One of the best ways to improve your writing, at least in terms of succinctness, is to write reviews. While I’ve been doing technical writing for a couple of decades and writing fiction, poetry and song lyrics for even longer, I cut my teeth on non-fiction by writing articles, interviews and reviews for weekly local and college papers in the 90s. The latter efforts, especially review writing, proved most beneficial to my blogging skills. If you’re looking for ways to improve your writing, I’d highly recommend writing reviews.
Here are some review writing tips:
- 150-250 words is a perfect review length. Start by reviewing something without a word limit. Then edit down, to 1000 words, 500 words, 250 words, etc. Write enough reviews and you’ll eventually find your writing to be more succinct — often a necessary skill for effective blogging. The shorter your review, the more effort it actually takes to write well.
- Learn to be your own editor. Copyediting seems to be a foreign concept in blogging, partly because of the crazy pace we bloggers sometimes have to maintain, no matter how well-intentioned we are. My own frequency of typos increased drastically when I started blogging. However, you still need to edit for meaning. Here’s a simple rule of thumb, to learn how to be succinct: When you’re editing down, cut out every other word, and if you lose the meaning, put some words back. I’ve forgotten the source of this advice, though I think it was from William Zinsser‘s classic On Writing Well book, but was a paraphrasing of a tip from an American novelist.
- Keep publication off the objectives list. If one of your review “exercises” is of high quality, you could spin it off into a blog post for publication, but that is not the objective. You’re writing these reviews to hone your skills. Think of them as analogous to the pencil sketches that an artist might do before a detailed illustration or painting. Leonardo da Vinci was a master painter because of the many thousands of sketches he did in his lifetime, which helped him understand structures and give his painter’s hand confidence. You can give your writer’s hand confidence in a similar manner.
Don’t stick to one type of review. When I published my monthly print magazine back in the early to mid-90s, I was reviewing everything out of necessity: music, movies, books, comics, restaurants. Those were pre-Web and Mobile Web days. Nowadays you can also review mobile apps, web games such as those that you find on Facebook, and Web-based services, websites, smartphones and much more. Some types of reviews are going to be harder to keep short, such as books and movies, but that’s fine. The objective is really to learn to be as succinct as possible, not to always write in the 150-250 word range.
What tricks have you employed to refine your writing skills? Feel free to share in the comments.