As a professional freelance writer and former teacher of writing, I’m very familiar with how challenging writing can be. Most people don’t look forward to writing beyond Twitter or Facebook posts. Writing is a task and a job that many people put off doing until the last minute, or they hire freelancer like myself to do it. So why is writing so hard? The following is my take on why–in no particular order.
1. Honestly, I think most teachers don’t know how to teach the nuts and bolts of writing. Most often, more time is spent in the classroom teaching grammar and spelling rules, rather than helping students build their writing fluency.
2. As with any other skill (and art), writing takes practice. You need to write every day to build your writing fluency. Daily practice might include keeping a journal or blog. If you have never picked up the habit for writing, I highly suggest using 750words.com to do intense free writing (with little regard for proper grammar and spelling) for at least five days a week, for as long as you can. The biggest hurdle to writing is getting over the hump of not doing it.
3. Because many teachers don’t write for publication (and many stop writing after going to college), they have very little understanding of the writing process. Too often writing assignments become a form of punishment, rather than opportunities for students to build their skills. In fact, writing should never be graded, or at least students should be given several opportunities to revise their work for a better grade. Most writing assignments in school and colleges end up turning people off to the effectiveness of writing, and thus they never learn to write as well as they could.
4. To be a good writer, you need to all also be a good reader. Reading well-written books, blogs and articles, and paying attention to how writing is done, can have a direct impact on your own writing skills. Again, most of the reading assignments in school are complete turnoff for students. I highly suggest seeking out topics and authors that you enjoy reading, and not the ones your teacher assigns.
5. Most people don’t realize that writing is a process – of hard-to-get-started introductions, messy drafts, and tedious revisions. Thankfully, writing software makes the writing process a little easier. If you ever had to write a paper or an article using electric typewriter, you will understand what I mean.
6. Writing is also a form of discovery. It makes you realize what you really know and don’t know. If you lack an understanding of a subject, it is difficult to write about it. Again, this is another area where many writing teachers fail their students. They don’t know how to help students use writing as a form discovery. In most classrooms, writing is mainly assignment for a grade, not a tool for discovery and real form of communication.
7. Good writing also just takes a lot of time, which many people don’t have. Unless you’re very familiar with the subject you’re writing about, you may have a difficult time completing a writing task or assignment.
So what do you find difficult about writing? How do you deal with those difficulties?
For over a month now, I have been writing for a new publication titled Apple Magazine. No, it’s not produced by Apple itself, but it is a beautifully designed publication currently distributed by Zinio, the worldwide digital newsstand and bookstore company. Apple Magazine can be purchased downloaded through the free Zinio magazine app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.
Because Apple Magazine is solely a digital publication, it can offer a lot more content, minus the paper, ink and publishing costs. Subscribers get more for their money because Apple Magazine is a weekly publication, released every Thursday or Friday in the Zinio app.
The only magazines that I subscribe to now are ones I can download and read on my iPad. The size and orientation of the device is perfect for magazine reading, and best of all it means I don’t have stacks of paper issues taking up closet space in my home office. It also means that when I subscribe to a magazine on the iPad I don’t have to wait weeks to get the first issue.
Apple Magazine enables me to write longer and more detailed articles about Apple related hardware and software. But best of all, it is great to see my writing laid out in professionally designed pages, unlike the simple webpage and blog postings that I usually get published in. Don’t get me wrong, I like writing for web publications, but magazines still seem to offer a more professional edge.
Some of the topics I have written about so far for AM include “iPad vs. the MacBook Air,” “iPhoto for the Holidays,” “Using the New iOS 5 iPhone Camera Features,” “Automating Your Mac”, and “iPad at School.”
Apple Magazine is a startup publication and thus it needs subscribers. In a few weeks the publishers will start providing free trial downloads, but in the meantime you can buy single issues through Zinio for $4.99; 12 issues for $39.99, 26 issues for $49.99, and a full year subscription for $89.99.
I’m happy to report that one of my favorite topics to write about has finally been published a book length guide titled the Awesome Guide to Mac Automation.
This guide is for Mac users who want to get more done on their Mac with less work. It includes step-by-instructions for using Apple’s smart automation technology, including smart folders, smart albums, smart playlists, and it’s free automation application, Automator.
Among other things you’ll learn how to:
- Use smart folders to manage your files and folders
- Using iTunes’ smart playlists to organize your music
- Find the photo your looking for with iPhoto
- Sort your email without any effort, using Mail.app’s smart filters and folders
- Using Automator to script without any programming knowledge
The guide is free, and I’m in the process of writing a professional version of the guide that will introduce advanced automation programs, including Quickeys 4.0, Hazel, and AppleScript.
The guide can be downloaded for free from MakeUseOf.com.
Ohhh…the challenges of writing. Most people dread it. Many of us had poor grade school experiences of English teachers demolishing our work with countless red ink error corrections and question marks all over the papers we stayed up late writing the night before. We dreaded subjects we had to write about and the revisions we had to make—the entire process was like cleaning a messy room. The pain and arduous process of good writing is what makes simple cell phone text messaging and 140-character Twitter posts so much easier.
So why is writing so hard? Well, partly because it’s not as natural as talking. The old adage that says, write like you talk is not quite valid. Good writing is not always like we talk. We don’t talk in complete sentences. We constantly correct ourselves. We utter our thoughts. And if just can’t articulate we what we’re thinking, we can always say, “You know.”
