Category Archives: Writing in General

Make the Best Word Choices–10 Keys

Courtesy swimparallel @Flickr

Don’t Damage Your Credibility
Nothing can hurt our credibility as writers more quickly that mistakes.  Some people are offended by typos.  Others are irritated by grammatical mistakes.  But there’s another mistake that can turn off our readers :  Poor Word Choices.

Here’s a list of  Key Considerations…
Keeping in mind the points below can help you make the best word choices.  But consider them as guidelines. ( I do not mean them as rigid rules.)

Some worthwhile reminders…

1.  Accuracy.
Make sure that slightly-less-than-familiar word you are about to use is the right one for the job.  It’s so easy to skip diving into your dictionary.   Words that do not say what we think they do can make us look dumb.

2.  Use your Thesaurus but Be Careful.
Always check a word in your dictionary if you are the least bit unsure of its meaning. I love my thesaurus, especially my Roget’s Super Thesaurus, but I guard against any temptation to use a word to impress my readers.  The best use I find is locating that word that I need that refuses to surface from memory.

3.  Prefer Short and Simple words to Long words.
Let’s face it, those esoteric, professorial, Latinate abstractisms just do not communicate as readily as good old Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.

Compare the next sentence (an example, admittedly, slightedly exaggerated)…

Our assembly has postulated that you and your associates would  be advised to proceed to another location with due diligence.

to this one…

We think you should get out now.

To me, the genius of  contemporary writing is that is leans toward conversation.  Most of us when we talk use those hard-hitting and often delightful shorter words frequently, don’t we?

4.  Prefer precise verbs to adverbs.
Notice I did not advise you to avoid adverbs altogether.  Sometimes there is just no way around an effective adverb.

Compare the two following sentences…

He ran away quickly from  the accident.

He  fled from the accident. (The more precise verb fled eliminates the need for both adverbs: away and quickly  in the previous sentence. To me, that second sentence is more vivid.)

5. Use concrete and specific words and phrases instead of abstract ones.
Here’s an interesting key:  Keep a school or student’s dictionary handy. Even an elementary dictionary works.  They will suggest simpler alternatives than learned, pedantic, highbrow, brainy, head-in-the-clouds language that just doesn’t has as much punch.

It was inconsequential. Verses: It didn’t matter.

6.  Use Synonyms when they Work Well.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to avoid using the same word to frequently in a sentence or paragraph.   Example…

John’s anecdote was amusing, but unfortunately he forgot  he told us that story before. (Using the word story instead of repeating anecdote in this sentence, to me, adds a little welcome variety.)

For contrast, here’s a slightly contrary view from the Famous Writer’s School text Principles of good writing (page 122):

“Unless it offends the ear, repetition of a word in a sentence is not a sin, and desperate searching for synonyms is needless when the original word says exactly what the writer wanted to say.”

So this advice calls, once again, for a judgment call. Listen to your intuition.

7.  Choose words that are bright, musical and colorful, vigorous, and lucid, and at times even emotional–wherever they work well.

Words like: sunny, scarlet,  titanic, sparkling, sadistic, wintry, riptide, whirlpool, sexy, curving, devastating, bombshell, pitiless, crimson, beaming, sad, gasping, crystal, nuclear, bad…

Forget the hifalutin, elitist, pretentious stuff.

8.  Precise Nouns are very often better than the vague and the General.

 He insisted on bringing his dog into the boardroom.

How about mutt or hound dog or cocker spaniel? Naming the type of dog is more descriptive and vivid.

9.  Watch out for overuse of “to be” verbs and the passive voice.

Sometimes “to be” verbs are helpful, but they can be rather boring. Vivid verbs are more alive.

Example:  Then there were vicious orcs coming down the mountain toward us.

Compare that example sentence above to this one…

Vicious orcs rushed [or scurried, scrambled,  plunged, cascaded, dashed, rumbled…] down the mountain toward us.

Most of the time it’s also wise to avoid the passive voice.  George was bitten by the dog.  (The subject receives the action, is passive.)  Verses: The dog bit George. (The subject does the action.)

However, Roy Peter Clark, in his fine book Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (pages 23-24) points out that sometimes it’s a good idea to use passive verbs when you want to emphasize the receiver of the action–or the victim.

