By John Simmons
I know the title might sound as vacuous as ‘Brexit means Brexit’. (Forgive me but I didn’t write that – ‘above my pay grade’ as the government spokesperson might say.) But there is a real point contained in ‘Writing is always writing’. Actually there are two points…
Don’t restrict yourself
First, as writers who attempt to earn our livings in the commercial world, we often put ourselves into straitjackets. As if there were irreconcilable differences between, say, writing a website and writing a novel. Or even, within the ‘commercial’ genre there were specialisms that have specific and rigid rules that make you a writer of annual reports or packaging or blogs or websites. If you are a good writer, you should be able to write for any of these genres. Because the basic principles apply:
- Care for your craft, think about every word and the order of those words.
- Make choices based on the tone of voice you need to achieve for the task you are working on.
- Picture the person you are writing for, his or her needs and expectations, and write words for that person and situation.
You are not writing to a formula. If you do, your words will not connect properly with your reader. Your writing has to have humanity that comes from you as an individual. So don’t limit yourself to a specific style of writing for which you claim unique expertise. Because your expertise is extraordinary – you are a writer. Which means: take risks, stretch yourself, always seek the kind of writing you haven’t done before.
This brings me to the second point. As a writer you will always be writing, and always trying to improve as a writer. Carry a notebook with you, use it every day, make it the essential kit of your life – and accept that the notebook is for you only, not for the outside world, you have permission to experiment for your eyes alone.
Part of that experimentation is drawing on other kinds of reading. Writers have to read and to read more widely. If you want to become a better writer of websites, don’t just read websites. Read novels, memoirs, poetry. Observe how other writers write, and try some of the techniques used by novelists and poets. Read the opening paragraph of Nabokov’s Lolita, for example, then try writing the first draft of your next commercial project under its influence. Of course, you’ll discard most of it, but there will be something that sticks, that opens you up as a writer.
Does this work?
It’s worked for me over a long career where I’ve been an editor, copywriter, brand consultant and a novelist. Each feeds into the other. It’s the philosophy behind the Dark Angels programme that has inspired hundreds of writers of every kind.
We’ve now put it into a book that will be published by Unbound in June.