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7 Top Tips for Writing

August 3, 2011

Do you ever read something and think “That’s was so witty” or “That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”? We all have opinions about the things we see, experience, and read. Some of it good … some not so much! When I write, some of it is inspired and brilliant … and some not so much! So I try to follow these 7 simple tips when I write.

1. Have something to say.

Well, this is obvious! Rarely do I sit down to write with nothing in my mind beforehand. I really have to be inspired by an idea before I can begin writing. For instance, when I receive an assignment from ParentLife Magazine, I usually think about the assignment for a couple weeks and toss around in my mind different ways to approach the topic, how to begin the article, and what creative way to get the readers’ attention. When I am not inspired, I sit staring at my laptop and what comes out seems forced and not meaningful.

  • To inspire yourself, be a reader. Read all types of genres, all forms of literature, all kinds of authors.
  • Always carry a notepad and pen around with you. My inspiration typically comes at two different times: when I’m driving and late at night when I’m in bed. I always carry a notepad and pen in the car with me—I have one hand on the wheel and one hand furiously writing on the notepad! I also have a notepad on the floor by my bed. I’ll wake up at night and start scribbling ideas, hoping I can read them come morning. But I’ve found that if I don’t get these brainstorms written down in the middle of the night, then I never remember them in the morning, even though I try to convince myself that I will and go back to sleep!

2. Be specific when you write.

People want details. They want to know the what, how, why, when, and where. Consider the following two sentences:

  • I grow lots of herbs.
  • In my backyard, I grow 15 different kinds of herbs, including my favorite—mint, rosemary, and thyme.

Which sentence tells you more about the writer? Which is more interesting? Which helps you better visualize what the writer is saying?

When I taught middle-schoolers (who are notoriously awful writers) I told them to envision an opening of a movie where the camera is sweeping the landscape and a narrator is introducing the events of the movie. The narrator never says, “Today started out as a good day.” The narrator expands and gives vivid details to help you understand the whole scope of the script. So imagine yourself as a narrator of a movie that everyone wants to know what is going on!

3. Choose simple words.

To be honest, I love using the thesaurus. But sometimes the “big” words sound forced and fake, like you’re trying to impress somebody. Sometimes you need to use the thesaurus so you don’t sound like a second grader, but other times using words you wouldn’t normally use takes away from your tone. Once you find your tone of voice as a writer, you want to keep it! Don’t try to sound like somebody else, somebody you’re not. Sound like you.

4. Write short sentences.

I don’t necessary like this rule, because I like to write long sentences. However, for the most part, sentences and paragraphs should be short because they are easier to read and easier to understand.

Consider this fact from “The Informatics Review”: 

  • The average level of written material is approximately 7th grade. 

Hard to believe, isn’t it?  Think back to 7th grade. Could you understand long, complex sentences with several thoughts? Probably not; they are too confusing. Using shorter sentences and paragraphs will help avoid confusion.

Thanks to social media grabbing our attention and pulling our brains every which way every second of the day, most of us have developed adult ADD. So shorter chunks of information are going to get comprehended better in today’s society than something written like a textbook. Check out any current magazine, website, or blog, and you’ll find information in bulleted lists, short snippets, and bits and pieces. Most published materials nowadays is getting less formal in order to make our multi-tasking minds comprehend.

5. Use the active voice.

This is also a difficult one for me, because when I review something I’ve written, a lot of it is in passive voice. So I have to go back and edit my sentences to be active. Active voice is a sequence of SUBJECT—VERB—OBJECT. Passive voice is a sequence of OBJECT—VERB—SUBJECT. Consider the two sentences below:

  • Most people do not like passive voice. (active)
  • Passive voice is not liked by most people. (passive)

Write actively—where your subject is doing the action, not where the action is being done to the subject.

6. Eliminate fluff words.

“Fluff” words are words such as very, little, rather, some, really, actually. They are words that add nothing to your meaning and hang around like the embarrassing cousin at Thanksgiving dinner.

For example, this was an actual sentence from a client:

There are some things God can do with some people—He wants to do very big things with some people.

Can I take my big, giant red market and cross out “some”? It brings nothing of value to the sentence. And it actually distracts the reader from the message the writer wants to make. I would edit it to be: “There are things God can do; He wants to accomplish a lot through people!” In my opinion, a much stronger meaning without some and very.

Here’s another example:

I actually thought he would really come through for me.

Does actually and really truly add more meaning and depth to the sentence? Nope! Delete!


Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) is quoted for having said writers should “Substitute da*n every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Ha! Hysterical! Makes me look at the word very in a totally new light. Thanks, Mark … I’ll never use fluff again!

 
7. Edit, Edit, Edit.

This is the biggest tip of all—double check your work. Let your writing sit untouched for a few days. Then go back to it and reread it. Does it make sense? Spell check it. Read it out loud for errors. If you have to rewrite a lot, let it sit for a few more days and proof it again. This is the reason writers cannot leave an assignment until the deadline; you must always leave several days for the process of proofing, editing, double checking, rewriting, and editing again, and again, and again!

I love to write, and these tips are the top ones that have helped me along the way.
Writers, what other tips help you through the process of writing?
Which of these 7 tips do you identify with the most?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 4:15 pm

    This is a fabulous list! I found it very helpful and reinforcing to know I am doing most of these things already! I loved the one about carrying around a notebook. I stock up on little notepads at the Dollar Store and keep them with me when I am exercising, which is where I get my best writing ideas.

    I also appreciate the edit tip. It takes me around 1 hour to write a post for my blog, but six or seven hours to edit it over a period of several days. I thought I was just being picky, but now I see it is just good practice.

    My tip is this: Sometimes when I write, I can only think of a common way to say something. Instead of losing my train of thought, I will write it like that, but then go back and think of a fresh, original way to say it.

    I love your blog and so appreciate you taking the time to share all your tips and experience with us!

    • August 4, 2011 8:16 am

      Thanks for sharing! I am glad to know it takes you that long to edit blog posts, because I thought I was the only one, too! When I am inspired with an idea, it doesn’t take too long to write it–about an hour, like you said. But the time that goes into editing is intense. And I miss a lot, too (even though I’m an editor) because my brain just reads what I want it to say, not what it really says! So I’m glad to know others devote this much time, as well. It’s all worth it, knowing God could use it in someone’s life!

      That is a grea idea about just writing in a “common way” and then going back to it. So often I have an idea, but try hard to make it better before I even get it on paper–then I lose it! I need to follow your advise and just get it down, then go back to it.

      Thanks for reading and sharing!

  2. August 3, 2011 7:46 pm

    Loovvveee it!!! I think I’m good at #4 on my blog, only because I’ve noticed that I prefer to READ other blogs that have shorter sentences and paragraphs. So I’ve tried to write that way, as well. Like you said, we’re ADD these days … keep it short and sweet. 😉 But I think I’m not so good at #5 and 6. So thank you. I’ll definitely be keeping those tips in mind!

    • August 4, 2011 8:19 am

      A lot of writing also depends on what you are writing and who you are writing it for. Magazine articles, books, curriculum, of course, all have to follow these tips. Blogs have a lot more freedom, which is nice! But our society is getting away from more formal writing to more casual writing, thanks to social media! (Sounds like a future blog post, eh?)

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