Writing With Power: 5 Snappy Rules For Success
by Christopher Brown
Almost everyone could profit from enhancing their writing skills. From writing more crisp meta-tags – which search engine bots find quite sexy – to turbo-charging your blog readership by writing with punch, a skilled pen can propel any online effort in the right direction. But who has the time, money or know-how to tackle this daunting task, right? On the contrary, I have just the free and powerful writing clinic for you. We have named it “Writing With Power.” And did I mention it’s free?
Here, we – my friends and I – aim to lend a boost to your writing skills fast. We do this for people all the time by showing them how to use George Orwell’s oh-so-practical principles of good writing. Today, I will offer five of them, and show you how to use them with ease. But first I must introduce you to an odd sort of person, whom I call, “Homo Graphicus,” and he stars in a very popular fib dubbed the “Myth of the Great Writer.”
What does he do? He sits far back in the recesses of your mind, whittling away at another masterpiece. For, you see, he flawlessly crafts only the finest specimens of the literary art, and he does so day-in and day-out. No piles of crumpled paper wads litter his desk or the floor, and he doesn’t DO erasers. He simply presses the “insight” button, absorbs the inspired notion, and, with a flick of the wrist, returns to churning out his next scripted champion.
Now, the good news for those of us with all the creative flare of peet moss is this: this man does not exist. There are no great writers. The world knows only great rewriters. The way to produce a fine piece of writing comes by outlining briefly what you wish to say, filling out the floor plan with a few data from your research, and then by sifting carefully through the first draft many times – systematically. Just follow the rules, step-by-step.
So where’s the love? It comes by filtering the unruly items from your draft (with our rules), and replacing them with the beloved features of good writing. Here, you take your very rough draft – and some will prove rougher than others – and purge from it all the dross in a step-by-step fashion, with rules simple enough for clever pets to follow. Even Cocoa could do this.
Our first rule, we shall say this way: prefer concrete nouns to the abstract. By “concrete” I mean to suggest that you should employ the kinds of nouns we can all see, taste, smell, hear and see. This would include fish, cars, toasters, and DVD’s.
Abstract nouns, on the other hand, insist on playing hide-and-seek from our five senses. Most of the badly overused ones end in “-tion.” These include words like marginalization, utilization, and transportation.
Good rewriters will make every effort to paint pictures, so to speak, in the minds of their readers. Do not simply tell them, SHOW them. Now be assured that no one has the foggiest idea what “marginalization” looks like, but we all know a marshmallow when we see one. Paint vivid, lustrous – even golden – pictures in your readers’ minds. Use images that drip honey. So replace the do-nothing abstract nouns in your draft with smoldering wicks, chandeliers of fiery brass, and shimmering scarlet wine (preferably California Cabernets).
Moving on to rule number two, we encourage good rewriters to supplant verb forms of “to be” (e.g. was, were, are, am, will be) with active verbs. Adorn your draft with highly-caffeinated words that careen, thunder, swoop, roar, derail and dance. Comatose words like “is” barely manage to register a heartbeat as verbs. They portray nothing at all. Some politicians, it is rumored, do not even know what the meaning of “is” really is. Yet, who can blame them for wanting to defrock such a flimsy and haggard word? As a good rewriter, you must convict and impeach these lackluster, worthless, and dull-witted imposters – meaning, of course, lazy verbs – not the politicians.
Under the rubric of rule three, good rewriting will insist that you vary your word choices. Do not employ the same words too often. This means you must scan the draft to spy out the repeat offenders, so you can give their space to an underemployed synonym. You can plunder any good thesaurus to get these. Variety remains THE spice central to good writing, so spice it up.
Rule number four for good rewriting warns us to keep it short and snappy. Take a step back form your paper for a moment to clean it up now. Go ahead and give your draft a clean shave, and take a little off the top. Trimming from your draft excess words, phrases, and perhaps even sentences, will ensure clear writing that gets right to the point. If your sentence says it in twenty words, find a way to say it in, maybe, fifteen. But watch out for nicks and cuts. Never toss out any important ideas or words essential to your writing task. Yet, when it doubt, throw it out – or at the least – give it a fair snipping to keep it lean.
Finally, rule number five bids good rewriters juggle their sentence lengths. Mix it up. If your first sentence spans only a few words, follow this with a lengthier one. Then chase that one with a mid-length sentence. This creates an almost enchanting, writing “flow”– where your readers wonder what will come next. This subtle variety in your writing style draws the reader in, and keeps her coming back. And we know that keeping readers interested remains the best way to keep them.
Now these rules work very well and can improve your writing immensely almost at once, but only if you put them to use. On such topics as these, of course, I have much more to say. And I hasten to do so at our Writing With Power site, giving examples, tips and great resources along the way. Remember, you will need to rely heavily on a fairly comprehensive thesaurus.
Don’t be afraid to invest a little in this venture.
All the best efforts of the academic world have not managed to prevent the current shortage of good rewriters. Most folks still cling to the “Myth of the Great Writer,” and this hinders them from jumping straightway into the river of personal advancement. Don’t let a literary fiction keep you from securing your own set of extremely marketable and valuable skills with a little effort and practice. Start today, and come on in – the water is fine. And did I mention that it’s free?