, what’s the connection between Olympic athletes and writing?

You see, the best writers also hypnotise us in this way. Their writing is graceful and natural. It’s easy to follow yet impactful. We don’t notice the punctuation, the word choice, the sentence structure. The text is crafted in such a way that we’re carried away by the meaning and the force. Only professional writers could deconstruct it and see the moving parts.

It’s similar to the experience of being absorbed in conversation. We don’t focus on the words or syllables the other person is using, but the overall message they’re communicating. This is what stirs us.

This naturalness doesn’t mean we write as we speak, nor does it only mean we use words appropriate to the audience and context. It means the text is smooth, refined, flowing, natural. Thus lulls and entrances the reader. You won’t achieve this effect if it’s jagged, awkward, and difficult to read.

The key to creating this effect is to read, reread, polish and repolish the text until it’s smooth and flowing. If you find a hiccup, edit and rework it. Repeat until you can read without realising you’re reading.

Writing Tips – #3: Make It Concise

When I read work by professional writers (I won’t name names), I’m often struck by their lack of conciseness. They use a twenty words to craft a sentence when seven or eight would do.

I like to challenge myself to use the minimum number of words possible to convey an idea without diluting it in any way.

It’s not that shorter sentences inevitably trump longer ones, but they tend to be easier to follow and easier on our short-term memory. They also contain fewer clauses, leading to better sentence order (see Tip 5).

If you aspire to shorter sentences, I suggest you build your vocabulary. And make sure you re-read your work a few times before it goes out to the world, chopping down out any unnecessary long clauses.

4: Minimise Errors and Typos

We humans aren’t perfect, and no matter how much technology we have access to, we still create texts with errors in them. Don’t believe me? Proofread your favourite book. You’ll find errors. I guarantee it.

So though the goal isn’t for a text to be 100% error free, it simply can’t be strewn with errors. Not only is an abundance of them plain unprofessional, it’s off-putting for the reader and interrupts the flow of their reading. They tend to pause, mentally correct the error, scratch their heads at its presence, then find themselves lost when ready to pick up the text again.

And no, the fact your text receives the all-important Grammarly pass doesn’t guarantee it’s error-free.

5: Get The Order Right

Recently I’ve realised how crucial it is to order sentences well. Sentences are difficult to understand when they have lots of split clauses that blend into one another. Let me show you a real-world example from one of my articles, which I edited yesterday.

Here’s my original sentence:

“The connections between the brain regions required to perform the basic steps behind all meditation are stronger among seasoned meditators – during meditation practice and outside it.”

And here’s my polished version:

“In seasoned meditators, we find stronger connections between the brain regions required to perform the basic steps of all meditation – during meditation practice and outside it.”

What’s wrong with the first sentence? The sentence is chopped up and jumbled. Subject, object and verb are miles apart.

The clause “required to perform the basic steps behind all meditation” comes between the subject “the connections” and the verb. This creates a sense of tension when you read – you have to hold this clause in mind until you reach the main verb, “are”.

To make this sentence easier to understand, I changed the subject, which enabled me to keep the subject, object and verb together. Read both again. I hope you agree that the second one is much smoother.

This kind of clause jumbling is usually a nightmare for readers, especially when it happens multiple times in a sentence or paragraph.


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