Yes, the rules have changed. A bit. But the best gems of writing advice I’ve ever heard – old and new – are still true across generations of word-arranging.
My favourites are below. Oh, and I’ve even included some of the bad habits mentioned. Intentionally (honest!).
– “Don’t fix…change” (source uncertain): Something wrong with the sentence or unsure about a word? Would you rather have an engine replacement or a new car? Press delete.
– “No one reads a long article except the writer and their mum” (source uncertain): Read the comments section below any article. Now guess how many people took the time to read the whole piece. As they say on Facebook: the results will AMAZE you.
– “Don’t wipe your feet on the way in” (Mick Fealty, Slugger O’Toole): Don’t mumble into a point by showing uncertainty. Make sure of your point, make yourself sure of your point or ditch it.
– “Why wait?” (my partner): I make it no secret that my partner is my inspiration. Be around people who tell you to make an idea happen rather than tell you why it can’t be done.
– “Remember the rules of three and seven” (Darren Mawhinney, marketer and CloudMigrator365 Managing Director): Humans process information presented as three items really well. Think of a fairy tale and you’ll see what I mean. Psychology tells us to then stick to seven points.
– “Say the first thing first” (Darren Mawhinney): The head of a pint of Guinness is pretty much the only time the first should become the last. Or the last should become the first. Amen.
– “Put a hat on it and give a name”: A line used in the old Baseline Magazine from the noughties. For social, don’t hide your cards by inferring. Slam them on the table. Then sweep up all the chips and flounce off dramatically. Or something.
– “Keep the main thing the main thing” (source uncertain): A public apology to readers I’ve frustrated on Slugger O’Toole with my jumbled intros. Don’t leave me! I can change!
– “Get it on the screen” (Maurice O’Neill, former Editor, Ballymena Guardian): Make a start and you’re halfway there. Wait around and someone else will write your idea up for you (like it or not).
– “Let it soak” (source uncertain): If possible, a draft likes to mature overnight before you edit and have it proofed. Why? Because that is the way of things.
– “Every word has to earn itself” (Nevin Farrell, freelance journalist): True in 2016 more than ever. Eg, who on earth are the ‘general public’? Do we have a specific public?
– “To get started, write one true sentence” (Ernest Hemingway): < What he said.
– “What’s in it for me?”: A basic writing technique and one of many great tips to be found in introductory books about copywriting. Secret: watch the start of Glengarry Glen Ross and you’ll get the idea.
– “Read great writing” (source uncertain): I usually have three writers beside our bed set aside from the normal reading pile. It will be Bill Bryson (for his incredible clarity and love of English), a Louise de Bernieres framed quote (a gift from my partner – for his mind-boggling expanse of expression) and Orwell (for the beauty and purity in how he tells his truth).
– “Less is more” (everyone): Some writers communicate an entire new world in very few words. I recently reviewed <https://freerangewordsblog.wordpress.com/category/reviews/> a book by James Hannah and was transported within a few words. Wonderful.
– “So what?” (Una McSorley, Marcomm Training): Read your sentence, ask yourself ‘so what?’, then improve it. Repeat in a spin cycle until my metaphor runs out.
– “It’s not about you” (source uncertain): The reader is king around these here parts. Talk to them, not at them. Know them, love them, listen to them. Talk their language and the language of the platform they’re using to read your work. Then talk to their friends, find out how they spend their time. Note – always follow the terms of your restraining order.
– “Have a sounding board” (me): There’s nothing better than someone who will call rubbish on low quality. My thanks to Kris Nixon for this one. Oh, and always always use a proofreader. Ps – Always.
– “There’s no graceful way to fall off a bike” (me): Be good at mistakes. A missed opportunity stings every time but your self-feedback will stay with you for good.
– “Be the mentor you always wanted” (me): You never know when a kind word might beat a day of doubt for someone. People like Ian J Parsley, Yvette Shapiro, Kris Nixon, Linda Stewart, Geoff McGimpsey, David Marsland and many more took the time to encourage my switch to writing for social. It costs nothing, but means a lot.
– “Remember to include SEO in lists like this one” (me again): It is, though, a whole new subject.
– “Make your lists shorter than this one” (everyone): Always. There’s no excuse. My excuse? I don’t have one. Because there is no excuse.
– “Err…” (Private Eye magazine): Know when to stop. Which was about 16 points ago in this case. Hi mum!
* Article inspired by Gareth Fullerton’s blog about his switch from print to digital.