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How To Use Your Own Words to Paint Portraits

2018-11-20 Luke UlrichINTELLECTUAL

Reader Focused Writing, Words to Write By – Language is art to me. I really don’t mean that pretentiously.

Language is an art that every speaking person has the skill to create.

That being said, language is also very, very practical.

As such, experts can provide advice on how to improve your language skills, which is basically my whole aim in life.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to write a few pointers to help other writers improve their work, so here are 5 tips:

1) Don’t edit your own work.

This is probably the most practical tip I can give to other writers.

It’s just a flat-out bad idea to try to edit your own work. Obviously, spell check and proofread your work before you show it to anyone.

But don’t expect your own eyes to catch all the mistakes you may have made in a fit of creativity.

I recommend this for either one of two reasons.

One is that it’s incredibly easy to become married to your own words, and to view your mistakes in your prose as some kind of personal shortcoming (not true).

The more you love your own words, the harder it is for you to amend them.

The second reason stems from that common phrase, “we are our own worst critics”.

It’s entirely possible for us to scrutinize our work too heavily.

No one can pick apart your brain as well as you can, so don’t give yourself the opportunity.

I know letting other people edit your unpolished writing can be borderline terrifying, but believe me, it will be far more beneficial for you in the long run.

2) Show, don’t tell.

Anyone who has written somewhat professionally has likely heard this.

Indeed, it is most applicable to story-telling, but works for all creative writing.

If you have the opportunity to describe a picturesque view of a setting sun—with vibrant purple and orange streaking across a cloudy sky, and gentle orange cascading across the ground swallowing your feet—don’t just say, “the sun set, and then it was nighttime.”

I would respectfully deem that a poor writing choice.

It may very well be a little more effort to describe what something looks like, but that is the duty of writing (and language, by extension).

Remember that you are attempting to provide your audience with an experience that they have not been able to witness themselves. Actually, that transitions me nicely into my next tip.

3) Readers are your friends.

Readers are not your enemy and they are not your audience (I know that sounds crazy).

If you write to your readers like you are writing to your friends, you can avoid so much of the pompous, pretentious stigma that comes from writing too academically or poetically.

Keep in mind, this is the method I use to convey information in the most direct and comfortable way I can to my readers.

There is plenty of use for more flowery language within other contexts.

If, however, you want to be a more effective communicator, envision your readers as if they were close friends, sitting across from you in your living room, sharing your house and your hospitality.

Our prose is a service that we have a privilege to provide to strangers.

Don’t let that opportunity go to waste by writing like a robot (sorry to my contemporaries in academia).

4) Be genuine, not interesting.

I mean, be interesting – Just don’t try to be interesting.

A lot of writers feel the need to embellish mundane parts of their life, usually as an attempt to be more accessible to a wider audience (oh, I hate that word).

Many will consequently write about things that everyone has experienced, simply telling the story in a unique way using their linguistic skills.

Commendable, but not effective.

My father told me something when I was young, which has shaped my writing forever: “Write what you know.”

Don’t try to be like everyone else, just a more interesting version.

Be you.

Share your experiences. Articulate your own feelings.

Interesting stories have the unique characteristic of appearing boring and mundane to those to which they occurred.

Your life seems ordinary to you because you have no reference for the extraordinary or supernatural. If you really want to captivate people with your words, just tell them a little about yourself.

5) Read your work out loud (preferably in a funny voice).

Okay I lied; this is probably the most practical tip on this list, and it came from my mother.

Go figure.

When I was in elementary school, she told me to read everything I wrote in her voice.

That way I would always be able to catch that parts that sounded like they made no sense.

I thought that was a stupid idea, until I got to college.

The writing got harder, and I felt like I couldn’t trust my own voice anymore. I decided to trust my mother’s voice instead.

So I started reading my work aloud – in her voice – and it worked.

Over the years since then, the voice I read aloud in has become more and more of a caricature of my mother’s voice, now high-pitched and lilting in tone.

It helps my catch things I wouldn’t have noticed because I wouldn’t have heard them before.

The ridiculous voice makes it more fun, of course – but also more effective.

Bonus Tip)

Writer’s block isn’t real.

This is more of a half tip: I don’t believe in writer’s block.

I believe that if I get stuck on a particular writing project, that’s simply my brain telling me that it’s time to start writing something else.

Maybe you come back to what you were working on before, maybe you don’t. The important thing is that you keep writing – forever.