Let’s Talk Writing

I know we talked a while back about writing a book, and I told you that if you’re maybe not the best in the world at writing and you maybe didn’t love your freshman comp class, either, never fear: there are people who will help you. That’s absolutely true: if you want to write a magazine article or a book about the art you make, there are people who will guide you through the process.

But let’s say you want more than that. Let’s say you’d like to write more than one book, and you’d like to write things other than step-by-step instructions. Or maybe you just want to make your editor really, really happy. Whatever the case: you want to write, and you’d like some tips. Some advice, maybe.

You’ve come to the right place. Or one of them, at least. In my life, I’ve written just about everything there is you can write, from that first red leatherette diary entry when I was five up to the stuff for which I’ve gotten paid, which include newspaper articles, poems, an artist’s bio, research papers (OK, I was young then–that’s my excuse), books and magazine articles for a bunch of publications. And also speeches. Questionaires. ‘Zines.

You get the idea. So while I may not be an expert, I’ve had some experience. Plus I taught freshman comp for a while. And here’s the one single most important thing I can tell you about writing: Writing is a form of communication.

Wait! Before you smack yourself in the forehead and go, “Well, duh!” stop for a minute and think about all the writing you’ve read lately. How much of it communicated something to you really effectively? Meaning that you didn’t roll your eyes or have to re-read a sentence four or five times to figure out what the writer was trying to get at, or you didn’t toss the magazine across the room halfway through because, frankly, the writer seemed just a little too impressed with his own fabulousness.

The two most important things you need to know before you write something: what are you trying to say, and who is going to read it? If you know those two things (and have some basic writing skills, which we’ll talk about later), you can craft a piece of writing that will do its job:  communicating an idea that’s in your head to someone else.

In addition to writing, I talk to people. I’ve done speeches and panel discussions, TV shows and interviews and podcasts. I firmly believe that I can talk to anyone about anything if I know ahead of time what I’m going to be talking about and to whom.

It sounds simple enough, right? Why, then, do you read articles or books or whatever in which the writer seems to wander off down a path all by herself, maybe muttering, maybe singing, maybe speaking some language they speak only on some planet far, far away. Instead of telling you about the history of encaustics, they wax poetic about their dog or dishwasher or newborn daughter. Instead of explaining why it’s important for you to back up your data, they climb on their hobby horse and rant away.

So my best bit of advice about writing is:  know your subject, and know your audience. Figure out what it is that you want to write about, and figure out for whom you want to do that writing. The rest of what you need to know can be learned, but this? This part is up to you. If you can keep those two things in mind whenever you write anything, you’ll be able to communicate. And that really is what it’s all about.


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2 Responses to Let’s Talk Writing

  1. Emie58 says:

    Love this post. I’m wondering if Twitter, texting, etc. will change the way we communicte with each other? I definitely don’t know much about the newer social media stuff but I’ve noticed when I’m around kids they don’t seem to be very comfortable communicating verbally. IMO… communication is a skill and needs to be practiced in order to be good at it. Guess that could be a different post????

  2. Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

    Oh, I know what you mean! People who have grown up with Tweeting and texting are used to speaking in shorthand. Subtle differences in meaning are lost to them, and having a conversation about anything but the most concrete and immediate events of their lives is virtually impossible. The ideas may be there, but they have no idea how to communicate them to someone else.