On Becoming A Better Writer

By Guest Author, David Bennett who blogs at Photograph Works.

When TT said she’d like me to write a guest post, I racked my brains for what I could write about. She writes about blogging tips and she’s good at it.

typewriterI could I suppose write about images and photography, because that is what I write about mostly.

But it wouldn’t come. I didn’t know what to write.

Which is comical because I have been reading about how to write. I’ve been reading about how to write sales copy.

I need to learn it, so I’ve been reading what professional copy writers can teach me.

The people I’ve been reading are direct response copy writers. Direct response is different from general advertising.

Take an advertisement on TV about the benefits of taking the train rather than going by car.

The train company doesn’t expect you to rush out there and then and buy a ticket.

No, the message smolders in your mind and then, springs from your sub-conscious the next time you are planning a journey.

Direct response, on the other hand, wants you to do something there and then. Without getting bogged down in examples, it might be something like sending off a reply coupon to get a free gift.

Well sales letters are fascinating if you need to write them – but less interesting if you don’t.

But reading what direct sales copy writers have to say about how they hone their craft is something else.

Do you have a picture in your mind of what these direct response copy writers are like?

Do you picture a second-hand car salesman stereotype? There was something of that in my imaginings.

Some might be, but some good ones are well read and thoughtful.

booksNow to the point of this.

To get good at their craft they read.

What do they read?

They read literature, and plays, and poetry. They read the Greats – from Homer to Shakespeare to Hemingway, to anything between and beyond.

They read with a craftsman’s eye. They watch how an argument develops; how a sentence answers an unasked question, and so on.

One suggestion from a copy writer was to read ‘Writers At Work‘. It’s a long-running series of books of interviews of famous writers.

I picked up a second-hand copy of Volume Two, published in 1963.

The idea is to get closer to how writers work. It closes the mental gap between you and great writers. It narrows the gap between what one thinks of one’s own capabilities and the impossible heights of the famous writers.

In other words, it demystifies the process. We need it because as we all know, self doubt saps a lot of energy that can be better spent on actually doing the job in hand.

Thus far I have read the Huxley interviews with Huxley, and with Hemingway, and I am now reading the interview with T.S. Elliot.

booksBy chance I had just finished re-reading Aldous Huxley’s novel, Island and I was in a rare mood. Huxley’s book is a novel about being in the present moment and treating everything with compassion. And it is about how that comes up against the hard edge of the nasty things that people do on this planet.

Serendipitously, the interview with Huxley takes place when he was at the early stage of writing Island.

Sadly, I have failed to read the interviews like a trainee copy writer. I have failed to analyse the style. Oh, woe is me.

I am, however, enjoying reading the interviews a lot.

Visit David’s Photograph Works blog to find photography tips.

Related posts:
Better Blogging: Learn from the Experts
Writers Resources for Bloggers
5 free Grammar Checkers for Bloggers and Writers
Another Update

14 thoughts on “On Becoming A Better Writer

  1. David … I like the image you created about writing: ‘the message smolders in your mind.” I’d like my writing to be the kind that you think about rather than you take it in and the message evaporates into thin air. I plan to follow up your suggestion to check out “Writers At Work” Anything that demystifies the process will be a blessing. I’m still trying to figure it out. Great post!

  2. Very enjoyable post, thank you, David. I especially liked your point about demystifying the process. True for writing, painting, illustration, whatever. Gaining insight into how it’s done can suddenly awaken possibility; as in: hey, maybe I could do that! As re reading interviews with creative people: one of life’s great pleasures. Cheers, thanks again!

    1. Thanks, Mark, It just occurred to me that his extends to people as well. Have you heard of SERVAS? It’s an organisation for putting people from different countries in touch with one another when they travel abroad. It was started after WW II with the idea that the more people from different cultures knew each other, the less likely another war would be.

  3. Hi David,
    I appreciated your writing.The blogging became another leap for me to submit my writings. Yours inspired and resonated with what my writer’s voice wants to create into becoming a better creative writer. I believe I’ve read one of the Writers at Work. Thanks

  4. Hi David,
    I really appreciated your guest post and it was my pleasure to share it here with others. I’ve been re-reading the classics when I have free time and finding I learn so much from doing that.

    1. Hi TT,
      Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write here. The Edinburgh International Book Festival was on here this month so that has been good too for getting in touch with the writers’ world :-)

  5. The phrase I remember most from my college training is “show, don’t tell” the reader what you want to say. I think it stuck because it’s applicable to all writing genres, and it’s usually why we get lost in the books we had originally set out to analyze. And that is what will imprint in your memory rather than an analysis of a famous writer’s particular style or patterns or work ethic. I’ve found it much harder in the technical world, but I still have to visualize my reader’s interpretation.

  6. The very best way to learn to write is still to read, read, read really good writing…not even necessarily the classics, but even serious periodicals that treat issues of our time in beautiful, finely crafted sentences…

    1. I went off and read some of your poems, Cynthia – and am now following your blog. By the way, the link from your name here doesn’t go to your blog – so I googled and found your site. It might be that your gravatar link needs updating?

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