Recently Daniel Pink (author of A Whole New Mind and several other books) published his seven rules for writing on the New Yorker’s website. I think the first five are strong and definitely ring true to me. The sixth confuses me and the seventh isn’t a rule at all.
Check Pink’s rules out here: http://www.danpink.com/archives/2010/03/7-rules-for-writing
Seeing his list inspired me to jot down seven rules I try to get myself to follow:
7. Read! Taking in other author’s tones, words, and approaches to communicating ideas. Analyze what you like about what they wrote and what didn’t work.
6. Carry a notebook and pen. A lot of us have little computer/phone/devices now and some people feel comfortable taking notes on them. I prefer a small paper pad that fits in my back pocket and a space pen (also fits in my pocket, doesn’t ever come open by accident and the ink lasts a long time). As Pink points out, many of our best ideas come when we’re on the move, but if we can’t jot ‘em down, they are too easily lost.
5. Keep it short. People might actually read the whole thing! Could that book be an article? Could that article be a short blog post? Could that blog post be a killer sentence? Could that sentence be a 140 character Twitter update?
4. Edit hard. Finish a draft, do a word count and then cut a third of the words. One of my favorite writing teachers, Jack Kruse once gave an assignment where we had to cut the word count of an essay in half. Our pieces were so much better once we were done! Beyond cutting, there’s moving, combining, rewording and so many other things you can do to improve the initial blast of ideas.
3. Write as if you are writing a letter to a friend. Think of a specific friend of yours. If it helps, even write “Dear So-and-so” at the top and reference things that only they would understand. You can go back and fix it later, but in the moment of writing it creates a comfortable and consistent tone between you and your readers. (Got this one years ago from Billy Upski Wimsatt.)
2. Be original! It sounds obvious, but sometimes we feel pressure to fit a mold. Everyone’s got their own flavor. Go for yours.
1. Only write about things you care about deeply.