When I was 16, I was a gangly teen who thought he’d grow up to be a world-famous rock star. Too bad I never even grew up.
I used to play in local bands in the pubs near where I lived.
I met a kid from a group that played covers by The Who and The Jam. It would be a stretch of the imagination to say we were both songwriters but let’s say we both “made up” the “songs” our bands “performed”.
This kid, I can’t remember his name, had impressed me – partly because he didn’t treat me with the contempt that someone from his school would treat someone from my school (mine was private, his was public) and partly because I quite liked the “lyrics” of his “songs”.
“Here’s a great tip for writing lyrics”
So, as I sat down for a beer with the mod from the wrong side of town, he gave me some lyric-writing advice:
If two lines don’t sound good together, swap them around.
I remember him telling me as though he was imparting great wisdom. Is that it? I thought. That sounds too obvious to be helpful.
We drank up, shook hands and went our separate ways in life.
Too obvious to be helpful
Fast forward a few years, well, couple of decades actually – shit, longer than that? – just fast forward, then.
Writing blog posts and pop songs isn’t that different. You use the same tricks. You vary light and shade. You gather together words, metaphors, rhymes and experiences to craft something that sounds good.
Now that I’ve been writing for a while, I’ve come to realise the value in swapping things around.
Writing in the internet age
Suddenly, we’ve gone from everyone being a consumer of content to everyone being a producer of content.
We have to be short, swift and punchy – whilst delivering quality. For these reasons I regularly write paragraphs of only two sentences.
If two sentences or phrases don’t sound good together, swap them around.
And, guess what? This works. This really works.
It’s all about the edit
I’m not the best writer in the world but I can deliver some passable material with good editing. In On Writing, Stephen King says about 30-40% of his material is cut out from the first draft and afterwards the books are modified and improved after various read-throughs by the author and the editors.
Everything I publish has been read over at least twice and I always improve the flow of an article by swapping sentences.
Why does this tip work so well?
There’s no easy answer. Sometimes, starting with end is good; sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we like an explanation before a conclusion; sometimes we like it the other way round.
But, one thing’s for sure, the order that sentences and phrases come from our brains through our fingertips and onto the page is rarely the best order for the reader.
You can do it
You’ve got to put out content. You’ll only get better with practice. So, write, write, write. And edit, edit, edit!
And, read and re-read what you’ve written and ask yourself, is that better the other way round?
What do you think? Too obvious to be useful? Try it!