Tag Archives: improve your writing

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?

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!