by Paul Huckelberry
I’ve been writing since the age of three or four. This however, is not a very remarkable feat since practically everyone else in the modern Western world has also been writing since the age of three or four. Yet for many, the quality of their writing rarely grows beyond the level of a 10th grader. I suppose it’s not hard to figure out why. After all, most people don’t plan to make a living as a writer, so they conclude, “Why waste precious energy developing a skill that will never be called into use?” (I guess the same can be said about math, physics, statistics….)
This however, is a fallacy I wish to debunk. For starters, I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t improve the quality of his or her life by becoming a better writer. Take a look at the work place. Even if you’re not a lawyer, a newspaper reporter, or an advertising copywriter, superior writing ability can still help elevate your stature in practically any job. How? Well for starters, if your job requires a computer, then you’re most likely sending and receiving emails all day long. Allowing for those frivolous notes like, “Hey, did you see that game last night?” or, “Where do you want to have lunch?” I’m betting that the rest of your email production is work related and thus written to influence someone else into giving you what you need to perform your job -thus helping you to either get promoted or simply to keep that job. Then there are proposals, reports and presentations. And if you don’t want to keep your current job but instead choose to look for another, you’ll need to create a resume and a cover letter. The quality of your writing can be a huge, and I trust, obvious advantage (or disadvantage) in all of these cases.
How about away from your day job? Well if you’re single, and would prefer not to be, then skillful writing can go a long way towards finding your soul mate. In fact before smartphones, computers, telephones and telegraphs, writing was practically the only way to win over the object of your desire. Think love letters and poetry. Not your style? Okay, if you choose to join a dating site to increase your chances of meeting Ms. or Mr. Right you’re still going to have to provide information about yourself and what you’re seeking in another. Those who can get this done in a few lines of concise, compelling prose are going to quickly vault to front of the line.
What else? Applying to college? Writing a letter of complaint? Condolence? Holiday wishes? Newsletter for your charity? I could go on, but you get the idea. Becoming a better writer can result in a happier and more fulfilling life.
So what can you do to improve your writing skill? The Prime Directive to becoming a better writer is of course to write, write and write some more. And since writing is about putting words on paper, it only makes sense that the more words you know, the better able you are to express precisely whatever you’re intending to convey. There are over 600,000 words in the English language. An average 8th grader knows roughly 12,000; a high school grad 18,000-20,000 and college grads and post grads over 25,000. Shakespeare used over 30,000 words throughout his works. How many do you know? So along with the Prime Directive, my strongest recommendation for becoming a better writer is to work tirelessly to improve your vocabulary.
There are many ways to accomplish this. One of my favorite and most relaxing ways is to keep a dictionary by my side whenever I’m reading. (HINT: Great writers are also voracious readers.) Whenever an unfamiliar word appears, I first attempt to discern its meaning from the context of the passage, and only then do I look it up. I look through all the definitions, the origin of the word and the example of its use in a sentence. Then I begin to look for opportunities to use that new word in conversation or writing. This allows me to ‘own’ the new word. If I see an unfamiliar word and don’t have a dictionary handy, I’ll jot the word down and come back to it later. The key here is that I make it my mission to own every new word I come across.
There are many books you can use to help you improve your vocabulary as well as ‘Word of the Day’ calendars, apps and exercises. You should try them all and stick with what works for you. Great writers are Word Slayers… and Word Slayers Rule. So I’ll leave you with this Word Slayer Creed
- Commit to learning (and owning) at least 2-3 new words per week (that’s 100-150 words per year).
- Don’t use the new word in important spoken or written conversation until you own that word.
- Don’t use a five syllable word when a two syllable will do just fine. Appearing pedantic and pretentious can confound and divert your reader from a compelling and convincing argument.
Now go forth and slay some words today!
One of the classics I recommend is: