View Full Version : How to improve ones writing ability??
02-17-2005, 12:44 PM
I was reading a section on "Joel on software" and his Advice for Computer Science Students (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/CollegeAdvice.html) and it got me thinking, particularly about 1. Learn to write.
Now, during school I was never much a fan of english class, I found it really boring and just not really worthwhile because I couldn't see why we needed to know about superlatives, aliteration and poetry. If I had read this article back in high school I might have paid more attention. But it did get me thinking, many of the best in shareware (and no-doubt in many fields) are well known because they wrote their ideas down, Steve Pavlina, Joel on Software and John Carmack all write articles in some form or another. Even Issac Newton and Einstien had to present their theories in ways that others could accept (be they acadima or the general public it doesn't really matter, the fact is they still had to 'sell' their ideas.)
I'm just about to launch my first shareware title, and its a little scary and a little bit exciting at the same time. I've poured over what specific words to use on my webpage and in my demo. But writing a whole press release to send out to magazine editors is, I think, a little out of my league at the moment.
Many people here suggest in order to drive traffic to your site one should try including good content such as articles and blogging. I'm going to do this in order to improve my writing skills and style. But other than simply getting out there and start writing, are there any books that anyone would recommend on how to write effectively? Doing a quick search on amazon brings up a lot of books on the subject, none of which I can really gage their effectiveness.
Other than that I am currently attending university (math major hopefully) but I'm doing a Bachelor of Arts, so my time is split into doing essays and writing asignments - of course, this doesn't mean that they teach effective writing, it's just good practice.
What do others on this board think about the importance of their writing skills, especially when concerning business, and particularly in running an online shareware one.
02-17-2005, 01:44 PM
Judging by your post, your writing is better than average already. Browse these forums and note the mistakes. The first step to improvement is taking note of your skills and the skills of others.
You blog is a good idea. As a reviewer on Bytten, my English has improved a lot since I was effectively forced into writing regularly. Volunteer for something similar, or submit articles to online journals (not necessarily about games, any hobby or interest) and you will improve.
Poetry is actually good practise. Force yourself to write a poem a day for 2 weeks! I guarantee the fourteenth will be better than the first.
02-17-2005, 01:57 PM
My best experience with improving my writing was when I took a Technical Writing class in college. It helped me in learning to write documents, resumes, books,etc. You can probably find a class like this at your local university.
02-17-2005, 02:34 PM
Write, write, write. You have to get all the bad writing out of your system first, before you can do any good writing. :)
Here are some recommendations from my ever-expanding list of books to purchase. Don't know if any of these are good -- although many consider Strunk and White to be the bible -- because I haven't bought them yet. :)
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English
- Better Sentence Writing in 30 minutes a day by Dianna Campbell
- Action Grammar by Joanne Feierman
- Sin and Syntax
- The Transitive Vampire
- Rules for Writers, A Brief Handbook by Diana Hacker
- The Elements of Grammar
- Eats, Shoots and Leaves
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Words Into Type
Here are some links that I found helpful:
- The misc.writing website (http://www.mw-land.com/)
- The alt.usage.english website (http://alt-usage-english.org/)
- Guide to Grammar and Style (http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/index.html)
- Older version of Elements of Style (online book) (http://www.bartleby.com/141/)
- Daily Grammar Lessons (http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.shtml)
- 11 Rules of Writing (http://www.junketstudies.com/rulesofw/)
- Handbook of Style (http://www.mae.ucsd.edu/mw/hanstyle.html)
Some of these deal with the basic groundrules of writing: spelling and grammar; others deal with improving your writing skills. I am sure there are many other websites out there that can help you with that.
One tip: Do not edit while you are writing. First put all your ideas on paper. It doesn't matter if they are out of order, if they are bad ideas, if the sentences don't read very well, or if it doesn't make any sense at all. You are in "write" mode now, not "judge" mode. Just write, write, write, until you've said everything you wanted to say. Then take a little break. When you come back, edit it into something beautiful. If you start editing before you've written everything down, you'll get distracted: you will spend hours writing a great first paragraph and when you're done with that, all the momentum is gone and you're stuck. First write everything down, then fix it up.
