As a follow up to my previous post, here are a few more thoughts about writing well, followed by some links leading to additional food for thought.
1. Never sacrifice clarity on the altar of creativity.
When you’re writing for an audience—when you self-consciously care about what the reader thinks about what you’re writing—it’s tempting to strive for innovative, flashy ways of getting your message across. But your message can easily get lost in the effort to be fancy.
A couple of years ago I tweeted this advice after a session of editing a young writer’s work:
Writers. Thou shalt not be confusing in the quest to be clever.
Writing that doesn’t effectively transmit your ideas or information—no matter how colorful—is not good writing. In the oft-cited words of the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
2. Keep sentences short (for the most part.)
Whenever I’m editing the writing of novice writers, much of my time is spent blasting crazy-long sentences into smaller chunks.
Why break up a long, compound, complex sentence into smaller, easily digestible bits when you can string everything you want to say into a long chain of clauses and phrases; because readers never get mentally weary or need you to get to the point—they being able to absorb an infinite amount of detail and keep it all straight, and all?
Because smaller bites are more easily digested. And despite what your 9th grade English teacher told you, it’s okay to start sentences with a conjunction. (That last one did.)
3. Shun clichés.
Cliches are sets of words that are so routinely jammed together in conversation that you can finish the phrase without it actually being spoken:
- Read my lips . . . The bottom line is, at the end of the day, if you want to go whole hog on writing as good as gold, then you’ll want to avoid clichés like the plague.
- It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know you’d give an arm and a leg to be back in the saddle.
- Be a babe in the woods where you let sleeping dogs lie.
- Go back to square one like a kid in a candy store.
- Go back to the drawing board and take the bull by the horns and burn the candle at both ends when you’re down in the dumps.
- For all intents and purposes the jury is still out on whether you’re bigger than life or blind as a bat.
That’s all for now.
Be a better writer in 15 minutes: 4 TED-Ed lessons on grammar and word choice
23 Websites that Make Your Writing Stronger (fiction-centric)