The 5 Rules of Writing

As someone who writes for a living, as well as spends a good portion of each day teaching writing to others, it always amuses me when people say that paying someone to write for them is a waste of time. That they want their writing, whether it be a resume, letter or white paper, to sound like them. So having someone else write it is a waste of time. I understand the impulse, but many people do not always understand what goes in to a piece of writing and therefore are making a judgement on something they have not been completely informed on.

This short post aims to remedy that.

Rule One:
Writing takes a lot of time, and that is because a lot of the work of writing isn’t actually writing. It’s thinking, daydreaming, planning, daydreaming some more, then outlining, then actually starting to draft. Believe me, I wish the process could be simplified and that we could simply sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let the words fly. Unfortunately, for most of us it simply doesn’t work that way.

Rule Two:
Writing, should be renamed editing, since this is most of what professional writing entails. After that elongated foreplay with the ideas and the eventual writing of the first draft, editing is the real heart of the work of the writer. Editing and rewriting. Again and again and again. There is much more rewriting involved in writing than most non-writers could possibly imagine. You change the intro, you rewrite the transitions, you play around with voice or tense. The permutations available are endless, and sometimes it feels like you need to see them all before you are happy choosing one.

Rule Three:
Grammar is hard. Unless you really payed attention in high school english class, you can assume you have forgotten half of what you learned and modern uses of text are not helping out. (Can you you find the five errors in the previous sentence? If you can, nice work!) English has a reputation as one of the hardest languages to learn for good reason. There are rules upon and rules and then of course exceptions to most of them. And I know from experience, if you make a mistake, someone will point it out to you, and probably at the most inopportune time.

Rule Four:
Voice is not something you can just turn on. It is something that develops only after a lot of practice. If you don’t write everyday, trying to develop a distinctive voice in your writing is nearly impossible. Voice comes from time spent doing the work and nothing else. One popular writing exercise is to copy an author’s work whose voice you like. And by copy I mean literally- sit down at a computer and an open book next to you and rewrite the prose from the page. By doing this you will eventually see patterns and styles that you only noticed subconsciously while reading. Developing voice in your writing is really more about time than talent.

Rule Five:
Unless you are a bit of a sadist, writing is often boring, tedious work. The feeling of accomplishments and pride that come from looking at a well-wrought piece of writing only comes after hours and often days of tedious grunt work.

So, can you write your own resume, letter or white paper? Of course you can. The question is, do you want to? Id the time and effort required to do it well a good use of your own time? That is a question only you can answer.