BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE
The first two newspapers I worked for basically took the articles I submitted and published them “as was.” Errors, incoherencies, and all.
Then I met Paul Heyworth, editor of the Fay-West section of the Greensburg Tribune-Review (PA). Having recently moved to Connellsville, Pennsylvania, I hadn’t been motivated to approach the newspaper about writing for them until I signed up for a conference on gangs. In my previous community, where I headed a family support program and was a pastor’s spouse, I had often submitted articles to two newspapers on conferences and seminars I attended. I believe it’s called “multi-tasking.”
I set up an appointment to speak with Paul—I believe it was an “interview.” He told me to bring in several clips. When I arrived, he used speed-reading to evaluate them before asking me how many articles a week I was planning to submit. I only intended, at that point, to write the one.
After getting by that bump in the interview, Paul told me he expected me to be in the news office when the articles were edited.
In a very early submission, he questioned a word I used.
“Don’t you think that word is too large for Fayette County readers?”
I said that I was a county resident who read the paper, that not all readers were unable to understand that word. Not all readers were uneducated.
“Besides, don’t you think that some readers will look the word up in a dictionary and learn something?”
After that, I made certain there was one challenging word in each article I submitted. These words were never removed.
This is a roundabout way for me to introduce a post I read: 11 Smart Tips for Brilliant Writing. And in using “larger” words, I violated Tip number three: Choose simple words.
Using simple words is good advice. The post’s example was to use near instead of close proximity. It suggested that longer words should be used only if your meaning is so specific that no other words will do. For example, sodium chloride is great in chemistry, but in a typical article, salt suffices. In an article discussing the longest words, eliminating the word antidisestablishmentarianism might not be wise, regardless of its complexity.
The tips were pretty basic, and suitable for most writing in our era.
First and foremost, have something to say. That’s what brainstorming sessions and prompts are about. However, my main inspiration comes from the statement: If you want to know about something, so do others. Research it. Write it.
The second tip: Be specific.
I can describe a female character in my novel, Intertwined Love, that a character, Madame de Leval, is commanding and is unique.
Or: She has purple eyes that change colors with her emotions; long flowing black hair; a white complexion, a petite, shapely body, and a no-nonsense business attitude, all of which makes heads turn when she enters a room.
The fourth tip: Write short sentences.
My journalism experience gave me good training for this tip. I learned to eliminate the ands and other connective words. Other genres may allow for more use of these words, and I may sometimes cut my sentences shorter than necessary in Intertwined Love. But it is generally best to err on the side of short sentences.
The fifth tip: Use the active voice. Where possible.
Active voice: Subject, verb, object. Madame signed the contract.
Passive voice: The contract had been signed by Madame.
The sixth tip: Keep paragraphs short.
Don’t overwhelm your reader with too much information in one fell swoop. Again, journalism writing eased the way for my writing, although, again, sometimes I tend to cut paragraphs too short.
Seventh tip: Eliminate fluff words.
What are fluff words? Very, little, rather. When you declare something as a particular adjective – whether it’s amazing, amusing or great – without detailing the reasons for being so, you’re polluting the content pool with fluff.
Madame was very angry. With no explanation, it makes the word “very” a fluff word.
Eighth tip: Don’t ramble.
Stick to the point, the thought, you are trying to communicate. Was the introduction to this article rambling? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Ninth tip: Don’t be redundant or repeat yourself.
In Intertwined Love this will be difficult to do. Every meeting Madame de la Val has with Gen. Henry Knox and/or Gen. Henry Jackson is the same. Madame’s mantra is: I want my deeds.
How to write this with just the right amount of redundancy will be challenging. This calls me to be creative—while not veering off the subject.
Tenth tip: Don’t overwrite.
State what you want to communicate, use description, but know when to quit.
Eleventh tip: Edit ruthlessly.
A time-honored technique is to allow a piece to rest between the time you write it, and between the times of editing: Write – Wait – Edit.
I usually try to review my work three times. It amazes me how much it improves it with each edit. Sometimes, however, especially in journalism, time doesn’t allow this luxury. Deadlines call. That is why someone else should read the writing.
Another time honored editing technique is reading your writing aloud. It works. This is obvious when a member of the Beanery Writers Group reads the aloud piece s/he brings for the group to critique.
I would suggest three more tips.
Twelfth tip: Go from the universal to the specific, or the specific to the universal.
This relates your experience to others, or other’s experience to yours.
I’ve written hundreds of devotionals. Often the universalism seems canned. And what would you do in that circumstance?
I try, however, to use this tip in my writings. When I write a piece about my experience, I try to relate it to a current news event. In writing a piece about cockfighting in the 1790s, I related it to the dog fighting issues in today’s world (Dog Fighting & Cock Fighting: Cultural Phenomenon?) .
Thirteenth tip: Always write a new piece as if the person hadn’t read any related previous piece.
When my husband wrote a piece about Earth Day, he spoke about Slippery Rock as if it was a familiar name to potential readers. Recognizing that posts—and other writings—might be read anywhere, worldwide, I edited his writing by adding Pennsylvania after the town name.
When working with Paul Heyworth, I asked him about something familiar to long-time Fayette County residents, which wasn’t explained in an article. He said “Everyone reading the paper knows this.” I responded: “I don’t. You might consider that there are always new people coming into the community who might not know local details.”
Fourteenth tip: Know when NOT to edit your material.
If you are writing about something that is emotionally fresh for you (and this could be years after the event), trust a responsible person to edit the work. To write effectively, you need some distance from the emotion.