All writers do this.

August 21, 2007

This guy said it. Stephen King too. And Brian Clark said it ten times.

What am I talking about? Practice. Oh! The anti-climax. However, knowing to practice and actually doing it are two different things. Here are my suggestions for making practice enjoyable.

Start a blog – it’s easy. [At you don’t even worry about hosting. Pop in your name, and you’re off.] Blogging gives you creative freedom. You can write about any topic; from astronomy, to your sad life as a man who makes yogurt-pot-peely-tops. And, you can write whenever, and from wherever, you like.

Get involved in Wikipedia – Wikipedia is written by volunteers from around the world. Registering takes, literally, a minute. And then you are free to edit. You can join a interest group. Or, join the official grammar patrol. Or, go it alone.

Writing for Wikipedia is: fun, gives something back, and there are no commitments.

Join a writing forum – an online forum (message board) is an internet site where you post messages and other users can reply. Writers’s Dock is one example. You can join competitions. Have your work reviewed. Review work. Or, just socialize.


Weekly Problem: How to make your prose flow

August 19, 2007

This is a regular column.

I suffer from oversimplification. I reduce my points to bullet form; and just shoot them. Unfortunately, this means my prose flows as well as a river of custard. Thick custard too.

[I’ll research, and post a solution next week.]

4 surefire ways to read like a writer

August 17, 2007


Reading doesn’t always help your writing. You need to read consciously (called reading actively); taking in the words and structure. And read good authors. So yes, your friend’s blog, probably, doesn’t count.

Slow down – I’m a speed reader. Reading fast means you ignore the text and just digest the story, which is bad if you are learning to write. Try to take in every word separately, and understand the choice of phrasing.

Follow the punctuation – a writer uses punctuation for a reason: to aid structure, and help communication. When reading use the punctuation. Pause when you see a semicolon, read comma-enclosed-clauses differently, etc,.

…it was an engineering professor at the Ecole Polytechnique, Gustave-Gaspard de Coriolis, who worked out the details… [A Short History of Everything; Bill Bryson]

See how ‘Gustave-Gaspard de Coriolis‘ is read with a different tone of voice?

Use a dictionary – get out your dictionary, clean off the dust, and use it when you find an irregular word. I’m the worst at just ignoring words I don’t understand; “Err, must be a type of pie, or something.

Understand the author’s intention – most important alert. Use the three points above to decipher the author’s objective. Why is this way better than that. Become a bestselling author by knowing why they are better than you.

More information: [1], [2]

Everything you need to know about writing successfully – in 10 minutes, by Stephen King

August 17, 2007

THAT’S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

via Mike Shea. (full article)

More information: [1]

Don’t follow all the rules, all the time

August 15, 2007

Fifties Robot

If a robot wrote a book the outcome would make for dry reading. Forced sentences, a lack of personality, and as humorous as a slab of cottage cheese. These are the dangers of writing only by the rules.

Rules for good writing improve your communication, but you don’t want to lose your identity.

Distinctive voice – people say you should write for your readers. True, but write in a style that you would find interesting to read. Some people might not like it, but you are who you are. Don’t change your personality to accommodate others. Write for your audience, but don’t lose your individuality.

Humour – write what you think is funny. Some people will like it, some won’t.

More information: [1], [2]

Chess can teach you to write better

August 15, 2007


Chess is a lot like good writing: both are planned and work towards a specific aim. Words are like individual moves, which build up towards an organized conclusion.

Purpose – every word has a purpose; every move has a purpose. Chess players never play randomly, for example, you would never play a move just because you can. The same is true for writing. Don’t fluff up your prose just because you can. Delete all unneeded words so that every word is valuable.

Planning – imagine you are playing chess. You look at the board, you see how you’d like the position to change, and then devise a plan to make it that way. Now apply this process to writing. First specify an aim of your writing, break the aim down into smaller targets, and then write one (at most two) sentences to answer each.

The result is structured prose culminating in a planned conclusion, just like in chess where the moves lead to checkmate.

More information: [1]

How to write, by Rene Descartes

August 15, 2007

Descartes was a reductionist; he reduced everything to its simplest form. This, many writers say, is the key to good writing. We write to communicate, and we communicate through using short sentences and explicit words. In essence, writing is about precision.

Short sentences – short sentences enable the reader to organize the information you are giving them. It reduces a complex idea into manageable chunks.

Univocal language – Every word has a different definition, it is your job to chose the word that expresses your purpose best. No second measures. Every word requires a purpose that builds up into an explicit culmination.

More information: [1], [2], [3]

A writer’s nightmare

August 15, 2007

I have, for a few years now, suffered from continuous writer’s block.

Fortunately this is not for lack of imagination, nor lack of direction. Instead it’s the daunting sight of blank paper. It’s the painful process of organizing ideas and then putting them into words.

The words that come out lay short of my expectations. Somehow in my head an idea can be framed eloquently when no words are attached, however the pen never reflects this wordless perfection. I’ll stare blankly at a poorly constructed sentence and blame myself for its brazen manner. It feels like my intellectual insights are trapped behind the bars of (shit) written style. “Bugger it!“, I’ll say, “I’ll carry on tomorrow.

I have tried to spend time perfecting my prose. Brought a book by a man called Shrunk, read copywriter’s blogs, and even (tried) to write blogs. The result has been pleasing, but not satisfying. Unfortunately there’s a problem with adopting these ‘unwritten rules of written language‘; you are reduced to the bookish pursuit a shifting around the a comma, or editing your copy with a red pen proudly saying “Aha! This word doesn’t add anything. Scrap it!

After the fifth edit I’m left with a robotic chunk of text that flows as well as rocks, and funking big rocks at that.


August 15, 2007

My name is Jordan and I am a bad writer.

Welcome to ‘Square Letters’, a daily blog tracking my progress to linguistic eloquence.

Thank you and good night.