Hope it helps. :)
02-17-2005, 02:48 PM
Find a group of literate readers. Write. Let them critique your writing. Don't get annoyed when they get brutally honest. Learn from what they tell you.
02-17-2005, 02:59 PM
I'll give you a few names, but remember, you'll owe me for the rest of your life.
I am making close to 50K a year on the Internet and 75% of it is not related to games in any shape or form
Here are the names:
The invoice is in the mail. If you don't start making some serious money in 6 month, you are truly hopeless. Read this meanwhile
When It Ain't Worth It
I'm no biz school whiz kid, but I've got enough advanced formal education under my belt to know most of it's not going to help you in the real world.
If, like me, one of your guilty pleasures is watching the Donald Trump "Apprentice" show, you're aware that the game is on between street savvy and book smarts in the culture. I don't really feel the two groups on that show are good representations -- they're too young, mostly, and I think the producers picked people they knew would generate ego-driven drama (the stuff that boosts ratings). But the whole concept is intriguing enough to keep talking about, anyway.
I've always said I could turn a near-illerate street-wise salesman into a killer copywriter faster than I could someone with a Ph.D in English Literature... because the hard part is waking up your Inner Salesman, not learning how to cross t's and dot i's and conjugate transitional verbs.
I've also discovered that this kind of choice seldom comes up in my teaching duties. The vast majority of people who come to me for advice are entrepreneurs. The Ph.D's and the Business Majors are attracted by the corporate structure of the mainstream marketing world, where bullshit and attitude can actually get you promoted. Entrepreneurs are often (like me) the sort who wither in tightly-controlled chains of command.
Working for the Man sucks, basically. Unless you enjoy it, in which case I don't have a lot to say to you. Go for it, dude. Enjoy the nonsense and the back-stabbing and your sterile corner office.
Of course, while we entrepreneurs smugly tout our independence, integrity and real-world approach to Operation MoneySuck... the corporations are where the really, really, really big money is. Halbert and I often lament the sad fact that -- while we know exactly how to sell a ton of any kind of car GM cares to offer -- we will NEVER get the big multi-gazillion-dollar contract. Because we don't have fancy offices, and we can't talk the kind of Power Point happy talk the Madison Avenue suits spew.
Corporations don't trust freelancers, because they don't trust truly effective tactics. They like it nice and safe, and they like rigged games where they can't lose. So they pump money into politicans for pork barrel consideration. And keep their marketing on a tight leash.
I'm thinking about all of this after reading about Carly Fiorina's outster at Hewlett-Packard. She was all bluster and fancy presentation, and her one "big idea" as CEO was to merge with another company. To create "synergy". And the board of directors let her do it. They are enthralled by words like synergy. Sounds edgy.
Oooooooh. I get all tingly just thinking about synergy.
Of course the merger sank HP's stock (and the big winner will probably be Apple, since the merger also swallowed up one of their more savvy competitors and left a gaping hole in the market). And Carly was humiliated. With a $21-million goodbye package.
She'd better be friggin' humiliated. Cuz that's the only thing stockholders have to enjoy. Barron's still rates HP as a "no buy". It's a wounded duck, because for 6 years the company was run by a CEO who was clueless about selling stuff.
Anyway, here's the lesson for us entrepreneurs: It's all about the point of diminishing returns. You can earn a million bucks without much extra help at all these days on the Web, with some decent marketing and basic "job it out" know-how. But something happens when you start bringing in the big bucks. I've seen it so often, I'm starting to think it's a given.
You get the urge to become more "respectable". You hire an assisstant. Get a nice office somewhere. Hire more staff. Take on a partner. Branch out with new projects in every direction. Invest in wild, "fresh" directions, cuz you got de magic touch.
One day you discover you own a warehouse.
And suddenly you don't look like an entrepreneur anymore. Worse, when you crunch the numbers at the end of the year, you aren't earning as much as you did when it was just you and the dog at the kitchen table making it work.
Think of it this way: If you take on a partner who's 50-50 with you, you have to double your gross to earn the same. Add staff and real estate and better clothes (cuz the sweats aren't going over big at the office anymore), and you've got to bring in four or five times your original income to match it for take-home.
