Can a fiction writer teach you about business writing? Of course. Regardless of their genre, all writers know that their words must be clear and meaningful.
Famed Trinidadian author VS Naipaul learnt this as he progressed as a writer. He had also looked at some of his essays from his university undergraduate days, and decided that what he had written wasn’t “proper writing”. So, he changed his style and started using only simple, direct statements. He stuck to those rules for three years.
He also shared those rules with the Indian news magazine Tehelka a few years ago, when an editor asked him for tips for the magazine’s beginner writers. And they’re just as apt for business writing. After all, good writing is good writing. And good rules are good rules. Apply them, and see how they improve your clarity and conciseness.
Here are Naipaul’s seven rules:
1. Do not write long sentences. Write sentences of no more than ten to twelve words.
2. Make each sentence a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.
3. Use short words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.
4. Never use a word you don’t know the meaning of.
5. Avoid adjectives except for ones of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.
6. Use concrete words, avoid abstract ones.
7. Practise these rules every day for six months.
I know. It might be hard to stick to these habits.
You’ve got to unlearn all of the flowery, longwinded writing you’ve become accustomed to seeing in the workplace. But the more you practise them is the more you’ll improve your clarity and conciseness. Ultimately, you’ll also improve your ability to write under tight deadlines, because you instinctively know how to break down concepts, and simplify your expression.
Are you ready to start using Naipaul’s rules?