Tom Hodgkinson tries out some new writing techniques
What makes a good writer? It’s a question I asked myself while doing John-Paul Flintoff’s funny, useful and charming new online course for us, How to Write. One of John-Paul’s central arguments is that good writers have found their own voice.
To start to do this, he suggests you just need to bang out something without worrying too much about whether it’s good or bad. You can always go over it later.
And actually, this is a good strategy when you’ve found your voice as well.
The same tip was recently given by the brilliant Simpsons writer, John Swartzwelder, in a hilarious New Yorker interview:
I do have a trick that makes things easier for me. Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.”
Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it.
So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. And be sure to send me a small royalty every time you do it.
What makes a good writer: a fun exercise
John-Paul has a load of other tricks and tips for improving your writing, many of them used by Shakespeare, which I think more or less guarantees they’re fairly good.
He also gives his pupils some brilliant bits of homework. One of his exercises is to write a sentence that starts with a word of one letter, followed by a word with two letters, then three and so on as far as you can go.
This was my attempt (I got up to thirteen):
I go for very happy people, utopian dreamers picturing ridiculous fantastical cosmopolitan megalopolises.
Not bad, huh? If indeed “megalopolises” is a real word.
“How to Write with John-Paul Flintoff” is an inspiring and practical online course for novice and experienced writers alike. Find out more here.
Academy members get John-Paul’s course for free. Sign up here.