Even worse, you now have a monster to feed every month, whether you feel like it or not. And everyone who's had to meet a payroll knows that there are times when everyone else gets paid, while you do not. You, as the boss, are the sugar daddy to a whole new family now.
And, at some mysterious, point, you cease being an entrepreneur and transform into an appendage of The Man. (Though you probably will never have a $21-million bail-out package waiting for you, should you fail.)
So be sure you understand what's important to you before the money starts rolling in. Because madness awaits those who are unclear on the concept. If you became an entrepreneur because of the freedom and independence, you have no business shackling yourself to a burgeoning organization that requires your total immersion 24/7.
And really... though I know it sounds stupid and cliche... the piles of money aren't all they're cracked up to be. There's a point where it just gets ridiculous how much you have... and that point comes much sooner than you expect. And you're suddenly faced with that horrible question: Are you the job, or are you a real person?
As an entrepreneur, you have total control in how that question gets answered, even if you need a little time to figure it out.
Corporations demand (and get) your soul. If you decide you're more than the job, you gotta leave. Or get punted out.
Something to think about, as you rake it in.
P.S.S. (from me, not John)
Gary Halbert is really the guy you want to read first. His newsletters are posted on the web, they are free, and you don't have to sign up. I gave you the address. After that, read http://www.marketingrebelrant.com/
Take a break before you start reading Jay Abraham or your head will explode.
02-17-2005, 03:00 PM
The short answer is: Write.
The longer answer is: Writing is a skill like any other, and the more your practice the better you get.
Struck & White's "The Elements of Style" is probably the fastest way to remind yourself of how you should write in English.
Besides actually writing, you should also read a lot. You can learn a lot by reading how someone else wrote it, good or bad.
02-17-2005, 04:29 PM
Elements of Style and Elements of Grammar are two really key resources, without a doubt. And writing constantly is a good way to hone your skills, but writing consistently and poorly can be really inefficient. One of the best ways to become a better writer is to read. Reading good writing can be just as helpful as having your writing critiqued by a talented writer. And if you're trying to write in a certain manner, read a lot of material that's written in such a way. Eventually you'll find it easier to express yourself in the manner and style you'd like.
02-17-2005, 05:34 PM
My partner introduced me to Elements of Style a few years ago. It's great!
PS: Is it just me, or is the over top, American cult of entrepreneurs kind of creepy?
02-17-2005, 05:40 PM
DavidRM is correct. Write a lot and you'll get better at it. It's just like everything else in that respect. I think reading a lot helps as well.
02-17-2005, 09:18 PM
Thanks for the posts everyone, the quality of response has been far above what I expected, I might take a day out this weekend just to read some of the resources posted and take notes.
02-17-2005, 09:57 PM
PS: Is it just me, or is the over top, American cult of entrepreneurs kind of creepy?[/QUOTE]
To hell with that, a guy want's to find out how to write effectively (I think). And the number one person in this field is none other but Sir Gary Of Halbert. He is actually really famous among folks who do copyrighting. Here is his personal add that landed him a scores of women
02-18-2005, 01:52 AM
02-18-2005, 06:37 AM
Besides what DavidRM says, write write write write, I'd say read read read read. I never studied writing per se, but I've been an avid reader since I was 6 or 7. I think you can learn to write just by reading by osmosis - your unconscious mind "learns" the spellings, patterns and even the style.
I rarely make a typo (even less frequently in spanish, which is my native language). Not because I know the rules, but because a misspelled word just feels wrong - you get that once you're used to read that word millions of times, and you get that by reading a lot.
02-18-2005, 06:41 AM
Because I have to pay a pro translator anyway to reach an average
english quality. :p
I think as a non-english speaking person I'll never reach the quality in sentence composition as somebody born in an english-speaking country.
Anyway the translation of score, lives and bonus will succeed.
02-26-2005, 02:55 PM
Joshua, at least, you don't have to learn English as your second language :)
And, yes, you guys are right - you must write to learn how to write.
As for a press release, just let a professional write it, e.g. Al Harberg (http://www.alharberg.com).
03-01-2005, 07:36 AM
I think writing ability is commensurate with how much vocab one knows. So learn more vocab is what I say. A good site for free talking pronunciation, and one that I find indispensable, is dictionary.msn.com.
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