I have no talent for writing. Every sentence and paragraph I write is born through pain of rewriting and refining. Ever since I remember (from primary school on) I was mediocre in writing if not just plainly bad at it. And that is in my native tongue, writing in English makes things even more complicated.
Through lots of practice I managed to make my writing at least passable, or so I hope. My most problematic traits are too much repetition, verboseness and lack of proper story weaving. That is apart from not knowing the English grammar well.
Over time I’ve managed to adopt practices that make my texts slightly better. I learned some of these ‘tricks’ when writing for a TV show. Spoken language has to be simpler. So, here’s what I do after I got my first draft done:
- Insert full stops. Many long sentences can be easily broken into smaller and more readable ones.
- Take away adjectives. Most of adjectives serve no purpose, so they should not be there.
- Remove all sentences that repeat what has already been said.
- Remove sentences and paragraphs that are going off-tangent. Tangents are sometimes really interesting, but they take away from the main point.
- Replace fancy words with simple ones. You do not sound smarter if you use complex words (Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity).
- Read & rewrite, so the story has the beginning, the body and the end.
- Make someone else read it. You are not as clear as you imagine.
Most importantly, I try to take away as much as possible, so the essence remains. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery has put it: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. Here I could go on a tangent about applying this rule to product management, but that’s a post for some other time. This paragraph should be taken out since it is doing exactly that – going on a tangent. In this case I have left it in just to show how painful the process is for me – so much is written and then thrown away.
The above process does nothing to make the writing good, it just makes it suck less. That is probably all I can hope for. Even 10000 hours won’t make me a witty writer churning out epigrams. Still that’s no excuse for not trying to become better at expressing myself. This blog is part of that effort.