"The final cause of speech is to get an idea, as exactly as possible, out of one mind into another."
—g. m. young
That quote says it all.It uncovers what words really are. They're just tools, devised by humans for one purpose, to transfer thought from one mind to another.They're our primary tools for making things happen and making progress.That's why I wrote this writing guide. I considered all the good ideas lost to bad writing and all the progress locked in the minds of people unable to wield the tools of communication.Somewhere along the way, we stopped teaching the craft of writing. And, if you don't know how to control words, other people will out-write you.But, wield these tools well and you'll launch companies, score promotions, land exciting jobs, secure investment, sell products, persuade clients, and much more.Wield them expertly, and you'll dictate the future.
If you only read one chapter, make it this one.Principles will always trump tactics, but they're fuzzier things to make concrete. Sometimes they're disguised by their simplicity. None of them will surprise you but that's why people overlook them.I've been able to apply these principles by fixing them in my mind with metaphor. Hopefully they get fixed in your mind too.The principles are my foundations of writing, ways to approach the whole thing. They're parents of the tactics you'll read about later and states of mind you must consciously engage.If you give these principles tangible form, you'll be a better writer than most.
What's the point?
"What appears to be a sloppy or meaningless use of words may well be a completely correct use of words to express sloppy or meaningless ideas."
Figure out what you want to say.It may sound basic, but lots of people forget to think before they start tapping away. Can you really be clear in your writing, if you don’t first start with clear thought? Only when you know your writing’s purpose can you figure out which words and ideas will clarify, and which will confuse.Your writing needs to focus its aim on something. You need something in the centre of your crosshairs. If you don't, you can't judge the efficacy of your writing. Without a target you can never answer the question, 'do the words, and the order I put them in, do what I want them to do?'.Are you writing to instruct? To persuade? To entertain? All three? Which is more important? Which should come first? Do you want your reader to do something? Have you made that clear? Is it their choice or is it obligatory? What do they need to know before they can decide?Lots of good questions, all of which are important to think about before you start writing. You don’t have to do a pre-mortem on every slack message and tweet but you do need to ask yourself, ‘what’s the point of this writing?’.A good question to ask yourself after each sentence is, 'so what?'.The irony is that writing clarifies thought. So, what you want to say will change as you write. But start with some destination in mind. With a known destination, you can work out the most efficient route to get there.Then, as you’re writing it, cross reference to see where your words do the thing they’re meant to do, and where they don’t.Delete the bits that don’t.
Write for the worst case
"In the first 15 seconds of every new experience, we're all lazy, vain, and selfish."
We arrive into our reader's lives on our schedule, which means we probably turn up at the wrong time.Our reader might be tired, preoccupied with work, or about to binge Netflix.Lots of writers forget this and their writing shows it. It's not interesting or novel. It uses unfamiliar words or clichéd phrasing. It's not even useful. You'll still get readers. But only ones who care to make an effort, or who already love you.This kind of writing is best case scenario writing. And, if you write for the best case, you'll forgo most readers.
Instead, you should write for the worst case scenario.I'm talking about the commute, the noisy office, or the tiny screen. I'm thinking of readers who are pre-coffee, worried about debt, hungover, tired, or about to watch Netflix.Writing doesn't only compete with other writing, it's up against life. So if you write for the worst case, you'll unlock readers in these delicate states while still pleasing your devotees.
In real life, as Scott Belsky says, people are lazy, vain, and selfish. I'll add busy.So, because people are lazy we should work hard not to trouble them. We should make the order of the words logical and remove redundant ones.Because people are vain we should work hard to show them how our thing makes them look good.Because people are selfish we should work hard to show them how our thing improves their lives.And because people are busy we should work hard to get to the point quickly. That's what any good email subject line, headline, or product name does. We need to respect our reader's time because they have a life full of interests and distractions.Notice, I say 'we should work hard' every time?That's because it takes work to switch the focus from us to the reader and it's hard because......we're lazy so we don't want to write much, and we're selfish so we want our reader's time and money for nothing, and we're vain so we focus on ourselves, and we're busy so we would rather it all didn't take so long.So, to negate the ugly, nevertheless human, traits of both the writer and the reader, we writers must write for the reader at their worst.
