This guest post is by Jessica Millis. Jessica is an experienced writer, editor and copywriter. She teaches writing at James Madison University works as a writing specialist at the EssayMama blog. Thanks for joining us today Jessica!
Good writers are able to fully express themselves with words.
But with so much flowing through the chambers of your mind, it is not easy to concisely find just the right words to express yourself, your idea, and your emotions. What phrases convey exactly what you’re thinking? How do you express yourself while keeping your reader following a logical description, dialogue or argument?
Even the briefest of outlines can help organize a thought process. Construction of a paragraph is worth studying.
When you’re writing an essay, for example, your topic sentence needs to lead a reader into a place, followed with supporting details or explanations.
Once it is done, move on. Going into too much depth or unnecessary detail will lose a reader, or bore them, or sound redundant.
2. Write like you talk
Some writers feel the best way to get their ideas on paper is to start with an oral representation.
You might try to dictate or narrate into a recording device or software program like Dragon to hear what you are saying and then proceed to write or have the software do it for you.
What you produce will still require your editing and proofreading, but it will help you find a language tone that is suitable for your audience.
3. Mind your tone
Your words express who you are, your character and personality. Never has this been more true than today when so much of our communication happens through writing, whether you’re texting, posting on Facebook, or writing an essay or a blog post.
Not only does your written work have to be pin-perfect in spelling and grammar, but it has to say something and leave the reader with an impression.
Ever had an email that you felt was yelling at you? Why was that? Could it have been the bold underlining and the excessive use of exclamation marks? Sometimes, additions like this are useful, and create a sense of urgency, but likewise, not using the right tone can leave your message flat and unimpressive.
Find a tone that works for the message or information you are trying to convey and test it out orally, or in print on someone objective, before publishing
4. Use Imagery
Whether you picture a place, a person or an object, your ability to describe it clearly has to transpire to your reader. Use a physical approach: describe a person top to bottom, an event in chronological order, and an object in a tactile or sensory way.
If you think your words will leave the reader with the same picture in their mind that you had in yours to begin with, you have succeeded!
5. Write Dialogue
When you write dialogue dialogue, use simple language, and keep your sentences concise, but with a peppering of emotion.
6. Share inner thoughts and voices
Sometimes the best way to express yourself is through feelings rather than concrete ideas. Novelists have an ability to take what a character is thinking and use it to further develop them and their actions.
7. Answer questions
If you can put yourself in the position of the reader, perhaps you will find that what you’re writing poses certain questions. Explaining and describing the necessary information will engage your reader. However, take care to not extend beyond the concise and relevant details.
8. Change Perspectives
Often your thoughts can be developed with better with a change in perspective. Say you’re writing about… home organization. Don’t just think of yourself as the harried housewife with too much clutter, but perhaps the busy executive who walks in the door and adds to the mess every day.
Or… if you are writing about losing weight through a gluten free diet, perhaps you could consider that packaged and ready foods are marketed poorly for people with this need. Step inside the viewpoint of another to express thoughts you perhaps hadn’t explored.
Perhaps in high school, you might recall studying précis writing in your English classes. There is a skill to being able to take a lengthy text and rewriting it down to a concise shorter piece.
To get really good at writing with brevity, use articles from a newspaper, or content from websites to practice the art of taking lengthy pieces and finding more concise language to still convey the same message.
Use synonyms. Take out overly technical language. Use stronger words that have better meanings than lengthy phrases or descriptions. Combine thoughts into one sentence. Learn how to use the semi-colon.
10. Edit, edit … and edit again
This is nothing new. Writers review what they have written all the time. Some walk away from their work and return to it after a time lapse, to look at it with somewhat of a fresh approach. Others hand it over to a second party which can give an objective review. Regardless of the method, rarely is something publishable shortly after it is written. Writing is a craft, and craftsmanship takes time and precision to develop.
Expressing yourself in the written form is not easy. Even the greatest writers past and present have their frustrations. Learning to understand that writing is a process, always changing and moving, a living thing is some ways, is to understand that it is the form of communication that represents us when we are not there to be ourselves. Find the right words until less is more becomes your mantra.
How about you? How do you express yourself in writing? Share in the comments section.
