There’s no magic formula to becoming a successful and eloquent writer. The first step, they say, is to sit down and write eloquently. Very little is said about how eloquent writing is actually achieved.
An age-old writer’s cliché goes like this: Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. That’s definitely a good example of eloquent writing. It’s an adage that’s been attributed to many famed, eloquent writers throughout history — Stephen King, Dorothy Parker, Oliver Stone — but actually traces its roots back to writer Mary Heaton Vorse, who reportedly fed the tidbit to a young Sinclair Lewis.
Vorse, of course, was right. But discipline (or to put it more expressively, derriere in chair) is only half the battle. Becoming a good and eloquent writer takes a lot more skill — and eloquence doesn’t come naturally to everyone who sits down with a pen and a piece of paper.
But how does one actually become an eloquent writer? Eloquence is subjective, of course, but by and large, we consider eloquent writing those works that are fluent, elegant, persuasive or simply good at conveying what they’re meant to convey.
While flowery language can be beautiful — and it certainly has its place in the world of literature — eloquence is about more than just stringing together a series of pretty sentences.
It’s also about saying what you want to say clearly and with conviction. No over-complications. No superlatives. And certainly, no robotic voice.
Here are some great ways to work on the eloquence factor of your work, with advice from some of the literary world’s best.
How To Be An Eloquent Writer.
Eloquent Writing Doesn’t Come Easy: Read Everything You Can Read and More
If we could hand one piece of advice to every new writer alongside a copy of “The Elements of Style,” it would be this: Read.
To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. It seems obvious, but as working writers, we rarely get the chance to do anything but produce.
There is some value, though, in taking a step back from execution in favor of inspiration and research. Think of reading, whether it’s for pleasure or for business, as a fundamental part of your writing process.
Many masters of eloquence will echo this sentiment in their advice to budding wordsmiths. Just ask the Portuguese Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago, whose process is to write two pages, then “read and read and read.”
Reading helps good writers,
- hone their own voice,
- learn from the experts,
- boost creativity,
- enhance vocabulary
- and enjoy a little bit of an escape at the same time.
For writers, reading is like training for a marathon. You won’t make it past the first mile without spending some time hitting the books, so to speak. If you want to improve your eloquent writing skills, read the works of the most eloquent writers.
Work on Your Vocabulary Like You’re Studying for the SAT
It’s not enough to just keep a thesaurus alongside your favorite journaling notebook. In fact, readers can tell when you’re relying too heavily on the synonym-finder — oftentimes, it can feel inauthentic when you don’t integrate words that feel natural as part of the greater work.
Reserve the thesaurus for preliminary research, not as a go-to guide for finding the right words. To ramp up your vocabulary, the best thing you can do is — you guessed it — read!
But you can also use tricks like memorizing quotes and reading things you wouldn’t normally read in order to improve your mental word vault. And if you get tired, remember your goal. You want to be a successful writer.
Give Yourself Prompts and Writing Exercises
Don’t listen to any writer who says the words constantly flow! Everyone struggles with writer’s block from time to time.
The trick, though, is overcoming writer’s block and making every minute you have to write a productive one. Giving yourself daily prompts and writing exercises can help you overcome the mental block while also allowing you to hone certain writing skills.
Here’s one of the best exercises for improving eloquence:
- Choose a simple sentence, like “I walked through the park to the theater.”
- Rewrite the sentence, word by word, until you have something totally different. You might end up with something like, “I strolled along the promenade until I came to the theater,” or something entirely different from the original sentence. Rewrite the sentence as many times as you can in as many different ways as you can. Use active verbs.
- Be specific, advised Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during one of her classes at the Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop, it’ll make your stories sound eloquent and more authentic.
- Choose the sentences you like the best, the ones that make you sound more eloquent. Study them until you determine why you like them the best. Is it the flow? The authenticity? The cadence? Know why you like certain works on a granular level and try to mimic that with every new sentence. In other to achieve eloquent writing, you have to be deliberate about your choice of words.
As we know, eloquence is about more than enhancing language. It’s also about simplifying it. To ensure that you’re saying what you need to say sans fluff — in the writing world, we call it murdering your darlings — reverse the exercise above.
Start with a complex sentence and do your best to abridge it without taking away any meaning or poetry. It’s truly a skill to be able to trim the fat. Just take it from Mark Twain:
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Mimic Eloquently Written Work While Honing Your Own Voice
Another wonderful thing you can do to make your work more eloquent is to practice a little bit of mimicry.
There’s a secret among good writers: They all copy each other, especially the most eloquent ones. Maybe you don’t see it in their final drafts, but if you look at an entire body of work, you’ll notice that successful writers almost always take cues from the greats.
Voltaire said it best:
“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed from one another.”
Writing a passage in the style of your favorite writer is a great exercise for improving word choice and flow.
Of course, a good writer is also one who has her own voice. The key is to borrow from the greats in exercise and practice until it morphs into something that’s your own.
And, as long as you’re writing what’s original and authentic to you, you’ll come away with work that’s imaginative and eloquent.
Wrap Up On How To Improve At Eloquent Writing.
It’s no secret. The most successful writers are eloquent in their storytelling. If you want to win writing awards or get accepted into a creative writing MFA program, strive for eloquence. Learn how to be an eloquent writer.
You can accomplish this, it you read the works of eloquent writers and if you practice writing.
Have you learned to write eloquently? Let us know how you learned to the art of eloquent writing.
Chris Napa serves as the Global E-commerce Experience Manager for A.T. Cross Company, LLC. Chris oversees the customer experience on Cross.com from the Providence, RI headquarters. Before joining A.T. Cross Company, LLC., Chris was the User Experience Lead at FootJoy, part of the initial team that launched their eCommerce site in 2016, and the E-commerce Project Manager at TaylorMade Golf Company. When not thinking about enhancing customer’s online experiences, Chris can be found cycling, golfing, or bowling.