from one writer to another, a humble plea: do better!

Even Capt. Picard can't bear to read lousy writing.

Even Capt. Picard can’t bear to read lousy writing.

My head just hit the desk. I was reading an article about a basketball game, trying to determine if my team won or lost. I’m pretty sure they won, although the written recap of the game never included a final score or even said, “Team A beat Team B.” I’m not even joking.

The writer of the article fell victim to a common, rookie mistake among writers: trying to get too cute and too clever and forgot about Journalism 101.

I don’t have a problem with writers who bend the rules a bit to spruce up a story. I know I’ve done it numerous times over my career with successful results. Whether it’s a news release, newsletter article or website copy, it’s acceptable to take a little license under one condition: you’ve already established you’re a good writer.

The problem, however, is when the writer tries too hard to be clever and creative at the expense of the reader. Important details are omitted. The story lacks flow. And worst of all, there is no focal point to the story. How did this happen? Simple. Lack of framework.

No matter what you’re writing, it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It has to have a point. It has to have clarity. It has to have consistency. And though it should be a given, yes, it has to be grammatically correct and devoid of misspellings. If you aspire to be a professional writer, ingrain these practices into you’re writing.

Oh, sure. It’s easy to succumb to the urges of your creative passions and fixate on drafting a lead paragraph so eloquent and so melodic, with the hopes your audience weeps with joy.

Don’t.

Such efforts typically backfire and leave the audience lost, bored and frustrated in a muddled pile of ambiguous, rambling, disconnected thoughts and sentences. Remember, you’re writing for an audience, not your diary.

Solid writing requires discipline. Stick to the topic. Stick to the point. Follow a framework. For example, if you’re writing a recap of a basketball game, the lead should include the teams, the final score, the location and an important detail from the game (leading scorer, winning shot, etc.). In the absence of a creative lead, sticking to the facts will never lose your audience.

From that lead paragraph—or ‘lede’, if you’re a snobby, condescending, self-absorbed, J-school dullard— tell the story of the game, provide quotes, then close the story with a look ahead to the next game (or some such thing).

End of story.

No, it isn’t sexy, but it is effective and satisfies the reader’s needs until you learn to crawl before you learn to walk.

You may find this style of writing—sticking to a framework—constricting. It isn’t. Over time, when that framework becomes second nature, it allows you stretch and learn to punctuate your writing with style and flair.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 15 years and I’m still learning to be a better writer. The one guideline along this entire journey: being disciplined about the framework. Make it you’re guideline, too.

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1 Comment

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One response to “from one writer to another, a humble plea: do better!

  1. Pingback: for the love of good writing. | macdonald. writer.

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