The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing - Part 2
Inspiration is in the eye of the recipient. You can get inspired to write by roaming around a park or while watching your child play in the garden, anything. What inspires a writer is their outlook on things and their field of his interest. A designer might get inspired by a beautiful image and write an entire post on that.
Keep Your Creative Hat On
Wherever you are—at work, at home, taking a vacation—always keep your creative hat on. Great ideas come when you are at leisure and suddenly come upon a fresh idea. Never lose your creative perspective. Some popular designers get ideas while on vacation or in a coffee shop. The break in routine opens our minds to new ideas.
Look at Covers of Newspapers and Magazines
Leafing through a magazine or newspapers can give you whole new ideas. Just have a thirst for fresh ideas in everything you do and they will come. Inspiration needs no fixed agenda. My last post was inspired by the digital arts, and got that idea from a cover story.
When you have writer’s block, go through your favorite books or blogs; you will find the inspiration you are looking for. When a person is immersed in familiar material, they feel comfortable and can think better. Open your closet and put your favorite stuff on the bookshelf, to be ready at any time.
Listen to Music
I listen to hard rock to calm myself; this increases my efficiency several fold. I focus on my work better, I am able to put all my energy into one thing, and I get ideas this way. Music has long been inspiration to many great people.
Bad Writing Habits to Avoid
Many writers (including me) make many mistakes while writing and don’t even know where they fall short. In this section, I’ll go over the most common errors made by writers. Look through them and tell me if I have missed any. Bad writing habits can be overcome early on only by practice and conscious effort.
Don’t write in an old style.
You don’t have to mimic a 400-year old style. To appeal to today’s audience, go through today’s authors and check out their writing and dramatic style. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a heck of a lot more than a children’s series.
Do not write long paragraphs.
Writing long paragraphs can kill the reader’s interest. People who read online look for fun tidbits and little shots of information. Make your paragraphs short, attractive and easy to read.
Don’t beat around the bush.
Beating around the bush is a total blunder, because nobody likes getting caught in a puzzle. You might think you’re getting the reader more absorbed, but it actually alienates them.
Don’t stick to stereotypes; be innovative.
You need not stick to one format or style. Stereotypes are everywhere today. The same format and design make life boring. Innovation has no boundaries.
Write the way you speak.
Listen to your inner voice. Write what you’re thinking. Employers often puts constraints that force the writer to lose their voice. Writer should know how to make their point while preserving the personality in their writing.
Keep titles short, and use simple language.
Writing long titles and using complex language might look good, but they do you no good if few people read it and even fewer understand it.
Don’t ignore readers, colleagues or social media.
Writers often ignore what their readers and peers have to say about their work. You don’t have to totally switch directions based on feedback you get from social media, but at least listen to it, or you might be run out of the business.
Put your ego aside.
A big ego is reflected in one’s writing. Readers want good writing, not a big ego. Some might argue that their ego helped them get to where they are. Perhaps, but it will bring them down even faster.
Avoid grammatical mistakes
Here are some of the most common (at least for me) grammatical mistakes. Nobody is perfect with these (unless they’ve got a degree in English).
- Your vs. You’reYour is “the possessive case of the personal pronoun you.”
Usage > your book
You’re is a contraction of “you are.”
Usage > you’re not doing this right.
- It’s vs. ItsIts is the “possessive form of the pronoun it”.
Usage > this book has lost its appeal.
It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”
Usage > It’s very important to use correct English.
- There vs. TheirThere as a noun means “a location other than here.” Also an adverb.
Usage > I love going there.
Their is “the possessive case of the personal pronoun they.”
Usage > their opinion is also important.
- Affect vs. EffectAffect is a verb that means “to exert an influence on.”
Usage > Communication skill immensely affects one’s income.
Effect is a noun that means “the result or consequence of something else”.
Usage > Communication skill has a great effect on income.
- Loose vs. LoseLoose is an adjective that means “become less tight.”
Usage > Your pants are too loose.
Lose is a verb that means “allow to go out of sight.”
Usage > don’t lose your wallet.
- Who’s vs. whoseWhose is “the possessive case of who or which.”
