Every business has a mission, and a vision statement and uncompromisable core values that define them. Similarly, in writing too, we need to establish principles that would inform our writing.
Principles not only help in writing with more clarity, but it also helps you understand your writing style, defines your boundaries and builds character.
In the last year of writing, I have discovered my top 5 principles that guide me every time I am in doubt — ‘What topics should I write? Why should I write on certain issues? What am I trying to achieve through that piece? What value do I want to create through my writing?’
You must have heard it a million times — it is crucial, to be honest in your writing. However, honesty isn’t about being factually correct or being vulnerable. It is about telling your story that connects with the reader instantly. The reader should experience the same emotions that you experience while writing it. During the day, when you are deep into your work or assignment, and an exciting topic crosses your mind, try to capture it immediately. One reason is to record it before you forget, but the other more important reason is to capture the emotions as and when you experience it.
You may wonder what emotions have to do with integrity. Emotions trigger a lot of thoughts, and as a writer, you want to capitalise on those thoughts. When you feel strongly about something, words come out in a flow, and that flow is the honest ‘You’. That’s what strikes the chord of empathy in the reader as well. Honest articles aren’t created by jumping onto the trend bandwagon to get some eyeballs. Don’t write about the topic outside your expertise or interest, just because it’s in the headlines. You will soon be out of depth in your story.
Write to make your voice heard and not to be another noise in the cacophony.
There are no shortcuts to success. Do not imitate someone else’s style of writing. What worked for them might not work for you. Be original and create your own style.
Humility is the first step toward building credibility.
Humility reflects in the choice of words you use. One such example is
Ayodeji Awosika — he might use bold, direct language and can be extremely critical in his writing, but the readers don’t find it offensive. Primarily because it comes from a good place, and the readers know that. He has built immense credibility over the years through his work. Also, because his writing is wholesome — that leaves little to no doubt in the reader’s mind about his perspective, messaging and delivery.
Humility is not the same as underestimating your beliefs and opinions. It is about stating them in a way that doesn’t hurt the sentiments of others or disregard their views.
Humility is not being vulnerable or showing your doubts and insecurities. It is about being honest, considerate and thoughtful in your writing.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
― Rick Warren
The piece I wrote on ‘My Disastrous Intermittent Fasting experience’ attracted a lot of criticism amongst the readers. It was an honest piece, and I had captured my exact journey. That article got triple curated, drew a lot of views and reads as well. However, upon reflection, I understand that I wasn’t particularly considerate of people who must have found the diet useful and can find my article a bit resentful.
Lastly, humility would help you write for others and not for yourself. The genuine need and desire to express your thoughts will help you find your target audience — people who benefit from your writing.
You need to be comfortable with what you share — respect your privacy as a writer and respect the privacy of your readers. Define the boundaries between what you will, and won’t write. Do you really have to share your experience from a broken marriage, a mental health issue or your estranged relationship with your parents? Establishing your boundaries will help in making those decisions easily. It is perfectly okay not to share those innermost feelings if it doesn’t help you forget them.
“A lot of young writers cannibalise themselves to make a name. It pains to see they have to exploit their suffering to get ahead.” —
Your writing is not your medium to get back at someone or share things which you might regret sharing with the world later.
But, if you feel comfortable sharing your stories and feel a strong need to voice it to help spread more awareness or find your tribe, please go ahead and hit that publish button.
The choice is yours. It always was and always will be. Establishing those boundaries will ensure you make an informed choice.
Writing reflects a lot on the author’s thought process and their style to communicate in a way that connects with the readers.
Writing should be effortless. That’s when the message will flow. Avoid jargons. Avoid over-research. That would influence your original message. Don’t write universally — No one article can suffice to cover the impacts of Coronavirus on the world. Again, it seems intuitive as a principle; however, it is easy to fall prey to this pitfall.
After editing your first or second draft, ask a simple question — ‘Can you find ‘flow’ in your writing?’ If you do, continue, or else improvise.
“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs
Whenever you get a new idea or topic, capture it immediately; create a shell and expand it later. If you struggle to recollect the central message that sparked the idea initially, thrash it. Don’t be overprotective of your ideas. It’s entirely okay to write and thrash it if it doesn’t click. It will not click for the reader too. However, the process of writing and thrashing will provide a lot of clarity to your writing.
However, cliche this might sound, we cannot undermine the importance of adding value to the reader. The article is for the reader and not a rant or a diary — maintain that separately.
There are no novel ideas. A quick google search with the right keywords will tell you all the people before you who had that exact idea and have written about it. We don’t live in isolation. We all share the same society and more or less the same life events. However, your story-telling skill, writing style and experience are unique to you. That sets your writing on productivity or life-lesson apart from the million other writers who write on the same topic.
There is no greater joy than reading a comment from your professor who loves your take on capitalism or a colleague who benefitted from your experiment on minimalism. It is the most satisfying feeling to know there are changes you make to someone’s life through your writing.
You are just as valuable as the value you add to the lives of others.
To recap, here are the top 5 principles of writing
- Integrity — Be honest in your writing. Create your unique writing style.
- Humility — Be humble. Write to express and not to impress.
- Privacy — Define boundaries on what you can and cannot write.
- Simplicity — Find your flow. Make your writing effortless.
- Value-add — Create value. Write to help the reader.