The Right Way to Write
Writing: From "Chore" to a Fulfilling Exercise
Writing initially presents itself as a daunting task. Early in our school days, we were all instructed on the basics of writing—the crafting of complete sentences, the importance of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, the basics of cursive, the essential aspects of grammar. However, while there’s no doubt all of this is important, what writing often meant in reality was a sore hand and a tired brain, something tedious that you have to get done, a mere means to fill the lines on a piece of paper out of obligation or assignment. In middle school and high school, we proceed to more complex pieces of writing such as five paragraph papers that often revolve around literature, history, or perhaps personal narratives such as college essays. Regardless of the specifics, the type of writing we do growing up rarely proves to be a source of joy or fulfillment, and the number of people spat out into the world as adults who consider themselves good writers is quite small. But deep down, writing is so much more than a chore, and it actually underlies many of the finer things in life—in this blog, we will discuss why our true feelings toward writing may not be what we actually think they are, as well as the right way to go about writing for people of all ages. Let’s get started…
The impact of (good) writing on your everyday experiences
Do you have a favorite movie? A preferred podcast? A song that speaks to you more than any other? Or do you have a favorite subject, a primary source of curiosity and personal passion, that you’ve delved into via books, documentaries, or Youtube videos? Have you ever listened to a political figure deliver a speech that stirred your emotions, or read a caption on social media that made you want to press a like or follow button? Has a book ever taken you into an entirely different world and sparked a sense of wonder in you? Has a TV show kept you on the edge of your seat with such a powerful grip that you spend an entire day in bed watching it, or maybe stay up way too late and make the following day an incredible struggle for yourself? Has a comedian ever made you roar with laughter? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you’ve likely been delighted by the product of good, quality writing.
Where would we be without writing?
Writing underlies so much more than meets the eye—nearly every politician’s speech is penned by someone else; the lines of dialogue that your favorite actor delivers were crafted by a screenwriter; the comedian’s jokes that seem effortless and improvised were the product detailed writing and testing, trial and error; that TV show you binged was most likely assembled by a team of writers; those lyrics in that song that spoke to you were carefully written, and probably not by the artist who sung them; that YouTube video that taught you something new was not just created on a stream-of-consciousness whim. Writing is above all a form of communication, a means by which one can take personal thoughts and emotions and transfer them through a verbal medium into the mind of another—writing is the single most critical hallmark of civilization itself, a key facet to what makes human beings exceptional creatures, and a source of connection, entertainment, and learning. But what makes writing good? What gives it strength and what renders it weak? The answer to these questions is actually simple.
Substance, Simplicity, and Clarity...
Beneath countless specifics, the most general aspect of writing well is to have something to say, and to express it as clearly as possible. Clarity of writing is a result of clarity of thinking, and when writing expresses genuine thoughts in a concise and transparent manner, it makes people want to keep reading. While style is enticing and significant, good writing boils down to substance—a house with a beautiful exterior could catch the eye of a passerby, but if it’s completely empty on the inside, nobody would want to live there, and that domicile would get old fast. It is the same with writing. So, while it’s sometimes tempting to reach for a thesaurus and use fancier words when a simpler one would work, or to bury ideas beneath a pile of complex phrases, the reader deep down is never fooled. They often find themselves either confused or bored—think about times where you’ve read an article or book and found yourself merely glossing over words and processing none of them. Although you might be tired and zoning out, and could perhaps have understood if you’d put in more effort, the writer has also failed to hold your attention. Therefore, the key to write well is to know precisely what you want to say—in an academic paper or nonfiction text, this means truly studying the material before you start to write about it; in a work of fiction, this entails vividly imagining where you want to take the story and the reader, and keeping them enthralled by not coating your sentences in fluff, but rather communicating precisely what you want them to know. If you always keep in mind the notion that writing is communication and clarity is key, your writing will doubtlessly improve, and it might even take you places you could’ve never imagined. But in addition to this, there is one final way to reach the ever elusive oasis of genuinely good writing.
Practice, Work, Discipline and Failure... Essential Ingredients of Good Writing!
The best writing is created by those who have diligently followed the path of practice. Writing is like any skill—think of it as throwing a football, singing a song, riding a bike, lifting weights, driving a car, learning a language, hitting a serve in tennis, going for a run. There’s no better way to get better than to consistently practice, to always be working, to do a little bit every single day, and to remember that starting is always the hardest part. While talent certainly makes things easier, especially in the beginning, no writer has ever gotten anywhere without discipline, and every writer deals with a ton of failure before achieving anything resembling greatness. And in any discussion of writing, we cannot avoid mentioning reading, just like you can’t talk about cooking without discussing eating! All writers read, and best classroom for a writer is someone else’s writing that you love. Study and think about what makes that writing so enjoyable, and strive to emulate it.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, and that moving forward with whatever writing you do, from academic essays to emails to fiction stories to your latest tweet or caption on Instagram, you’ve learned a little bit more about the right way to write!
Written by Charlie Stewart, experienced teacher of History, Writing, English Literature, and Spanish.