Tuesday, April 16, 2024

5 steps to writing engaging content

Image: Adapted from the movie Mr. Bean's Holiday.

First, the writer's oath (all my own work).

"I swear by the almighty dictionary, the thesaurus and the style guides that whatever I write shall be original, clear and accurate, and reflect my best efforts to communicate effectively and in a way that informs and entertains my readers."

Now to get down to the brass tacks of writing.

Metaphorically speaking, writing is like building blocks. Just as kids stack or connect the blocks to create something, in writing, I organise my ideas into words to craft a compelling story.

Here's how I make it happen (most of the time).

I start by jotting down my thoughts or make a rough outline of my story, leadership article or blog post.

Once the outline is ready, I write out the first draft incorporating my ideas, adding and subtracting and adding as I do.

Next, I review the draft as critically as I can, rewriting entire sentences and passages if I have to.

I then check the draft (or rather recheck) grammar including tenses and punctuation, complex words, better synonyms, clich├ęs, flow and sentence formation, making it as concise and impactful as possible.

Lastly, I play around with the headline options, which sometimes takes me nearly as long as the first draft.  

Am I satisfied with the outcome? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. Because I know I can create more engaging content with the building blocks of writing. Why settle for a house when I can build a palace?

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

12 famous authors on how to write better

As a journalist many years ago, I was intrigued by the writing process and referred to writing guides such as The Economist Style Guide, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, and The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. These helped me to hone my writing skills as a news reporter and editor.

Now, as a content writer and blogger, I have widened my reading of books on the art of writing. I frequently read, and occasionally collect, books on writing by masters of the craft including Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, Elmore Leonard, Annie Dillard, Stephen King, William Zinsser, Francine Prose, Ray Bradbury and others. All these authors, with their unique writing ideas and styles, influence my own creative writing projects.

Together, the style guides and writing books inspire me to write — and write better; especially when I experience blank-page syndrome. They render the task of writing less frustrating and painful and more satisfying and fulfilling, making storytelling a joyful venture.

Here are twelve quotes from some of the writing books in my collection, their authors imparting wisdom drawn from their individual writing experience.

"Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose."
— William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

"You become a writer by writing. There is no other way. So do it. Do it more. Do it again. Do it better. Fail. Fail better."
— Margaret Atwood, On Writers and Writing

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."
— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."
— Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life

"For the first thing a writer should be is - excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigour, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it would be better for his health."
— Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

"One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it's raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."
— Sol Stein, Stein On Writing

"Writers learn their craft, above all, from the work of other writers. From reading."
— Marie Arana, The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work

"Do you know what a mandible is? Your dentist does. She uses that word every day. So if you are writing a story just for your dentist, use mandible. But if you are writing for everybody else, use the more familiar word, jaw."
— Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing

"Before you begin the writing, be sure you know the purpose or mission or objective of every piece of content that you write. What are you trying to achieve? What information, exactly, are you trying to communicate? And why should your audience care?"
— Ann Handley, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

"Don't let jargon and acronyms bloat your prose - keep it simple and clear."
— Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

"You can't just come out and say what you have to say. That's what people do on airplanes, when a man plops down next to you in the aisle seat of your flight to New York, spills peanuts all over the place (back when the cheapskate airlines at least gave you peanuts), and tells you about what his boss did to him the day before. You know how your eyes glaze over when you hear a story like that? That's because of the way he's telling his story. You need a good way to tell your story."
— Adair Lara, Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Writing Essays and Memoirs for Love and for Money

© www.pocketfulofhappiness.com

Thursday, February 01, 2024

All the news that's (not) fit to read

In 1897, Adolph S. Ochs, the owner of The New York Times, coined the famous slogan — All the News That's Fit to Print — indicating the newspaper's resolve to publish impartial, accurate and relevant news.

That sentiment has long ceased to hold true in the world of news and newspapers.

The climate of news has changed drastically since the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. Much of what I read is not newsworthy, if not unfit to print. Digital has made news easily accessible, but not so discernible. There is more noise and less news.

There are some bright spots, though. Reuters, for instance.

For a clear reporting and writing style, concise headlines, accuracy, reliability, global coverage, hard facts and professional standards, I find the London-based news agency to be a responsible source of information.

Reuters gives me a dispassionate view of the world around us. I read it first thing in the morning — without emotion or prejudice.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Previews: Two debut thrillers and an exciting ebook

The Silent Patient
by Alex Michaelides and Shiver by Allie Reynolds were gifts from my daughter. She'd enjoyed reading both the thrillers and thought my wife and I'd like them too. Her choice of crime fiction comes with high recommendations.

The Silent Patient (Orion, 2019) is described as "A shocking psychological thriller of a woman's act of violence against her husband-and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive."

The blurb on the back of the 339-page book tells us about the story of Alicia Berenson who "lived a seemingly perfect life until one day six years ago (when) she shot her husband in the head five times. Since then she hasn't spoken a single word. It's time to find out why."

"They were all there. So which one of them did it?" says the cover of Shiver (Headline, 2021). The 425-page book tells the story of "A reunion weekend in the French Alps (that turns deadly when five friends discover that someone has deliberately stranded them at their remote mountaintop resort during a snowstorm."

The Silent Patient and Shiver are both debut novels and were to be developed as a movie and a television series, respectively; although, I have no updates about either of the ventures.

Carolyn Arnold's The Little Grave (2021) is the first Detective Amanda Steele book in what appears to be a series of ten books. The 324-page Kindle edition was available for free on Amazon. My thanks to the author.

This is what the book is about:

"It's been five years since Detective Amanda Steele's life was derailed by the tragic death of her young daughter. The small community of Dumfries, Virginia, may have moved on, but Amanda cannot. When the man who killed Lindsey is found murdered, she can't keep away from the case. Fighting her sergeant to be allowed to work such a personal investigation, Amanda is in a race to prove that she can uncover the truth. But the more she digs into the past of the man who destroyed her future, the more shocking discoveries she makes."

At present, I'm reading The Silent Patient in paperback and The Little Grave on my tablet, and both the thrillers have my full attention.