Writing Better

An offhand remark by a friend the other day got me thinking about the quality of my writing. Has too much blogging and internet made me a bad writer? This assumes that I was a good writer before but setting that aside I thought I’d take a look at some reasons why digital communication makes me a worse writer.

Speed Worship

With IMs, twitters, and emails it’s no wonder people are obsessed with speed. Putting your thoughts into digital bites quickly and accurately are more important than being meticulous with grammar or finding the exact words to express your thoughts. Eloquence can even put a barrier between you and your readers if you choose esoteric words or write complex sentences in the quest to be more concise.

When email emerged into the mainstream it was a revolution. Still, people continued to write emails like they wrote letters. It was long form communication and people articulated their thoughts more. There was still a lag between the time you sent something out and the time you got a response. Instant messaging took it one step further where you can grab someone’s attention and get an immediate response.

Trying to type at the speed of conversation naturally introduces constraints that affect the quality of the writing. We’re basically in the trade of conveying information and not necessarily thoughts.

Quantity not Quality

They say when writing a non-fiction book that it should be informative enough to replace 5 existing books. The quality of information should be able to make 5 books obsolete. Clearly, these rules don’t apply to the web and especially to blogs (we’re all guilty). In fact, on the web it’s all about “having your say”.

The availability of computers and the proliferation of digital publishing options changed the rules of writing.

The majority of bloggers not professional writers by trade though some may have a background in journalism. Being a professional writer doesn’t make you a successful blogger either. Writing on the internet is in many ways a networking activity like the banter you find at tech conferences. It’s a conversation with the world at large.

The Lazy Flow

I think the major reason why my writing is sub par on most days is due to the fact that I’m in a state of “lazy flow” as distinguished from proper flow. I’m rarely if ever totally immersed in the activity of writing. Distractions come from a million directions plus I view blogging as more of an outlet for release than a professional activity. I realize I need to concentrate more and carefully pick my words if I’m going to use blogging to improve my writing.

I’ve never really lost sleep over the quality of my posts though I’ve been embarrassed by the gross grammatical errors of a post I just published. Maybe it’s time to re-examine my writing.

Improving my Writing

So how do I go about improving the quality of my writing? Here are some thoughts off the top of my head on how I might go about improving quality.

  1. Introduce constraints

  2. Constraints can be liberating because they force you to think. How do you “think outside the box” unless you have a box to begin with? There are all kinds of ways you can introduce constraints while making the activity more fun in a challenging way. Constraints can take a variety of forms:

    • Write a coherent piece within a limited time span and adhere to it.

    • Set moderately sized word limit and craft a piece that fits that exact number of words.

    • Turn off all distractions and even disconnect the net, making it a rule not to do anything else until you’re ready to publish

  3. Read more Quality Writing

  4. Reading quality writing will naturally give you an eye for quality in your own. Reading intensely, taking apart a piece and critiquing it constructively are also good activities. The key is to constantly question yourself. Is this good writing? What would I improve? What can I learn?

    You’re not going to get all the quality writing you want from the web. Maybe it’s time to read more books.

  5. Competition

  6. There’s nothing like the competitive urge to put polish on your skills. Where would sports be without competition? Who’s writing do you envy? Finding a rival, virtual or real, will surely give your writing an edge.

I’m not exactly sure as to how I’ll actually improve my writing but concentrating more on the activity will provide a good start. The main point is to find meaningful limits/constraints and pushing against them with all your might.