Donations of food, medical supplies, and clothing were shipped out to the remote disaster areas of Uganda. (The emphasis in that sentence is on the donations.)

10.  But an unusual, surprising, or even bizarre word, now and then, shouldn’t hurt.

He frowned at me looking like a bull moose.

The guidelines above are certainly not all there are, but they should serve as useful reminders.

Your turn…

How about you?  Do you  have any word-choice reminders you would include on this list?

______________________________
Related Resources

For academic writing: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/citation/word-choice

Mainly for fun:
http://www.edina.k12.mn.us/concord/teacherlinks/sixtraits/interestingwords.htm

Aimed at students:
http://www.ttms.org/writing_quality/word_choice.htm Students again, but good points:

http://www.slideshare.net/mfarrer/plcword-choice

Have you found your Writing Voice yet?

Courtesy DeaPeaJay @Flickr

It’s like learning to walk.
When you learned do walk, were you concerned about developing a distinctive walk?  Of course not.  Yet when a person grows up, others can easily recognize her from afar,  just by her walk.  Sometimes just by the way she is standing.

Give it time
Writing is like that too.  It just takes some time–and writing.

It’s like fine art work
I’ve spend lots of years learning watercolor painting. Often I’ve heard fellow painters fussing over being original, having their own style.  Some of them were careful never to copy the style or even techniques of other artist.

Even though that is a time-honored and classical way of apprenticeship.  But after I had been painting for about a year, one gal told me that she could always recognize my style.  I never worried about it after that.

One more art illustration
A favorite oil painter/teacher of mine once said words to this effect: “What does it take to get good? Miles and miles of canvas.”

A Distinctive style
My advice? Just write. Keep writing.  If you want to hurry up the growth process a bit, write more often.  Soon you will realize that your distinctve voice is emerging.  It’s inevitable. You don’t even have to try.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t even be afraid to imitate the style of writers you admire.  This can increase the range of your style, add tools to your toolbox.  Even if you worked at it really diligently and  wound up sounding like those other writers a bit more than usual and for a brief while, in time you would give their stylistic techniques your own flavor anyway.

You’re a snowflake
You are unique, you know.

Keep writing. Write every chance you get.  And enjoy the journey!

If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.— Tennessee Williams

______________________________________________

Related info (not necessarily in total agreement with me!):

Excellent post:  http://hollylisle.com/ten-steps-to-finding-your-writing-voice/

Here’s a whole book on it: http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Your-Writers-Voice-Creative/dp/0312151284

Copyblogger is always good:  http://www.copyblogger.com/find-your-writing-voice/

As is Zen Habitshttp://zenhabits.net/voice/

Writing that Strikes like Lightning and Sings like Song

Courtesy j_arred @Flickr

 

The “Modern” English Sentence, Part III

Lightning hits hard and quickly
One word in the right place can hit hard. Brief sentences and sentence fragments punctuated as sentences are often effective.  You can surprise and delight your reader with unexpected punchy pieces of writing. But always interspersed with longer sentences for variety, to avoid monotony and choppiness.

Rhythm is the key
A song can have several aspects like melody, rhythm and harmony.  But rhythm is, I think, the most easily recognized and utilized in spoken and written language. So in this piece let’s focus on rhythm.

Life is rhythm
The type of rhythm I am talking about has a lot to do with a conversation style.  It’s resembles the way we talk.

This rhythmic aspect of writing is significant. Life is rhythm and movement, the beat of your heart, the moments of time, the surge of surf on the beach.  Paying attention to the rhythm of your words can add power to your writing. It can make it memorable too.

Eloquence is often enhanced by the rhythm of a conversational style
Think about popular songs or even jazz.  Much of the charm comes from syncopation.  The beats and the off-beats.  The best songs and also jazz mimic the way we talk.  Recall Stevie Wonder’s awesome song and read aloud its first four lines below.  And as you do, pay attention to the rhythm of the words.

You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
That’s Why I’ll Always Stay Around
You Are The Apple Of My Eye
Forever You’ll Stay In My Heart

 Comedians and Lyricists
How popular would a comedian be if he spoke like a formal essay?  How popular would a song writer be if she wrote her lyrics that way?

Formal writing has a place, for example in scholarly pieces and scientific research, but the majority of writing these days is conversational in style.  Whether we’re talking copywriting, magazine articles, or blog writing–certainly fiction too.

