During each issue’s editorial process, Mike, Jim, Megan, and I go round and round discussing better ways to articulate the ideas in our and our authors’ heads. We love word craft and always feel a sense of accomplishment when we polish each piece to clearly reflect the author’s voice and vision.
Our authors come from many backgrounds and experiences. Many have been professional writers for years while others are just emerging onto the woodworking writer scene. Many of our newer authors develop their skills through blogging (as I did). There are a ton of great woodworking blogs out there (many of which you can find linked on our sidebar) but not everyone is as comfortable putting words onto paper or screen.
The same is true of photography. Most anyone can point a camera at a thing but it is only through deliberate informed practice that one grows as an artist.
As an effort to encourage woodworkers to cultivate their wordsmithing and photographic skills, we plan to post some of the advice that has been most helpful to us over the years. First, we’ll tackle writing. Before wading through the ocean of how-to books, do yourself a favor and pick up copies of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. These two books are staples and have been instrumental to my growth as a writer over the years. I’ve still got a long way to go but each time I reread these two books, I absorb new understanding of the craft.
These two books brim with sage advice but here are the five tips that helped me the most on my journey:
- Know the Audience. Avoid unnecessary jargon or at least define it when used. As you write, keep in mind your target reader. For M&T, we intentionally write to both professionals in the field and the average Joe. We want people at all levels to be able to engage with the content. Think of your reader as an “intelligent non-specialist”.
- Write like you Speak. Don’t worry about trying to impress anyone with your command of the thesaurus because most readers prefer writing that sounds natural. If you do use five-dollar words in your everyday speech then, by all means, go for it. If your writing is not you, it will sound forced.
- Stay on Track. Always keep in mind the over-arching narrative (i.e. main point) of your article. Don’t diverge too far off topic. If you’re unsure if you’ve strayed, ask yourself, “How does this section serve to illustrate the main point?” Try creating an outline before you begin composing. This will give you a road map for telling your story.
- Read it Aloud. Reading aloud is the easiest way to determine if a sentence or paragraph has engaging flow and cadence. If it doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t read right either. Varying the length of your sentences gives the text movement.
- Have Others Critique it. Writing is communication. So, although it can be hard, it’s important to see what others think. No matter how much a writer may enjoy their own work, if the reader doesn’t understand what is meant, the writing must be clarified. We recommend that you have others read your work – but don’t prep them with explanations. Let them read it as the intended audience will read it: fresh off the street. Trust your editors – we believe writing is, in the end, a group effort.
More to come. Questions about writing? Feel free to comment below.