"The currency of business is attention"
Good writing is like making a fire.
Catch your readerTo build a blaze you need a spark to catch.The spark in writing is your first sentence.Let it sit alone, in the spotlight of the white space around it. Put it on trial. Let it demand your consideration as to whether it's worthy of leading the charge.If it's unworthy it'll be the only sentence your reader will read. Spend more time on it than you think appropriate. Make your other sentences jealous.What makes an attractive first sentence is better brought to light by considering what's unattractive—forgettable, dull, clichéd, or unsurprising.Instead, it should catch attention without pleading for it. It should be novel without being a gimmick. It should say something unknown without lying.It could be funny, intriguing, curious, or surprising.And, if possible, it would do an excellent job if it hinted at what the reader wants to know.What's in it for me?
Shepherd the flameIf the first sentence is the spark catching, the second sentence is the cautious shepherding of the flame.It's fragile.If you bore, or repeat, or haven't built a structure to support it, your fire won't catch, your reader won't read.
Build the blazeFrom the first sentence you gradually build your blaze until the fire is well and truly lit. You can breath a little. Your reader has been caught.Journalists call this early part of writing the lead. How long it should be depends largely on your reader, on you, what you want to say, your topic, and your medium. Basically there's no defined answer.Just know the purpose—to demand your reader take a detour from life's main road, down a lane they weren't expecting to travel, and keep them on that path until this new adventure seems like the point of travelling in the first place.
Keep it hot and brightOnce your reader is caught, you can afford to change pace. You might take circuitous routes, build detail, become factual, or dig into the meat of your topic.But don't think for one minute they're yours forever. You need to keep the fire hot and bright because a reader can go cold if your words are confusing, and they can go dark if your work is dull.You have to work hard to be vivid and fresh because Netflix is one unclear, boring sentence away.And just like a good movie, you should write a mix of thrilling and serene scenes. And like a good story, don't divulge everything at once. Don't rush to the ending before the beginning has begun. Drip-feed it.You're the navigator holding a flaming torch at night. Enough heat to stay warm, and enough light to see the path ahead as you tug on their sleeve, beckoning them to follow you.
Keep it fueledJust as an untended fire dies, so will your reader's attention if you stop fuelling it.First and last sentences should be considered the most carefully. More is asked of these soldiers than the army of words they guard.Every new beginning has to fuel the reader further, and every precarious end has to fuel them to the next new beginning. Think of first and last sentences as new wood you throw on the fire to keep it burning.The end is a particularly dangerous place. Whether it's the end of a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter, after each one there's a pause. A logical stop. Have you ever found yourself thinking, I'll just get to the end of this page? Or flicking forward to see how far away the chapter's conclusion is, just so you can end the reading neatly?Each ending sentence should tug at the reader's sleeve to go on. You may not have spotted the mechanics of it, but you will have surely experienced the effect. When writing is really good, we can stave off food and sleep.And your very last sentence shouldn't be the gentle decline of the fire. Your final words should be less fire and more firework. Something funny perhaps, a thought your reader hasn't been able to make concrete, a fresh perspective, a call to action.You need to kick the door in on the way out too.
Keep rolling the dice
"But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing open your mind and letting the ready made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you, even think your thoughts for you to a certain extent, and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself."
