Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to write good.

Every so often someone asks me for advice on how to become a better writer. My standard response is usually pretty simple and includes three general thoughts.

1. Find writing you like and admire that is considered good. Study that. Imitate that. Copy that style. Until you're confident enough to find a style of your own.

I remember when I was a kid finding in an old record shop an early LP by Ray Charles, who was then as he is now, my favorite musician. This album was old. And on it Ray was singing, but not as Ray. He was imitating Nat "King" Cole.

There's nothing wrong with imitation. Especially while you're finding your voice.

2.  Write everyday. Write long copy ads to get your thinking straight. Write and write and write then write some more. I read somewhere that the great baseball player Ted Williams would take batting practice until his hands bled. If it's good enough for Ted Williams, it's good enough for you.

3.  Read a lot. This is really part of point one. It's about studying and searching until you find a voice of your own.

Those are some broad strokes.

Now here are two specific tricks I learned along the way.

1. When you've written your copy, cross out the first paragraph and start right in on the second. Usually first paragraphs are tip-toey and timid. Get right into your story with vigor and confidence.

2. Re-write your headlines backwards. You'd be surprised how much better things sound when you jumble them up a bit. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but try it. Adidas would have been less successful with the line "nothing is impossible." "Impossible is nothing" is lightyears better.

Finally, thank your reader for reading.

With a nice turn of the phrase or a smile.

If that fails, just say: thanks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As James Joyce said, "Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?"
or as Bryce Courtnay was wont, apply plenty of Bum Glue.