Find a piece you wrote months ago. Don’t worry what it was for, but choose one with some length to it. Use the various techniques above to review the piece again.
- Try reading it aloud. Does it “talk” the way people do?
- Assess its tone. Is it too harsh, or not persuasive enough?
- Close your eyes. Can you visualize the details in the way you need them to become visualized?
- Are the thoughts deep enough? Little voices in the head are worth putting into your words.
- Try cutting it down by a third. This will help you learn what is really key and essential.
- Finally… answer questions. Think of all the questions the reader could have at the end of the piece, and ensure each one leads to a degree of satisfaction.
When you’re finished, share a bit about your experience in the comments section. How’d it go?
This article is by a guest blogger. Would you like to write for The Write Practice? Check out our guest post guidelines.
Do you think of yourself as a writer? Graduate students write a great deal but rarely think of themselves as writers. Maybe this is analogous to how we think of other activities; I love to bake, for instance, but would never describe myself as a baker. A baker is someone who has training as such or who, at the very least, is paid to do so. Since neither of those is true for me, I am just someone who spends way too much time baking. Similarly, since we aren’t generally trained as writers or paid to write, we don’t call ourselves writers. But there are implications of being a writer–that is, someone who has to write frequently in order to meet key professional goals–who nonetheless shies away from that label. What would you say if asked to finish the following sentences?
‘As a writer, I am…’
‘As a writer, I wish to be…’
Many of us will come up with sentences like these:
‘As a writer, I am not very good (or skilled or competent or efficient or happy or effective or confident).’
‘As a writer, I wish to be finished, so I don’t have to write any more!’
In my experience, people rarely think of themselves as writers, but they frequently think of themselves as bad writers. Adopting that sort of critical stance towards our own writing could be beneficial if it was part of a broader project of developing our writing skills. But novice writers often treat bad writer as an ontological category, as a condition that will afflict them forever and always. Needless to say, it can be hard to improve your writing if you are more or less resigned to never improving. If you are inclined to think of yourself as a bad writer, try lopping off the ‘bad’. Doing so may leave you with a more hopeful construction: ‘I am a writer who needs to improve in such-and-such ways. These improvements will come from such-and-such strategies.’
I recently came across an interesting article that discusses a range of strategies designed to improve the writing process:
[W]e have identified strategies that can help novices understand more about academic writing and their relationship with writing. One strategy is to confront and talk about rather than ignore the difficult emotions that writing stirs up. This can result in two potentially enabling insights for beginning academic writers. They learn that their feelings are not extraordinary but commonplace, and therefore not something to be anxious about. And by finding that their feelings are shared by more experienced writers, novices learn that difficult emotions need not get in the way of writing, can be managed rather than erased and might even be productive in the writing process. The second strategy is to explicitly address procedural know-how and expose what goes on in the writing process. This provides novices with information about strategies for productive writing, and assures them that what they currently perceive as failings (such as having to write and rewrite multiple times) are the very means for producing good writing. Novices learn that they are not deficient or lacking in skills but doing exactly what experienced writers do. Related to this, the third strategy is to…hail novices as academic writers—to use social settings, such as writing workshops, where novices, in the presence of others, take on tasks as if they were already experienced writers (for example, to read the work of an admired author not as a student seeking wisdom, but as a one writer inquiring into how another writer writes) (Cameron, Nairn, and Higgins, 2009; emphasis mine).
These strategies are expressed as ways that instructors can help students, and they are indeed all strategies that I find useful in my teaching. But they are also approaches that you can use yourself: you can talk honestly with your peers about your writing difficulties; you can accept that writing doesn’t come automatically and seek out the support that you need; and you can consciously adopt the role of academic writer as you approach the texts that you read. Even if writing support is hard to find, I urge you to continue to look for resources to help you implement these strategies in your own writing life. The blogroll is full of excellent resources, and I will return to these issues in future blog posts. For today, I will close with a post from the Hook & Eye blog that offers one writer’s reflections on the role of identification and acceptance in the writing process.
Source: Cameron, J., Nairn, K., & Higgins, J. (2009). Demystifying academic writing: Reflections on emotions, know-how and academic identity. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 33 (2), 269-284.
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