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How to improve your writing

How to improve your writing

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The following article originally appeared in The Charlotte Ledger, a Chamber member that provides local business news and information from professional journalists through email newsletters. Sign up for free:


Tips on writing well from one of Charlotte’s best-known authors

by Tommy Tomlinson

The great crime novelist Elmore Leonard once gave his most important writing tip: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” There are some exceptions — if you happen to be, you know, resigning from a Cabinet post or something — but in general, writing is better when it sounds like talking.

So here are a few ways to make that happen:

  • Write it like a letter. One thing that gets writers stuck is trying to find a voice. But we already have a writing voice — most of us have written letters or notes or Christmas cards to family and friends for years. So even if you’re writing something more formal, try starting it the way you’d start a letter: “Dear Mom,” or something like that. Then say what you want to say exactly how you’d say it in a letter to your mom or best friend. It loosens you up immediately. Then just go back and delete “Dear Mom” and you’ve got something worth reading. 

  • Talk it out. If you try to write it like a letter but it still feels a little stiff, turn on the voice memos on your phone (or find a handy tape recorder). Don’t do any prep — just say what you want the piece of writing to say. Then transcribe the recording. It might take a little cleaning up, but you’ve probably got the raw material you need. 

  • Freewrite. If you’re still freezing up a bit, try freewriting. Think about the thing you want to write about, set a timer for three minutes, and abide by two rules: 1) You have to use the entire time, and 2) YOU CAN’T STOP WRITING. By which I mean, don’t stop to think. Don’t pick up your pen for any reason. Just write whatever comes out of your brain for those three minutes. When you’re done, you’ll probably have some gibberish. But you also might have the golden nugget that you can shape into the piece you want to write.

What freewriting does — and what all these tricks do, to some extent — is help you get out of your own way. That’s the biggest hurdle with writing, and most any other creative pursuit. We dream of perfection but start with a blank page, and it’s terrifying to think about how to get from here to there.

Maybe some of these tips will help you start. Because that’s the point: Just start.

Tommy Tomlinson hosts the SouthBound podcast for WFAE and does regular commentaries for the station. He’s also the author of the memoir THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.

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Source : Tony Mecia - The Charlotte Ledger

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