You know what? Good writing is good to read. Period. You know it when you read it. You want to keep reading. That’s the test. Do I want to keep reading?
I’m bored with writing by people who haven’t spent ten minutes imagining the yawn they’re creating from the tedious, stilted prose they pour forth to a computer screen in the name of clarity.
I’d sacrifice a little clarity for the sake of a hearty chuckle. It’s just not right, in the 21st century, to think anyone has time for words strung together that plod along in life-sapping language requiring you to read them because, after all, they’re telling you about a product or service you think you might like. Please! Have a heart. Hold my attention. Don’t make me drink six cups of coffee to stay awake through the explanation.
Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters, including spaces. That’s not much time to hold anyone’s attention. Yet all day long, I’m struck by the power of the updates. People pack an incredible amount of information, insight, humor, commentary, heart, debate and chat into 140 character comments.
Meanwhile, on some websites, you can’t get a single bounce out of any sentence despite having unlimited space to create that energy! Even more criminal: on websites where writing instruction is the priority, visitors are often met with a sterile, impersonal template sharing little more than pedantic explanations about how courses work or what format structure they teach. Really? That’s the best writers can offer?
I wilt like lettuce left on the counter just reading that stuff.
It’s like we haven’t evolved. Somehow the world of writing instruction has not caught up to the world of writing consumption! The Internet is overrun with good writers and great writing. That’s because the competition for an audience is steep. People know what they like to read. They can click out of any page that drowns them in the alphabet. Readers need their linguistic hit!
So here’s my new rule of thumb: can you say it in 140 characters and make someone want to listen? If you can do that in 140, you can do it in 400, or 4,000. It’s just you gotta treat all the characters with that level of care. Even more, be your own audience. Did you laugh at your writing? Were you moved by your words? Did you find a metaphor you hadn’t ever thought of before?
Last thing: if you’re shopping for writing curricula, do the “good writing test.” If you find it hard work to read the materials, if you have to “discipline yourself” to pay attention to explanations of the classes, if you feel like writing will be a chore you must do (like eating your veggies, taking fish oil capsules and scrubbing toilets), then you’re not in the right program.
The goal of any writing instruction is that the end product is a joy to read. That only comes if the purpose of the writing is to hold the attention of the reader. And that only comes when you let go and allow your wacky, quirky, delightful take on life to weave itself into your writing.