I enjoy putting my thoughts down on paper or online. Yet in this fast-paced world in which we live, I’m often faced with the temptation to write and post or write and print without looking over my copy one more time. You can be sure the times I give in and don’t review, I end up wishing I had.
In retrospect, I have learned to watch carefully for mistakes in grammar, punctuation, spelling, typing and context. I find reading things aloud also helps me to spot problems. If my writing holds more significance, I ask someone else to proofread it for me. A second set of eyes are always beneficial because your brain actually corrects things as you read. Uncaught errors could produce hazardous results, although others like these church bloopers might actually cause you to laugh out loud.
Bottom line: Enjoy the bloopers, but read through your work just one more time.
You’ve heard the old adage, “Leaders are readers,” well, so are writers. In fact, I would venture to say writers who are avid readers, are also likely to be leaders.
One of the best ways to hone your writing skills is to read what other people write. Your goal is not to plagiarize their work or mimic their style. You want to be authentic and legal. You can learn a lot from applying journalism’s 5 W’s and an H – who, what, where, when, why and how – to whatever you read, both fiction and non-fiction. This sounds easy enough, and it is, unless you are engaged and forget your mission. Try using these questions for starters.
Who wrote it?
Is this person renowned or unknown?
Is s/he credible, i.e., a subject matter expert in the field?
What biographical information do you know about the author that might help you to identify with their circumstances, situation or style?
What type of piece is it?
Is it fiction or non-fiction?
Would you classify it as romance, science fiction, trade article, etc.?
Who is the target audience and is it being hit?
Wheredoes the author publish?
Does s/he use print or electric (e-book, online, etc.)
Does s/he self publish?
Does s/he publish through an agent and publishing house?
What period (fiction) does the author write about? Is the work true to the era?
Is it current (non-fiction)?
Why does the author write?
Does s/he tell a story, have a point to make or an agenda?
Is s/he trying to provide instructions?
How well does s/he accomplish the mission?
How does the author achieve results?
How engaging is the work?
What techniques does s/he employ? Are they successful?
Want to curl up with a good book? You can. It will make you a better writer.
English teachers would say, “Yes.” After all, they’d be out of work if the powers that be felt instructing students on the fine points of understanding the parts of speech or appropriate sentence structure held no relevance today. Those in the marketing realm, however, will tell you to disregard what you’ve been taught and write like you talk. They argue a more conversational style sells products, and in that respect, I’d have to agree. Yet a well-written sentence is to the reader what a Da Vinci masterpiece is to the art connoisseur. An artist could get his message across using stick figures or rudimentary drawings, but there’s certainly no comparison to Da Vinci’s renowned Last Supper. The same is true in writing.
A friend sent me an interesting article by Jhumpa Lahiri entitled, My Life’s Sentenceswhere the author describes her passion with words. In the article, she seems to accomplish the best of both worlds described above. The article is both grammatically correct and conversational. It’s interesting and engaging, yet she does not resort to slang or jargon to express herself. Her words paint a vivid picture that draws you in. Lahiri almost gives life to her words and hence develops a relationship with her ideas and the reader. You can readily understand why she’s won the Pulitzer Prize.
Coming from the business world where you almost need an interpreter to decipher an email message and glancing over essays of local teens, you wonder if that caliber of writing is a thing of the past. Do teachers continue to labor over diagramming sentences and reading fine literature so that they comprehend the value of excellence in writing? I, for one, hope they do and that they not only continue, but also step it up a notch.