10 Tips to Make your Writing Shine – Part 2, Style


 “Writing is the painting of the Voice” – Voltaire


 This week I’d like to address the more elusive topic of style, which is as personal as it is important. Our moods, emotions, opinions, and even our personalities come across in our writing; through our technique, we can successfully steer our thoughts in the direction we prefer. Voltaire’s words which introduce this article perfectly express the nature of writing: our words are a verbal work of art.

Last week, I published my first five basic tips to help your writing really stand out. These related to the more structural elements of writing. You can check out last week’s blog post for more details. However, to quickly recap, they were… 1. Check your spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax. 2. Use any available resources, but remember: all translations are not created equal! 3. Pay close attention to the type of text you are writing. 4. Choose your register, or level of formality, carefully. 5. Know your audience: whom are you writing for?   And now, here are some of the key stylistic elements to consider when writing: 6. Keep it simple.
  • Avoid Wordiness: Contrary to other languages, elegance in English writing is achieved by a crisp, clear style, where redundant and excessive words (called “wordiness”) are avoided. 
    For example: “Mary became better at being able to establish the defendant’s alibi”. This sentence contains too many redundant words and is confusing for the reader. It would be better to write: “Mary could better establish the defendant’s alibi”.
  • Keep your sentences short: In many languages, sentences tend to run on for half a page and contain numerous key concepts. There is the constant risk of losing one’s way and needing to return to the beginning and re-read the same passage. In English, sentences tend to contain one key concept and are quite linear in their structure and easy to follow. This simplicity should not be confused with a lack of sophistication: on the contrary, complex concepts are addressed using specific vocabulary and a clear, essentialist style. In academic writing, the topic sentence will generally occur at the beginning of the paragraph, allowing the reader to more easily scan for gist. 
7. Edit like there’s no tomorrow. Stephen King said: “To write is human, to edit is divine.” Allow your words to tumble onto the page at first, without too much restraint. Next, put some distance between yourself and your text, letting your first draft sit for a while. Once you return to it, read it with a critical eye and a merciless pen! Check for spelling and grammar mistakes; follow the thread of your thought throughout your sentences and make sure it is coherent. I find that reading my own written work out loud really helps me to spot mistakes and inconsistencies: a patient friend may serve the same purpose. When in doubt, try reformulating your thought in a clearer fashion; if that doesn’t work, eliminate it. If you are confused by what you’ve written, your reader will be clueless. 8. Take pride in your writing. This is one of the concepts that is nearest and dearest to my heart. Writing, even writing an essay for class or a short note, is a highly creative act, an expression of the author’s soul. (Yes, OK, that might sound like an exaggeration, but I really believe that the written word wields tremendous power!) I’d urge you to care deeply about the words you put on paper, to let them speak for you and to make you proud! 9. Dare to experiment. Experiment? Being urged to experiment after having been told to edit mercilessly doesn’t seem to make much sense, but in order to develop as a writer, we need to be ready to go beyond the proverbial comfort zone, beyond the types of text and turn of phrase we are familiar with. Words are like plasticine: we can model them into an infinite number of combinations to express our every thought and emotion. Play with them, listen for interesting sound combinations, for unusual rhythms that might support your intention. Use metaphors and analogies to illustrate your point. Be free! And then, if your freedom has led you too far from your original path, you can always retrace your steps and edit out some of the failed experiments, but you will still be transformed as a writer: you will have dared to venture into new and unchartered territory, having grown as a result of the experience.  10. Find your voice. Just as we do when we speak, we present ourselves to others in our writing as well. I believe that important questions to ask ourselves regard our identity as writers: “Who am I as an author? How do I want to come across to my readers? Though I’m not advocating we all strive to become the next Goethe or Shakespeare, authors whose writing was immediately identifiable, I believe that having reflected upon our identity as writers will allow our thoughts and opinions to come across more clearly on paper.  Finding and developing our voice is a process that reflects our own evolution and will accompany us throughout our lives.  Hoping that you may be inspired to try out something new in your writing this week, or that you have gone a step further in gaining awareness of who you are as an author, I’ll close for now. Don’t hesitate to continue the conversation in the comments below. Happy writing! Other interesting articles about writing: “Be a Better Writer in 15 Minutes” (Ted-Ed) http://blog.ed.ted.com/2014/05/29/be-a-better-writer-in-15-minutes-4-ted-ed-lessons-on-grammar-and-word-choice/ “Overused adjectives” (Grammarly) https://www.grammarly.com/blog/common-adjectives/?utm_source=Facebook_org&utm_content=&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=cleanwriting&utm_id=R9XpyOCS4oHt7O “24 Quick Tips that will Improve your Writing” (Grammarly) https://www.grammarly.com/blog/writing-tips/?utm_content=&utm_source=Facebook_org&utm_medium=social “10 Grammatical Errors that Damage Credibility” (Grammarly) https://www.grammarly.com/blog/grammatical-errors/?utm_content=&utm_source=Facebook_org&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=grammar&utm_id=9vWChuoB6brm5f “Everything you Should Know about Cleaning up your Writing” (Grammarly) https://www.grammarly.com/blog/proofreading-tips-and-tools/?utm_content=&utm_source=Facebook_org&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=cleanwriting&utm_id=5MVYhJnm9s0AkJ