How to write well

Thu Feb 9, 2012

One thing writers like to do is teach others how to write well. There are several such instructive books that I highly recommend: Stephen King’s _On Writing_, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and William Zinsser’s classic On Writing Well.

Kurt Vonnegut, whose book I reviewed recently, also has some sound advice in this short piece. Here is a summary:

  1. Find a subject you care about

  2. Do not ramble, though

  3. Keep it simple

  4. Have guts to cut

  5. Sound like yourself

  6. Say what you mean

  7. Pity the readers

It’s worth reading the whole piece, but a little soul-searching wouldn’t hurt either. Before you can write fluently, you have to peer past your ego and really know who you are. This personal insight is crucial because some people assume they are good writers, when they are not. And sometimes, even good writers write badly (which is why good writers would kill for an editor they can trust).

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that my day job as a technical writer has both helped and harmed my writing style. Being able to strip out any trace of a personal voice and simplifying complex subject matter makes for crisp technical writing, but is rather dull creatively. I try to balance this shortcoming by writing poetry and creative fiction as well. Conversely, I suspect some esoteric poets out there would benefit from writing a set of clear instructions.

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