Even the most compelling subject won’t engage a reader if the writing itself is ‘sticky’. If readers stumble over clunky sentences or need to reread paragraphs, they’ll either skim parts or give up altogether. Writing needs to flow as smoothly as hot chocolate. Which means you need to do the hard work so your reader doesn’t have to.
What is flow in writing?
Flow is that magical thing that makes reading something easy and enjoyable. Sentences drift along nicely. Stuff just makes sense. And we only need to read something once. What’s more, we don’t feel overwhelmed with too much information all at once.
Good flow is almost imperceptible. If the reader doesn’t notice it, the writer has done it well.
How do you make your writing flow smoothly?
Getting our writing to flow smoothly rarely happens with the first draft. It’s a craft that starts with basic building blocks and goes through umpteen designs and constructions before turning into a thing of beauty.
Some writers manage to pull off pretty spectacular first drafts – especially if they’re writing about a familiar subject. But most of us need to go through stages. Which is absolutely fine. Good things come to those who… work hard.
Here therefore is my step-by-step process to perfect flow.
1. Do your research really well
Even the most accomplished writers will struggle to make their writing flow if they’re not confident in what they’re saying. Make sure you understand what you’re writing about, who you’re writing it for and what you want them to think, feel or do as a result. Say it out loud to see how much you really understand it.
2. Imagine your reader has no idea what you’re on about
When we’re steeped in a subject, it’s easy to forget our readers have no idea what’s inside our heads. Picture your reader standing at the beginning of your writing with no clue how to get to the end. Give them something familiar they can relate to. Explain new stuff with examples. Introduce each new point when they’ve got the previous one.
3. Construct your skeleton logically
Don’t worry about beautifully crafted sentences at this stage. Get the basic structure right.
Your beginning should make it clear what the piece is about and where it’s going. Each subsequent point needs to flow naturally into the next without the reader wondering what they’d missed. The end should be a logical conclusion. Your reader shouldn’t be wondering what they missed – or what the point of the piece was.
4. Leave time for transition between drafts
Leave as long as possible between drafts so you can read your writing objectively. If you do it too soon, you’re still too close to the subject and can’t focus well enough on the writing.
Once you’re happy with facts/details/accuracy and the structure of the document overall, you can now listen to the actual writing itself.
5. Listen to the music
Read your writing out loud. Not in your head. Not mouthed. Not whispered. Out loud so you can hear how it sounds. Good writing is like good music. It should sound smooth and rhythmical. Sentences should stop where you think they should stop. It shouldn’t feel like there’s a ‘note’ or two missing – or too many. It shouldn’t sound clunky or turgid. And you shouldn’t be out of breath when you get to the end of a sentence.
Final word of advice
Be realistic about how long you spend on any piece of writing. There will come a time when you’ve done all of the above and the final piece is flowing as smoothly as my metaphorical hot chocolate.
Spending more time tweaking the odd transition word or changing a full stop to a semicolon won’t make the piece better; it will just make it different. Stop. Publish it. And move on to the next.