These tips will make you a better writer

December 20, 2019

Sifting through Poynter’s online archives feels a bit like digging through that old chest in your grandma’s attic. There are classics, cobwebs and things that haven’t aged that well. Our writing tips, as you might guess, remain classics.

This holiday season, whether you’re taking some time off or stuck at the office, we thought we’d put some of those classics in one place for you to discover or rediscover.

RELATED TRAINING: Write your heart out – The craft of the personal essay

What I learned about writing from …

This is a genre Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark has created over the years, with timely and insightful observations on the craft and its practitioners, including:

  • Michele Obama’s 2016 DNC speech: “Liberate your pronouns. Use first person, second person and third person to create specific effects.”
  • Greta Thunberg’s U.N. speech: “Short sentences have the feeling of gospel truth. Here we get a series of them. She will not let her audience off the hook with a long flowing sentence. Each period is like a hammer pounded on the podium.”
  • Aretha Franklin’s music: “This is one of the most important lessons for young journalists and writers everywhere: An idea is not a story. An assignment is not a story. A topic is not a story. It may take a while — quite a while — but the hard work of the writing process eventually transforms something vague into something focused. Once that focus is discovered — in an exploratory draft, a lead, a nut graph, a theme, a kicker — it can be rendered in the authentic voice of the writer.”
  • Game of Thrones: “Pay attention to the names of things – I do not believe we ever get the names of Ramsay’s killer dogs. But we do get the names of almost everything and everyone else. The three dragons have names. The dire wolves rescued by the Stark children have names, and, happily, we see Jon Snow reunited with Ghost at the very end. To the earliest days of heroic literature, great weapons have names, such as Excalibur. Arya receives the gift of her first sword, Needle, and carries it throughout her journey. “Stick him with the pointy end” becomes her whimsical mantra. The story takes us beyond names to nicknames: Jaime Lannister is known as the Kingslayer. The Clegane brothers become the Mountain and the Hound. Dany is the Mother of Dragons.”

RELATED TRAINING: Writing with voice and structure

On the writing process:

RELATED TRAINING: Basics of grammar, punctuation and word use

On grammar and style:

RELATED TRAINING: Writing and editing with Lane DeGregory

Writing tools:

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org. She can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare