"The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
David Foster Wallace seemed to use writing as a way to treat his various depressions and ailments - as a way to "continue" almost.
So perhaps enjoyment isn't the write word, but pg is describing a thing akin to a hunger that must be satisfied. Dang doesn't have that impetus. I do. So I write.
Perhaps someday I shall get read as well. ;-)
I'd be surprised if DFW never enjoyed the mechanics of putting words together. Depression kills enjoyment, but that is a separate issue.
From what I've read he was raised with a great love for words and read the dictionary for fun as a kid. On top of that his writing is known for being 'meta', which is very much about the mechanics.
He always struck me as a writer unusually excited about the mechanics, unusual words, the structure of his articles and books, and so on.
As for his depression: I can't help but wonder to what degree his writing might've actually worsened his issues instead of treated them. Whenever I read something of his I cannot help but feel like it's both a diagnosis and example of a particular class of issues that is very much worsened by dwelling on them too much. Like an active alcohol writing about alcoholism and self-triggering a desire for more alcohol.
Of course perhaps that's exactly what makes me love his works so much, because they seem honest and very accurate. Maybe that kind of accuracy is difficult to pull of if you're writing purely from memory or imagination.
(Which is, of course, a disaster, since it means I almost never write anything but comments.)
That probably sounds complainey and (illustrating my point here) I don't mean it that way. It's more of a "huh" feeling.
2. You need to understand the idea of style: there are multiple styles, each with its own set of assumptions about how you address the reader, what "truth" is, etc.. "Clear and Simple as the Truth" is a great book about the idea of multiple styles, and one particular style (the classic one).
3. Learn the practical style, which is suitable for many business writing situations. "Style: basics of clarity and grace" by Williams and Colomb is great book on the topic.
Omit needless words. There's a page in Stephen King's autobiography "On Writing" where he shows an editor's comments on an article he wrote as a teenager. Half of the words are crossed out. Remembering that example improved my writing significantly.
Also, understand that writing is an iterative process. It can take 5-6 passes to craft a good sentence.
My first attempts at writing were monstrosities of flowery descriptions and long-winded dialogues, an awful hybrid prose/poetry. That didn't improve, but I realized the art is getting an interesting message across as simply as possible, not showing off your vocab or pre-empting the reader's imagination.
"The Elements of Style" belongs to that 1% of books that are truly able to change the way you think (and write).
I tried to apply what I learned in "The Element of Styles" and "On Writing Well" to my company blog: https://medium.com/plainflow/how-we-write-at-plainflow-7e994...
E.B. White, the 'editor', was one of the best essayists around, but he didn't particularly obey the rules in his own book.
It does have its critics but I think it's a very useful guide for most writers, and being a small book it is easily referenced and has remained useful to me to this day, much like K&R was when I did "C" programming.
I by no means can call myself good at writing, but I do learn from books I've read and try to apply what I 'discover' in my own writing. Find an author you like, read up on his works and see how he writes. If you like his works, chances are you like his writing style and it might match what you're hoping to create.
In school, you get it from your teachers, but I was surprised to learn that what I learned about writing in school really was just scratching the surface. I have learned a lot more from talking with people online in forums like HN, blogging and doing paid freelance writing. I am still struggling to get real traction with my blogs. Although there is a long history of my comments in forums getting ridiculous overreactions from people, it has been surprisingly hard to translate that into meaningful engagement with my blog writing.
Writing is about communicating. Good grammar and all that matter, but it matters more that you have something you need to convey for some reason. Writing is merely the means to convey it. And that is wherein the work lies.
1. Politics and the English Language (Orwell)
2. The Age of the Essay (Graham).
3. On Writing (Stephen King)
4. On Writing Well (Zinsser)
5. The Elements of Style (Strunk and White)
6. Essential English for Journalists, Editors, and Writers (Evans)
1. Read. Read everything. Read omnivorously. Read fiction and non-fiction, books and newspapers and magazines and Web sites. Read works by live authors and dead ones. Read stuff you wouldn't normally read. Part of developing your own voice is learning to hear the music in other peoples'.
2. Write. Write constantly. Write little notes and long essays. Write stories. Write a journal. Write down what happened to you today and what you dreamed last night. Write for an audience (even if it doesn't exist yet) and write for yourself. Writing is the process of trying on new voices until you find the one that fits you best. The only way to find the one that fits is to try on a lot that don't.
For general language skills, find authors who have good style and read as much of their work as you can. They might be well-known book authors (I personally enjoy CS Lewis and EO Wilson, amongst others) or a newspaper with a high standard of penmanship (to German readers I recommend Die Zeit, I'm not sure what an English equivalent would be).
You should read a bit of everything, but emphasize the type of writing that you are going to be doing yourself. For example, scientific papers require a very different style of writing to, say, newspaper essays. You need to be thoroughly acquainted with the type that is relevant to you. (Finding your voice comes later, first you need to master the basics.)
Effective writers (from farm-content buzzfeed to copywriter bill bernbach to pulitzer-winning journalist bill dedman) distill the most relevant events they've personally seen into a structure that coneveys the experience in order.
The delightful parody version of this is 'write what you know' in george lucas in love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0olm8478DE (and every writing manual). But the reason this line shows up everywhere is that it's a good first step.
Also, spend only 30% of your time on the first draft. It's seldom any good. Cultivate editors you trust who can work with you and meet you at the right stage. Writer Julian Fellowes talks about 'editing stages' in the first minute of this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RSYT2gQFlQ.
I think the context that prefaces the question betrays a misunderstanding.
When you really start digging into crafting messages, you start finding out things like the medium you work in actually changes how you should structure your message. Famous examples of why this should be done exist, like the first presidential debate that was both televised and broadcast on the radio. People who saw the television thought one candidate had won the debate. People who listened thought the other had won.
