Writing is a rewarding past time going by how much 21st century writers are making today. With a well-honed writing skill your work could well feature as a best seller in the New York Times assuming you are in the US. But if you are not, who says you can’t do great things with your writing talent. If anything, the sight of your name in print should delight you no end. It isn’t strange for a lawyer to take up a career in writing – there is the example of John Grisham who abandoned a fledging law career to take up writing. However becoming a good writer by today’s standards is no small feat given how easy it is for people to express themselves without the encumbrance of obeying the rules of concord. Why sit down to compose your thoughts on paper when you can just text with some slangy acronym. And it’s harder becoming a good writer today if especially you’ve been indoctrinated by this culture since it might come to reflect in the way you right.
But cheer up! You are not finished yet. There are timely principles that will help you attain your writing dream if you’ll just follow through. Here they are.
(1) Be concise
Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. – Alexander Pope.
It’s admirable if you have a mammoth vocabulary. But it has a pitfall. There is the temptation to over say by employing too many high-sounding words to sound pompous where just a few words would communicate the message. In writing understand you are writing for an audience not yourself. Always keep things simple.
(2) Write in the active voice
This point may have been belabored in recent times. But the fact that it keeps being mentioned means it’s worth looking into. An instance of this would be a statement like “the money was stolen by John Doe”. Replace this instead with “John Doe stole the money. Again avoid burying the action in an abstract noun (otherwise called zombie nouns). Eliminate the “tion” in your words and stick with their verb forms. Choose the word “provide” over “provision”, “construct” over “construction”. Help your readers visualize the event you are describing.
(3) Write a lot
I learned words, I learned words: but half of them died for lack of exercise. And the ones I use often look at me with a look that whispers, Liar. –Norman Alexander McCaig.
The surefire way to becoming a good writer is to really write. The more you write the greater your mastery of words and grammar, take it from me. Your vocabulary consists of your active and passive. Your active vocabulary embodies the words you use both in speech and in writing. While your passive vocabulary is a backlog of the words you know but don’t use. Each time you learn a new word find a way to use it in writing, since you may not always find someone to use it on.
(4) Have a writing ritual
Yep! As an offshoot of the preceding point, set out times during the day when you can scribble without interruptions. Ensure no day passes by when you don’t scribble something down. Make this a routine even if what you write appears gibberish. At least you are developing a writing habit!
(5) Write down Ideas as they come to mind
As a writer, you’ll realize your best write-ups don’t just appear from the blue one morning. They usually come in unrelated bits and you’ll have to pen them down every time until you can find the connection between them. That is how the write-ups come most times. I keep sheets of paper on me each time I go out for this very purpose. You never know what looking at a picture outside will bring to mind.
(6) Read the works of great writers.
It is important you begin your writing journey by reading the works of great writers who have achieved what you wish to achieve. Learn from the masters, emulate and develop your own style of writing from theirs. Copy out their work as this will help you internalize their style and flow of writing.
(7) Be specific.
We must use words as they are used or stand aside from life.- Dame Ivy Compton
How many verses have I thrown into the fire because the one peculiar word, they wanted most, was irrevocably lost. – Walter Savage Landor
Whenever you sit down to write, look to use words that could seize the imagination of your readers. Use lots of imagery, prefer the concrete over the abstract. “The car hurtled down the road” over “the car was very fast”. “She breezed past us” over “she ran past us”.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. – Thomas Elliot
Experiment with your style, your voice, your mechanics and your themes. Leave nothing out. I say steal bits from others. What makes it copyright infringement is not the fact of “stealing from” but “the degree of stealing”. Be a retailer instead not a wholesaler. After all its “bits” you are taking right? No one will take you to task for this.
(9) Learn to be conversational
Avoid stilted and formalistic writing, it won’t get you far enough. Write like you talk and use a little humor. Life is tedious enough as it is, we don’t need you adding to the tedium with your “somnolent write-ups”. We may as well get an injunction to stop you from permanently writing in the interest of public safety…
(10) Get feedback
Haven’t you ever sent a text or email to an aunt where you wanted to say “Aunt how is your animal” and instead ended up sending “Aunt how is you animal” before you could even hit the cancel button? You would have done the damage already and your aunt might think the mistake was self-serving since you never liked her in the first place. There can be mistakes in your work that will shelter behind your popular sentiments. So it will do you the world of good to have someone else vet your work and give you their verdict.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LLB from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja. In his spare time, Patrick doubles as a professional writer and copyeditor.
If you have any urgent enquiries, you can email him @[email protected]