If you can speak, you can write.
A lot of people are intimidated by the writing process. They treat it like the sort of discipline that requires hundreds of hours of formal training and practice. And while practice is the key to becoming a great writer, most people won’t even start practicing. They don’t feel they can do it, so it isn’t even worth starting.
Writing can be an intense and difficult discipline but doesn’t have to be. In essence, if you can communicate, you can write.
For most types of writing, it is probably best to write the way you speak. Writing casually and naturally is especially important when writing for a general audience.
There is no reason to be frightened about writing. All you are doing is having a conversation with a very boring conversation partner. But I don’t know about you: if someone else isn’t speaking, then that’s all the better for you to say what you want to say. And if you need some prompting, just imagine that you are having a conversation.
There is no real science to good writing (there is a science to bad writing), but there are general practices which work for many. I will be outlining some of these practices below.
- Pick a topic. Make it clear immediately what the topic of your article is about.
- Connect to your reader immediately. Catch their interest within your first three sentences.
- An easy way to do this is the age-old tactic of Who/What/Where/Why. An example:
“On the 5th of January 2019, the Duke of Chelsea murdered the Count of Windsor at Menzies Castle.”
- Typically, the Why/How will take up more of the article. The Who/What/Where immediately places the reader in the context of the article, however.
- This isn’t a hard and fast rule. Another good way of starting an article is through posing questions or statements that will spark the reader’s interest. An example:
“Are robots going to steal human jobs?” OR “Robots are here to stay. And your jobs aren’t.”
- The essence of starting an article, or any piece of writing, is to ensure that interest is sparked immediately.
- Sub-headings are your friend. Identify the sub-topics of your article and split them into logical sections. Most readers don’t want a stream of consciousness. They want an easy to follow guide on your topic of choice. Sub-headings help to keep them interested and engaged.
- Always ask if what you are currently writing is relevant to the topic at hand, or if it adds to the value of the article. If it does not, then consider removing it.
- For general articles, try to keep your articles between 500 to 1000 words.
- For intense study for a public audience, then 800 to 1500 words.
- Anything longer can receive attention, but I would only advise this if you are an experienced writer with a good grasp of maintaining your readers’ attention.
- If your editor tells you to shorten your articles: do it.
- Perfection is your enemy. It isn’t possible, and you are just hurting yourself by accepting nothing less.
- It is better to get seven “B+” grades than no grades at all. Quality is better than quantity, but I would rather have a lot of good and fine articles, than never publishing anything at all because of perfectionist quality standards. The same goes for 7x“B+” versus 1x”A+”. Good writers are prolific.
- It is better to finish your draft and then return to it to edit. Don’t be concerned with quality at the first draft stage. You are expected to go back to edit it. Writing the first draft is the hardest part. It is easy after that.
- Keep your paragraphs and sentences short and sweet. A sentence is meant to only convey a single statement of an idea. A paragraph is a collection of sentences with the same idea, or a process of ideas.
- Even if a long paragraph shares the same idea and is technically correct, it is better to split it. The human eye can get tired and paragraph breaks offer a good resting opportunity.
- As mentioned above, use sub-headings when you can.
- There is no reason to ever have double or triple spacing between paragraphs or words. If you are using any normal word processor, use the “Add Space After Paragraph” function after “Enter” on a paragraph. Failing that: Press enter once to go to the next line, and then again to go to the next. This isn’t ideal but isn’t too destructive to the post formatting on the site.
Search engine optimization
- If you want your article to be found on Google and other search engines, you need to ensure that it is optimized (search engine optimization, or SEO). To accomplish this, ensure that your title and first paragraph clearly state the topic of your article as a keyword.
- Example of a keyword(s): “Cyril Ramaphosa is President”; “Russia rigged US elections”; “Fallism”; “1984 protests”.
- Ensure that these keywords come up a few times in your articles. This means that if anyone is searching for your topic, they will have a greater chance of discovering your article.
Writing is an art for a reason. There aren’t any ironclad rules, but there are ways to be good at it. These points that I have mentioned are not the only good tips out there, but they are good tips, which have helped me write articles for many publications, as well as finish (at the time of writing) 12.5 novels.
If I am to give any final advice, it is to plan your writing ahead of time. It makes things a lot easier. Find a planning method that works for you and then start. Start anything. And then try to finish. The more you finish, the less difficult starting becomes. And finishing your projects satisfactorily is what matters most at the end of the day.
Nicholas Woode-Smith is the Managing Editor of the Rational Standard, a Board Member of Being Libertarian LLC, and a science fiction author.