Yes, I know I’m supposed to write out “5,” but I wanted to get your attention first. Okay, so here are the secrets as I know them and use them:
1. Revise what you wrote—This is the toughest, but most important part of writing anything, be it memoir, novel, short story, play or poetry.
2. Read, reread and reread again, adding missing details, correcting typos and grammatical errors. Nobody does it right the first time. And rewrite, rewrite!
3. Read your writing aloud, to yourself or to your long-suffering friends or relatives. You’ll catch many errors that way that you can’t see otherwise.
4. Don’t be afraid to “kill your children,” as one writer famously said—not literally, of course. Just don’t get too precious about any one turn of phrase.
5. Simplify. You don’t have to be Hemingway, but you do have to be clear, and not have a manuscript full of extraneous detail. Make words count, or remove them.
If you follow these few simple rules, tighten your work where tightening is needed but elaborate where necessary, and listen to yourself read aloud as you imagine your audience’s reactions, you may be stunned by your own brilliance, although there are no guarantees.
You’ve heard that practice makes perfect, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the craft of writing. Read excellent authors, and try to observe how they do what they do, whether it is inventing dazzling plots, settings and characters in fiction, or writing emotional scenes in your memoir that pull the reader in and let him feel what you or your subject felt in very real situations.
And always write from the heart. Your reader will be able to tell if you don’t, and will lose interest. And so will you. To gain readers’ trust you must be authentic. If not, you cheat your reader, and you cheat yourself.