It’s been a while since I last posted a writing-related article on here. So, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to write more quickly in a slightly more formal style.
This is mostly because I’ve noticed that my own writing sometimes tends to become a little bit more formal when I’m writing quickly. But, if you just want to learn how to type quickly, then this article might be more useful.
In part, this is due to writing a lot of non-fiction (eg: this blog) over the past few years, but there are also other factors involved too. So, I thought that I’d provide a few tips for how to write formally more quickly.
1) Read Sherlock Holmes: Although I used to write formally in essays back when I was in school, the thing that really got me interested in writing in a more formal style was when I read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories at the age of seventeen. For fun.
One of the great things about Sherlock Holmes is that, although Conan Doyle uses a mildly formal late 19th century/ early 20th century writing style that may seem “boring” at first glance, he doesn’t go over the top with it and – more importantly – the actual stories themselves are fascinating enough to make you want to read more.
After you’ve read a few of the stories, the slightly antiquated writing style will also probably become part of the charm and atmosphere of these stories.
Here’s a great example from “The Adventure Of The Empty House” – “It was indeed like old times when, at that hour, I found myself seated beside him in a hansom, my revolver in my pocket, and the thrill of adventure in my heart. Holmes was cold and stern and silent. As the gleam of the street-lamps flashed upon his austere features, I saw that his brows were drawn down in thought and his thin lips compressed.”
But, best of all, by reading a lot of these stories you’ll subtly and subconsciously start to pick up elements of the style that Conan Doyle uses. Not only that, you’ll find them starting to seep into your own writing and – eventually – the writing that you do when you are in a hurry.
Most of these stories can legally be read for free online because their copyright has expired ( however, one short story collection isn’t usually posted online due to differences between British and American copyright law ).
2) Don’t show off (too much): One of the problems with writing formally can be resisting the urge to show off. Remember, this is an article about writing quickly – which isn’t something that you’ll be able to do if you spend too long thinking of ways to make each sentence sound pompously aristocratic in order to exhibit your extensive vocabulary.
So, be sensible about it. In other words, try to write in an “ordinary” way, but in a way that wouldn’t look out of place in a newspaper, an old radio broadcast or a modern formal speech or something like that. The main focus of your writing should be getting information across to the reader, not showing off!
Formal writing is both quicker and more readable when you don’t show off too much. Showing off makes you look immature and it slows you down. So, write “functional” English that people can actually read at a reasonable speed.
Formal writing isn’t meant to be needlessly complicated. It isn’t meant to be obtuse. It’s meant to get information across in a clear and simple way. Remember, it used to be considered the “standard” form of English (if such a thing actually exists) at one point in the past – so, it actually had to be practical for people to use it.
3) Grammar matters less than you might think: I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m not a fan of grammar. I even make up a few grammatical rules of my own (like italicising text when I use brackets) because it just seems like the “right” thing to do.
There is nothing more dreary and boring than people who nitpick about the finer points of grammar, or people who proclaim that a piece of writing is “invalid” just because of a few small grammatical errors. Spelling, on the other hand, is a little bit more important (so, use a spell-checker if possible) .
But, as long as you know the “everyday” basics of grammar (which you probably do if you’re reading this) and spell most words correctly, then don’t get too hung up about it. As long as the grammar looks vaguely right and the thing you are writing is still “readable” by other people – then don’t waste your time worrying about split infinitives, participle phrases, semicolons etc.. It’ll just slow you down and will only appease the most pedantic of readers.
Yes, technically speaking, “formal” writing also includes grammatical correctness too. But, in practice, as long as the basic grammar is mostly right and the wording is suitably formal, then you can probably get away with it in everyday life.
As long as people are still able to understand the basic meaning of what you are saying (which they will if you use slightly understated formal language), then focus on getting the basic grammar right and don’t worry too much about the more obscure elements of English grammar.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