Expecting a first draft to be good is like throwing ten dice and expecting ten sixes.You might get a few but you're unlikely to hit all ten. You have to rethrow the remaining dice until you turn ones and twos into sixes.At some point you might have a healthy set of seven or eight dice, all showing a six. You could leave it like that.Or you could keep throwing until you're battling with a final resistant dice.In writing, each new six is a win for clarity, or interest, or freshness of phrase. Each throw is worth it because each six improves the likelihood your writing does what you want it to do.Most people stop after the first throw. But how could they ever expect the writing to do its job? It's full of threes.Most of the work in making writing good is done by re-throwing those dice. The problem is we call it writing so we stop there. We're not taught that the art is in the rewriting.Don't worry, it's completely normal. It’s the case for most writers, even the ones who write guides about writing.This guide has had rounds of edits, I've considered every word, and it could still benefit from more thought and more cuts. It's the same for writers who've been paid to do it for a half a century, like William Zinsser whose fifth drafts have 30% of their words struck through.Some people never make the first roll because they're scared to not hit ten sixes. You can't, so don't try.Be OK with whatever you write first being imperfect. Roll the ten dice, and keep rolling.
Start with the corners
"Just write 2 crappy pages"
The best way to start writing is the way you would start a jigsaw puzzle, with the easy bits.In a jigsaw, the corners are the most distinguishable as the only pieces with 2 straight sides. In writing, the corners are whatever is easiest for you to just start.It might be the structure, it might be the intro, it might be what later becomes paragraph 17. It doesn't really matter. You’re just looking for an easy win. The corners.One of the corners for this guide was the Jekyll & Hyde principle. The analogy had already matured in my mind. I felt confident about it and that helped me to start.When piecing together a jigsaw, the outer edge of is next easiest, identifiable by their single, straight edge. Then, perhaps obvious details like a character or a vivid colour.The same goes for writing. Just write whatever comes easiest, next. The more small pieces you put together, the more obvious the spaces in between become. Just because a reader starts at the beginning, doesn’t mean a writer has to. The picture will soon emerge.But, before it’s truly clear, you’ll have to knit it together. And, if you’ve ever done a jigsaw and been left with 288 seemingly identical bits of sky, you’ll know where the hard work lies.That’s OK though. Good writing is hard. But we can make it easier by starting with the corners, not the sky.
Write as Jekyll,
edit as Hyde
"Man is not truly one but truly two"
Good writing is the effort of dual personalities.The first is Jekyll, the writer. Jekyll adds things. The second is Hyde, the editor. Hyde cuts things.Good writing is work that has been subjected to both characters. But, separate their work. Move between them consciously. Don’t start adding when you should be subtracting.Sometimes it can be hard to switch. The hardest move is from fresh writing to editing. It all reads so well at first. But that's because you're still Jekyll, the writer.You can transform into the editor by taking time away from the words. You need to forget all those writerly thoughts that guided the work.You’ll return as Hyde. Untainted, and ready to rip it apart.Be brutal, be ruthless. Don't hold onto something just because it's beautiful. Ask yourself whether the words, and the order you put them in, do the thing you want them to do.You can't offend the writer because they're not in the room right now.After the editor has put the work on trial, become the writer again. Switch between writer and editor, over and over.Then invite criticism from fresh eyes. You’ll be surprised at the stubbornness of the tangles and traps that even Hyde can't cut through.
Make it atomic
"The biggest difficulty with comics is to show exactly what is necessary and sufficient to understand the story; nothing more, nothing less."
Atomic writing is that which delivers all the value, all the meaning, all the vigour and power, in the fewest words.It's writing that forms an irreducible, single unit and comes from deleting really good ideas to leave only great ideas.You should be deleting words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters you spent a long time assembling. Don't succumb to the fallacy of sunk cost. Just because you spent time on it, doesn't mean it should stay. It might be tangential, repetition, or, on reflection, a second rate idea.Unsure what to cut?Strip
out any word that isn't doing any meaningful work. If you 're able to (can) remove it, and the sentence still makes sense, you should remove it.Writers are told to write simply, to use plain words, and to be content with being commonplace. At best that's uninspiring. At worst, it leads to conceited writers dumbing down. Write like a servant, not a master.By writing atomically, you're reducing the cognitive load for your reader. You're making it economical and precise. You're writing for lazy, vain, selfish, and busy people.Words are potent and the word atomic honours that.
