A blog post by Robert Heaton about writing better sentences appeared in my RSS feed reader and got me thinking about my own writing style and how it has evolved over the years.
One of the aspects of my writing style that I have felt most self-conscious about over the years is that I often feel like my writing lacks emotion. I write to like concisely and sometimes I feel that comes across as “cold” and/or “analytical”. It is not something I am as self conscious about these days as years of doing text based customer service has improved my ability to convey emotion and feeling in my writing.
Though as I say that I think it is not just my ability to convey emotion in writing that has improved but knowing when and how to do so. Sometimes it is best to write something without any emotion for reason of reducing extraneous fluff and other times it is important to use my written words to empathize with a person.
Another aspect of my writing that has changed over the years is that it has gotten more confident in its expression. In the sense that I write what I mean to say more often than not. This is partially a result of getting older and having a better understanding of my own feelings, thoughts and opinions. That said Robert’s point about using assertive words and not hedging are important to keep at the back of my head while writing.
Use assertive words that unapologetically say what you mean. Don’t hedge unless you truly are uncertain, because hedging consumes time and words that dilute your point. Hedging can become a default mode of writing, not because you have any important doubts, but because you don’t want to deal with the hassle of someone disagreeing with you even when you think you’re right.
The part about hedging being a default mode of writing spoke to me as it is a problem I think about when writing anything that could be considered even remotely contentious. My non-confrontational nature can manifest itself in my writing in the form of hedging as a method of conflict avoidance. I am slowly getting better about it however. One example of this improvement is one of my blog posts from this year titled Irreconcilable Differences, which is in my not so humble opinion is the best writing I have published this year.
The reason that post is good is that it is in essence me channeling my anger and frustration in a barely restrained way. There is plenty of emotion in that post but it all comes through in a rather restrained way. I could have been a lot more aggressive in that post but that would have resulted in the post being a rambling mess and that I like even less than my writing being “cold” or “analytical”.
However that particular post is the exception rather the norm. In the process of writing this very post I went through sentences looking for what Robert called “weak words and mealy-mouthed phrasing” and found a few that I edited to be more assertive.
That brings to me to another aspect of writing that I need to improve on which is: editing. Often when I write blog posts for this blog I only edit for basic grammar and sentence structure which is not enough to catch the issues that Robert mentions. The biggest reason I don’t do perform deeper editing on posts here are that most of the time I am writing only for myself. However recently I have started writing more educational posts meant for a wider audience and that is a kind of writing where it would behoove me to be a little more diligent in my editing.
So to recap, the things about my writing I need to improve are:
- Expressing emotion at the right time and place
- Being more assertive in my writing
- Edit more and edit in depth
Good personal goals to keep in mind for my writing going forward.