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Great Grammar and Vocabulary Alone Won't Make You a Skillful Writer

There's more to writing than great language use

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When I was learning to write in English, my primary concerns were the grammar and vocabulary of my sentences.

Is this the right word order? Should I use ‘of’, ‘in’ or ‘at’? Does this word I wrote even exist in English?

You may ask yourself these questions too if you’re a non-native English writer. It’s normal. Grammar and words are the building blocks of a text. How can you not be worrying about them? All writers do that — whether they’re native or non-native English speakers.

If your grammar and vocabulary suck, don’t worry. You can easily solve this problem. All you have to do is get good at grammar and vocabulary. Study and practice. Job done.

Once you’ve done that, can you say you’re a skillful writer?

I don’t think so.

Good language use is only one aspect of writing. Skillful writers tell great stories. And a great story isn’t just a series of language items put together correctly. It’s also that. But a great story is language that evokes an emotion in the people who read itIf your story doesn’t achieve that, then you either wrote a bad story or what you wrote was read by the wrong people.

So how can you evoke an emotion in your readers?

Asking this question is like asking, “How can I make my husband or wife feel an emotion?” You can’t. You can’t force anyone to feel a certain emotion. But you can try. And the more empathetic you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

What would surprise your readers (or your partner)? What would they like to hear? What type of encouragement do you think they need? Do you know or have you experienced something that would help them? What do they dream of? What makes them cry?

Then the most important question: given all I know about them, how can put words and sentences together in the best way to tell a great story for them?

This is storytelling.

Achievable with practice, empathy, reflection, good language and decision-making skills.

So, yes, improve your grammar and vocabulary. But keep in mind that great grammar and vocabulary alone won’t give you a great story.

Is a great car useful if you don’t have anywhere to go? Same with great language skills. They’re useless if you don’t have a story to tell. But you do have a great story to tell. So write it. Then share it.

Do it today, no matter how imperfect your language is.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.