 Aim for a Conversational Style
We speak well because we’re fluent in our native tongue.  Most people have occasional moments in conversation that  sparkle with bits of genius.  Some speak better than they write.  It comes from speaking our language and hearing it daily, thousands upon thousands, even millions of times.  We’re fluent in other words.

That’s why a number of  writers and also writing teachers advise us when we are writing—and especially when we are having a tough time getting our meaning clear–to imagine that we are explaining our ideas or telling a story to a friend.

Make it conversational but clean it up
Now conversation is messy and inefficient and often not coherent—even with its “bits of occasional genius.”  I don’t advocate writing exactly the way you talk.  You need to clean it up. Edit it.

By the way, one key rhythmic technique is to set up a steady beat that is changed abruptly.  For example…

She came on time, she was well-dressed, but she just wasn’t well-prepared.

So my point is to work at being actively aware of the rhythm of your words.

7  Practical suggestions:
1.  Read Shakespeare in the original, even Chaucerout loud–admittedly dated but masters of English—and also contemporary writers, any writers you find particularly effective.  And listen while you are reading.   Try poetry too, especially poetry that was written with a recognizable meter to it.

2.  Listen to music with a strong beat, including jazz if you wish. Pay attention to its rhythms.  Perhaps even imagine yourself a drummer in the band and get into the rhythm by tapping it onto something handy (probably best not your pet).

3.   Listen more carefully to TV ads. Writers are paid to come up with catchy phrases, words that dance and delight the ear.  Words designed to influence you.

4.  Get radical.  Take up (or revisit) a musical instrument.  Learn to play songs and get the rhythms right.  Or simply memorize songs you especially like.

5.  When you read and come across a sentence or phrase you like, examine it closely.  What is it about it that caught your attention?  Imitate that sentence, using your own words and ideas—not to become a clone of Shakespeare or Chaucer or a best-selling writer, say, but to record those potential rhythms into your subconscious.

6.  How-to-write instruction often advises us not to settle for the first words that occur. Experiment. Try different combinations.  Then choose the best.

7.  And a super key: For sure, work at being actively aware of the rhythm of your words when you write and rewrite.   Listen to your words.  If it helps, read them aloud.

It takes practice
The goal I am implying here is challenging.   But working toward it can augment our writing skills and effectiveness.  It’s not slam-dunk easy.  Very often I find I cannot write lyrically or with thundering impact just because I intend to. Usually, I have to hit upon it.  It’s really rather heavily intuitive.

Be clear, write simply, but be eloquent too
The results are well worth it.  The plain style is of course a good one, but some eloquence doesn’t hurt.

Please feel free to comment:
When you reach for the music and to write with impact, how do you go about it?  What are your “tricks of the trade”?

Related reading:
http://www.llumina.com/writing_with_rhythm.htm

http://www.thinkage.ca/~jim/prose/rhythm.htm

http://www.zeromillion.com/business/improve-business-writing-rhythm.html

http://writeitsideways.com/how-to-write-with-rhythm-that-sings/

Some Vital Keys to the Modern English Sentence

Part I   Let’s hear it for the occasional long sentence!

It’s a beauty
The modern English sentence is beautiful and elegant because it flows they way we think. It is more intuitive than being confined to merely the simple, complex, compound, and compound-complex sentence options of yesteryear. And it’s more powerful.

It’s like a train
The modern English sentence I’m talking about resembles a train. You have the engine at the front, the main clause.

The officer marched into the village.

But you can also add a number of cars following that engine–in fact, quite a good idea.  And these freight cars carry the goods–in many contemporary sentences that’s where much of the meaning is communicated. Now let’s add to the above example sentence:

The officer marched into the village, his AK-47 at the ready pointing forward, his soldiers following close behind, a small but formidable combat unit.

Permit me to diagram that sentence above it so its structure is more obvious:

The officer marched into the village,
              His AK-47 at the ready pointing forward,
                      His soldiers close behind,
                               A small but formidable combat unit.

It also works with Non-fiction:
The above sentence reads like fiction, doesn’t it? Actually, it is fiction. and it’s starting to get a bit long, but is it clear? I think so.

So now let’s look at a non-fiction sentence. I’ll improvise on some of my wiring above:

The modern English sentence is like a train: It has its engine, and it has its freight cars, trailing behind, adding valuable cargo (meaning), often essential actually and clarifying.