Write to Doris
"There is one golden rule to bear in mind always: that we should try to put ourselves in the position of our correspondent, to imagine his feelings as he writes his letters, and to gauge his reaction as he receives ours."
—inland revenue staff instruction
When Warren Buffet writes letters to his investors, he lovingly addresses them to his sisters, beginning a first draft with ‘Dear Doris and Bertie’.Once written, he removes their names leaving his letter jargon-free, familial, empathetic, and ultimately, warm.Whether you’re writing to your sister or your boss, you’re writing to another human. So, don’t try to be professional or educated or intellectual. Avoid the complex, cold, insipid, formal stuff that oozes out when you try to sound important, the style of writing that suffocates intellectual essays or professional emails.By addressing someone you love, you set the tone from the first few words. Those words keep you human. In fact they save you from assuming a character. The one whose costume lots of writers put on when they sit down to type a professional email.If you start with 'To whom it may concern', you'll surely work your way to 'it has recently come to our attention that' and perhaps on to 'furthermore, it was interesting to note', finally winding up at 'Yours Sincerely', and no reply.But if you begin with 'Hi Mum' or 'Hi mate', you'll naturally use language, ideas, and a tone that suits someone you care to make things honest and simple for.You'll replace 'are you experiencing pain' with 'does it hurt'. You'll replace 'due to the fact that' with 'because'. You'll say '£20,000 a year' instead of '£20,000 per annum'.You'll reach for the shorter word, and not for brevity's own sake, but because the short word is usually the familiar word. You'll spend a while checking it over because you care that this reader understands your meaning.You want this reader to succeed because you love this reader.
The bit you won't like
"10,000 hours is the amount of practice
you must put in to attain mastery"
You can get really good at writing before you hit 10,000 hours. But you have to do some hours.Writing is as much a skill as playing the guitar and you wouldn't pick one up expecting to riff like Hendrix.But there's something about writing that fools us into thinking we don't have to try. We write every day and there was English class in school.But we weren't taught the craft. We weren't taught what to put in or what to keep out. That's step one. That's what this guide will help you understand.Then you have to get that knowledge working. Here are the things that helped me.
Write one articleWrite about something you can't stop thinking about. Write 1 article. Most importantly, press publish. Send it into the world and then tell people you did it.You write one article because that's as simple as it gets. You write as much or as little as you feel like. You write about something you can't stop thinking about because it's probably an idea that has potential, it won't go away. You press publish because you execute. You're not going to be paralysed by the fear of shipping. And you tell people about it to force your best work. If people are going to see this, you'll work hard to make it good.The good news is your work isn't imprisoned in print. You can improve your writing online for years. I'm doing that with this guide. I have infinite opportunity to tidy the words and the ideas they're supposed to deliver.
Schedule the writingYou won't muster the energy randomly. You have to plan it, so schedule the time in your calendar. Make it really simple by blocking out a small window.You don't have to commit a whole morning to writing. Just start with 30 minutes and see what you get done in that time. When you get to 30 minutes you can stop. That's a win. But, if my experience is any indication of what'll happen, you'll probably still be writing an hour later because it's the starting that's the hard bit.Nir Eyal talks about blocking time in his book, Indistractable. He points out that distraction isn't the opposite of focus, it's the opposite of traction.The etymology of traction is the Latin root, trahere meaning to draw or pull. So traction is anything that pulls you towards what you want to do. Distraction, therefore, is anything that pulls you away from what you want to do.Anything can be classed as traction or distraction. It depends on whether you planned to do it or not. If I plan to get a report done for the boss between 8am and 10am, checking Twitter at 9:00am is a distraction.But, equally, if I plan to watch Netflix between 8pm, and 10pm, emailing my boss that report at 9:00pm is a distraction.It's about being purposeful and dedicating time for traction.The last word on scheduling the work is captured neatly by Somerset Maugham who was once asked if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration.“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
What to edit
"The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components."
