Golden Rules of Writing- Part 1

1. Introduction

Over the years when teaching workshops, people have often commented that they liked the stories I tell, and that my stories offered them important learning. About eight years ago, my friend and colleague Molly Gordon suggested it would be a great idea if I wrote up my stories in a newsletter. And thus the Seishindo newsletter was born! Recently, as you know, I gathered all my stories about my life in Japan and created my book, Pure Heart Simple Mind- Wisdom stories from a life in Japan.

Since the book has been out, a number of people have said they would like to learn about my process of writing. Because of the interest shown, I am going to write a series of newsletters about my writing process. In the coming months I will also teach a teleseries on writing.

Needless to say, writing is a form of communication.

What might be a bit surprising to you, is that improving your writing skills can have a positive affect on your verbal communication style and your relationships with others. I hope that as you read through these rules, the reasons why this is so will become evident.

So, even though this article talks about “writing” it is actually talking about a lot more than “just” writing. Because of this, I think this material can serve everyone in the Seishindo community.

Have a read, and let me know what you think!

Here are a few suggestions as you proceed-
If you would like, at some point you can run through these rules while doing some editing in your head.

The word “writing” can be changed in your mind, to “communicating”
The word “reader” can become “partner”, or “spouse” or “audience” etc.
The term “writer” can be changed to “you”, or “leader”, or “keynote speaker”, etc.

2. Golden rules of writing

Be clear about what you are wanting to convey
What is the main point you want to make? It is important that your message comes across in a clear coherent manner.

You need to be certain about your message before you begin. Or at the very least, you need to be certain about the clarity of your message, by the time your piece is nearing completion.

Brevity is to be highly valued.
Write your ideas in as few words as possible while maintaining a friendly atmosphere. Be relentless in cutting out every unnecessary word. “Less equals more!”

Also keep in mind that two short sentences are usually better than one long sentence. People tend to get lost in long sentences, and they might not find their way back to the page.

Your words need to flow.
Speak the words that you write, to help you hear and feel the flow of your writing. Your words need to flow with a rhythm similar to music. Complicated groupings of words will create a verbal traffic jam, that stops the music. Do away with any unnecessary “notes”, and the space in between your words will “say” a lot.

Create a scene that the reader can hold in their mind’s eye, and a logical flow of events and actions
It is important that the reader can envision what you are writing about. If not they will become uncertain and confused.

Make sure that the flow of action and events is logical. Be certain to not jump around from point to point, or from past to present.

Keep in mind that the reader will have little to no idea about your internal world, and the events that have taken place in your life.
You need to tell the reader all the important details and background in the course of your writing. Don’t start out in the middle of a story, unless this is part of your unique writing style.

Introduce yourself through your writing, rather than writing an introduction about yourself.

If you are writing about people, breathe life into your subjects and give them a voice.
It is important to not speak “for” your subjects, or about them. Let your subjects speak for themselves.

Make sure your writing is not all about you.
Your theme needs to be universal in some important way, and your theme needs to talk to the heart of the reader. You readers will not be interested in reading about you, unless reading about you, helps them to understand themselves.

The more personal your writing, the more universal it needs to be.

Be certain to not indulge yourself in your suffering.
People don’t want to read a sad story about a sad person, they want to read about someone who has somehow triumphed, somehow persevered.

In most instances your writing should carry at least a hint of “a life that works, a life that has a future”. It usually is not a good idea to leave your readers distraught or mired in your problems.

Always remember that your opinion and “the truth” are not the same.
If you are writing about your opinions, you need to make sure that you leave room for other interpretations. Be certain to not try and tell people how they should feel about a certain story or issue.

Speak from your heart, in every day language.
Don’t try and rhyme words just because you are writing “poetry”.

By all means don’t use flowery language unless it really fits, and that is infrequently.

Keep it simple and straightforward, and stay away from complex allegories, metaphors etc.

When you have the choice of using a “big” word or a “small” word, use a “small” word.
You don’t want to try and impress people with your vast vocabulary, and you don’t want them to have to constantly look in their dictionary. Every time the reader needs to look in a dictionary, it is like stopping a movie you are watching at home, while you go and get a snack. You break the flow of the action.

The more your writing wanders, the more the reader’s mind will wander.
In most instances you should only make one main point, and not wander from that point.
There can of course be exceptions, but in most instances you will want to leave the reader with one main point to think about, rather than several.

So, in writing this first article, what is my main point?

“Keep it simple, while maintaining an emotional connection to both your content and your reader.”

••••

That’s it for today!
I hope you enjoy what you read, and that I have created some nutritious food for thought.

I will continue this conversation in my next newsletter.

Let us know your thoughts...