How to write good: 5 tips

1. Start with what matters.

What’s the moment or sudden glimpse of something that inspired you? Give it a name, and go from there.

2. Keep it personal.

Don’t write about something — say what it did to you. Reading this blog post, by my friend Richard Bartlett, got me going. Rich says that starting small is the way to exercise the writing muscle for something bigger. But I’ve learned from Rich and others about the importance of going in the opposite direction — from writing something big and sprawling to something that’s small and easily digestible. That’s the massive shift that I’ve experienced.

3. Put the reader first.

Generally our greatest focus is on what we want to say. We think first about content and structure, and on the shape and flow of our writing. We go deeply into our words to try to get our thoughts right.

But we’re in a world that competes furiously for our attention. At the same time we now have ways to touch many lives. So respecting the reader becomes crucial.

This means:

  • viewing your writing through the lens of your reader’s arrival and availability
  • providing a flash of personal insight — a moment of real experience of your own — to give the reader ‘grip’ on what you are saying
  • letting the point of your writing come out of your experience rather than your opinion or your intention

What I’ve learned that the resulting clarity and simplicity isn’t just a matter of style (and is supported by a medium like Medium.com.) It’s a whole new way of being in the world.

4. Find the arc that your story inhabits.

Don’t think of your writing as something that stands alone. See it as part of a larger struggle. Try to find the story arc that yours belongs to. This one is part of a sequence that includes Minimum Viable Post and some others. Discovering that sequence is part of the work.

Story arcs exist in books, specialised magazines, and museums. They’ve typically been the preserve of editors and curators. But now we have the opportunity to build our own arcs: to find and create sequences of insights that build towards greater understanding within specific knowledge domains. Gradually, software is evolving to help us to do this.

5. Use the capacity of the medium.

Writing can now be much more than text. Images are great. But so is well-crafted audio and video. Video-only and audio-only platforms are steadily giving way to hybrid platforms (online newspapers, blogs, podcasts) that embed these media in an artistic or authorial context. I love first-person audio stories. This blog post suggests how audio and text can be woven together to make something that is more compelling than either. It’s another part of this story arc: How we make our stories talk to each other.