More important than what you say, is how you say it. When trying to teach us writing techniques, my high school English teacher would often tell us to show in our writing, rather than tell. There are many people who can write clearly and follow grammatical conventions, but there are few who can do so and keep a reader engaged. The way to keep your reader interested is through “freshness of expression” or finding unique, nontraditional methods to relate concepts that will provide your readers with a new way of looking at the world. To that end, I’ve assembled some tips you can use to give your writing a fresh perspective.
Writing creatively relies on creating associations between ideas in novel ways. Having a large knowledge base from which to draw from gives you an advantage in that you can form more connections and introduce your readers ideas that they may have never considered before. For example, I recently came across an article on the semaphore line, a group of devices that were used to transmit messages before the invention of the telegraph. Semaphore comes from Greek words meaning ‘sign bearer’. I can now create a metaphor where I describe the semaphore as an iron mime, waving its arms in silent rotation to express a coded meaning. I’ve now related the line to something the reader is familiar with, and provided them with an image that will help them remember the meaning and importance of the information.
This brings me to my next point- once you’ve broadened your mind it’s time to start connecting the dots. When writing about something, try to express it in terms of something else. You can do this to intrigue the reader, or surprise them by taking a seemingly unrelated image or idea and making it relevant. Instead of saying someone is as beautiful as a rose, you might compare his or her complexion to the reflection of a sunrise in a pristine lake.
The most renowned poets are recognized for how much meaning they are able to express despite the scarcity of words used. The way to do this is to write on multiple ‘levels’- that is, the literal and then the symbolic, or the metaphorical. In order to do this, you have to plan your words very carefully so that the alternate meanings or interpretations you’re trying to convey will come through with the appropriate amount of insight and at the right time. In this way, writing a poem is a lot like designing a puzzle that is meant to be solved by identifying and interpreting phrases correctly. As a writer, it is important to plan your work in such a way so that you will lead your readers down the correct path, and so that they will find the appropriate clues on that path to understand your work.
Keep an ear out
Part of planning is gathering ideas. Even if you’re not completely sure what sort of topic you’d like to write on, you should always be on the lookout for inspiration. Ideas usually strike me at odd times- for example, I was sitting in the back of a van as I am now, looking out the window and saw a woman wearing black leather gloves while driving in her car. I would have never thought of such a scene myself, frankly I would think it very unlikely someone would wear gloves on such an occasion, but it happened. So I recommend carrying around a small pad or typing notes into a note taking application on a cell phone so that you can capture snippets of life that you think others might find interesting.
These are just a few ways to get those creative juices flowing. For even more tips, check out my other article on finding inspiration in your life.