Only 3 Ways to Go When You Write…

Want to kick your writing up to a new level? Want to make it better? Maybe a lot  better?

Here’s a quick and easy way to do just that.

I’m talking mainly nonfiction writing here, although the points below can be adapted slightly and help with ficton writing too.

Here are a few, brief, key points that can put you head and shoulders above the other 85-95% out there laboring away on digital paper.

So, what do we do when we write? Point 1:

I have an idea in my head that I want to communicate. Maybe it’s a picture of a gorgeous sunset.  I can see it “in my head.” When I write I must use words, so I put down my words. Those words need to be accurate and well-written if they are going to communicate. That is, so that another person reading my words with get a picture of that sunset in her head that is pretty close to the one I’m seeing in my head. If she can, then I have written well, I’ve communicated.

How specific are my words? Point 2:

Everything we write, every word, phrase, sentence…is general or specific to one degree or another.  Here’s a simple example:

1.  Fruit

A. apples

B.  oranges

(1)  navel oranges

C.  grapes

D.  bananas

2.  Vegetables

Notice in the simple outline above that…

(1)  The word “fruit” is pretty general.

(2)  The words “apples… oranges…grapes…bananas” are more specific types of fruit.

(3)  But each of these types of fruit (apples…oranges…) are basically are equal when it comes to how specific they are.

(4)  On the other hand, when we get down to “1 veggie” we get less specific, more general.

These moves have names…

(1)  When we move from “1. Fruit” downward to “A. apples,” that’s subordinate  move, We’ve in a sense downshifted. We’ve gotten more specific.

(2)  But when we go from “A. apples” to “B. Oranges,” we’ve stayed on the same level. Apples are no more general and no more specific than oranges. That’s a coordinate move.

(3)  Now when we go from “D. bananas” to “2.  Veggies,” we’ve gotten less specific. In fact we’ve change the subject to a degree. I like to call that a superordinate move.

Still with me? Good! It’s going to get better.

Here’s the punch line, the key point:

Whenever you are writing, no matter where you are in your writing, you can only go 1 of 3 possible ways–in the known universe (leaving aside multiple dimensions, string theory, etc.)

From one point to the other, you can only get more specific, keep your next words at the same level of “specificness”, or get less specific (and change the subject more of less). That’s all there is, folks.

Now, how can this help me write better?

Good writing flows. It’s like one idea grows out of the one just before it and then leads to the next connected idea.  Good writing makes sense. It makes it easy for your reader to follow your thinking. It communicates,

In grammar, rhetoric, and composition, this is called cohesive. And it is a vital essential to excellent writing.

How can I do it?

At each point–at a bare minimum each major juncture–in your writing you ask key questions. At the same time keeping your reader in mind.

An illustration to make this clearer…

Say I’ve written the following 3 sentences (I’ll put them in outline form to diagram the content):

“1.  Intuition is important in writing–really you could say in day-to-day living too.

A.  In many ways it’s smarter than the logic we tend to value so much.

B.  It is holistic and often captures the big picture.”

Key Questions…

So as this point in my writing I ask questions like these:

(1) Have I written enough on this subject? (If I have, it’s time to quit or move to another major point or subject–a superordinate move.)

(2) Will my reader get it? Will she understand my point, believe me, see how important it is?

(3) Do I need to add a (subordinate) explanation, an illustration, some detail? and so on.

(4) Are there more points to be made? (Probable coordinate points.)

Now I’ll add more meat to my writing illustration above…

Let’s say I decide I haven’t written enough. So I look at it and ask what and where to add more words. And here’s what I come up with.

“1. Intuition is important in writing–really you could say in day-to-day living too.
A.  In many ways it’s smarter than the logic we tend to value so much. (1) Ever notice how detectives, the good ones, pay attention to hunches? We should too. B.  Intuition is holistic and often sees the big picture. (1) How often do we forget to step back and take a longer view? (2) A wiser range of considerations can be enlightening.”

Did you see an improvement in my little piece of writing above?

Granted, it’s not Shakespeare or even Hemingway. There’s more to do, but I like it more now.

By the way, I wrote this blog post with these principles in mind.

Try this key way of looking at writing. Be in outline mode when you write. Ask questions. Be aware of your level of specificness at each key point and which direction you need to go next–subordinate, coordinate, superordinate).  Keep your reader(s) in mind all during the process of putting words on paper. Better yet, practice this mode of thinking while writing.

I propose that it will enhance our writing, perhaps beyond what you anticipate.

[Note: This little essay appeared first, in a different form, at the Write To Done blog quite a while back.]

Your turn…

What ways and means and methods help you write better?

2 thoughts on “Only 3 Ways to Go When You Write…

  1. Corianne

    I confess, I never pay this kind of attention to writing anymore! Reading this post makes me feel a bit nostalgic and think back to my first-year classes in my English degree. In those classes we analyzed and wrote sentences, paragraphs, mini-essays with incredible focus on every single word, phrase, sentence, paragraph. I don’t do that anymore. Even though it’d like to think I have internalized this, it’s always good to remind yourself of the technicalities of writing.

    Reply

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