There are loads of books, blog posts, and web articles about ways to improve your writing. Google just returned 152 million results to the search query “how to improve your writing.” 743,927** of these online articles are listicles:
5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing – http://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2012/05/22/5-simple-ways-to-improve-your-writing/
10 Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing – http://grammar.about.com/od/developingessays/a/quicktips.htm
21 Ways to Improve Your Writing – http://www.writingforward.com/better-writing/improve-your-writing
8 Simple Scientifically Proven Ways to Improve Your Writing – http://www.fastcompany.com/3023616/work-smart/8-simple-scientifically-proven-ways-to-improve-your-writing
15 divine devices to drastically improve your writing – http://simplewriting.org/15-divine-devices-to-drastically-improve-your-writing/
How to Improve Your Writing: 3 Tips (Un-ironically, this is from a site called The Minimalists.) – http://www.theminimalists.com/how-to-improve-writing/
100 Little Ways You Can Dramatically Improve Your Writing (Perhaps these folks should talk to The Minimalists.) – http://www.onlinecolleges.net/100-little-ways-you-can-dramatically-improve-your-writing/
I’ve read my share of these articles and a goodly number of books on writing because I’m always looking for ways to improve. While books on writing are usually interesting because they are long enough to allow the authors’ personalities to shine through, the listicles get old and repetitious.
1. Read, read a lot, read some more.
2. Sit your butt in a chair and write.
3. Cut out adverbs.
4. Kill your darlings.
5.. Blah, blah, blah-di-de-blah.
Writing is a process. If we’re lucky, it’s a lifelong process that will bring us continous joy as we work to improve it. Improvement, however, comes at its own pace for each of us. It might take years for a writer to learn how to read the work of others such that she can transfer lessons to her own work. Another writer will cling desparately to her adverbs. (Natch!) Still others won’t recognize their darlings immediately.
(I’m quite fond of the parenthetical aside.)
The advice in listicles won’t stick until a writer is ready. It’s important for writers to examine all resources that come their way, even those not necessarily aimed at writers, for hints on advancing their work.
Recently, I ran into a couple of new resources that contain ideas I plan to adopt in improving my writing.
One of them is the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. (http://heathbrothers.com/books/made-to-stick/) It’s not a book about writing, per se, but about how to get your ideas across. The book explains the most effective methods by using the acronym S-U-C-C-E-S-s. The letters stand for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories … the final ‘S’ isn’t associated with anything, but ‘success’ looks funny without it. What is writing but a method of getting your ideas across? I’m going to try to work more of these qualities into my writing.
The second resource I intend to use in improving my writing is a Readability Scale. I learned about the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scale through this article on LinkedIn:(https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-much-does-reading-level-matter-shane-snow?trk=tod-home-art-list-large_0)
The article points out that the most popular authors tend to write the most readable books. This means readable in terms of grade level, as in the lower the grade level, the more readable a piece is. Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” so that a 4th grader could understand it. The majority of the popular authors analyzed within the article wrote at a 9th grade level or lower.
We tend to believe that the more complex a piece of writing is, the better in terms of quality. Writing, however, is about communication. If you’re trying to make a point, why make it difficult to comprehend? As the LinkedIn article says, even readers who understand pieces written at a higher grade level prefer to read at lower grade levels.
I ran some of my writing through an online readability test (http://read-able.com/):
An article I wrote for work about the Little Falls Ravine (http://morrisoncountyhistory.org/?page_id=642) scored at a grade level of 7.9.
Another of my work articles, History Is Boring! scored at 10th grade. (http://morrisoncountyhistory.org/?page_id=1253)
My short story Round and Round It Goes tested at 6th grade on Flesch Kincaid. (https://woowooteacup.wordpress.com/writing/round-and-round-it-goes/)
As Above, Not So Below tested at 6.1. (http://maryewarner.com/portfolio-mewarner/writing-2/as-above-not-so-below/)
This article tests at 6.5. (I could run writing samples through the readability test all darned day.)
How might the readability test translate to reactions from real readers?
When I was attending meetings of a local writers group, I’d bring a piece to read for feedback and be flummoxed by a lack of suggestions for improving the writing. Discussion tended to revolve around the subject matter I had chosen, not the writing. I came to the conclusion that at least my writing wasn’t getting in the way, which is as it should be.
Don’t let your writing get in the way. Work to make reading effortless for your audience. Allow the story to flow.
The common suggestion to read your work aloud and listen for places you stumble is a good one. If you are continually tongue-tied over a phrase or find yourself rewording a paragraph as you read it, that’s an indication that rewriting is necessary.
Go forth, Fellow Writer! Examine the listicles, books, articles, and other tools available for helping you improve your writing. Take the advice you’re ready for and leave the rest. There will always be another writer around to dole out advice when you need it.
**I made this number up. 🙂