Writing for Nonwriters

Editors Note: This is the first in a series of guest post. The idea is to help spark creativity by sharing our passion. Julie Smith Turner (tweets at @juliesturner) is owner and writer-in-chief of Wordsmith, a content strategy and copywriting services company in Columbia, SC. She’d be delighted if you checked out her and her yearlong letter writing project, the Thank You Project, on her blog.

Picture this: A colleague you admire asks you to write a blog post. Lucky for you, it’s about something you know very well. But, wait a minute. You’re not a writer. As a matter of fact, you hate writing. What to do?

First, count yourself lucky. In today’s information-driven online communities being able to provide content is a big plus. But now to the bigger problem: the actual writing of the post.

Here’s the bad news: You’re going to have to write it. The good news? It’s not that hard.

If the thought of writing anything longer than your full name turns your palms into rainforests, there’s hope. Try these strategies to make all of your writing clearer, more concise and just plain interesting.

1. Start with an outline.
Writers suffering from writer’s block have a toolbox to get things moving. One of them is organizing thoughts into an outline. Think of this outline as a skeleton for the post.

Don’t write in complete sentences. It’s a big picture document. It can help you rearrange and explore the flow of concepts or topics. It can also be a valuable tool to ferret out what you can (and can’t) cover within your pre-set word count or length.

2. Once you have a skeleton, add meat.
Once you’re happy with the outline, fill it in. And how about this — you don’t have to start with the introduction. It’s easy to get hung up crafting a just-so introductory sentence. You can lose hours you didn’t have in the first place. Feel free to fill in the middle, and then go back to the introduction. You may end up rewriting it anyway.

Always use clear, simple language to communicate your main points. Write subheads that entice your reader and make them want to continue to read. Try not to put too much information in one paragraph. Which is probably exactly what I just did in this paragraph.

3. and 4. Edit without mercy.
That’s how important editing is. Give yourself plenty of time to edit what you write. What sounds great at 2am on the day your assignment is due, may get deleted by tomorrow’s well-rested, firing-on-all-cylinders brain. Allow yourself that critical time to consolidate, edit and rethink. I’d venture to say editing is actually more important than writing.

Be sure you’re writing to your audience. Skip the five-dollar words. If you can say it in two words, saying it in 12 doesn’t make you sound any smarter. If a sentence works without a word, take it out. Want an easy place to start? Look for the word that.  Most sentences don’t need it. Get rid of it.

5. Make your writing interesting and easy to read.
Being easy to read doesn’t have to mean oversimplified. It means someone can get through your writing without consulting a dictionary, getting lost or, worse, giving up. The average print sentence should be no longer than twelve words. Much shorter when writing for web. Last week I saw a 71-word sentence. It inspired this entire post.

Most word processing software has built-in spelling and grammar checking, plus readability statistics to tell you important information about the quality of what you’ve written. Here are the analytics on this post. When communicating with the general public, aim for readability somewhere around grades 7-8. Passive sentences and fragments are not illegal. See?

Writing isn’t rocket science. Don’t be afraid of it. It’s just words, sentences and paragraphs that work together to communicate ideas, facts and concepts.

Now get started and have fun with it!*

* Exclamation points, while pretty much frowned upon by most of the world, are sometimes just the little punch a sentence needs, but never use them to excess. Enthusiasm, even if it’s perfectly appropriate, can scare people.

Chip Oglesby is the owner of Creative Spark Columbia and a digital nomad. He spends his days researching emerging technologies and how small businesses can capitalize on them and spends his afternoons and nights training for a triathlon.

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3 comments on “Writing for Nonwriters
  1. good stuff Mrs. Word Smith…and good collaboration by two people who I admire more every time I am engaged with their work.

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