Usage > Whose game is over?
Who’s is contraction of “who is.”
Usage > Who’s coming home with me?
NOTE: All word meanings are taken from onelook.com
Tips for Effective Writing
A pro might give thousands of tips for writing content for the Internet. I have kept the best and present them here. These are all borne of experience and numerous mistakes.
Keep your language straight and simple.
Be clear in your writing, and make sure your language can be understood by anyone. Replace difficult words with simple ones. Language should be appealing and easy.
Rules are made to be broken.
If your way is better than what the rules state, then by all means take it. After all, rules are meant to help you, not hold you down. Where would humanity be if we had followed all the rules?
Don’t fake it.
Some writers come up with convoluted ways to make their point. This practice won’t get you a following; rather, people will flee because nobody wants a puzzle that doesn’t pay off.
Jot it down before you lose the thought.
Always carry a notebook. Just as the guys at Reuters are always ready for news, inspiration can strike at any time, so be ready to write down the key points. As long as you’ve recorded the idea, you can work on it later.
Get your story straight.
Be clear about your story, frame it properly, brainstorm on sub-topics, and then proceed step by step. Don’t lose the theme along the way. Properly frame the content, moving readers steadily through your argument.
Get the facts.
Check all facts you have cited in your story. You don’t want people pointing a finger at you. Link to the sources of your comments; this will also give you credibility.
Avoid writing in rooms where the TV is on and people are chatting. Quiet, comfortable working conditions are more professional and improve efficiency.
Keep paragraphs short
Simple writing is most appealing. Short paragraphs and plenty of headings grab readers.
Ask for feedback
I like to ask for feedback on all my content, asking the person what they liked or disliked. Be open to criticism, however nice or harsh. You will be better for it.
Resources for Improving Your Writing
Many resources are available online for improving your writing skills. Some require payment, and some are free. Here are the 20 best free resources I have found.
Recourses for Common Errors: grammar, punctuation, etc.
- Ultimate Style: The Rules Of Writing – A to Z list of common grammatical questions.
- Use English Punctuation Correctly – Guide for English punctuation.
- HyperGrammar – Online grammar course at University of Ottawa.
- Grammar Girl – Helpful trips on word choice and grammar rules.
- Better Writing Skills – 26 short articles on ampersands, punctuation, character spacing, apostrophes, semicolons and commas, etc.
- The Guide to Grammar and Writing – Help with writing at the word and sentence level, as well as the essay level.
- Paradigm Online Writing Assistant – Common grammar mistakes, basic punctuation and concepts.
- English Style Guide – Metaphors, punctuation, figures, hyphens, etc.
Blogs on Writing
- Copyblogger – Teaches you the basics of writing. The regular posts are darn good.
- Men with Pens – Useful tips for writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs.
- Problogger – Darren Rowse has a great resource for copy-writing and generating income.
- CopyWriting – Many resources on generating profit, including tools and articles.
- OneLook Dictionary Search – Nice collection of words, with definitions and translations.
- WordWeb – English thesaurus and dictionary with a wide range. Works offline.
- Definr – Suggests as you type; can be added to the Firefox search box.
- Visuwords – Teaches word association using diagrams (similar to a neural network).
- Merriam Webster: Visual Dictionary – Visual dictionary, showing image and definition together.
- OneLook Reverse Dictionary – Defines a word and shows a list of related words and phrases.
- Online Spell Checker – Online spell-checker in 28 languages.
- Advanced Text Analyzer – Counts number of words, lexical density, words per sentence, characters per word, etc.
Hopefully, you now know how important writing is. We use the skill every day. Whatever your profession, writing and cosmmunicating well will make you a better worker.
At the end of the day “content is king,” and without good content, people won’t revisit your website. When you offer quality content, supported by facts, people will link to your website. Presentation is also important, as is context.
Search engines are smart enough to figure out the most authoritative content on a particular topic. Web pages with quality information will make it up higher in search results, so concentrate on content above all.
The above article was originally published at: http://www.instantshift.com/2010/12/14/the-mercenarys-guide-to-effective-writing/