Three more brief examples…
This time from Ali Luke’s just-published novel Lycopolis (available in a Kindle edition and soon as a paperback):

Brandon watched him, trying to fathom him out. [Added participial phrase. Kindle edition, location 1392]

Brandon especially enjoyed puzzles, with things to solve. (Added prepositional phrase. Again, Kindle location 1392]

Brandon still disliked being alone in the silence – though he could sleep if he whispered strings of primes into the darkness, backwards and forwards, until the room buzzed with numbers. [The added backwards and forwards is a couple of adverbs, call it an “adverb cluster”; and until the room… is an added adverbial clause. Kindle edition: at location 1353-1354]

(More on the types of additions in my soon-coming blog on this topic, Part II.)

Don’t be too choppy
Modern style–influenced I suspect by copywriting techniques, TV ad video clips addressing a rather short, contemporary attention span–with its frequent very short phrases and even single words punctuated as sentences–can easily get a bit choppy unless we writers take care to include variety in the lengths of our sentences.

The advantages:
Learning this style can be freeing, providing you with formidable weapons for your writing-style arsenal. It can also provide you skill for adding rich texture and meaning into your sentences when you wish to.

Faulkner did it
Faulkner could write sentences that go for a whole page before adding that period. Yet they were in fact simple sentences (by definition, that is not compound or complex or even compound-complex–just a main clause with many add-ons), and all of them perfectly clear and reader-friendly. So could Thomas Wolfe. Even Hemingway wrote sentences like the one I used as an illustration above.

A challenge for you…
Roy Peter Clark in his fine, fairly recent book Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, says this:

Until the writer tries to master the long sentence, she is not writer at all, for while length makes a bad sentence worse, it can make a good sentence better. (Page 36)

Augment your versatility.
Master the long sentence as well as the modern chopped up sentence (and I’m not knocking sentence fragments punctuated as sentences–I use them myself!).

A couple of Promises…
It takes a bit of practice, but if you learn to write this way (assuming you haven’t already!), I promise you this: it can be a freeing experience. I think you will find that your writing sings at times like poetry. And I also think you will find that  your efforts at writing such sentences can actually generate ideas and enable you to pack those sentences with vivid details and clarifying illustrations, and much much more-at will.

Number 2 Challenge for you…
When you read, be alert for this sentence type (called by some “the loose sentence” in contrast to tight, formal ones). See how often it appears and how effectively it works.

Suggested Further Reading:
Online Resource:
http://papyr.com/hypertextbooks/grammar/phrase.htm

Books:
Note– Both of the two following books are out of print and often hard to find but ‘worth their weight in gold.’

Notes Toward A New Rhetoric, 6 Essays for Teachers by Francis Christensen (Harper and Row, 1967)

A Modern Rhetoric by Francis Christensen (Harper and Row, 1976)– Professor Christensen’s master work.

Also-
Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for every Writer by Roy Peter Clark ((Little, Brown and Company, 2006)

Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner (Oxford University Press, 3rd Ed., 2009)

100 Ways to Improve your Writing by Gary Provost (Signet, 1985)

Nine things about Powerful writing?

                                           Courtesy  Wesley Fryer @Flickr

1.  Powerful writing gets to us
It hits us where we live. Stirs our emotions. It’s attention-riveting. It’s vivid and to a degree always exciting and intriguing. And it’s convincing. Really good writing is a wake-up call. It prompts us, provokes us to think in new ways and even realize things we always knew, always sensed-or, perhaps never thought of before.

2.  It’s different today.
In previous decades people lived at a more leisurely pace. They would put up with long introductions, long chapters, long paragraphs, and long sentences. Not so much now. The pace of life has accelerated. We’re more in a hurry. In fact, the exception is anyone who dares to take her time.

3. Powerful writing is like magic
Just the right words in just the right places to capture your meaning, your message, your truth. Your take on reality. It hits the target with precision, at least enough to get my ideas clearly across. It’s like the right key strokes to get your computer to do what you want it to do and–with a minimum of fuss.

4.  It’s a pleasure to read
Powerful writing is a pleasure to read. It kindles within us admiration for the writer and a sense that we are getting quality information. From the keyboard of a craftsman, a wordsmith, it’s persuasive. It has impact.

