Good Writing Is Like Pornography

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Want to write a great book? I mean a really great book? Learning how to write a book, and more specifically how to write well, is not nearly as difficult as you might think. There are a few things that can make it happen a lot sooner than you think, and when you know these secrets, your writing will become more and more outstanding.
First, you must realize good writing can be as varied as the number of people who are reading it. I’m reminded of what Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1964 while trying to define pornography, or more specifically obscenity. And allow me to paraphrase just a bit, “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”
So it is with learning how to write a book, and producing good writing. Difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. Many people ask me to take a look at their writing and pass judgment on it. When it’s not good I’m not always sure why, but that doesn’t make it any better.
So let’s make your writing better immediately, shall we? Start reading good books. It’s that simple, at lest initially. Your writing will reflect the style and quality of the books you’ve most recently read. This usually strikes fear and panic into the hearts of most authors.
“I don’t want to sound the same as those other authors. I want to have my own style!” Don’t worry about either challenge. I promise you, no one will confuse you with Mark Twain if you read a half dozen of his books one right after the other. Nor will you sound like Danielle Steele, or Stephen King, or Grisham, or anyone else.
As for your style, that will always be unique to you. It will also evolve and change as time goes by. Ultimately, your style will be an accumulation and a reduction of all the styles you’ve been exposed to. Add to that an element of your own personality distinctly yours and no one is ever going to accuse you of writing exactly like someone else.
Don’t speed read the books. Read them for pleasure. Notice how the author gets from one point to another. You might also remember that the trip was made more pleasurable because of an editor’s help. The more you read, the more you’ll be able to recognize good writing.
There simply is no better technique for improving your writing than reading the work of good writers and then trying to duplicate their efforts on your own page in your own words. But there are a couple tools that will speed things along. First, every day pick a random page from a good book and handwrite that page, word for word. As sophomoric as this may sound, it will give you ‘hands on’ feeling for writing well. You’ll begin to feel how good sentences are structured, and how a thought is correctly expressed and presented to the reader.
Finally, and I get no commissions from this, get yourself a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It has been a classic tool for improving writers for decades and everything that’s in this very short book is as valid today as it was when it was published so long ago.
As soon as people want to talk to me about how to write a book, my first question is, do you want to make a lot of money (a lot of people don’t, by the way). If they do, I suggest they forget about writing a book, and start thinking about writing a manual instead.
Now, to be honest with you, your manual will never grace the shelves of bookstores (unless you want to change the manual back into a book, but that’s another story). Your manual will be offered to people at your speaking engagements, on your website, in your direct-mail offers and via other marketing efforts. But the price! If you do it right, your book will be bringing you in profits of $300 for each and every copy sold.
If your traditional book was sold for $29.95 you’d have to sell 100 copies to get the same sort of profit for yourself.
So when you think about how to write a book, give writing a manual a thought as well if you think your non-fiction material will lend itself to that direction.

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