Crafting clear, simple sentences that connect with your readers sounds simple.
But it’s really, really not.
Many academic institutions teach you the exact opposite of how to write in this way.
That means that when you’re blogging, you want to write a commercial book, or even when you’re a poet, it can be very difficult to convey your ideas clearly and sharply.
In fact, writing clearly and expressing your ideas in a simple way is one of the most difficult challenges you’ll face, particularly when you first start out.
However, the more you write in a particular way, the easier it gets. That’s why it’s crucial to practise in order to find your writerly voice.
Here’s 5 easy ways to improve your writing that you can start doing right away.
Use active voice
Consider the difference between these sentences:
A cake is being baked by me.
I bake a cake.
Which creates a more vivid image? Which puts you into the character’s head faster? Which conveys the image in a simpler way, using as few words as possible?
The first example is passive voice. That’s when the receiver of the action comes before the doer of the action in the sentence.
Passive: A selfie was taken by the girl
Active: The girl took a selfie
Active voice is encouraged in all forms of writing, but is particularly useful in screenwriting and pieces written in present tense.
Because it creates a sense of urgency. It puts you in the character’s mind faster. You use fewer words. It’s therefore easier for readers to understand. And if you were to replace every instance of passive voice in your writing with active voice, you could reduce your word count by a few hundred words.
That’s not to say that there’s no place for passive voice, but it should be used with caution.
Vary sentence length
This is why all writers can benefit from writing poetry.
When you vary the lengths of your sentences, it creates a rhythm.
Your readers may not consciously notice this rhythm, but subconsciously they’ll find it more pleasant to read.
This is a great example from Gary Provost:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.
Write with conviction—believe what you say, don’t doubt it
When you use phrases like ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’, you devalue your words before you’ve even said them.
Of course you think or believe something—you’ve written it! Why do you need to preface it by saying so?
Adding phrases like ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’ also makes you sound less confident, and therefore makes your readers less confident in you, too.
It doesn’t matter what you write or how long you’ve been writing—say it with conviction.
It can be difficult to feel confident when you’re just starting out.
It can make you feel like a fraud or a hypocrite.
But you know what?
Everyone feels this way sometimes.
It doesn’t matter how long someone has been doing something—we’re all making it up as we go along.
What’s important is that you say what you want to say with conviction.
Admit when you’ve made a mistake, and learn from it.
Your readers will connect with your journey and come to trust your judgement.
And if you’re not feeling confident?
Avoid filler words
There’s nothing inherently wrong with filler words, but they don’t serve a purpose in writing.
They just sit there, filling space.
In speech, they give us time to think. We don’t need this time in writing.
If you plan to use filler words in your fiction, make sure that it’s a character trait and not something that every character does. Fictional speech should be sharper than real speech.
Some filler words to avoid:
- You know
*Not technically a filler word, but doesn’t serve a purpose and is a prime example of this:
Analyse how your favourite writers write
This one takes a little longer, but it really is key.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the best writers read. There are no exceptions.
The more you read, the better you’ll get at writing.
And there’s no harm in recreating someone’s voice in order to try and find your own.
We all copied the fashion senses of family members or our favourite celebrities until we found our own. There’s nothing wrong with doing that with your writing too.
The more writing styles you try out, the faster you’ll find your voice.
You don’t have to copy your favourite writers’ style, of course—the most important thing is that you read actively.
Write down what you like and dislike; if you can bear to, leave annotations in the margins. Try to predict the plot. Pick apart the characters. Are they three-dimensional? Can you relate to them? What humanises them?
Pick apart the writing style, too—what works and what doesn’t work? Is their writing style to-the-point, or is it more purple prose? Is it formal or colloquial?
Make notes about as many different aspects as you can. The more thoroughly you analyse something, the more you’ll learn from it.
Over to You
What are your favourite tips to sharpen your writing? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!
Previously published in October 2017.