Advice on how to write well is plentiful and diverse. No simple recipe exists, but here are a few things we’ve learned over the years in our own writing careers that we hope you heed if you want to write for us…
First and foremost, be authentic. Write in your own voice about topics that are meaningful to you. Harper Lee put it best when she said:
“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself… It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”
Tired attempts to borrow the style of some highly respected publication or the voice of a more reputable writer will leave you feeling dirty and your readers feeling cheated.
Writing is not an art form of mimicry. It is a conversation, and you have every right to join in as you are, all decorations aside.
Locate the outermost rings of your comfort zone, start there, and tell as much truth as possible.
For those looking for more specific guidelines to shepherd your writing, here are a few rules set forth by masters of the English language.
In his essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell reminds us of the basics:
- “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing.”
- “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”
- “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”
- “Never use the passive voice where you can use the active voice.”(Here’s three good resources on how to avoid the passive voice in your writing).
- “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” (In other words, don’t try to sound smart).
- “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
In his book Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut laid out a handful of rules for writing great stories. Here are a couple of our favorites.
- “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”
- “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
And if you are ever feeling demoralized, just remember Ernest Hemingway’s words of encouragement:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”