Benjamin Franklin’s Method for Learning How to Write in the Style that You Want

Benjamin Franklin 1767

Do you know how to apply Benjamin Franklin’s method for learning how to write with style? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imitate Benjamin Franklin’s method for learning how to write really well in the style that you want.

I give you here my interpretation of how you can start applying his method in today’s modern context:

1) Select an article on a subject and written in a style that you already like very much. This will give you that emotional motivation to care enough about what you are writing and to recognize what would be boring to others who are as interested in the same subject as you are. Don’t go looking just for famous articles, instead focus on choosing writing examples that mean something to you and can be used to communicate in your field of talent.

This is how Benjamin Franklin (BF) describes his method: About this time I met with an odd Volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the Writing excellent, & wish’d if possible to imitate it.

2) Break down the article into keywords. Do this by creating one or two keywords for each sentence and list the keywords on a blank piece of paper into one long sequential list.

3) After a couple of days, take your long list of keywords and, without looking at the original article, rewrite the article in your own words using the keywords to guide you.

BF’s method: With that View, I took some of the Papers, & making short Hints of the Sentiment in each Sentence, laid them by a few Days, and then without looking at the Book, try’d to complete the Papers again, by expressing each hinted Sentiment at length & as fully as it had been express’d before, in any suitable Words, that should come to hand.

4) Compare your article written in your own words to the original article. Grade yourself on how well you did in matching the author’s intent and style.

5) Change the sentences  in your article where you don’t think you did very well to the original intent.  Improve by giving them the same intention of thought (though not necessarily into the exact words) as the original.

BF’s method: Then I compar’d my Spectator with the Original, discover’d some of my Faults & corrected them.

6) Take the regular narration or prose from your article and turn it into verse or into catchy memorable phrases of your own.

7) Then after a few days, turn your poetic version of that article back into normal writing, without looking at the original article. After you are done, grade yourself as to how well you expressed the thoughts of the original article.

BF’s method: But I found I wanted a Stock of Words or a Readiness in recollecting & using them, which I thought I should have acquir’d before that time, if I had gone on making Verses, since the continual Occasion for Words of the same Import but of different Length, to suit the Measure, or of different Sound for the Rhyme, would have laid me under a constant Necessity of searching for Variety, and also have tended to fixthat Variety in my Mind, & make me Master of it.

BF’s method: Therefore I took some of the Tales & turn’d them into Verse: And after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the Prose, turn’d them back again. 

8) For extra practice: Take your original keywords you had earlier assigned to each sentence and then jumble them out of order. From the jumbled list of keywords, rewrite the article in your own words and try to match the same order of presentation as you can remember. After you are done, grade yourself as to how well your order of the thoughts matches up to the original order of the article.

BF’s method: I also sometimes jumbled my Collections of Hints into Confusion, and after some Weeks, endeavor’d to reduce them into the best Order, before I began to form the full Sentences & complete the Paper. This was to teach me Method in the Arrangement of Thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovere’d many faults and amended them;

9) To discover your own unique writing voice: keep rewriting the article to improve on both the expression of the original thoughts and on the order of of the presentation of those thoughts. Grade yourself as to how much better your re-written version is to the original article.

BF’s method: but I sometimes had the Pleasure of Fancying that in certain Particulars of small Import, I had been lucky enough to improve the Method or the Language and this encourag’d me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English Writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.

RE-READ that last paragraph by Benjamin Franklin. Did you catch what he said? He said he got BETTER than the original writers by this method!

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