Kurt Vonnegut, author and a fierce critic of American politics, once said, “Anything can make me stop and look and wonder, and sometimes learn.”
So, I hope aspiring and determined Bang2writers (and even the ones feeling lost) will learn something new from the great Kurt Vonnegut! Check out his great advice and tips:
1) Find a subject you care about
Find what you care about and what others care about as well. This way your piece and its writing elements will differ drastically from the one on the topic you don’t give a damn about.
2) Do not ramble, though
Write few lines that openly state what you think, rather than few pages of confusingly incomprehensible stuff!
3) Keep it simple
Writing less but saying more (like Shakespeare or Joyce did) is the art and finding those few words to express the most important things will be a challenge but if you don’t strive to become the next Shakespeare or Joyce, then why are your writing?
4) Have the guts to cut
Long sentences speaking nonsense aren’t going to benefit your piece. They will only bore your readers to death and make them misunderstand you. Well, this tip is quite similar to the one above but if you fail to keep it simple, you should find courage to cross the unnecessary words or paragraphs or even pages out.
5) Sound like yourself
Although, you may want to become the next Shakespeare or Joyce, remember not to simply copycat. Find your own writing style which is unique and represents only you. And when somebody reads your anonymous piece, they could immediately say it is written by you, just like when you listen to a song, though you may not know who is singing it, you can tell by vice who is singing.
6) Say what you mean to say
Surely, the same line can be interpreted differently by various persons but still make it impossible for these persons to misunderstand you.
7) Pity the readers
Define your audience, try to stand in their shoes, and write for them to understand you immediately but not to read your piece with a dictionary in their hands.
8) And for really detailed advice …
“… I commend to your attention The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White…”
Also, I’d love to mention my favorite Vonnegut’s advice to the young:
“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
So, don’t think too much about muses and stuff, just write what you really want to say to the world and do it as well as you can!!
Still, if you wonder WHY you should take advice on how you should write? Or WHY you think about improving your writing style? The answer is simple – do this out of respect to your readers. Don’t be one of the empty-headed writers! Think about what Vonnegut advises and take what will work for you.
BIO: Written by Kim Wells, blogger, passionate reader, and writing expert at AW Essay Writers. She loves literature, writing, and dogs. Feel free to circle her on Google+.
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If you feel the need for tips on developing a writing style, you probably don't look right to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' journal Transactions on Professional Communications. You certainly don't open such a publication expecting such tips from novelist Kurt Vonnegut, a writer with a style of his own if ever there was one.
But in a 1980 issue, the author of Slaughterhouse-Five, Jailbird, and Cat's Cradledoes indeed appear with advice on "how to put your style and personality into everything you write." What's more, he does it in an ad, part of a series from the International Paper Company called "The Power of the Printed Word," ostensibly meant to address the need, now that "the printed word is more vital than ever," for "all of us to read better, write better, and communicate better."
This arguably holds much truer now, given the explosion of textual communication over the internet, than it did in 1980. And so which of Vonnegut's words of wisdom can still help us convey our words of wisdom? You can read the full PDF of this two-page piece of ad-ucation here, but some excerpted points follow:
- Find a subject you care about. "Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do."
- Keep it simple. "As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. 'To be or not to be?' asks Shakespeare's Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story 'Eveline' is this one: 'She was tired.' At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do."
- Sound like yourself. "English was Conrad's third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. [ ... ] No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have?"
- Say what you mean. "My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us."
While easy to remember, Vonnegut's plainspoken rules could well take an entire career to master. I'll certainly keep writing on the subjects I care most about — many of them on display right here on Open Culture — keeping it as simple as I can bear, saying what I mean, and sounding like... well, a rootless west-coaster, I suppose, but one question sticks in my mind: which corporation will step up today to turn out writing advice from our most esteemed men and women of letters?
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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.