Because first drafts are the first roll of the dice, all sorts of tangles and traps, redundancies and repetitions work their way in.Don't worry if you hate reading your first draft. Expect it and embrace it because it's like that for all writers.From roll two onwards your job is to question everything you wrote. The editor puts the writer on trial.The point of editing is to scrutinise the words you picked, making sure they're the best vehicles to get an idea from your mind, as exactly as possible, to the mind of another.
Quite awesome, very good
Readers get no value from pointless qualifying words like quite, sort of, a bit, in a sense, and to some extent. But they’re not benign. They harm the vigour and authority of your writing."It was quite loud""She sort of limped""They were a bit late""In a sense, they were the perfect couple""To some extent, I admired him"Be brave and say what you actually think. Do you admire him or not? Are they perfect or not? There's no need to dilute the meaning. It's OK to have a 3 word sentence that says something as simple as "They were late".Have conviction.Very
If one side of this coin is stepping away from vigour, the other is stepping in, but lazily. You want to get your point across but instead of searching for the precise, powerful word, you add a qualifier like very, really, or too."They were very rude""I was really tired""The water was too hot"Whatever word follows these qualifiers is obviously not good enough. To change that just do some literary maths.very + rude = coarsereally + tired = drainedtoo + hot = blisteringQuites and verys are more forgivable in speech where editing is live. But we certainly have time to find and delete them from our writing.And don't worry
too much about hunting for these improvements on the first roll of your dice. On rolls 12 and 24, you'll turn these weak frail 2s into strong forceful firm 6s.
There are always two twins, aren't there?You can delete 'two' and get all of the meaning across in 'twin'. But two twins are stubborn. They're word combinations where one of the words already carries the meaning of both. Doubling up makes your work inefficient.
Personal friend = Friends are always personalStrip out = Strip says it allFall down = Nothing falls upCombine together = Combinations always go together Basic fundamentals = Fundamentals are always basic Free gift = A gift you pay for is not a giftRevert back = The backness is already captured in revert New innovation = An innovation is always new Briefly summarise = Summaries are brief by natureThese vapid additions can slip into your work unnoticed. Expose them by putting every word on trial and if they add nothing, delete them.It might sound daunting to scrutinise every word but that's what makes writing good. It isn't easy but it is worth it, and fortunately with practice, it becomes natural over time.So be harsh. Make those cuts. Force every word to fight for its place.
Don’t waste time proposing how you’re going to explain something. Just explain it. Phrases like these are padding for intellectual imitators:- It might be pointed out...
- It could be argued that...
- It seems necessary to mention that...
- It’s interesting to note that...You’ll find them in student essays propping up an arbitrary word count, and in business docs where the human is lost to formality.On Social Capital's about page, one paragraph begins "At its core, Social Capital is an organization that..."All of this can be replaced with 'we'.The fact that Social Capital is an organisation is obvious. We're on their website, so mention of the company name is redundant and colder than 'we'. And, by using 'at its core' they're suggesting they're something else at the extremities.Cull pointless clusters like these because they clog up the copy and turn it cold.If it’s interesting, just say it.If it’s necessary to mention, just mention it.If it truly can be argued, just argue it.
“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”
Clichés tempt us with their seeming poignancy but they deliver nothing. They were once succinct, visual descriptors, but their popularity, and therefore ubiquity, ironically ruined them.Sadly, they so easily slip into our writing. They’re like friends with bad ideas. Familiar, easy to give in to, but destructive.Ask yourself—Do all doors have to creak open?Are all fast things as fast as lightning?Do we all grin like Cheshire cats?Do all blades glint in the moonlight?Here are some more clichés to condition yourself with the enemy.As strong as an ox, heard it through the grapevine, plain sailing, it's not a sprint it's a marathon, on the back burner, to have cold feet, worth its weight in gold, you only live once, burn your bridges, a diamond in the rough, barking mad, hot off the press, hunker down, in a nutshell, learn the ropes, missed the boat...You'll probably recognise most of these phrases. Once they were fresh and full of life. Over time, they lost their life, but they didn't rot or make their death obvious. You can't spot them covered in mould or pick them out by their smell.Instead they just blend in to the background, like a painting you see every day, but never study. And that's how you identify them, you have to study your work for them.Pay attention to the common phrase that comes so quickly. The one that captures your idea so perfectly. It might be the same phrase that sits in your text muting it, making it skimmable, unmemorable, vapid, and lacking.
