How to write well

When people discover that I’m a publishing specialist, I’m frequently asked whether I can assist them in getting their book published. The answer is always a tentative yes – tentative because I need to assess their writing skills before ascertaining whether I can work with the manuscript as it is, or whether I need to bring in a third-party to ensure the book sees the light of day.

For those of you who think that you’re not interested in being an author, or writing creatively or otherwise, here’s why you should be: you’re an author every single day. Think about it: when you’re writing an email, a note to yourself, a report, a business plan, or even a text message, you’re following a very deliberate and methodical process:

1) You’re formulating what you’re going to say.

2) You’re thinking about the best means of expressing your point.

3) And you should be considering how your message is going to be interpreted by the reader.

In an age where social media rules so much of our lives, good writing is more important than ever. Writing something down is a way you present, and expose, yourself, your ideas, and your thinking to the world. Every idea or thought you record and send out is a reflection of you. In a world where personal branding has come to be both a liberating and detrimental force, we can build or destroy our reputations by simply making a comment. Writing makes us accountable – just ask Penny Sparrow.

So, what makes a good writer? Years of working in the publishing sector mean that I can sum it up in a four-point checklist:

1) Do you know what you’re talking about? If you can lend an authoritative voice to a topic or debate, and back up your views with well-researched and substantiated claims, you’re going to inspire confidence.

2) Are you able to be objective? As the first four lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” read, “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, / If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, / But make allowance for their doubting too”, you’ll demonstrate logical dexterity, the power of abstraction, and that all-important human aspect: ‘empathy’.

3) Can you get your point across effectively? There is, of course, a major difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Being efficient means you can get the job done. Being effective means you can do it deftly, with flair, and with finesse. Writing effectively means that if you aim for perfection, it will meet you half-way.

4) Can you spell? Or at least use spell-check or Grammarly? This sounds facetious, but I’m serious. How many times have you cringed when you’ve seen a poorly-worded email from a colleague, or laughed when your boss got an idiom horribly wrong? Be sure to hit “Fn” and “F7” regularly, and hire a good editor to check any work you’re preparing for publication.

Next time you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, pause and reflect on what it is you’re trying to convey. And, as with everything else, if you can’t do it yourself, hire someone to do it for you. Ghost writers, overwriters, and editors can transform even the most mundane manuscript into a masterpiece. For further advice about writing or editing, feel free to contact me.