5.  Powerful writing Elevates
It’s like music, really. I can be feeling low, wondering about my projects. Are they worth it? Are they really any good? Should I continue? And I can read something well-written, something encouraging and inspirational and motivating. And soon I feel like a conquering hero.

6.  It’s clear and reader-friendly
Powerful writing doesn’t fight you. It’s not a struggle to read. It flows so well at times that the words disappear into experience as you live the scene, the ideas.

7.  It’s riveting
Powerful writing gets your attention and keeps it. It gives you that sensation, those feelings, the suspense of a thriller. It entices you with questions and has you wondering what’s coming next. You even feel the urge to take a peek ahead.

8.  Powerful Writing is More than Craft
Powerful writing–any good writing–is more than craft of course. It’s something you do intuitively as well as rationally. Right brain and left brain fully engaged, each at least at its proper time and place.  It’s art.

9.  I want to write powerfully…
because I like to write, and I like to do what I do well. It’s worth it, isn’t it? That choice sense of accomplishment. That high when you know you’ve written well. Knowing you’re good at what you do.

What have you written today?

7 Reasons to Write for your Life

1.  Writing can help you Learn.
Writing is one of the best ways to learn information. If you’ve been in college as I have, or even if you worked hard to get good grades in high school, you’ve been faced with having to cram for exams.

One of the tricks that worked well for me was writing the material out by hand. Now at the time, quite a while ago, there were no laptops, not even computers. The closest thing was an IBM Selectric typewriter.  Now I do have a computer, but  I still write by hand at times because I enjoy it.

Back then, writing the information I needed to learn for  exams, and reviewing it several times, helped me get top grades in college.

There’s a saying: If you want to really learn a subject, write a book about it.

2.  Writing can help you become smarter.
Now by saying that, I don’t mean increase your IQ.  I do mean making use of more of your latent intelligence. From the reading I have done, it seems that our innate intelligence is inborn.  Certainly none of us uses all the smarts that are within us waiting to be tapped.

So, to cut to the chase, what can we do to free up more? Well, lots of things really. But the one I want to point to is writing.

Writing is one of the best brain workouts. To Put words on paper that make sense, I have to use both my short and long t erm memory.  I have to think, imagine, even use logic to a degree.

3.  Writing Generates New Ideas and Insights.
Writing often gives my intuition opportunity to reveal new insights to me. Sometimes that means making new connections while doing a mindmap. Or listing topics I want to write about  Many times when I am simply in the midst of putting words down on the page, new ideas do pop up–Sometimes so many I can’t record them all. (Then again, it could be too much coffee.)

4.  Writing can help maintain Mental Health.
I can hear a few of you now: “No, Bill, I want to be nuts, it’s more fun!” It may be, at times.  On the other hand, I think writing can help you stay sane in an often insane world.

For instance, journaling can be an emotional outlet to release negative, stressful feelings. It can also express our joyful experiences. Writing thoughts and experiences in  a journal can be something you do just for you, or it could become the cherished possession of your children or grandchildren.

And in a world where achievement if often hard-won, writing can yield a wholesome feeling achieving something worthwhile.

5.  Writing Enhances Skill.
Plus there’s the added benefit of the practice you get by that writing. Any writing helps to a degree in gaining more fluency with your words.

So we have that 10,000 glass ceiling. Or 10 years readying, studying, writing to become a successful expert at it.

Even the tiniest bit of writing moves us in that direction.

6.  Writing is versatile.
When I graduated college as an English major and was working on a novel, I needed to find work. I applied for a local government position since it was available.  I soon found out that the application process was far more involved  than I anticipated.

And guess what: A key portion of the testing involved writing. I had to write a lengthy report. It turned out that writing skill was one of the main job requirements. To this day I figure my writing skill, such as it was then, helped me get that job–that turned into a career.

Writing skill helps in many areas of our lives. It can help us talk better and sound employable.  And that couldn’t hurt.

7.  Writing is enjoyable.
I know I can’t speak for you, but I enjoy writing. There’s something about coming up with the right words, exciting words, fun words and then painting them with effective phrases and sentences that gets me going. Call it a sense of satisfaction or the intimation that I might make a difference.

That satisfaction is not only real, it is motivating too.

Write on!

