The delivery today of the first copy of a book I have contributed chapters to prompted me to think: what are the key tips for writing long?
I am, by training and perhaps nature, a short writer: news, feature and comment articles are my craft. But contributing two chapters to the book London After Recession: A Fictitious Capital? stretched me, as have other book contributions.
Here are my 10 tips for writing long:
1 Start writing where ever you are comfortable: this breaks the rule of always planning what you are going to write, but it works. Get some words on paper. Perhaps a description, but get those fingers working.
2 Long pieces are mostly about both authority and argument: what do the authorities say about this subject and what’s your argument? The authorities are those who have written before about this subject. And by writing, you become an authority.
3 Describe what is in your head on the page. As with all writing, you are not there with the reader, that’s the power of writing to transmit. You will have assumptions and context in your head which you need to convey to the reader.
4 Continue to re-read your work. Not just once. But every time you work on it read the whole chapter, section or whatever part you are working on. Then the linkages will be clearer, you will be able to see how you can convey the context and inferences better.
5 You can break a long piece into sections which are not totally joined together. To go off on a tangent in shorter pieces can lose the reader. But in longer writing you can start a totally new topic even within a chapter without reference to what you have just been saying. But link them together at the end.
6 Have a beginning, a middle and an end. Make sure you tell the reader what you are about to say, then tell them, and then tell them what you have said. This threads the parts or sections back together again.
7 Don’t forget visuals: make charts, graphs and diagrams as they will help readers get the message.
8 When working through a long piece you may have to refer to other sources: make sure you get those references correct as you write them and put them in your references in the back. There is nothing more time consuming after finishing the piece than having to look out the reference which was fresh in your head at the time but is now forgotten. And vary the references, unless your work is only focused on analysing one other author. This will give your piece more authority rather than relying on one other author.
9 Use footnotes. In order to get your argument flowing you may have to leave out parts of the detail: use that detail in footnotes which can be at the bottom of the page or gathered in the back.
10 Work on the art of précis: for example, be able to take a chapter of another author and present it in 100 words. Use this technique for your opening and the end of your long piece.
You can judge whether I have followed my own rules by buying London After Recession edited by Poynter, MacRury and Calcutt and published by Ashgate with special references to chapters 5 and 6.
One thought on “10 tips for writing long”
Very good advice. Will hopefully put to good use.