Monday, March 25

Tips on tips for writing well, or at least not badly

I'm always on the lookout for strategies, suggestions, helpful hints for writers. Naturally I was intrigued by the come-hither title "7 words guaranteed to make you a better writer."

There are, alas, no "Aha!" moments in this article. There are, however, in the first paragraph, a couple of grammar errors and I can't tell if he's trying to make a point by being funny or if he just doesn't know. If it's the former, sound the gong because the joke didn't work. If it's the latter, well, just join me in a deep sigh.

The first full paragraph (I'm not counting the spoiler alert which really isn't a spoiler alert) reads thusly:
I just published a 175-page book called How to Not Write Bad. It will set you back $15, plus tax. But I am here to tell you that if you master just seven words, you will not only not write bad: you'll write good, er, well. (And in fact, there are only six words; one of them is repeated.)
The book is to tell readers how to do something. I'll overlook the split infinitive, but I'm troubled by the absence of the adverb. I believe the title of the book should be How Not to Write Badly. But you see how he might be trying to be clever, or get someone to pick up the book just to try to prove him wrong. Or something. But not for 15 bucks. Plus tax. Then there is the double negative in the third sentence which also does not sport an adverb where one should be even though he makes a passing attempt at grammar humor with the self-correction to an adverb. How are you writing? You are writing well or you are writing badly.

The tips.
Yes, read. Read whatever you can whenever you can. In this Mr. Yagoda is correct as you will discover styles of writing that pique your interest, that help you think differently about a purpose or an audience. That will help you further develop your style for your audience(s).

Read it aloud. I gave this very advice to my college freshmen and speak of it in every writing workshop I do. Ideally, have someone who doesn't know your voice read it aloud. Those folks will read it as they see it and hear it; they will read it based on your words and your operational signposts--transitions, punctuation, paragraphing.

Show, don't tell. True; always true. What I think this means is any writer needs to be thinking about his audience and the kind of details and information that audience wants and needs. What style of writing will tap that reader's sweet spot just right and encourage her to settle in her chair to read without distraction? What type of detail and style of writing will hook that reader so he wants to keep reading every next word?

I'll interject here that that was one of the best compliments I ever got: one of my doctoral professors actually wrote that he was "compelled to read every next word." Now that is a good writing experience because, in my view, it was a good reading experience.

Write on!


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