Related articles:

http://lifehacker.com/5738093/why-you-learn-more-effectively-by-writing-than-typing

http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/faculty/pennebaker/home2000/writingandhealth.html

http://www.becomingsmarter.com/blogging-for-smartness

http://www.ehow.com/about_6507497_can-being-good-writer-career_.html


7 Ways you can Learn to Write Better–Guaranteed

Courtesy Cruiznbye @FLickr

1. Climb that mountain: write something every day.
I know, I know, you’ve  heard this before. But are you doing it? It’s a super-key to developing writing skill.

Artists  learn to draw incredibly well  by carrying a sketchpad with them and drawing at every opportunity. Carry paper and pen or at least a digital audio recorder with you always. Besides, you never know when that fantastic idea will pop into your brain without warning.

To get good at anything, do it a lot. If you miss a day, no big deal. But try not to miss too many.

2. Read the best books on writing.
You don’t have to struggle all alone and get discouraged. Learn from successful writers who have a history of struggling themselves—and winning. What they teach you can accelerate your progress.

There are many excellent books on writing—for writers on every level. Read them and do any available exercises:

Need help with grammar? There’s a free guide here:
http://www.dailywritingtips.com/  Scroll down and find where you can subscribe. Look for the photo of the book Basic English Grammar, sign up and download it. You should be subscribed to emails from this website and reading them daily anyway.

Want to get better at revising your first drafts? Getting the Word Right, How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite by Theodore A. Rees Cheney is one of the best. Probably the best.

Been writing a while but still feel a need to improve? My favorite is Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing by Gary Provost. Or, his 100 ways to Improve your Writing features key help.

Or, simply go to one of the major online bookstores, do a search for “writing” or “better writing” and read the reviews to help you choose.

3. Realize you don’t need to worry about talent.
It’s overrated anyway. What does that word “talent” mean really? Most of the time it’s an inadequate explanation why some people are better than others at doing things like drawing or painting or dancing or poetry or ice-skating.

Michelangelo once said: “If people knew how hard I worked to achieve my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.”

What you need is a desire to write well that is strong enough to motivate you to stick with it. What you need is to fill pages with words (or your hard-drive’s memory).

And listen to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “”Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”

4. Read.
Reading, second to writing every day, is the most important training you can get. Read especially the writers who write the way you’d like to—excellent advice from Ray Bradbury, the celebrated author of stories that are pure magic (Zen in the Art of Writing). Read writers you admire: novelists, poets, copywriters, technical writers. Good writing is always good to read.

You’re an artist, and words are your medium. The more your brain processes them, the better—and the more fluent you become.

5. Get crazy-occasionally.
By “occasionally” I mean in your first attempt to write a piece. Your first draft. Again, Ray Bradbury makes a good point. He includes all the crazy stuff he comes up with, the wild ideas when he writes that first version. True, he will edit out a lot of them later—you always can—but not necessarily all of them. A lot of your best ideas will come to you when you write in a hurry, in an enthusiastic rush. But many of them can all-too-easily be slaughtered by  giving your inner critique permission too soon in the game.

Writing is work, but it should be fun too whenever possible. Be childlike in those early attempts. Then later, be a tad more sensible when editing.

6. Be more like a human and less like a professor.
The style today is more conversational. That doesn’t mean your writing should be chatty or filled with slang or street language. You will likely find yourself writing more formally on occasion. But it does mean we writers are using a style that is more like we talk.

Try this key technique: The next time you are struggling with a sentence or two, pretend you’re talking a friend. Say it out loud if you need to and write down your words.

7. And don’t quit.
I can’t guarantee how good of a writer you will eventually become. But I can guarantee if you quit trying to improve, you won’t.  At least not a lot. But if you follow the advice in this post, you will improve.

If you like to write, whether its blog posts, poetry, stories, love-letters or a manual for using Microsoft Word, then look to your future. Imagine what it would be like to be so good that you can compose words that move people to take action, that make them laugh, and that give them hope.

And go for it!

Related:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-do-you-teach-someone-to-write-well/

http://theamericanscholar.org/writing-english-as-a-second-language/?gclid=COLqz9jc660CFQWDhwodzy975g

http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Vision51/Learningtowrite.htm

http://www.fireandknowledge.org/archives/2007/01/08/a-guide-to-writing-well/

Writing that Moves your Reader

Photo courtesy of Mo Riza @Flickr

Yesterday I viewed a video by Leo Babauta, part of a series in the A-List Blogging Bootcamps (www.alistbloggingbootcamps.com) I’m sure you know him, but just in case: he’s also the creator of the www.zenhabits.com and co-founder of www.writetodone.com.

