sensory overload

Ways to improve your writing skills

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 29 Apr 2023




Definitely ‘old school’.


All good writing requires a command of the English language, a practice in phrasing one’s ideas in the most apt, concise, flowing and even poetic language possible.

I’ve heard very intelligent people dismiss the ‘poetic’ aspect. But if you’re not writing a scientific treatise which others must read for the data only, and (as Samuel Johnson put it): “a task more to be endured than enjoyed”, poetry does come into play as it engages and charms the reader to read on, whatever the subject or story.

There are books of great fame but very slender in material or message, but the prose is so fine one is almost mesmerized to read on, and the experience is delicious. I think “The Vicar of Wakefield” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress” are two such examples, though the second does have a message, though vague.

So euphony, metaphor, alliteration, well rounded, balanced sentences, an elegant, flowing style, to sum it up, can almost trump content for the reader. Such is the power of poetic prose.

To some lucky few this comes naturally, a fluency with words and phrases just as there are graces in all other departments of human interactions, like beauty and charm, which some possess without ever having to have lifted their pretty little finger for it, a gift of nature, God given and free.

But for the vast majority of us mortals it has to be painstakingly earned and practiced and slowly attained, to greater or lesser degrees.

Here’s a few insights I think apply, after year’s of thought and reading and thousands of pages filled and reviewed in my effort to compose something worthy of comparison with the dead authors I most admire.

First come the words themselves, the building blocks of all writing. The more you have of them and the better you understand their precise meanings and usages, the better you’re equipped for this task, to build a story or essay, a house of bricks.

There’s three ways to acquire a language:

One, listen carefully to those who best speak it.

Two, read the books that have a reputation for excellence in it.

And thirdly, read the best dictionaries that define it. Read them haphazardly, frequently. Leaf through them at idle moments. On every page you’ll learn something valuable.

What I hate about the internet is that when you look up something or ask a precise question, it gives you a precise answer and nothing else. You might enjoy Wikipedia and gain some unexpected information. But when you type in a word and then ‘synonyms’ you just get a list which tells you little. All older dictionaries give you the etymology of the word, it’s origin, original sense, and changing usages over time and its best use, in examples drawn from the best authors.

Take Crabb for example and notice how he distinguishes the subtle shades of difference in words that most only see as synonyms.


But even better than that, it’s a word on a page with fifty other words and the eye wanders and drinks in all sorts of unexpected delights, other words close to it in spelling, a feast of sights and ideas. You might think this is just idle wandering but the mind constantly organizes and puts all miscellaneous matter into some pigeon hole, for later use. And you won’t believe the combinations and ideas it comes up with from this medley.

So I recommend a Webster's, Crabb’s synonyms, and leafing through the shelves of older bookshops and picking out stray volumes, opening them in the middle and reading half a page, or more if it interests you, then going on to the next shelf, again and again, as fancy dictates, if you want to see the English language in its full panoply. Or read collections of excerpts or essays. This gives you options, breadth, and if something inspires you, breath.

And what I recommend, is that you go back a century or two, or even three, in authors and sample them. The difference will give you a different perspective as they were free of the babel and white noise of this information flooded age, a hundred voices speaking simultaneously from every screen, trying to drown out and contradict each other. You might even find some serenity.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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