There are loads of advice lists from writers out there. But I think I can safely claim to be a writer now. And bizarrely enough, folks do actually ask me for writing advice. So why not add to the plethora (after all, the internet’s revolution, as Clay Shirky astutely put it, was the shift from “Why Publish?” to “Why Not Publish?”)
So here goes:
- Read WIDELY and OFTEN: it doesn’t matter too much what you read, only that you read, and that it is outside your fields of expertise, it is excellent writing, and it is varied. Mix up fiction and non-fiction; take note of passages that are especially well-written, and even copy them out. Extend your hinterland as far as possible. (I blogged about a balanced reading diet a couple of years ago.) But above all relish good prose. Appreciate writing for writing’s sake.
- Write something DAILY: it doesn’t matter what it is (more or less – obviously a shopping list doesn’t count). But write something that involves crafting sentences and paragraphs. Blogging is a great way to do this. But a commonplace book is a private alternative. This was in fact the reason I started Quaerentia way back in October 2005. Enjoy the challenge of finding le mot juste, and of crafting sentences that flow and stimulate. Doing this every day keeps the creative juices flowing.
- Review it OUT LOUD: this hint came from NT scholar, Gordon Fee. He was asked at a conference what made his books (including even dryish commentaries) so readable. This was his response – he publishes nothing that he he’s not spoken first. I have found this SO helpful. It’s remarkable how often the phrases that seem fine in one’s head sound clunky or infelicitous on the ear.
- Conversely (a word of caution), some presume that writing can simply be a matter of transcribing talks. UGH. 90% of the time it simply doesn’t work. What works from a lectern does not automatically translate to the page. Get the recording if you want that stuff. 50 years ago, of course, transcripts were the only option. Now we have the luxury of audio and video. So when confronted by today’s book mountain, we really don’t need more transcription. Of course, talks can form a launchpad into published books – but only if they’ve been worked on to turn them into good written prose.
- Sleep on it for at least A NIGHT: this particularly applies to blogging – and it probably ought apply to emailing too – but it is always wise to wait before publishing. Even if it’s simply a question of spotting typos. There’s always something to tweak. If you’re working on something more substantial, then the amount of time to let your material marinate should extend proportionally.
- Don’t dispense with EDITORS: if you’re going to publish more than just a blogpost, it’s vital to have an editor. I don’t just mean a second pair of eyes, although they are useful. In the age of self-publishing, this is one expense many think they can avoid. But it’s folly. I’ve had a few editors over the years – and every now and then have worked with a real pro. One in particular was so good. For example, he made a few suggestions (which I initially resisted) that proved to be brilliantly insightful. He had a perfect light touch but commented and tweaked where it was needed – and his work vastly improved the final product. I’ve read too many books that could have done with some serious red-pennage.