On Writing

You improve your writing by writing more. This is why writers often say that it is essential to write daily. Here I've advocated writing daily via "The Index Card Exercise", and furthermore, I've portrayed writing as a form of thinking, not necessarily tied to tangible production of words on a page. In this sense, it's easy to write daily; you simply have to spend time, every day, using words deliberately.

But again, I warn: to say that a writer improves by reading a lot is like saying that a chef improves by eating a lot. One must read good words and read these words in a particular way if one is to improve their writing via reading. I chose the readings here because I feel they are good examples of a variety of writing styles. They're worth absorbing and considering closely.

If you forget that you are reading, then I have succeeded. You will have been transported beyond the medium. The writing, and hence the writer, will have been rendered transparent. He will have disappeared.

At the same time, the purpose of my rhetorical flourish is to break back into the reader’s consciousness. In this way, my writings oscillate between visible and invisible, and my readers play the roles of actor and narrator, who converge and diverge in a constant cycle. To me, that’s good storytelling. (And of course I think it’s “good.” That’s why I do it.)

It's worth considering how much of you you want in your writing. As I said at the beginning, I intend there to be a lot of me in this course, and I intend this because I find the majority of online courses (that I've worked on in various capacities) to be rather sterile. They read like textbooks, and I always think to myself: why not just read a text book? An online course, that is, should have a voice. Your essays will have a voice as well, and it's worth cultivating that voice; make it appealing, funny, authoritative, irresistible!

As you write more, your voice -- your style -- will come easier. They say the first million words are practice, so get started now.

Everything is a work in progress. The writer must recognise when to stop trying to perfect his words. Good sentences are not themselves perfect; they suggest perfection; perfection is in the reader’s voice, not the writer’s.

Ultimately, of course, it's not up to you how readers read your words. You make suggestions, you develop a style and a voice, you do the best you can, but there's always room to improve. I think this realisation is important, because it melts away a lot of anxiety that all writers -- especially new writers -- feel.

If it’s all narration, it’s pedantic. If it’s all action, it’s journalistic. When in doubt, err on the side of action. That is, trust your reader – and remember! You are your first reader; trust yourself.

At the very least, I hope this course has improved your confidence as a writer. There is no one way to learn to write; there is no one right way to write, to express your ideas, to get your point across. But there's a lot of living to be done, a lot of experiences to be had and meanings to be made.

If there's an ultimate, simply-stated lesson to this course, it is that:

Writers are people of action.

Now, by all means, go write.

Last modified: Saturday, 2 March 2019, 10:11 AM