Out of curiosity, I recently Googled “how to write better.” You should try it. I got a list of great resources that would help any writer. However, as I read each of the articles, something began to gnaw at me. Something was missing in the excellent advice these well-respected writers were giving on how to write better. A core rule had been left out.
This article is about that missing rule.
Write Better in Just 7 Tips?
It’s difficult to teach someone how to write better in one blog post. There are an infinite number of ways to write better. Can you share them all in a seven easy tips?
On top of that, the “best advice” often contradicts the work of the greatest writers in history.
For example, one tip in the articles I read said to “avoid writing that calls attention to itself.” Sure, that’s probably a good rule. However, what about James Joyce? What about Ernest Hemingway? or Virginia Woolf? or Shakespeare, for goodness sakes? What about the hundreds of great writers who did the exact opposite, wrote in such a way as to draw all attention to their words?
The reality is that much of the advice on how to write better is based on the preferences of the person giving the advice. (Share that on Twitter?)
What do you do if you prefer to write in another style? Does that make you a bad writer?
Perhaps we need a better rule on how to write better.
A Guiding Principle to Better Writing
Instead of seven, or ten, or a thousand tips on how to write better, how about just one:
Above all, be interesting.
Doesn’t this rule intuitively make sense? Because if your writing is interesting, it covers a multitude of writing sins.
If your writing is interesting, it doesn’t matter if you’re fond of purple prose (Faulkner was), or if you have bad grammar (E.L. James did), or if you’re writing is full of clichés, or if you write in sentences that are long and complicated (Shakespeare did).
If your writing is interesting, your fans will learn to love your purple prose, your editors will correct your bad grammar, not to mention cut your clichés, and your readers will bear with your complicated sentences.
Why? Because your writing will be worth it.
What ISN’T Interesting?
What does that really mean though? How do you write something that’s interesting? To answer that, let’s talk about what’s not interesting:
Writing That Makes You Feel Stupid
While most readers appreciate a challenge when they read, very few of us want to have to look to our dictionary every other word or spend twenty minutes trying to figure out what one sentence means. Do you enjoy reading complicated legal documents and German instruction manuals? Yeah, me neither. So don’t write that way.
Want to learn to write with more simple elegance? Check out our article, Write Poetically, Write Simply.
Writing That’s Too Familiar
Would you rather have a shiny, new iPhone or the same old phone that you’ve been using the last three years? Most people would say they want the new phone, right?
This is why clichés can be a problem, because you’ve seen phrases like “catch you later” and “labor of love” so many times that they lose their meaning, and thus weaken your writing.
Want to eradicate clichés from your writing? Read Clichés? Not In My Backyard! for more.
Writing That Makes You Wonder if the Author Is Stupid
As I mentioned, your writing can still be interesting if you have bad grammar and misused words. After all, Twilight was incredibly successful despite Stephenie Meyers’ numerous grammatical mistakes. However, too many mistakes can make a good story impossible to read. Either learn your grammar rules or hire a fantastic editor.
Want to become better at grammar? Check out our tutorial Grammar 101.
What Makes Writing Interesting?
Here are just a few things that make writing interesting:
- Sex (that’s an easy one, though!)
- Virtuosity (like an amazing guitarist or saxophone player, we like writer’s who are virtuosos with words)
- Ourselves (we all think we’re the most important person in the world)
I’m sure you could think of dozens of others, and we’ve covered many of them on The Write Practice. However, no matter how much advice about writing you read, your core rule as a writer: above all, be interesting.
When You Write, Ask, “What Is Interesting About This?”
Whether you’re writing an essay for school, an email, a blog post, or a novel, ask yourself, “What is interesting about this? How can I present this subject in a way that’s more interesting?”
Because if you succeed at being more interesting, you will instantly have succeeded at writing better.
How about you? What do you find interesting as a reader?