Once I was in a room with Kate Grenville, an unconventionally beautiful woman with thick-rimmed glasses and wildly curly hair. She read to me from a draft of the novel she was working on at the time. She held me captive with each word. I was there with her characters as she described where they lived, what they wore, who they loved, what they were thinking, how they felt. Her words were alive in my imagination. I. Was. Mesmerized.
She looked up from her work. “I don’t like that piece at all,” she said, “and it won’t make it into my book.”
The spell was broken. There was a collective gasp from the approximately 199 other people who were also in the room with Kate and me that day. We were shocked that such a beautiful piece of writing could be discarded so easily. It was Sydney Writers festival, and Kate Grenville and a few other authors were talking to us about the art, and the hard work, of writing.
Writing is hard work. Just like you have to learn to compose photos well, how to manipulate light, how read histograms, how to build rapport with your clients, so too, do you have to learn how to write. Think of your favourite novel. Do you think the author sat down at his or her desk one day, put pen to paper and produced a brilliant piece of work in one go? Nope!
Writing is not something that only those with ‘the gift’ can do well. Even great writers need to hone their craft. They need to write, review, re-write, and review and re-write again and again until they are satisfied with their work. And then they hand it over to someone else to review. And so it goes, around and around. Sometimes it feels like the drafts and re-writes will never end.
Eventually that process does end, though, and you’re left with a great piece of writing that is ready to be published.
Okay, so you and I are not writing novels. Well, I know I’m not. Are you? I am assuming most of the people reading this post are photographers. Mostly we just write short blog posts. We also write price menus, product guides and promotional pieces for our businesses. These all need to be well presented and well-written if they are to win the attention of our audiences (prospective clients).
What makes good writing?
- Good writing is effective. It is writing that achieves its purpose. What that purpose is will vary from one piece of writing to the next. When you were at school, your purpose in writing was probably to get a good grade. (And that’s a shame. Why can’t students be given writing tasks with real-world outcomes? They’d care a whole lot more about that ‘letter to the editor assignment’ if they actually had to send it to the editor!) Your purpose now is probably to engage with your clients, to build relationships with them and ultimately for them to hire you as a photographer.
- Good writing has a clear audience and keeps that audience in mind. How do you find your audience? Probably it’s the same as your target market, and there are loads of places where you can find help defining that. (Try here, here and here.) It doesn’t matter who your audience is, as long as you have them in mind when you’re writing. Why? Well, because if you write the same way to a 16-year-old girl who loves to chat with her friends on Skype, post pictures of her cat on Facebook and surf at the local beach as you do to a 37-year-old mother of two who reads Agatha Christie novels, grows her own organic fruit and veg, and loves to knit, someone’s either going to be offended or bored, neither of which is good.
- Good writing has no room for extraneous words. Nor does it need long words just for the heck of it, like ‘extraneous’.
- Good writing engages its audience, and keeps the reader entertained while it achieves its goals. Good writing has been drafted, reviewed, proofed and polished until it gleams.
So that’s what good writing is, but how do you produce it? What do good writers do? The next three posts will cover some of the practices that help real writers write. Stay tuned!
Jennifer Taylor is a Sydney child and family photographer who also holds a PhD in Early Childhood Education specialising in literacy development and bilingualism. When she’s not taking photos, spending time with her family or teaching yoga, she can be found standing outside real estate agents’ windows, red pen in hand.