Writing to Save Your Life

April 23rd, 2007   •   14 comments   

Image courtesy of DiscoverySchool.com

I came across this post by Kian Ann recently on the need to write well on the Internet. While crafting some suggestions to him on the comments section, I decided that I might as well expand this into a blog post.

How does one write well? Is there a secret formula that you can apply in order to be a wicked wordsmith?

There are a few golden rules which I apply myself. However, they are definitely not prescriptive or exhaustive.

The first is to read and read often. Good writers tend to read widely both in their subject areas as well as other non-related stuff.

Next you should understand your audiences. Who are you writing for? Writing for Ah Sohs and Ah Peks is quite different from writing for tech geeks.

One should also strive to inform rather than impress. Throw out those bombastic high-sounding words which don’t ring a bell with the majority of your readers. Of course its a different thing altogether if you are writing for an audience of university professors.

Jot down notes (or at least a mental note) whenever something inspirational hits you. This can be when you are outdoors hiking along a nature trail, having dinner at a restaurant or even shopping.

Use a variety of styles and literary techniques to add spice and colour to your writing. A good way to do this is through employing analogies and metaphors. Personal stories and anecdotes help to further reinforce your points.

A good piece of writing has a certain rhythm and tempo. It has energy and perhaps even electricity. Like an orchestral performance, there will be peaks and troughs. See if you can write with a certain flow.

Write with passion, emotion and conviction. Penning persuasive prose helps you to better engage and connect with your readers.

Develop your own flair and style. This is what bloggers call their natural voice. Your paragraphs and sentences will read more naturally and less stilted when you write the way you speak.

Read and edit your writing at least once or twice – if time permits. Even those with superior penmanship revise their writing to be more smooth and polished.

Finally, as most writers will tell you, good writing only comes after lots of blood, sweat and tears. Perspiration, perseverance and persistence helps to make one a better writer.

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  1. Lam Chun See
    posted on Apr 23, 2007 at 2:21 PM

    Sometimes, I consciously vary the length of my sentences. Many Sporeans like to use very long sentences.

  2. posted on Apr 23, 2007 at 9:15 AM

    Great Tips, Walter.

    I could really use many of these myself. I need to start drawing inspiration for metaphors and analogies using everyday experiences. Telling stores always keep readers engaged.

  3. posted on Apr 23, 2007 at 12:46 PM

    wah.. i got soo much more to learn. And thats y i like to read ur blog, cool insider. =)

  4. posted on Apr 23, 2007 at 1:55 PM

    kian ann, glad that you found some of the tips useful.

    Personally, I found that my writing used to be better in the past when I subscribed to and regularly read publications like Business Week and Far Eastern Economic Review. Other quality press publications you may wish to consider include The Economist, Time, Newsweek and Asian Wall Street Journal.

    Of course, just reading isn’t enough if you don’t write often enough, and perhaps this is why I keep my blog – to constantly sharpen my literary saw!

  5. posted on Apr 23, 2007 at 1:56 PM

    natasshea, thanks for dropping by and do come back often! Hope you found the tips useful…

  6. posted on Apr 23, 2007 at 1:57 PM

    zeezee, we are all learning everyday of our lives! I bet I have a lot to learn from you about working and living overseas too.

  7. posted on Apr 23, 2007 at 4:14 PM

    This post reminds me that I have to find more time to read.

  8. posted on Apr 24, 2007 at 3:28 AM

    excellent post bro, I always have a little problem in writing submissions..dunno why..but good points to go through the next time I write something again..from blogs to submissions…:)

  9. posted on Apr 24, 2007 at 5:41 AM

    great piece…I especially love the suggestion to “write the way you speak” =)

    ….i think my speech getting pretty vulgar these days though. lol

  10. posted on Apr 24, 2007 at 1:46 PM

    chun see, that’s a good way to make your writing more varied and interesting. Having too many long and languorous sentences kills readability, especially if they are dry like cardboard. Too many short sentences? Your prose will read like a machine gun firing. Having said that, I generally prefer to keep my sentences to 25 words or less where possible.

  11. posted on Apr 24, 2007 at 1:47 PM

    oceanskies, we all need to read more!!

  12. posted on Apr 24, 2007 at 1:53 PM


    Believe it or not, I actually enjoy drafting submissions and funding papers. While some view it as a necessary evil, I relish the opportunity to put my ideas across and to pitch for support and buy in. Don’t worry too much about writing proficiently at this early stage of your career. It takes a lot of practice to master the art and science of wordsmithing.

  13. posted on Apr 24, 2007 at 1:54 PM

    ridz, Ha ha… Now I hope that your errr… colourful language isn’t the lingua franca of conversations with your clients!

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