- June 4, 2015
Until recently, I haven’t had much experience writing. In my distant past there were English classes and essays to keep me in practice, but professionally I knew something was lacking. I was supposed to write more often. I was told it would help me establish perspective as a designer, and help organize my thoughts (which to me sounded like a chicken-or-egg situation). I was reluctant because the idea of publishing a full-length piece in my own words seemed impossible. Determined, I approached writing the same way I approach my graphic design, and slowly it has come more naturally. As I began writing more frequently in blogs, emails, and even annotations, I’ve discovered a few tips that have helped me write better.
Start with a sketch
The end result should be neat and tidy, but writing isn’t like that through the whole process. It’s okay for a first draft to be over-complicated, emotional, and disorganized. The whole reason to write is to express the unique perspective we all have. I have a top secret, zillion-page Google Doc where all my one-sentence to one-paragraph garbled ideas are kept. It’s a mess. I’m lucky to have editors to help make sense of all that.
Editors are an invaluable piece of the process and they can help take disorganized ideas and form a coherent piece. Editing helps focus the writing on big ideas and make sure those ideas are based on facts. Nothing comes out perfectly the first time, and I’ve wasted a lot of time trying. Even a second, third, or fourth draft can use edits.
Just like a sketch, sentences are not precious. It’s a lot easier to refine ideas on a computer, since it is easier to abandon full sentences or paragraphs if they aren’t working. On first drafts, I often write whole new sentences in the middle of an existing sentence that doesn’t work. Don’t try to force something to fit.
Write how you speak
Simplicity is liberating. The ideas in my head would originate in relatively basic phrases when put to paper. I was worried this would make my writing sound too simple. To help get past this “write how you speak” turned out to be very good advice. If certain language isn’t part of your normal way of speaking, then avoid it in writing. Comfort and confidence with the subject matter will come across to the reader.
Learn the rules
There are a ton of rules to help make writing clear. One that helped me was adding a clear subject to each of my sentences. Adding this extra (what at first seemed superfluous) wording exponentially helped clarify my sentences. The root of this problem stems from relying on confusing pronouns. A sentence whose subject is an “it,” “that,” or a “they” is not as obvious as it could be. Clarity is especially important for technical writing. There can be multiple its in a technical explanation, and it is important to be specific. A paragraph can easily become a tangle of nonsense if there aren’t enough subject clues.
There are plenty of places to practice. A personal blog, a professional blog, emails, and any other written conversations will do. Writing becomes increasingly easier with practice. To follow through with writing goals, set a strict deadline for yourself, and have people inside and outside your field proofread your work. Feedback from different perspectives strengthens ideas. I find that asking questions about why specific revisions are suggested to be most valuable, because it gives me things to consider in my future writing.
Getting back into the practice of writing more often has helped me easily track and identify functionality determinations because my annotations are much more clear. I am able to better assert my design decisions because my thoughts are more organized. Writing builds communication skills and helps strengthen your perspective as a professional. Don’t be afraid to get started!