Advice for writers abounds. Here’s a helpful overview.
The reader takes the quickest, easiest route to satisfy their need, questioning from the first word what’s in it for them. Each sentence must answer without delay. We can still write with detail, but only include the essential whilst staying on topic.
So, one word instead of two, and shorter words are better. Next, what do we really want to say? It helps to note this and point every word in this direction. Along the way, brief, definite assertions assure the reader we mean it. And finally, a good writer makes the complex, simple.
Writing is editing
Writing is creative and destructive, meaning: we write, we edit. Good writing balances the two. Oftentimes our first draft is bad. Perhaps awful. This is fine, though, because good writing is about making something better and deleting without hesitation—which introduces two useful phrases:
“Don’t get married to your text.” After spending days, months, or longer upon a piece, we want to keep it—and all of it. But some parts just don’t work and can’t be improved. It’s time to delete them and move on.
“Delete your darlings”. It’s a great bit of writing, but still, it doesn’t belong. We must remove our darling. But remember, we can reuse our darling in another more appropriate text.
Good writing practice
Writing is improved through doing. So, whether amateur or professional, it’s best we write like it’s our job. Which means, write now, not later, and remember “only writing is writing” everything else is distraction. Aim to produce a daily word count. This might be difficult, but if you’re a writer, you’ll enjoy it. If you don’t, reconsider why you are writing.
Reading fine writing improves our own, so writing well requires reading and writing. It’s fine to emulate great writers, but we must avoid the temptation to compare oneself to others—our contest is with ourselves. Better to review one’s own work from the past and see how you’ve developed. The reader also reads with their ears, so it’s good practice to read one’s writing aloud.
Good writing style
Writing is visual. Our reader sees paragraphs first, so better to keep them short. Statements are best written in positive form, “did not remember” becomes “forgot”. Likewise, the active voice, so “the savannah is roamed by animals” becomes “animals roam the savannah”. Use contractions, avoid adverbs, and few adjectives. Banish the semicolon—the full stop (period) and the dash work better.
Vary sentence length. Include surprises. No matter if we disagree, the truth remains: unless a matter of life or death, writing is entertainment—to maintain interest, our writing must provide a pleasant feeling. So, avoid cliches and select words that surprise with precision and strength.
Planning a text
What do we want to say and what’s the best way to say it? In response, our plan guides the reader from A to B, which might include doing research to provide signposts along the way. A good writer is like a local who knows the landscape. If we do this well, from the first sentence, our reader will know they’re going where they want to go.