What's the secret to good writing?

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Answered by: Marsha, An Expert in the How to Write Well Category
Good writing comes in as many different forms, voices, and styles as we humans can string words together. The secret to good writing is that there's really no secret at all. The secret to good writing is to follow a few elemental rules and hone your craft by writing and writing and more writing:

1. Pick an Interesting Topic—“Interesting to whom?” you ask. Well, to you, of course, and hopefully to your readers. If you know that reality shows are currently a hot topic, but you would rather crawl through broken glass than watch one, then that’s probably not the ideal topic for you. Pick a subject that interests you, even fascinates you. If the topic happens to be a hot one currently, make sure you bring some new slant or new information on it to your reader.

The gold is in that untapped mine—the topic that has not yet been written about to excess, that new idea or device that is beginning to dawn on the public consciousness, but about which it knows little. This is true for fiction as well as non-fiction. Fiction can often deal with the topic of the day in a way that is even more meaningful than non-fiction, by delivering characters and plot that humanize the topic in a way neither journalism nor non-fiction can.

2. Know Your Subject—Whether this knowledge comes from personal experience or from extensive research or both, it doesn't matter. Just be sure you present the topic correctly. Fiction writers tend to think the nature of their work gives them license to have an eagle flit from tree to tree in the forest. Unless you are writing sci-fi, trust me, eagles do not "flit." Their bodies are so heavy (by bird world standards) that getting off the ground consumes an enormous amount of their energy.

3. Concentrate on One Aspect of Your Topic—Pick a subset of that topic or write a concise summary if you feel you must address the totality of the topic. If you choose a subset of the topic, keep your writing on it narrow and interesting. If you reader wants to know how to boil pasta, do not tell him how to make lasagna. TMI - too much information! In today’s specialized world, readers usually want specifics.

The more a person knows about a subject, the more inclined he may be to tell his reader everything about it in an effort to have the reader enjoy the same warm, fuzzy feeling the author gets when he discourses on the topic. Not surprisingly, this approach can have the opposite effect on the reader—eyes glaze over, the yawning begins…you get the picture. So select a "little known fact" about a common topic or, if you feel compelled to cover multiple aspects, think about a concise summary that hits the high points and leaves the details to discourses of a more specific nature.

4. Less Is More—Never say in more words what you can say in fewer. Once you have finished a clean draft of your writing, go back through it sentence by sentence and see how many words you can get rid of. Think of your writing as sculpture, where you cut the raw form, then whittle away at it bit by bit until it forms the flawless line beneath your hand that is your intent.

5. Read Your Work Aloud to Yourself—Read it aloud and notice where you hesitate, stumble, or some word or phrase confuses you. Note these hiccups as your go and revisit them when you finish reading through the piece. Keep reading it aloud, taking notes, and reworking it until the words flow as smoothly as a well-sculpted image, and convey precisely the ideas you intend.

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