Writing is not just a physical action. It’s more than putting marks on a page. It’s not about whether you type, or handwrite, or dictate into a space-age computer program.
The best writers know that the thing about writing that matters most is the words.
But it’s not just what words we use; it’s how and when we use them as well. What do they sound like? What do they look like on the page, the computer screen, or the phone?
Now before you accuse me of stating the obvious, think about how many times arguments have started over the wrong words.
“You always leave your socks on the floor.”
“The pasta you made was, like, way too pasty or something like that…”
Imprecise words, poorly spaced words, unnecessary words. They can get us in trouble in our speech and our writing.
Choosing Your Words
According to the University of Missouri Extension Program, “Communication involves the sender, the message and the receiver. Without either of these components, the process is not complete.”
It looks like this:
- Sender– What do you, the writer, think you are conveying with these words?
- Message– What do the words, themselves, say? What are their official definitions?
- Receiver– What do the words mean to your audience?
“We assume that words contain the meaning of what the speaker says and that the speaker is using the words the same way we would. Words are just pointers used by individuals. Meaning is found in people, not in words. To influence a person, one must know how the person thinks.”
Writers, of all people, should be careful with what words they select. Sure, there are the obvious no-nos of ensuring your work doesn’t contain what would be considered generally offensive content. But there’s more to it than that.
Consider your audience. Ann Handley says, “Assume the reader knows nothing. But don’t assume the reader is stupid.”
Here’s how to do that:
- Reduce cognitive load by eliminating jargon, increasing your reader’s ability to understand. To follow that advice, take out the technical terms or industry speak.
- Be precise with your words. Know word meanings and choose words that say what you intend.
- Be aware of your own word biases. Does your community or culture use words in a way that changes the meaning they have to the general population?
- Familiarize yourself with your audience. Are they Millennials? That’s savage. Writing about Southern living? Have a ball, ya’ll.
Arranging Your Words
The arrangement of words on a page carries almost as much impact as the words themselves. It changes how people feel about your writing before they even read a single line.
A digital audience demands the incorporation of more white space than a traditional one. (Although white space allows book readers to breathe as well.) Goldfish have longer attention spans than your average article peruser.
There are guidelines and strategies you can use to give your words the punch they need on paper.
- Shorten sentences.
- Eliminate long paragraphs.
- Use bullet points and lists judiciously.
- Highlight important points with pull quotes, bolding, or italics.
- Choose appropriate punctuation.
Eliminating Your Words
And sometimes the best thing writers can do with their words is get rid of them. I know, counter-intuitive. I grew up reading old British literature. I’m sure I could write an entire page dedicated to the appearance of my office and the light that streams luminously through the window.
Dickens was not written for the internet.
Good writers know that you need to get straight to the point. Don’t waste your reader’s time. It’s inconsiderate and indulgent. Hone your skills until you understand when adjective and adverbs enhance and when they detract.
No one likes their work to be edited. (Sorry editors.) But we need to be honest with ourselves and realize that our first draft is not our best work. First drafts should be spilled onto the page as quickly as we can get the words from our brain to our fingertips.
Then the real work of writing begins. And pruning is one of the biggest tasks.
Thanks For The Vague Advice. Now What?
“Communication is the foundation of all human relationship. It facilitates the sharing of information and knowledge and helps develop relationships with others.”- Unknown
The reason I’ve started this blog and become a course creator is to help writers better communicate. Thoughtful, clear communication is essential to knowledge sharing and relationship building.
And I want to help you become even more awesome than you already are at communicating by teaching you to understand and control the tools of your trade- words.
Whether you write blogs, newspaper articles, novels, or just your mother’s birthday card, you have to understand that writing is and art, a science, and a privilege.
How Will You Do That?
I’ll do that by sharing writing advice by the best editors and authors in the industry. We’ll take their suggestions and work out how they looks in sample texts. Real life stuff.
I’ll also bring you interviews with experts in the field.
And then we’ll round it out by looking at ways writers structure their life to make fitting in those hours of composition not just doable, but enjoyable.
You can rely on weekly articles, daily social media posts, and monthly writing courses to bring you helpful, free content on a consistent basis. And sometimes I might even say something funny. But no promises.
Discover the best writing advice with me! Get a well researched, weekly article in your inbox each Wednesday by signing up here. And follow me on Facebook and Instagram as Annie Beth Donahue and Twitter @anniebdonahue.