The Best Writing Tip You’ve Never Heard

playing guitarWhen 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!

Did you enjoy the article? If so, please share!

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Comments

  1. says

    great tips, especially like the 2 sentence paragraphs. When i read your blog, its easy to read thru or scan. I am going to try introduce this to my own blog.

  2. says

    Thanks for this. I hope to write my first blog post later this week to coincide with the relaunch of my website next week. I’ve been very much immersed in the world of Cubbon these last few weeks – from paperbacks and ebooks to Udemy courses and your blog!!

  3. says

    Hi Rob,

    Great tip – I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing.

    A lot of the time I can write in a way that sounds odd. But changing around the sentence order totally works.

    Thanks

    Naomi

  4. says

    Hi Rob,

    No way, not too obvious at all. I’ve learned the power of editing, the power or re-reading, and how ordering things helps you get your point across effectively.

    I sometimes write the body first, and then the intro. Then I may switch up certain aspects of each section. Then I may ditch a section, re-read, and of course, re-read again, and re-write parts, or re-order.

    We only hear how the work flows by reading our posts out loud.

    I recall Rob rushing to publish not a few short months ago. Now I learned my lesson. I write posts 1-2 days before the publish, and then re-read a few times to assess the flow. If things sounds good, and flow smoothly, I’ll go with it. It my posts sound forced, or off in some way, I’ll re-order.

    Re-reading is a blogger’s best editorial friend. You’ll find errors, and also, trim so much fat by reading over your post a few times. You’ll also nail down that exact order which makes your post flow smoothly….just like yours here.

    Thanks much Rob, appreciate it.

    I’ll tweet through Triberr shortly.

    Ryan

    • says

      You’re absolutely right, Ryan, I read, re-read, and shuffle things about constantly. Trim the fat as well. There’s a lot of that! I don’t usually read them out loud. I should try that, thank you for the suggestion. Thank you, Ryan, I appreciate you. :)

  5. David Waumsley says

    Nice tip – thanks Rob. Maybe a bit like how the best movie acting is down to the editor. Move over content – context is king.

  6. says

    Hey Rob Cubbon,

    I have read your article completely. I m a new reader and happy to have found you. These are great tips – thank you. I’m impressed by your blogging
    Thanks for the tips and I look forward to reading more posts in the future!

    Excellent blog, Thanks so much for sharing

  7. says

    Self editing is really hard. I think it really needs an external influence, as people become too attached to their words. I know I do.

    The swapping around thing is a good idea. People often want to write a story/post sequentially, because that’s how they might tell a story out loud. Actually playing around with the order is a really good thing. In fact, that’s what a press release is: a reverse story.

    When thinking about writing tips, I don’t think they come much better than Elmore Leonard’s https://plus.google.com/+PhilSzomszor/posts/aWohS9HYKyU

  8. says

    Most drafts just have too many words. When you take out the inessential, a piece starts to sing. Then the switching around lets you take out more words, because they were explained earlier. Can’t Explain by the Who even dispenses with a subject (since it goes without saying). The first time the subject is mentioned is “Hear what I say girl.” Rock uses “Tarzan talk” and switches it around, too. Readers appreciate efficiency and they like it when words bang together in sonorous ways. How to do that? Switch stuff around!

    • says

      Hello Astro, yes I love “trimming the fat” on my writing. It’s incredible how much you can get rid of. Yes, readers love the efficiency. It makes for a nice read.

  9. says

    Excellent post Rob. I enjoyed reading this article especially the swapping sentences and phrases around part. I will try this on my own blog posts.

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