Emily writes in:
I have been a casual reader of your blog for a couple of years now. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, or a big drinker, but what keeps me reading your blog is your writing style. Yours is the best-written blog that I’ve come across. Your posts are always engaging, even if I’m not naturally interested in the subject matter, and your writing is concise and to-the-point.
I’m currently taking courses to become a copyeditor, and I was wondering if you could tell me about your background as a writer, or recommend any resources on writing? Your writing is definitely something to aspire to!
Thanks very much,
Thank you for the kind words*, Emily. My apologies for getting this to you late (Ed. Note – Emily sent this to me in late February), but the past month has been a maelstrom of activity, one that has kept me from various tasks, up-to and including responding to your e-mail.
To your question as to my background, there’s nothing romantic there, as I’ve traveled the same path that many others have trodden upon. I was a voracious reader during my public school years, I went to college in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education where I focused on Communications, and I have always had an near-insatiable curiosity about things to which I have even a minimal interest. I would hazard to say that none of these items are particularly unique for a large portion of people out there. In 1999, I picked up blogging as a means to practice writing, as well as a method to, as the professionals call it, “work some shit out”. Thirteen years, and two blogs later, I’m still here, plugging away.
I’ll get to your second part of the question in a minute, but in the name of developing and/or communicating a site philosophy, something to which I’ve been doing a fair bit of late, I think it’s important to point out two other characteristics that I have that which I think can serve any writer well. 1) I have a fair bit of drive/willpower when it comes to accomplishing goals that I have set; and 2) I have a finely honed sense of pragmaticism that prevents me from setting unobtainable goals. You’ll also note that I’ve mentioned “goals” twice in those two points. That’s not a coincidence, as I am a huge believer in goal-setting, for only then do you know which direction you want to go**.
As far as resources to recommend? The best resource recommendation I can make manifests itself in two ways – Libraries and book stores. Period. End of sentence. There is no one book which points you down a path of prosperity and bliss. Read anything and everything you can get your hand on and consume that which you find valuable, and dismiss the rubbish. Question everything. Keep skepticism at your side like a guard dog. And read, read, read.
After about your hundredth book, you’ll find you’ll have, not just an opinion on the subject at hand, but on how that subject was communicated to you. Was the book entertaining? Did the writer take thirty pages to make a point that could have been made in one? Why did the binding fall apart in your hand and how did that affect your opinion of the book?
While doing all of this reading and questioning, you have a second task. Write, write, write. Every day, no questions asked. It can be as small as a paragraph, or as long as 10,000 words. But write.
Then, all of the answers you’ve come to from the questions you asked while reading will seep their way into your writing. You will create a rule structure for yourself that will shape what is loosely termed “your voice”. As you read over what you’ve written, refer to my point above – question it. You are not so special that you get off of the hook, and you have to hold yourself to the same level of scrutiny that you hold to other authors.
So, for my recommendations, I have no specific book or resource to point you to. But I do have a path that has worked for me.
- Go to your library and/or your favorite book store.
- Read everything that interests you, even if it only interests you a little bit.
- Question everything about what you’ve read.
- Write everyday.
- Question everything that you’ve just written.
I recognize that this likely doesn’t answer your specific question, but it’s the only answer I have that allows me to sleep at night. If I point you towards one resource, it demonstrates a preference, and preferences are as temporary as the wind. Those five points above? Those are the best recommendations I can give.
*Note 1: I could be all humble and (correctly) note that my writing has many flaws to it. So many, in fact, that it makes me question my talents on an everyday basis. However, I’ve just had a shitty month, so I’m going to let Emily slide on this one, and accept her compliment graciously.
**Note 2: Not that I have anything against those without goals. Being directionless has its benefits as well. As with nearly everything, having goals and intentionally seeing them through is little more than a question of choice. As the great philosopher Geddy Lee once belted, if you choose not to decide, you’ve still have made a choice.