Now, his writing is wonderfully original, and I can never fault his facts, logic, or strength of enthusiasm. But, in those early days of inspiration and creativity, he was clearly writing as much for himself as for his readers.
I pointed out that few people want to read a 4-page essay online. I pointed out that a short article could be just as descriptive and eloquent as a long one. I pointed out that he’d been given a word count for a reason.
But once the words were written he became attached to each one, and getting him to part with any was hard work. We had some tense evenings. Harsh words were spoken.
Let there be enlightenmentFast forward to last Saturday, when he spent a morning rereading some of his early work. After some incredulous snorting, he turned to me and said, “Why did you let me waffle on like that? No one has time to read a 4-page review! And what’s up with all those adjectives?”
Help yourself to help your readersMost writers who look back at their early work can see where they went wrong. The difficult thing is understanding what’s working better now, and keeping at it. Here’s four simple things I tried to teach my partner, that he eventually came to realise made sense.
1. Spend time away from your writing.
Even a day or two can give you fresh perspective and help you see where the problems are.
2. Always think about who you’re writing for.
Will your readers really read every word? Maybe not. Focus on giving them what they’re looking for.
3. Use as many words as you need to, but not more.
It’s tempting to add in long or unusual words to make your writing sound clever or important. Actually, you sound smarter when you write in a way people can understand.
4. Seek constructive feedback.
A fresh set of eyes can help identify holes, repetition, and waffle. Accepting feedback can be difficult at first, but you’re in good company — even Booker Prize winners can’t avoid this step.
Anyone can learn to write well. It takes time, practice, and humility. Good luck.