In the video Leo analyzed blogs volunteered by his viewers.
As he commented on the features, I noticed that he keep drilling his viewers on one particular aspect. He advocated taking a look at that first page visitors see when arriving to read a blog—from the visitor’s perspective. And asking, what kind of experience would a user have with that page? Is it cluttered with a bunch of confusing links, and tabs and options? Does it give the user what she is looking for, the latest post, stage center and near the top of the page, without having to search for it and without having to deal with things getting in the way, like pop-ups? Leo was talking about blogs that work, certainly, but what he emphasized over and over applies equally to writing excellence.

Leo knows how to write.
I think all of us who have read him can agree with that. My take on what he said is that he approaches what he writes with concern like this: Is this the type of quality content that will help my readers solve a problem? Fill a need? (my paraphrase of some of his main points).

Writing is communication.
To create content that meets a reader’s need or helps solve a problem, we must write well enough that reader gets the message, clearly and persuasively. Communication occurs when the reader gets it.

When you write keep your reader constantly in mind.
So what is the best way to go about writing?  To communicate well, I must do more than just express myself eloquently.  I must also, as the saying goes, write for my reader.

But what does that mean exactly?
It means that when I write, to write well, I need to at least keep my intended readers constantly in mind. Even better if I can put myself in my reader’s place. Like an actor who “gets into character” to be able to understand the character’s feelings, I need to view my writing as if I were that reader. And ask questions like: “How will she react to what I just wrote.” Or, “If I were her, reading this, would I get it?” And, “At this point in my writing, do I need to add an anecdote, an illustration, a definition to make my meaning clear?”

A vital discipline
Considering my reader is key. Essential. And, If I know my intended reader and understand her, I am much more able to choose words that reach her, persuade her, and touch her where she lives. It makes a big deal of difference if I am writing for fortune 500 executives or for immigrants from Greenland or for a bright nine-year-old young lady residing in Manhattan.

Top-notched writing is persuasive, entertaining, reader-friendly, and packs punch…and it gives readers answers they are looking for.

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Right-Brain Editing

Be like Luna Lovegood, only not all the time.

Luna Lovegood could make a good writer, certainly fun to read. She’s strange at times but always charming, entertaining,  coming up with off-the-wall comments. Some don’t make sense, but at other times she surprises with some rather wise ideas. For me, whether I’m reading the Harry Potter novels or watching one of the movies, she makes a scene come alive. She’s definitely a right-brain gal.

So how does that relate to editing? When we edit we need to pay attention to the right-brain’s intuition, not just the left-brain’s critique.

                              Courtesy http://www.pdphoto.org/ 


Free writing
is a carnival ride.

No doubt you know about freewriting. Ray Bradbury, who likes carnivals, is an advocate of getting wild in our first drafts, pushing the limits, leaving the crazy stuff in. Because we can go back later and edit out anything we decide doesn’t really work. You could say, then, that freewriting is best done in a heavily right-brain mode: dreamy, sometimes bizarre, startling and even poetic at times.

                                   PET scan of a normal brain.  Source Wikimedia Commons

Editing is much more sensible.
You also know, I’m sure, that editing belongs more to the left-brain sector. We need our critic mode to pare off those too-nutty phrases, that humor that reaches too much, or those just-too-spicy words. Writing can of course be lyrical and poetic and playful, but we need it to make sense too.

But here’s the thing.
When writing a first draft, i’ts important to turn-off/ignore the left-brain’s pickiness so that the words flow uninhibited. And it is just as important to pay attention and stay open to input from our intuition. Like a smart lady, she wants to be heard.

At best it’s a team effort
There’s been a lot written on right-brain verses left-brain, but a key point is that we never function in only one sector of our amazing brain, not totally. The research has shown this. The two sides are physically connected. So there is a channel between them for relating. The content can flow between them. Like a couple working together.

So when I edit, I work at keeping in mind that even while my left-brain is reveling in his authoritative role, and often doesn’t like interruptions, I’d best pay attention to my intuition.

After all, you never know what she’ll come up with.