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How to be a Better Writer
The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!
Hopefully, without sacrificing any of my humility by saying so, I believe I am now a better writer than I was before. I believe that one can reasonable expect to improve in any given pursuit that one practices consistently over time. So, as I accumulate more and more hours, days, months and years of practice, and receive more and more constructive feedback, I believe I can confidently share some of what I've learned along the way.
I am inspired, therefore, to share a simple point with you on developing your writing craft. Writers of absolutely anything--books, poems, advertising, news reports, press releases and greeting cards--may benefit. So, here goes.
Essentially, there are three elements to good writing: What you say, When you say it, and How you say it.
How You Say It
“How” you say something is essentially a matter of your style. It includes grammar, as well as your unique syntax and vocabulary. These can all be improved over time as you practice, and read the work of other writers--particularly writers of previous eras. Without disparaging modern writers (because, of course I would be disparaging myself), I find that the level of respect for the written word and the subtlety and nuance of effective communication, and correct usage, has declined over the years. Once I received the foundational awareness of good grammar, sentence structure, phonics, elocution, etc., I was able to recognize good writing when I read it, and found myself taking my cues of style from writers of old.
When You Say It
“When” you say a thing is a matter of plot development--how to tell a good story. In the case of non-fiction, you might choose a logical or time-based sequence to convey your ideas. In the case of fiction, poetry, and other creative works, you are not similarly constrained, and can reveal elements of your story and ideas at any time you choose. This too--your ability to tell a good story in a compelling way--can improve over time with practice.
What You Say
Ahhhh...this is where the magic and the mystery occur!
"She's so interesting. I never know what she'll say next!"
Have you described, or have you ever heard someone described in that way? It's a testament to the fact that this person has a unique perspective on life that makes for interesting telling.
Yes, “what” you choose to say is a function of your experiences, your memory, your perception, your focus, your intent, and how the synapses and neurons in your brain function and connect in order to associate them all in unique, yet relevant ways. Everything you've ever experienced in your life becomes fodder for your writing.
This, in my opinion, is what truly makes a good writer--the unique blend of relevant (or even irrelevant) ideas he or she chooses to string together to create a desired effect.
Let me give you one personal example of how to improve this aspect of your writing.
Putting it all together: my own experience
As I mentioned last week, I'm currently traveling and writing
about my experiences in China in an occasional “Jamaican in China” email blog to anyone who cares to receive it. My list of subscribers is growing, and includes friends from my previous lives in New York and Saipan and new friends in China too.
The experiences are great, and the feedback to them have been quite astonishing! A regular reader of this [Saipan Tribune] column asked me a very profound question.
"A" said, "I love your sense of humor. I wasn't getting that from all your writings on developing your passion, [starting a business] following your dream. Have you thought of lightening up - and injecting some humor into those writings too? Or do you keep them separate on purpose?"
The question haunted me for weeks while I mulled over its implications. I felt there was something very profound hidden in the question as well as the ultimate answer. Something to learn.
I guess I do instinctively keep them separate, but why? Is it that I believe "there's a time and a place for everything"? Is it that I simply feel that humor detracts from the gravity of the business information I wish to convey in my business writings? Is it that I'm not relaxed in my Passion Prophet persona, even though I believe it is my purpose and calling? And if that were true, what would it say about me and this thing that I do as my mission? What? What? What? What? The questions evoked by the question abounded.
Eventually, I penned the beginning of what is likely an ongoing response to “A’s” question that I'll share with you now.
You talked about "lightening up" before. To answer your question, I'm reminded that when I was first introduced to "blogging" just a few years ago, many new bloggers talked about the quest to find their "blog voice."
You noticed something in my travel blogging that I must agree with. Yes, I find, on my part, that not only am I more lighthearted (a natural state of being which you noted was not evident in my business writings) but I also feel I have MUCH more that I want to share! I even have a backlog of article titles/subjects which I've yet to get to!
(You see, as well, that I've got enough material in my head for public dissemination as well as the secret emails for the select few like you.)
A lot of what I'm writing about is coming from a new arrival's observations of life in a culturally different country. So, it’s possible that the abundance of observations may lessen over time as “China, the new" becomes “China, the familiar," but if the abundance of material, as well as the lightheartedness and humor you detect have anything to do with the formula for finding one's blog voice, then:
1. writing about something one is excited about,
2. writing about the realization of a long-held dream
must all figure into that formula!
Thanks so much for the question. It’s still not yet fully answered! There'll be more to come as I explore this thing called writing, and what it means in my life. For now, I will say that the emotional excitement and the realization of a dream--have tapped into a hidden part of my brain's functioning to create the effect you notice.
Back to the Basics
Interestingly enough, as you see from my answer to “A’s” question, it comes right back to injecting one's passion into one's writing in order to optimize the how, when and what of one's writing ability, style and effectiveness. Writing about something one is passionate about serves as the electricity, the catalyst, and the fuel that enlivens, activates and empowers one's writing. At the very least it can open up new styles of expression that may win new audiences.
What I’ve learned also from the feedback I receive, is that writing with about living the life of my dreams in a humorous way does not in any way diminish my effectiveness at fulfilling my purpose. It’s my desire to inspire people to do what they love to do and live the life of their dreams. “E” sent me the following email yesterday:
Incredible! I just read your Jamaican in China [ebook] cover to cover! You are a true inspiration to me. Wow--you are truly living your dreams!
This arrived at a great time for me.
You are my hero!
Keep inspiring us -- we need you.
Hopefully, without sacrificing any of my humility by saying so, “E” also believes I am now a better writer than I was before!
Note: Walt’s fans and followers may check out his new adventures on jamaicaninchina.com.
Note: Ever wanted to direct your friends and family to a set of websites that revealed the best things about Saipan? Do what I do: send them to www.bestofsaipan.com!
Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!--Walt
Send article suggestions, entrepreneur nominations and feedback about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org. Walt F.J. Goodridge is author of 16 books including Turn Your Passion Into Profit. Walt offers coaching and workshops to help people pursue and profit from their passions. Originally from the island of Jamaica, Walt has grown several successful businesses in the US, and now makes his home here on Saipan. To learn more, visit www.passionprofit.com and follow Walt on Twitter (waltonsaipan)
WHERE IS SAIPAN?
Located in the western pacific, a short flight from Guam and 3 hours from Japan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a popular tourist destination rich in history, culture and natural resources. Saipan, just 5 miles wide by 12 miles long, is the largest and most populated of the 14 islands making up an archipelago that stretches 400 miles (north to south) along the edge of the Marianas Trench.
Join our Best of Saipan mailing list!
"hi Walt, I am very impressed. I never thought of early retiring there until seeing this website. I am interested in finding out more.-- Jim W (from the early-retirement.org forum about welovesaipan.com)
"I have read great things about you and your assistance. I have already found your book to be of great assistance. It is awesome! Thanks so much."-- B. Manuel re: Saipan Living
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