Don’t Write like a Writer

Apr 9, 2019 | Better Writing

Elmore Leonard was one of the most successful writers of our time. He wrote Westerns and detective fiction. He wrote novels and short stories and screenplays. And he wrote his “10 Rules for Writing.”

Read his tips for common sense advice about how to write stuff that people read. After he lists his 10 rules for writing, he lists one more. Leonard says it’s the most important because it sums up the others.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Note that Elmore says, “sounds like,” and not “seems like” or “reads like.” Leonard wrote for the ear.

Many of the people I work with are writing their first book or doing their first serious writing since they left school. Their mental model of good writing is usually something literary. That’s not a bad model if you want to make your mark as a writer of literary fiction. But if you want to write for businesspeople, you need to write something else.

When you write literary fiction, you want readers to notice your style. If you’re writing for business, it’s the opposite. Your style should be transparent.

Write as If You’re Talking to A Friend

The best model for business writing isn’t writing at all. It’s conversation. It’s conversation with a friend.

Use the words and phrases you’d use when talking to a friend. Use the simple sentence structures you use in conversation.

Test Your Writing by Reading It Aloud

Before you hit publish, read your piece aloud. Your tongue will find things that your eyes miss. Your ear will hear clunky phrases that looked just fine on paper. Some people I’ve worked with record what they want to say before they write it down. Others work out pieces of writing by talking to a spouse or friend. That’s extra work, so why do it?

It’s Your Book, And It Should Sound Like You

Your book should sound like you. It should use your favorite phrases. It should be filled with your ideas and explanations. Your book should share your emotion. It should be the book only you can write.

Bottom Line

Don’t write like a writer! Write like the interesting human being you are. Say it the way you’d say it to a friend.

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