For years, I’ve posted a quote on my wall that was printed in a publication by the National Writers Union. It’s from Red Smith, a famous American sportswriter, and it goes like this: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down and open a vein.”
News flash: Many people who are not writers actually believe writing is easy.
When I worked as a technical writer at a semiconductor company, an engineer once claimed he could write a manual for “his” product much better and faster than our department could. My boss told him to “have at it.” (Great boss, by the way.) He returned in two weeks, completely defeated, and handed the project back over. It was well behind schedule by then and we had to make up the time. But the smug satisfaction was totally worth it.
Over the years, I’ve gotten tired of people like this engineer who think writing is easy. Writing is damn hard. If you don’t know that, maybe you just haven’t been exposed to good writing. But if you know what good writing is, and you don’t have the skill or the patience to do it, then pay—or beg—a good writer to do it for you.
Now we have to ask ourselves: Is the Web killing good writing?
Earlier this year, I read a great blog by Dan Hutson with that title. He says that because it’s so easy now to publish blogs and articles, too many people are churning out unfinished, unpolished essays too quickly and too often. I recently wrote a blog about my process for composing blogs, which made me realize how many drafts I typically write. A lot. Maybe I’m too careful. I’m definitely slow. But I make a living from writing and I love the craft despite how draining the creative process can be. So Dan’s opinions resonated with me.
I wish more bloggers were as careful. I didn’t say perfect, I said careful. I follow many bloggers who don’t seem to proofread. A few actually seem to lack writing skills. But here’s the conundrum: even sloppy writers can have great ideas.
Sometimes even in the midst of a sea of typos, I can still access the original thinking and the passion for a topic that compels me to finish reading a poorly written blog.
I stick with those folks because they have something to say. But out of love for my own profession, I’m also going to look for more really good writers like Dan, and treat myself to a dose of the real craft. It is out there on the web, and it’s definitely worth hunting for.
If you like good writing and need great marketing advice, subscribe to Dan’s blog, Poke the Beehive.
Just for fun, here are some writing guidelines from the great William Safire:
Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”
Look for more good quotes on writing on the right column of my blog. I update them about once a week. And if you find a good one, please share.