Roger That: A few words on writing
August 31, 2012
Roger Shirley is a former editor of the Nashville Business Journal and longtime editorial director here at MP&F. He reads just about everything we write. And we write a lot. This is Roger’s column about writing.
10 Quick Tips to Becoming a Better Writer
One of the great things about the digital age has been the proliferation of lists. Sports websites rank the top teams of the year or decade or century, news and entertainment sites list the 100 most intriguing people, largest landowners or best Bob Dylan songs, lifestyle sites list 20 ways to lose weight or the most popular dog names. Somewhere, I’m sure, there is a list of the best lists.
So, not to be left out of this enduring trend, I have come up with my own list of “10 Quick Tips to Becoming a Better Writer.” I am calling them quick tips because I developed the list quickly (the first 10 things that popped into my head) and I limited myself to 30 words per tip.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Be prepared – do the research, ask the questions, know what the hell you are writing about. It’s very tough to fake it for more than a few sentences.
2) Read the New York Times’ staff-written obituaries often; soak up what is consistently good, tight, solid, interesting writing.
3) Envision a person who represents your target audience and write to him or her; if you are working on copy for a senior citizens brochure, think of your grandmother as you write.
4) Become obsessed with writing in the active voice.
5) Minimize the use of dependent clauses to start sentences.
6) Go through your first draft, and without rewriting sentences, eliminate all words that aren’t necessary (such as “very” and “currently”); this reinforces tight writing.
7) Develop a list of words that you hate, and take pride in not using them.
8) Improve your vocabulary.
9) Avoid writing on deadline (when possible); good writing demands time.
10) If it sounds awkward, confusing or just plain stupid when you first write it, don’t expect it to improve with age – learn to edit as you go.
OK, that’s my list and I’m sticking to it, although I already regret not including a few others (“don’t dangle your modifiers” and “never raise questions you do not answer”). But all lists must end somewhere, and I’m pretty sure they must be divisible by 5. At any rate, I’d love to hear tips from other folks. Send me your best ones, 30 words or fewer. I’ll compile them in a list.