Sometimes we overfeed our sentences and they become bloated.But good writing is economical. No more or no fewer words than those needed to carry the meaning. Single words can replace fat phrases of four or five. Here are some examples of where you can put your copy on a diet.with the possible exception of = exceptdue to the fact that = becausetotally lacked the ability to = couldn'tuntil such time as = untilfor the purpose of = forin order to = toafford an opportunity to = letas a consequence of = becausecosts the sum of = costswith the minimum of delay = quicklyis of the opinion = thinksThese clusters can sneak into first drafts. Under examination though, they’re empty and provide no additional value or meaning. They lie about like unwanted ornaments filling space, gathering dust, and cluttering the place.There's no easy formula for picking them out apart from consciously questioning every word, asking yourself, is this the most familiar, and therefore usually the shortest, way to say it?If you put every word on trial, you’ll find them lurking and guilty.Send ‘em down.
Can you shout quietly?If not, do you need to explicitly mention the shouting was loud? I don't think so.The adverb's job (loudly) is to modify the verb (shout). But loudly doesn't modify anything, it's just repetition. Here are some more examples where the adverb does no work.Smile happily = Smiling already embodies happinessBolt hastily = If you bolt, you always do it hastilyMutter quietly = Muttering is always quietGently caress = Caressing demands a gentle touchRun quickly = running is always quickSlowly amble = To amble is to move at a slow, easy paceMoan grumpily = Moaning is always done grumpilyYou have two options when a verb and an adverb are taking on the same work. If your verb is fresh, precise, powerful, and poetic leave it to work alone. I like bolt, mutter, and amble as solitary workers.If your verb is weak, dull, and insipid then question what single word captures the intensity of what led you to repeat the idea.Smile happily might become grin.Run quickly might become sprint.Shout loudly might become blare.Moan grumpily might become gripe.Understanding the true meaning of a word can help you avoid these useless repetitions.
What are the true facts if not simply the facts? Here are some more true facts.a tall skyscrapera sharp bladea steep cliffgreen grassbrown dirtIt's a small step to describing water as wet.I think this issue has its roots in school. I remember being told to be more descriptive but I don't remember being given much guidance. So I was left to my own devices to blandly describe the sky as blue and the night as dark.It's a misguided attempt at building images with words. People do it to be pretty, or vivid, or real, but they're just filling
empty space. And they're too scared to let the reader do any work.Just say 'grass'. They know it's green already.True facts add nothing. More than that, they aren't interesting. Only describe things worth knowing. Dirt is usually brown. So tell me if it's red. Blades are always sharp, but only tell me it's blunt if there's a reason to.Ultimately they’re forgettable, and as such, should be deleted.
As the words tumble out, multiple streams saying the same thing splash onto the page.You can dress up a single idea in many costumes and that's how they hide from us. But because they feel individual we protect them. It's unnatural to plough through the hours of writing we've laid down, ripping up half-sown seeds.But, we should.We need to be ruthless. Because a lot of what we sow are weeds that steal what the blooming ideas need to grow.And a lot of weeds look pretty so we let them stay. Mainly from fear.Apart from falling in love with our own work, we're scared that readers won't get it, so we concoct recipe after recipe of the same ingredients. But, we don't have to force feed our reader. Sometimes people know what something tastes like by the smell alone.Writers have to be brave enough to let readers fill in the gaps. If you're saying the same thing in ten different ways, you just haven't found the most economical way to say it yet.You should find yourself pruning phrases, sentences, paragraphs, whole chapters, and entire ideas that you spent a long time planting.
