I’m getting back to basics this month—in health and in writing.
My husband and I are fasting this week from grains and all sugar except for sugar from fruit. I roped him into it, but for me the fast is an effort to hit the reset button after the holidays and to feel better.
Getting to bed at a reasonable hour—at least for a three or four-weeks-long stretch—is another goal. I know I have to rest to be able work efficiently and end those late nights spent hunched over the keyboard trying to keep my eyes open. My fellow workaholics know how challenging this can be. But no shortcuts to good health exist. If you want to feel your best, you have to do the work—or, in this case, get some rest.
No short cuts to good writing exist either. A clear, concise, pointed message won’t just materialize, no matter how long a writer has been writing.
A few basics can help a writer hit the reset button on his writing and bring it to life. For those already familiar with the rules, the lessons are worth repeating. I revisit them every time I write.
–Never use two words where one will do. Don’t waste words. Phrases like “there is” and “there are” don’t work hard. They are fillers—avoid them.
Before There is nothing in the world that makes me laugh like a clown can.
After Nothing makes me laugh like a clown can.
–Use active voice. Avoid passive voice whenever possible. Passive voice produces wimpy writing.
Before The ball was thrown by Billy.
After Billy threw the ball.
–Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. You may need an occasional, well-placed adjective. But opt mostly for strong verbs to paint a picture.
Before He ran away quickly.
After He sped away.
–Read your writing. Reread it. Check for accuracy, grammar, spelling and clarity. Read it aloud. Hearing your work is the best way to test its flow. Read it again if you’re feeling like a stickler. Ask a friend to read it for you. Your friend will often catch mistakes you missed.
–Break the rules. Sometimes. Excepting the previous rule, good writers know when to break the rules.
So go ahead—end that sentence in a preposition. Or place that adjective.
This list isn’t exhaustive. But keeping these guidelines in mind will help you refresh your writing. A style guide like the classic, “The Elements of Style” will help you improve your skills even more.