Why Good Writing Is Hard
Good, coherent writing is not like talking. Writing is a process. It’s messy. It’s uncertain. It doesn’t add up like 2+2=4, even though there are grammar and spelling rules. Writing is somewhere between an art and a math equation, and that’s what makes it hard. There are rules that we can apply to make our writing good, but writing requires a sense of style and timing that makes writing interesting.
As a writer, my skills have grown over the years, simply because I write nearly everyday—not just for myself, but for readers. It’s one thing to keep a personal diary or blog in which you can choose not to focus on communicating your thoughts but to use writing to document your experiences and what’s on your mind. When you write for readers, it’s different challenge. You want your writing to be read. You’re trying to communicate information to others in way that makes that information easy to understand.
If you’re a fiction writer (which I‘m not), you’re trying to both entertain your readers and draw them into your fictionalized world. If you’re a serious fiction writer, you know your readers won’t waist their time with a poorly written story.
When a reader reads a book or even an article, he or she is entering into a contract with the writer. The reader is agreeing to give over his/her time to read what the author has to say. The reader expects the author to make to make the time and experience of reading worthwhile. By the same token, the author wants the full attention of the reader.
That’s the challenge of writing is to make topics interesting, comprehensive, accessible, and rewarding for readers.
The process of producing good writing is what I will cover in part 2 of this topic.
(Photo acknowledgement: Dave )
As a writer, I use the type expansion application, Typinator (similar to TypeExpander and AutoHotKey) to type lots of different abbreviations that turn into longer full words. So typing, for example, “aee” expands to “Apple,” and “ty” spells out “Thank you.” I have abbreviations for entire template letters. Nearly every time I write a review of a new product or service, I create an abbreviation for the product name so I don’t have to type or paste it over and over.
But after I started typing on the iPhone, I realized there were other expansions I could be using. The word completion feature on the iPhone can often be pretty accurate when it comes to guessing what word you’re trying to type, especially short words. It almost always knows when you’re trying to type words like, “don’t”, “I”, or “iPhone”. So I thought, why not use Typinator to expand all the short 1-5 letter words I type on a regular basis.
For instance, the pronoun “I”, gets typed a lot. So instead of typing shift+i, I have an abbreviation to automatically turn “i”, into “I”. It only does this when the letter is treated as a whole word and after hit the space bar.
Even the quotation marks I’m using get automatically typed when I type the letters, “rr”. I thought about using “qq” because the abbreviation would associate the word, “quotation” in my mind, but “rr” is faster for me when typing. With Typinator, I can set up the expansion so that the cursor will get positioned between the quotation marks when the abbreviation is typed. Thus, I can keep typing without having to use the Shift key to type the quotation marks. Does it does.
So here some of short-word expansions:
dont -> don’t
doesnt -> doesn’t
cant -> can’t
im -> I’m (this one expands when it’s typed as a whole word, so it only expands after I hit the space bar.)
Ive -> I’ve
y -> you
wont -> won’t
youve -> you’ve
m -> my
pm -> p.m.
amm -> a.m.
dd -> $
w -> will
dvd -> DVD
url -> url
( -> () (Cursor gets positioned automatically in the two parenthesis)
– -> — (for em dash)
Some words are just too short and easy (e.g., am, be, by) to type out that it’s not word creating an abbreviation for, but for the ones I use on a regular basis, these short-word expansions are very helpful if writing is something that you do throughout the day.
In a future article I’ll write about how I use abbreviations in QuicKeys to tackle some tedious repetitive tasks. For even more advance spelling and word automation, check out Spell Catcher. If you’re a poor typist or just want to catch misspellings faster, this program is a great time saver.
This month, MakeUseOf.com published my first e-book, The Essential Guide to Digital Photography. It took me about a month-and-half to write it, though the outlines and notes were tucked away in my Documents folder for at lease five months. My e-book is not the full length book or books that I would like to write, but at 56 pages and a little over 8,000 words, it’s a pretty significant achievement for me as a writer.
I have to honestly say, though, if I weren’t being paid for writing it and I didn’t have an editor who set a deadline for me, the e-book may not have seen the light of day.
So now that it’s done and published, I get reflect and share on what I learned and what I’m planning to do differently next time.
It has been a while since I actually read a style usage book. As a writer, I read and write constantly, so every book, article, website, brochure, email, and even utility bills I peruse are style manuals of sorts. I always notice what words and style conventions are used in texts I read.
But with the instantaneous pace of writing and publishing these days, there’s much inconsistency when it comes to grammar and punctuation rules, word usage and style, readability standards, and just plane old clear concise writing. There’s not a day go by that I don’t read articles, including my own, that are in need of a copy editor to check for grammar errors and wordiness. Most bloggers and web content writers must write, edit, and proofread their work like lonely housewives in need of help with daily chores. It’s nearly impossible to do it all effectively.
This is where The Yahoo! Style Guide can be useful. It’s one of the only sourcebooks I know that is written—as it subtitle says—“for writing, editing, and creating content for the digital world.” When I purchased the book, I thought I’d simply park it on a bookshelf near my work area, but as started scanning through it, I realized it would be useful for me as a writer to read it cover-to-cover. And quite surprisingly, it is actually a sourcebook that you can read in its entirety. Sure, there were some sections that I scanned because I was thoroughly familiar with the content, but for the most part, the book was not only a good refresher course, but it made me aware of some issues of usage and style that I need to keep an eye on when I write.