We recently saw a cartoon in which one character says to another, “I’m thinking of writing a book.” The other responds, “Can a boring person write an interesting book?”
The answer is a resounding no.
A boring person can’t write an interesting book. An unintelligent person can’t write an intelligent letter. A mean-spirited person can’t write an uplifting e-mail message—probably not even insincerely.
That’s why Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, said: “A style is not good unless it is an intimate and almost involuntary expression of the personality of the writer, and then only if the writer’s personality is worth expressing.”
You don’t just give your readers what you think or what you know: you give them yourself. What you write is very much a product of you: it reflects who you are and how your mind operates.
That’s why any course in writing is really a course in self-improvement.
Ask yourself some questions while you’re writing. These come from Bryan Garner’s book HBR Guide to Better Business Writing:
● What am I trying to say?
● Is what I’m saying true?
● What’s the very best way to say it?
Once you’ve written, ask yourself these questions:
● Have I gotten quickly to my point?
● Can I revise this to make it shorter?
● Can I say it more interestingly?
● Have I proved my points with specifics?
● Does it sound like me at my best—throughout?
● Have I been diplomatic and fair?
● Have I been utterly truthful?
If you’re conscious of these questions, you’ll write better. You’ll probably even be better.
Whatever kind of writer you might be, you’ll do better work.
If you’re a lawyer or a judge, then you need continuing legal education in writing. So go to www.lawprose.org. We have what we think is the finest suite available of online instruction for legal writers. Check out our fall seminar schedule for Advanced Legal Writing and Editing.
And remember: You are what you write. Every time you write, you’re declaring what kind of person you are.
Garner, HBR Guide to Better Business Writing (2012).