(Editor’s note: Writer Isaac Peterson is back with some more super writing tips to help you launch your own writing projects. He also notes in the piece, jokingly, that I am his long-suffering editor. Well, joking aside, I am hardly suffering–in fact, I am energized and delighted anytime I read Isaac’s work. Enjoy! K.T.).
After I wrote my recent piece about writing, some more things occurred to me. Here are some of them.
Last time I gave you a sort of template for organizing your writing. I think I’m going to ignore my own advice this time and just throw out some random ideas as they occur to me.
Let me start off with a quote from last time, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible.”
Simple enough. But how do you know if you are thinking clearly, and therefore writing, clearly?
I wish I knew what to tell you. I do think that you can pick up clues from the people around you. Do people ask you what you think? Do you constantly find yourself having to go back and clarify what you meant? How closely do your views track with the real world? I think it’s probably a good idea to pay attention to those kinds of things; they are useful indicators to keep in mind when you write.
It reminds me of something I heard growing up: “If someone calls you a jackass, ignore them. If everybody calls you a jackass, you should probably turn your back to a mirror, look over your shoulder, and see if you have a tail.” I think it’s a good test for your writing. If your writing is good, people will let you know through positive comments and they may share your writing with others. And the reverse is true as well, at least for those who will go to the trouble of sending a comment. Lots of people who don’t like your writing and think you are a jackass just won’t read you.
It helps to be an avid reader if you want to write. Seeing how others do it will give you valuable insight that can be helpful in your own writing. Analyze writers you like to learn what makes them good, and avoid doing the things you see in the writing you don’t like.
While you want to make your writing as interesting as you can possibly make it, there is one thing you want to avoid: what I call pulling a Sinead O’Connor.
If you were around in 1992, you may remember the night Sinead O’Connor was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. At the end of one number she produced a photo of the Pope and proceeded to tear it up, without any comment.
Boy, the grits really hit the pan when she did that. It came from all over, from the people who were outraged, to the folks who were just saying “Huh? What?” There was a lot of condemnation and a lot of talk and questions about what she had done.
But no one was talking about her message. She had one, but the message got lost in the way she expressed it.
I brought that up to say that your writing style should never get in the way of what you are trying to say. By all means, be creative, and even outrageous, but always make sure that, above all, your actual point comes across.
I personally feel that you shouldn’t write just because you want to, but rather because you have to. A good example of this is the 80-year-old jazz musician who never made much of a living but still makes the rounds of small jazz clubs. He plays jazz because he has to play jazz; he needs to play.
Do you want to write, or do you need to write? The difference is kind of vague, but it’s an important one.
Okay–two more points and then I’ll wrap it up.
I had said before that I advocate writing the way you talk. What I should add to that is that I think you should write the way you talk around the people who know you the best. People will appreciate if you treat them as close friends and intimates. One of the most gratifying bits of feedback I get is when one of my friends tells me, “When I read your writing, I can hear your voice in my head saying the words.”
People will appreciate your work for being genuine if you really talk to them rather than at them.
And lastly, if you can, when you write, make sure you go back and proofread what you wrote. I advocate letting it sit overnight and approaching it with fresh eyes the next day. If you do, you may be surprised to find that something you wrote yesterday in the heat of the moment that made all the sense in the world doesn’t make as much sense now as it did then. Since you didn’t hit send yesterday, you have a chance to tighten it up before you finally send it out.
Also, if you can, have someone else proofread for you. A set of fresh eyes can be enormously helpful. I don’t know how many times my long-suffering editor, Kim, has saved me from myself.
That’s all for now. But I’ll probably have more to say at another time.
In the meantime, if anyone has a suggestion for something I could write about writing or any questions, you can feel free to send me a suggestion at the email address listed below in my bio.
For now, accept my heartfelt thanks for reading this far.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at email@example.com.