5 Rules to Avoid Becoming a Boring Writer


The human brain: 20 billion neurons, many firing at the same time. It constantly takes in visual, audio and other sensory input while also pulling up memories from throughout the brain's entire life. It is constantly active, unpredictable, and chaotic. And as a writer, it is your enemy. Because you have to constrain this monster and keep it focused on you.

My subject today is holding the reader’s interest, and hopefully you're still with me. You have this great idea for an article or a story, but how do you make sure you can grab a reader by his fidgety little brain and make him stay with you for the entire journey? For that, every paragraph needs to be carefully constructed.

Now, this sentence is not a particularly strong opening for a paragraph. This sentence following it doesn't particularly add anything. And we're three sentences in and still haven't gotten to the point, while this is also somewhat of a long, rambling sentence, much longer than it needs to be. At this point we're just meandering. This final sentence is anticlimactic and does nothing to interest anyone in reading the next paragraph.

See, that was a bad paragraph. That's how you don't want to write. You have to remember you are fighting a war of attrition; each sentence, readers could be dropping like incriminating hard drives at the IRS. So I'm going to give you some tips to help keep your writing from being boring. This is a rather broad subject -- it's a bit different writing an article like this versus writing a whole book or a novel.

Still, I have a few general tips, and I think I know what I'm talking about. I'm from the MTV generation; I grew up watching those music videos and saying, "Come on. How long are these stupid songs? What else is on?" So I don't have much of an attention span. I just stopped to chase a squirrel between the previous sentence and this one. And I have turned this power of having a low attention span into making my writing more interesting.




1. Write a list.

See what I'm doing here? I'm breaking this article into nice little bite-sized chunks. A lot of people these days -- me included -- will see a big block of text, and their eyes will glaze over. But now you're looking at this list with the bold headings not too far apart, and it all seems manageable. You can't really break up a whole novel that way (well, you can go ahead and try, it's a free country), but the equivalent is having a lot of short chapters so the reader feels constant forward progress. It's like leading a donkey with a carrot on a stick; you don't want that carrot to seem too unattainably far.

So, in summary, readers are asses.