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How Toosday: a pair of tips from Elmore Leonard to improve your writing

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

It’s time to continue with our (sort of) series of tips from writers about writing – this time, our teacher is Elmore Leonard.

Leonard was a novelist, short story writer and screenwriter – some of best-known works include Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Rum Punch (which became the movie Jacky Brown).

Not only that, back in 2001 he also wrote a list of ten writing tips for the New York Timescheck them out when you have a moment.

Now, these tips were written with the aspiring fiction writer in mind, but there were two bits of advice Leonard gave that really stand out for any writer, writing any type of copy; from a tweet to a novel, with all the webpages, brochures and scripts in between.

And, it’s that dynamic duo of solid advice that we’re concentrating on here.

Leave out the part that readers skip

This is kind of an obvious thing to say when you think about it, but if you’ve got space to fill on a page it can be tempting to waffle.

Here’s what Leonard had to say about it…

Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

What’s interesting is that Leonard wrote this in 2001, before the plethora of social media sites had decimated our attention spans. We’re now even more likely to skip to the good bit, so make sure your writing has real impact from the off.

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it

This is perhaps one of the best tips we’ve seen in this whole series so far.

Think about it, you don’t want your writing to sound like writing. The best social media posts are conversational and engaging. The best landing pages get to the point and get out. The best prospectuses feel like you’ve got a human narrating things for you.

So, write like you would explain something to someone in person. Ditch the jargon, delete the acronyms and cut out anything that isn’t needed.

Your writing will be far better for it.

Check out the rest of our fledgling series of tips about writing, by famous writers

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