Years ago, let’s say when I was around 30, my sister and I had a saying when referring to accessorizing. We had a host of hair accessories, jewellery, belts, you name it, we had it.
When getting ready to go out, we would say ‘put it all on (everything you wanted to wear) and then take half off’ . Therefore, creating the perfect look.
This mantra has served me well in life – less is more can be applied to many areas, including writing.
Now I have learnt the hard way how to write well. During my teens and into my early twenties, I always loved writing, had lots of ideas and thought I was quite good. That was until my powerful-uber-feminist-middle-class Uni tutor asked ‘have you never been taught to write a sentence?!’ I took it as more of a statement – I mean how do I answer that?
When giving me my final results, she also delighted in informing me I got a 2:1… only just! And then, when I turned to her for advice when working out how to pay for my Master’s degree, she offered ‘why not ask your parents for an advance on your wedding fund, lots of people choose that instead.’
What! No Mica… there is no wedding fund!
You see, I went to a school which was the one above the lowest in the league tables. It was run by an alcoholic, the drama teacher gave questionable hugs and the aspirations were to try to not get pregnant before 20 (I held out to 23!) and to stay out of prison – I managed that one.
It shows though, right? Here I am, making the first mistake in writing by going totally off topic!
So when that happens – this is what works for me.
Have a vague idea of what you want to say and just start. It does not matter how you start, or if it goes off in another direction – over thinking all of that will simply have you staring at your screen.
Then walk away from it.
Later, read it back and see if it makes the point you want it to make.
Does it wander off down another road? Or perhaps into a dead end? Maybe there is a rabbit hole in the middle. Or does it jump around?
And then – get ruthless.
You might really, really want to say all of that, but you know what… perhaps you have material for three blogs! Save the unused bits for another time.
Make one point and make it well.
Be mindful of who are you talking to and talk to them in a language they will understand, i.e. keep it light and low on the jargon!
For example – I am talking to business owners where marketing is not their strong point, but they got to do it.
And the main point of this blog is to stick to the subject and cut out all the unnecessary stuff.
A short note about long sentences
We all do it. A sentence which is really a paragraph with commas, semicolons, dashes. It’s a bit like the highway code. We once knew all the rules so we could pass the test, but over the years we have gotten rather lazy. So read those long sentences and cut them down.
What about those really lovely words?
Well, you can take some of them out. Obviously keep some personality in there, but do you need really and lovely in one sentence?
What about the word count?
Generally this does not matter unless you have been told to write to a word count, as in a chapter for a book or media article.
I recently wrote an article with a maximum word count of 900. The first draft had 1800 words – jeez it took me ages to cut it down and still have some substance left in it.
Proof reading is not a luxury.
I would recommend getting someone else to read it and not just to spot those typos. Does it flow? Does it make the point? Are there any glaring errors?
What about on social posts?
You can apply the same process to a social post, although if it’s a caption for a video or photo, then keep it short. People don’t want to read long posts. Can you sum up what you want to say in two sentences? And if not, make sure the beginning is super engaging.
Don’t think the fact that you do video or audio lets you off! With these mediums, be careful of repeating yourself or waffling off the subject. It’s good practice to have an idea of what you want to say before you say it, otherwise you will find you will retake a lot!
It’s worth mentioning AI as it’s really growing. We have so much content to create that it’s tempting to let AI do the work for you. And whilst I agree it can be useful for generating ideas, captions and those all-important headings and subject lines – be careful. Many people come to me after being unhappy with an agency – who either outsources or uses AI. Their personality and voice have been lost. More importantly, our brains are more than capable of creating endlessly – if we feed them properly. Let’s not lose that skill too!
There are some great writing tools on the market which can help you become a better writer. I use ProWritingAid, and many people rate Grammarly. These can be really useful if you are writing a lot as they pick up on things you will not notice such as overly long sentences, passive voice, readability, overuse of glue words.
If you need some help with your written content then give me a shout – it’s my favourite thing to do!