Originally published on syljoe.medium.com
Writing is a difficult and underappreciated art. Nonetheless, we writers seek to perfect a craft where our audience’s taste is forever changing and the rules of engagement seem ever against us.
In a bid to stay relevant and improve our writing we give ourselves to the cliché that the best writers read, and write — a lot. And because we want our difficult, underappreciated art to be meaningful and, let’s be honest here, profitable, we find ourselves scarfing down anything with words.
Okay, maybe we’re selective. We choose works by authors who have “made it” and throw in one or two classics for good measure. We brush up on our grammar from time to time too. Most importantly, we practice our craft. We write till our thumbs are numb. We write, even when we have nothing to say.
I won’t bore you with the cliché (yet, solid) advice you’ve heard and practiced a thousand times before. When I speak of improving your writing I’m not solely talking about grammar and sentence structure. I’m talking about the value of the content you write and its ability to be thought-provoking and riveting.
Being a writer is multi-faceted. A writer’s world includes marketing, PR, editing and curation. Often times we don’t get to sit down and do the one thing that really gets our pulse going — writing. And because of this, the subject quality and content quality of our pieces waver.
Good news though, I’ve come bearing gifts! I can’t promise this will turn you into a best-selling author. However, these tips will help to expand the resources you as a writer already use to improve your literary prowess, curate more relatable content and become more fearless with the gifts you already so valiantly wield.
#1 - Watch Your Favorite Series With The Captions On
I’m currently watching “Dexter” while simultaneously re-watching Shonda Rhymes’ “Scandal”. Scandal in particular isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, if it’s one thing it can be commended for is its dialogue.
I’m naturally drawn to series with poetic dialogue, in Dexter’s case, monologues. My writer’s block quakes when Dexter ponders, “My devil danced with his demon and the fiddler’s tune is far from over,” or, when Eli Pope threatens, “Olivia, you’re getting on that plane come hell or high water, and to be clear, I am the hell and the high water.”
I always wondered if it was possible to transpose Scandal’s emotion and wit and Dexter’s satire and poetry to articles, and guess what, it absolutely is! While Scandal’s dialogues are steeped in clichés, it’s the way the show’s writers manipulate them that leaves my mouth ajar. They take them, flip them on their heads, transport them to a different time and place and birth them with new meaning. Dexter employs dark humor and irony while using sentence structure that denotes a flat and even tone. Genius. I’m often left wondering, “Can we, can we do that? Can we say that?” We are writers, and we absolutely can!
This is the type of writing, albeit for television, that inspires me to challenge my own style. Now it’s your turn. Leverage the writing tactics in your favorite show’s dialogues to create witty or deep, emotional or satirical pieces.
#2 - Listen To TEDx Talks
There’s a reason TED and TEDx Talks YouTube channels have 15.6 and 22.2 million subscribers respectively (at the time of writing). More importantly their YouTube videos attract hundreds of thousands of views from persons from various walks of life. According to TED’s website they are “a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less)”.
Watching these videos can give writers insight on trending topics that matter — and these topics tend to be extremely specific. There are hundreds of subjects covered in TED’s playlist so you’re bound to find your niche in their sea of content. When you find something that draws you in, use the video or videos as a template. Of course, I don’t admonish you to write pieces simply because the topic is popular and I strongly discourage plagiarism. Instead, watch videos that intersect with what matters to you to. Get an idea of the rhythm and voice that appeals to your audience.
You, my dear friend, are watching these videos not just for subject suggestions but also to learn how to draw in an audience. Focus on studying vocabulary, learning transitions and understanding punch lines.
#3 - Don’t Be Afraid To Backspace
We’ve all been there. You’ve taken days to carefully structure a piece that would blow any editor out of the water. But as you review your work, you stumble on a sentence you just can’t get past; a sentence, that if you were to delete or reposition it, results in the restructuring of an entire paragraph, doing additional research or rephrasing your opening sentence.
I’ve found that my backspace button holds so much power over me and the ideas treading in my brain. I’ve also found that once I give myself the opportunity to recreate, especially when my gut won’t let me past a risky idea, I end up with something much more fulfilling and worthy of the “Publish” button. Don’t be afraid to start over.
#4 - Active Listening/Reading
You want to really digest the critique of not just your comment section but the comment sections of others. The comment section of your medium articles or blog site are filled with meaningful advice and observations. Wade through it and, without getting defensive, try to interpret what commenters are really saying about your piece.
Understand that comments give you an idea of the content people want to read. Ignore people who comment just for the sake of engagement, you can spot those from miles away. Genuine banter with other readers or even the author themselves allows you into the world of the reader’s mind. What do they value? What is an instant turn-off? What do they not see enough of? Use this data to carefully curate content that is meaningful and engaging.
#5 - Everything Is An Object Lesson…Everything
When you can’t find a topic to write on, review your day. Anything, and I mean EVERYTHING can be used as a lesson. The one thing about being a great writer is that we are also epic over-thinkers. Review your day. What conversation stood out the most to you? What happened that riled you up? What did you wish occurred that didn’t? How would things have gone differently had you started your day another way? What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up?
Understand that even the most negative stories can be tuned to become something positive. This requires a positive mindset and putting your overthinking to good use. Even if you create dozens of drafts in one day, write down every idea that pops into your head and document every interesting encounter. At least one of your drafts is bound to be the start of something brilliant.
I got the idea for this tip while reading a Medium story written by Tim Denning titled “Medium Removed My Story Because of an Unsplash Image”. The piece is exactly what you think it’s about, and I highly recommend you read it. I was so in awe at how something that would typically leave the average writer in shambles was leveraged by the author to create refreshing content and a teachable moment. This solidified that every event in the life of a writer has value.
There you have it! Five unconventional ways to improve the quality of your writing.
Best of luck to you on your writer’s journey, and happy writing.