Having been a copywriter for over 20 years, my job has been to communicate the most in the least number of words. So crafting content is something I have been doing for a living, for years. During this time, I had juniors to work with, and there are some basic errors that new wanna-be writers typically make.
In this article, I will list out the key errors young writer, make so you can watch out for these and make your writing crisper.
1. Basic Errors in Grammar: If you are giving writing a try, please please make sure your grammar fundamentals are in place. This is not to undermine the value of good ideas or good content – but as a writer, grammar belongs to your basic writer’s toolkit.
2. Lack of complete understanding of English Language: If English is not your first spoken language, make a sincere effort to understand the subtle nuances of language. In the English language, one word can have different meanings in different contexts. Eg: ‘I am sorry’ and ‘I apologise’ mean the same thing unless you are at a funeral. Crafting content is all about using words in a way that your reader can actually feel and experience what you have in your mind. Having a vast vocabulary helps along with your ability to use those words appropriately.
3. Stating the obvious. This habit is something I have observed on many newbie blogs. Most times, you have a set of people who do regularly visit your blog. You do not need to repeat the basics with them every time. Also when you are writing an informative piece, remember that your reader is doing extensive online research. You do not want to make her / him feel like you are re-hashing the same stuff everyone else is writing about. Do your research to find the common points, and see what more you can add to the topic based on your personal experience. This is what will make your article unique as each of learns a different lesson from each situation.
4. Same writing voice is repetitive: As a professional writer, I have found this to be a great starting point to create a good piece of work. Sometimes if you have been writing continuously in a certain tone of voice, you may start feeling like your writing is becoming repetitive. Find a piece that inspires you, and experiment writing in the other writer’s tone of voice. This helps you to get into a different frame of mind, and look at the topic from a different perspective. I have successfully told the same story in two completely different ways by using this method.
5. Too many superlatives: Drop them! I know you hear this a lot, but I find superlatives creeping into the best of works especially when the writer is not very clear about what she wants to say. Adjectives are a writer’s crutches, and don’t do anything much for the piece.
Excessive use of adjectives: She was a very beautiful and had very long hair.
Visually descriptive, without adjectives: She had a peaches-and-cream complexion, soft brown eyes, and a happy pink mouth that curved into a smile easily. Her deep brown hair reached her hips and she usually tied it up with blue and yellow ribbons when she went out to the market.
6. Brilliant out of context phrases: This is the first mark of a newbie writer: phrases that work too hard. Sometimes there is a brilliant turn of phrase you may have crafted, but while editing you realize it is not really as good as you thought it was. As a new writer, you may be tempted to hold on to it to display your writing skills. My advise to you: Kill your darlings first, and then re-edit. You will have a cleaner, neater and smarter piece of work. If it is a phrase you particularly like, keep it in a diary and may be you will find a better place to use it.
7. Illogical narrative: While this may sound a bit daft and obvious, when you are in the throes of creativity, you may find yourself skipping this very important bit. Sure, the characters’ dialogue may be very clear in your head, but it may not necessarily read as such. Similarly, as your story moves quickly from one location to another, you may be able to visualize this. The question you need to ask is whether your story is helping your reader do the same. Again, this point becomes pretty obvious at the edit stage, especially if you are editing after a few days or getting someone else to edit your piece. If there are gaps in your narrative flow, re-write to correct the same.
These are some guidelines I follow to create writing that is easy to read and follow.
Here’s a quick recap:
1. Get good at grammar
2. Understand the nuances of English language
3. Don’t state the obvious
4. Mimic your favourite author’s tone of voice
5. Skip the superlatives
6. Don’t fall in love with your piece
7. Keep your narrative logical
I had my senior advertising writers say this to me over and over again during my learning years, and I believe these guidelines have helped me deliver professional writing. When used in the creative space, these guidelines can help make your writing sharper, crisper and more readable.
So make these your own and get cracking.
If you have some other guidelines you use, do share!
~ Bharti Athray