Tag Archives: improve your writing

Five Steps To Instantly Improve Your Writing

freelance-writing-advice-3How can you improve your writing in seconds? It’s simple once you make a few habits second nature. I know plenty of writers who agonize over every line, but it is very rare that they manage to improve without taking at least a couple of these suggestions to heart.

The trick is to make these concepts a part of ALL your writing. That includes shopping lists, e-mail, even the way you speak. If that sounds extreme to you, remember that good writers are the ones who took great pains over their work–the writer’s equivalent of practicing the free throw, the slap shot, whatever. Writers don’t practice writing, instead they do it in public–your best and worst work goes to the editor and you cross your fingers. When it’s your worst work, you don’t get the gig. Hell, sometimes when it’s your best work you don’t get the gig either.

It pays to be proactive and submit your very best. Here are five ways to do that:

5. READ the line. Here’s a great example. Author Ron Fry wrote a book called Improve Your Writing. A lesser writer would have titled it “Improving Your Writing“. Look at that line and tell yourself why it doesn’t work. Can’t tell? Try saying the title out loud. Now you get it. READ your material.

4. Avoid your personal set of cliches. Phrases like “Take a gander,” “Have a look,” “You won’t believe.” and my own personal example, “In the world of…” This tip goes back to the previous one. READ your work and scour it for cliches and dump them. Be cruel.

3. Don’t fall in love with your own prose. I’ve known a writer or two so in love with their own work that they get very annoyed when an editor changes something. Folks, there are people out there who know writing better than you and they have something to teach you when they revise. Don’t assume you are the master of your craft. Stephen King doesn’t, and you’re no Stephen King. No matter WHO you are.

2. Don’t try to make a final draft when writing your first draft. By this I mean don’t try to write it perfectly the first time. Writers who put down a line or two then go back to try and polish it right then and there miss the whole point of a first draft. The first draft is a way to collect your best ideas in one place. The second draft is to make those ideas clearer and read better. The first draft should NOT be polished as you go. Just blurt it out there and revise once your thoughts are done.

1. When freelance writing, don’t assume that your articles or blogs are the only place you should worry about your words. That e-mail to your editor should be given the same attention as everything else you write. COMPOSE those letters and never send a first draft of ANYTHING, even a query letter. This advice also goes back to the first rule in our list. READ your work and make good writing second nature even in those goofy one-line messages you post on Twitter.

Confessions of an Editor: The Eternal Evil Of Adverbs & Adjectives

Before I start this screed, let me confess that I’m as guilty as anyone of using adverbs and adjectives. Usually when I am hyper-caffeinated, I find myself pouring them onto the page at a rate that would make you weep. So I don’t write this to say, “Be like me–I’m just as cool as they come!”. Rather, I write this to remind MYSELF not to do these things, and you too–one day you’ll send some copy my way and we’d both prefer to avoid the unpleasantness which is sure to come if your work is rife with adverbs and other nonsense.

To begin, let’s define adverbs and adjectives. The Capital Community College grammar page is most helpful here–refer to it often. I love the short-and-sweet definition found on that page. Adverbs are words that modify a verb, adjective or another adverb. Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns.

What the page doesn’t say is that in many cases, adverbs and adjectives are STUPID and POINTLESS. Consider that last line, for example. It may be informative to say adverbs are pointless, but STUPID? That’s me getting wordy again. It would be more accurate to say adverbs and adjectives are often needless words.

Clear, concise writing demands brevity. If you feel the need for more descriptive prose, consider this line from James Ellroy’s The Cold Six Thousand;

“He walked. He grabbed at the cell bars. He anchored himself.”

That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? We don’t need to know what happened next. This line tells us everything. He’s trapped in jail and getting ready for something to happen. Now let’s read this as it would be submitted by some writers you probably know;

“He walked quickly and grabbed at the cell bars. He braced himself nervously.”

The power of the line vanishes. Let’s look at another one.

“Jimmy took a painful blow to the face. He staggered drunkenly down the corridor, arms flailing wildly.”

Now when we cut out all the crap: Continue reading Confessions of an Editor: The Eternal Evil Of Adverbs & Adjectives

Five Ways to Quickly Improve Your Writing

How would you like to make a LOT more money from your writing? Let’s face it, you can put together a slam-bang query, get the editor’s attention and land the gig; if what you turn in doesn’t live up to the hype, you’re dead in the water with that editor for another assignment. Good freelancers are the ones who learn the value of establishing a relationship with your editor. The only way to do that is to get past the first assignment with a new publication. Editors hate nothing more than the writer who presents well because of a an agonized-over query letter, but didn’t live up to the promise with the completed article. You might not think you’re guilty, but if you aren’t doing at least two of these five steps, you could be cheating yourself out of more money.

Here are five ways you can attack your writing to make your editor appreciate your work:

1. Read Strunk and White before starting a new article. The eternal one-liner “Omit needless words” is only a single nugget of genius–The Elements of Style has the power to change your writing style in ways you can’t even imagine. Read the section on misused words and phrases and watch your copy change practically overnight.

2. Scour your copy for “garbage words”. Garbage words include therefore, occasionally, and so forth, hopefully, and extremely. We know the crash was horrific. It’s overkill to say “extremely horrific”. Strong writing does not need these things. I just heard a character on a television show say someone was “extremely dead,” and if you REALLY need an explanation why that is poor writing (when said without irony), I suggest you go back to Strunk & White and read some more.

3. Omit statements when questions are more concise. Let’s consider the dilemma of the radio advertising writer. Here is someone who needs to convey a large amount of information, but only has 30 seconds to do it. Instead of writing “People looking for used automobiles should check out Uncle Harry’s Used Car Lot,” a good radio ad will ask “Are you looking for a used car? Try Harry’s Used Car Lot”. To put this in article context, consider the following statement: “20 million consumers purchased at least two handguns in 2002 because of fears over high profile crimes such as murder and bank robberies.” Continue reading Five Ways to Quickly Improve Your Writing