- Words and computers have something important in common: you must use them a lot before you can get very good. Having some innate talent matters, and certain personal traits will make it easier; but no shortcuts, tricks or widgets can make it unnecessary to practice, practice and practice some more.
- I’ve always enjoyed pairing unlikely combinations of people, topics and issues. This adds interest and makes it easier to reach unexpected conclusions. For example, while editing Seattle’s Japanese-American newspaper, I interviewed two “Nikkei” men about their experiences in the US military. One was a World War II veteran, the other a student at West Point. This front-page article generated lots of interest among different reader groups, and was quite thought provoking.
- Writing something is just the tip of an iceberg of successful communication. Start thinking of yourself as a “rewriter.” If you’re unwilling to go back over what you’ve written several times until it gleams with appeal and persuasive information, you’re wasting your time.
- Another way to add interest is to tell the story of an unhappy, sarcastic or contrary person. Or possibly adopt that persona in your own comments. This has a few benefits you might not have considered. For example, one reason Erma Bombeck and Andy Rooney were so successful was the underlying suspense and sense of conflict built into their famously “cantankerous” pieces. They made us want to agree with them and take a more positive position at the same time. And since most online content is filled with puffery or “happy talk,” following a character who cares about something will help you stand out from the crowd.
- There are way too many typos in the average internet piece. Use Spellcheck, but take what it tells you with a grain of salt. The most common mistakes include putting punctuation outside quotation marks, adding two spaces after a period, and writing “it’s” when you mean “its.” Such amateurish mistakes become the most memorable part of what you’ve written and leave a bad taste in readers’ mouths.
- The classic books on writing are still the best. Get familiar with Dr. Rudolf Flesch’s Reading Ease Test and the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. Refer often to Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, the writing style-guide which Time magazine listed this year as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. Also check out Peter Elbow’s excellent freewriting guides.
You’re a writer! Enjoy your lifetime voyage of self-discovery, and let me know if I can help.