I attended a Write by the Rails (WbtR) monthly meeting this past weekend. And as always, marketing reared its grimacing head during the discussion. We writers find ourselves consistently struggling to get the word out about our particular skills and products in between practicing our craft, and these meetings help us civilly release some pent up rage from lost query letters, rejections and burnout. Meeting also allows us time to exercise our inner nerd and exchange ideas with people who care about word use and grammar. This week, we decided to hand over our best writing advice. It’s what we do for fun.
Advice from Professional Writers? Priceless.
Let me first say that when you give away a little writing advice, you don’t lose it, especially with peers. It’s not like offering up free product or writing off bad debt because no matter how much advice you provide, the recipient still has to do the work. That’s one reason when I taught writing in the college classroom I allowed students to use their textbooks. All the textbooks in the free world won’t help if you have to produce an original piece before the old analog clock strikes the hour. No, writing requires hard brain labor, often eliciting frustration, and that’s why we pump each other up with support and tips. And great tips they turned out to be.
Case in point: Nancy Wyatt shared her insights on ghostwriting. She says when we write for others, we must leave ourselves behind. Ghostwriting in particular requires we replace ourselves with the personhood of the client. We must become them in order to communicate like they do. It’s not unlike writing in persona. Or as I said, it’s like writing fiction. But not.
Novelist Sydney Everson added perspective directly from the fiction world. To truly become the character, you must eliminate what she calls “distancing words.” Don’t write, “I noticed the window was open.” When you’re thinking, you don’t note that you’re noticing. You would just say to yourself, “The window is open.” Become the character by slashing those unnecessary words that put space between you – the writer – the character and the reader.
And then there is Natalina Reis, who with Sydney helped explain how readers’ minds fill in gaps. For example, it’s not necessary to document every trip to the bathroom a character makes because the reader assumes this happens even if the writer doesn’t say it. Natalina also talked about making dialog real, omitting unnecessary words, chopping up sentences into conversations that people might actually have. We compared vocabulary use and sentence structure across cultures, laughing at SEO programs like Yoast and the Flesch–Kincaid scales that seem to commend writers for using short sentences. At what point is giving in considered “dumbing it down”? These are times that try writers’ souls – and at times, patience.
The indelible beauty of these discussions is that every piece of advice can be translated and applied to business writing, content marketing and creative writing. These are universal ideas that migrate from genre to genre, and even into the space of other arts and sciences. It’s about creativity and communication, and at some point, I’ll explain the hows and whys.
But in the meantime, now that you’ve gleaned some professional advice from prolific, professional writers, what will you do with it? Will you start writing yourself? Or will you call in the experts? If you need an expert, get with ATW. We’ve got a few in our back pockets who don’t just talk about how to write well. They really do it.
ATW – All Things Writing is a full-service content development and content marketing company on a mission to help clients shine online and in print. Coming from private, government and nonprofit sectors, our clients get the kind of content that builds their brand, reputation, image and presence through customized material and personalized services. You can be one of those clients and benefit from the experience and dedication of ATW and our USA-based partners.