A critical step in learning how to write a book is in writing a book readers enjoy reading. Let’s talk about write-craft … that is, the craft of writing. Writing, like any other occupation or art, is a craft; it is learned. You’re likely to get better at it the more you work at it. The abilities to read, write and string two words together are required skills, but by themselves, they don’t make someone who writes a writer. A suitable definition of a ‘good writer’ is that people enjoy reading the writer’s work (not including the writer’s mother who is probably just be faking it). Unfortunately, since by this definition, you’ll only know if you’re a good writer after the fact, we’re going to need some advice on how to become a good writer.
Writing isn’t different from tennis, oil painting, singing, or operating a front-end loader; the more you study the basics and the more you practice the better you become at the craft. And believe me, skinning an inch of dirt off the surface of a construction site sitting atop a 14-ton steel and hydraulic mastodon involves as much craftsmanship as a painter making tranquil landscapes by properly applying gobs of oils to canvas or a writer crafting a great book.
About the basics – there are basics. These are the rules that tether our ‘art’ to the earth so other mortals can actually understand what we’re trying to communicate with our words. Don’t let your ‘muse’ or your ‘hubris’ (writers often confuse one with the other) get in the way of what you’re actually trying to say.
So, what are the basics of good writing? Here are five simple tips:
- Put the reader first
- Use simple words and short sentences
- Use jargon only when necessary
- Write with verbs and nouns
- Format to improve readability
Writing is an art one must study, and if we’re going to study we might as well be schooled by the best. Over forty years (sheesh! Has it been that long?) of studying the craft of writing, I’ve collected my favorite five writing mentors and their books (click here for the list). We don’t live in a vacuum. Those greater than us in this craft have come before us and those are the ‘professors’ we must sit under – if you’re serious about writing, become a student of great writers; start by adding these books to your library.
In the immortal, but not too foresighted words of William Powell (I’ll let you look him up), “A cook a book does not make.” Study until your eyes are red and all your participles are past, but write. Learning how to write a book people will read comes from practice. Write, write, write, write. Study what you’ve written, rewrite what you’ve written, and then write some more. Practice may not make perfect but it makes you a heck of a lot better than you were when you began. Hemingway, according to not so reliable legend, was said to have addressed a group of writing students. He took the podium, said “WRITE!” and walked off. Good advice.
Remember, the goal is learning how to write a book people will read!