Twitter as a medium promotes a certain kind of content. Learning to be a better writer isn't going to change that. If the goal of learning to be a better writer is to prevent some sort of decline in writing as seen on Twitter? Don't learn more about writing.
There are so many different kinds of writing and being better at one doesn't mean you will be better at another. So really you're safe learning most of writing. Unfortunately, you're bound to run across ideas like using a hook to attract attention as quickly as possible.
Then you run the risk of joining the hyperbolic tweeters.
HBR Guide to Better Business Writing
Also, in general all "HBR Guide to _____" books are awesome.
Though I've gotten paid to write for a technology website, I am not a strong writer. But, I currently spend about 10 hours a week writing for my blog and other mediums and am continuously trying to get better.
Assuming one is putting in the time and effort, the next thing that will most quickly speed improvement is having an editor or other competent reviewer provide critical feedback, including on grammar, structure, and style. Then, keep rewriting a piece until you are no longer unhappy with it.
Find an honest editor, someone who will give you objective feedback and correct your mistakes.
I wrote a bunch and thought I was pretty good at technical documentation, and hey, I've got this blog I maintain [well, less now]. Then a real editor got hold of an effort of mine and it came back to me with many, many corrections. And you know, it was a LOT better; I couldn't argue with any of it.
And I know that Strunk and White is out of style, but I still recommend it.
Have people read it; especially people with no incentive to just "be nice about it".
Write a lot.
A great tip to improve your writing is that sentences of varied length seem more natural.
Ignore most of the rules. You stick to most rules by default but breaking them is what can make a piece excellent.
Get great at research. Unless you are writing about yourself, your life or your experiences then you will need data to make the work come to life.
Remember the 10,00 hour rule. To be great at something takes work and practice. So find a way to practice regularly and daily. I spent ~10 years writing Wikipedia articles.
If anyone is interested in writing better non fiction I recommend "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser. It's compact and full of easy wins that one can translate quickly into their day to day written correspondence etc.
Technical writing is a genre all its own.
3. Turn off the TV, and social media
(You can apply this to a lot of other things)
Not sure what you mean by "take" though. I think it is both good and important, if that is what you were asking.
I'd say the greatest insight that I've had from writing 1,000 words every single day for nearly the past year has been that simply writing 1,000 words every single day is not enough to foster real improvement. The habit definitely helps you overcome the initial resistance that you might feel towards getting started, and if you're not already good at typing or transferring thoughts in your head into words on the screen, I'm sure it helps with that too, but there comes a point at which, if you actually want to continue growing and becoming a better writer, you need a goal other than "write every day".
For me, the act of writing something that I intend to publish, to share with others, forces me to work on the writing, to tweak it, to think about how it can be made better, to question its clarity, to question the value of what I'm sharing. If what I'm intending to share contains a story, then knowing that it's going to be shared forces me to work on storycraft, to think about how someone else is going to interpret what I wrote. None of that happens naturally when you write privately, when your only goal is to see the word counter pass 1,000.
I've found that the greatest advancements in my own writing have come when I was blogging regularly (comparing posts from one year to another makes this very obvious). Whenever I've stopped blogging regularly for long periods of time, I find that my writing stops improving, even if the overall amount of writing I'm doing on a regular basis doesn't change that much (e.g., Slack messages, comments like these, etc.).
I'm not saying that you cannot improve as a writer when you write privately, just that improvement requires working toward specific goals that you know will challenge you to improve. Write a haiku. Write a short story. Look up from your laptop, find an object, and then try to write 1,000 words describing that object in as fine detail as possible. Do the same thing with an emotion that you've felt. And if you can, share what you write. Even if others don't give you feedback, the very knowledge that somebody, somewhere, will likely be judging your writing will cause you to subconsciously work a little harder to write better, to rewrite and to edit (which is the work that actually produces good writing).
My goal is to write 1+ words a day.
I think that's what has helped me the most. Sure a few rules of thumb such as "omit needless words" and "eschew obfuscation" but mostly just reading a lot.
Do I think writing is important? Yes. I automatically disqualify a job candidate if their writing is poor.
Do I think writing skills have gone down? Yes. However this did not happen recently. I noticed it in 1997-1998 as my younger brother's generation starting to spend more time using instant messaging on the computer than they were doing their homework.
Do my views represent society at large? I am afraid they do not. I am continually flabbergasted by the comments that I see on YouTube and on news websites. In my opinion either schools are failing us or society is. Either way it has become clear that people are rewarded in the communities they deem important by being confrontational and derogatory without formulating and conveying a proper argument.
After all, with the advent of first SMS, then messenger platforms, the average teenager is probably using the written word a few magnitudes more often than the generation that grew up in, say, the 1990s. If you go further back, maybe young people still wrote letters. But there was definitely a gap of at least a decade or two where writing was strictly reserved for unpleasant things. Sure, they're using various shortcuts, emojis, slang, and not enough capitalisation. But it's hard not to see most of that as a rather creative adaptation of language to new mediums.
What has changed is the audience that people with rather strange views can now command. I'm not even talking about youtube celebrities or 'twitter thought leaders'; just your average Joe from Sacramento who thinks it's high times these lying journalists get stomped to ground. He's now writing that down, and maybe 10 people read it, and he reads 10 similar things about jews/scientists/the CIA virus to start the next civil war etc. Where before, your opinions were regularly brought back into something like a mainstream consensus, you can now find approval for almost anything, if you just try.
Let's see how that ends...
Does the number of rhetorical questions you ask in a day indicate how much of a bad day it is?
Speak their language.
Say what you really want to say.
edit: always be practicing, revising, improving.