Writing Guide Part 3: Reflection
Here we are at Part 3 of the guide. If all has gone according to plan, you've extensively studied the writing styles of other writers, honed in on a style that you like, and practiced by writing (and publishing?) regular material.
In this part, we will focus exclusively on what you've written so far. I know, it took an awfully long time to get to this point, but good things come to those who wait. Let's reflect on the practice material you've written and then move on to technical matters regarding grammar. Onwards!
Reflection and Clarity
First, you need to proofread some of your content (it would be even better if you could get someone else to do so as well). Specifically, we're going to do this by looking at the clarity of your message, which is something that Dana Shultz from the Minimalist Baker describes this wonderfully:
To me, this is The Great and Ultimate Commandment of writing, which is truer now than ever before. I'm sure that in every piece you wrote, you had some type of general message that you wanted to communicate to the reader. How did you communicate this? Was it through jokes? Facts? Anecdotes? Better yet, how quickly did you get to the point?
The task, therefore, is to take note of the following as you look through your written material:
- On average, how long are your articles? It doesn't matter if they're long or short, it's just useful to understand if you prefer writing very extensive, long-form material or if you like the short and snappy stuff.
- How 'loud' is your message? This is a bit of a thin line. On one hand, you do want to get your message across, not stay on the fence, and avoid leaving your reader confused about what the big idea is that you’re trying to communicate. On the other hand, given the sheer amount of vitriol that is out on the Internet these days, you certainly do not want to come across as a spiteful, polarized, and angry keyboard warrior. It's going to take a lot of practice to hit that delicate sweet spot in the middle, but my general rule-of-thumb is this: the stronger and more bulletproof your argumentation is, the louder you are "permitted" to be.
- How quickly do you get to the point? After some quick introductory words, do you give a metaphor here, an anecdote there, and give out another quirky story all before you finally hit home the final message? For you football fans out there, it's similar to when people criticized the great Barcelona (and Spain) squad of the 2008-2011 era for being "boring" because they always made a million passes before finally shooting/scoring. Critics grew frustrated of watching a team take 50 steps to eventually score a goal when it really should/could have been done in 10; all this frustration and anger despite the fact that this was one of the greatest teams of the modern era! Likewise, it can get frustrating for a reader to watch you go a hundred times around the rainbow before finally getting to your point, no matter how good your writing is. Remember, nobody cares!*
*I know, awfully hypocritical of me to champion what Dana said when I write +/- 1,600 words for my own blog posts.
Punctuation and Grammar
It's not mind-blowing news that you need to have a solid understanding of grammar in order to be a good writer (no matter what language you're writing in). Don't worry, I'm not going to teach you the rules of English grammar, but I do want to direct you to two important issues concerning grammar and punctuation that I think people get wrong nowadays and/or need to pay particular attention to:
- The Oxford Comma and more. An issue that is (surprisingly) hotly debated by linguists. Personally, I am 100% in favor of the OC because it adds clarity to a sentence for the shockingly, shamefully high cost of... a comma. Beyond this specific issue, however, is the general (mis)understanding of when, how, and where to use commas when you write, which I stress because I see it frequently misused in written material. To be fair, this isn’t really your fault; were you ever explicitly taught these lessons about punctuation at school? I sure wasn't. Overall, I urge you to do your research and (re)learn how to use commas correctly. I’m still learning every day too.
Random Tip: I heard someone once say that commas are generally placed wherever you have a pause in your speech. This has become a bit of my rule-of-thumb on the matter.
- Sentence clauses and modifiers. I still struggle with these issues because they are very tricky. This is actually also why I instructed you to read so much written material from other sources in Part 1; I wanted you to learn how the "pros" deal with these thorny issues in practice. I'm specifically highlighting these two topics because they tend to become noticeable impediments to the clarity of a writer's message. Jumbled-up sentences and misplaced clauses make reading an article quite a headache, so please pay very close attention to this. (Sidenote: I always joke that I learned all my English grammar by learning Spanish which, even though may seem absurd, is honestly true.)
I don't want to list every single lesson about English grammar because that's not what you came here for. I do, however, really need to remind you once again that you can never become a great writer without fully understanding the grammatical rules of the language that you're writing in. Learning this is really a never-ending process, so don't get discouraged if you don't master it in a week. Just keep reading and learning about it. Like I said before, I’m still learning about this every day too!
Given these pointers and lessons, it's time for you to get back out there again and continue writing! At the end of the day, you can learn a thousand things about becoming a writer, but they're useless if you don't put them into practice. Keep writing, keep publishing, keep making content, and keep improving.
Good luck and don't forget to follow my Facebook page (and set as "show first")!
See you, Space Cowboy