"If any man were to ask me what I would suppose to be a perfect style of language, I would answer, that in which a man speaking to five hundred people, of all common and various capacities, idiots or lunatics excepted, should be understood by them all, and in the same sense which the speaker intended to be understood."
Short words are often better than long words. Not for brevity's own sake, but because the short word is usually the more familiar word.Using familiar words means you're being efficient, understandable by all, and economical. Being those things gives your writing the best chance to do what you want it to do. The fact they're also usually short makes your work concise by default.Here are some examples of where a short word could replace a long one.assistance = helpnumerous = lotsremainder = restimplement = doattempt = tryutilise = useadditionally = andhowever = butaccompanying = withamendment = changeassistance = helpcombine = mixconsequently = sodiscontinue = stopformulate = planfrequently = oftenrestriction = limitvisualise = seeThe difference between these lists of words is often their origin. English is a mix of Latinate and Anglo-Saxon words. Latinate words have French or Latin origin, while Anglo-Saxon words have Germanic roots.Latinate words are abstract, scholarly, and multi-syllabic. Anglo-Saxon words are concrete, more common, and short.You don't have to know all the origins of all the words. You just need to question every word that lands on your page. Is there a shorter, more familiar one?Your readers will thank you for making their journey through your writing more efficient. Your ideas will seem more grounded. And, you'll be understood by everyone.BUT......don't ignore Latinate words altogether. As a writer, you're part composer and writing, like music, needs variation to keep an audience's attention. So, as you would vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs, you should alter the length of your words too.Just tip the balance heavily in favour of the shorter word, and never use an unfamiliar word.
Which of the following sentences feels natural?“I am going to the shops to get some butter. I will be back in 5 minutes because it is only down the road.”“I’m going to the shops to get some butter. I’ll be back in 5 minutes because it’s only down the road.”The difference between the two is that the second has had its verb forms contracted. A contraction is when you take you will and turn it into you'll.The argument against doing it in writing has always been that it’s informal. I disagree. I think it’s natural. It helps a reader glide through the sentence as if they were hearing someone speak it.When we read, we hear the words in our head. Expanded verbs forms are jarring because they halt the melodic flow of language like an off key note. Here's another example."You are crazy! I can not come out now, it is raining and I have got to catch up on Netflix.""You're crazy! I can't come out now, it's raining and I've got to catch up on Netflix."So, my suggestion is to contract verbs to mirror the slippery flow of natural, spoken language. You can be both natural and professional. And, it’s not unprofessional to write like we speak. It’s simply efficient. I've contracted verb forms all the way through this guide, and I don't think I sound unprofessional.There are a couple of things to watch out for though. Don't contract I would and I had because they both contract to I’d. Readers can be a long way through a sentence before they realise they understood the wrong one, and writers should work hard to remove that burden from the reader. Be considerate and guide them through carefully.Also, don’t do weird contractions like the dog’ll bite. Even though we might roll these sounds together when we talk, it’s odd to see it written down. It'll trip them up.As they come to their feet again, you're giving them pause to think about the one billion other things they could be doing.
Your sentences are like mules, their load is your meaning. So be careful not to overload the mule, or they'll buckle under the weight.Readers are generally better at focussing on one thing at a time. Writers would write better if they did the same. But writers tend to burden each sentence with too much work.So, for an easier read it makes sense to keep sentences focussed. If you have more to say, rather than inflating an existing sentence, add a new one. If you've got lots of long sentences, snap them in half.My technique is to write in short sentences and to abuse the full stop. I start there because I want to over index on the short and medium sentence. And, I find it easier to bridge ideas together later with either punctuation like the comma or the emdash, or with linking words and phrases.It can read staccato at first but that's OK. It's only the first roll of the dice. On later rolls I tinker with the rhythm, the melody, and the variation that all writers, as part composers, need to consider.