Some types of communication require writers to string a lot of words together as quickly as possible. (Maybe you have a day job that requires this!) When I’m writing in this way, I don’t pause to weave beautiful phrases or engage the reader with well-crafted sentences. But there are other writing projects in which I want to gift readers with words that shine. For these projects, there are some rules of writing that guide me as I purpose to be as artful and effective as possible.
1. Be specific.
Use precise language. Not “tool,” but lathe. Not “hot,” but fiery. Not “fruit,” but mango.
2. Appeal to a reader’s senses.
Appeal to the reader’s senses by including sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures.
3. Avoid flowery speech.
Overusing adjectives and adverbs makes your speech too flowery. Mary DeMuth exhorts, “Use a better noun instead of a weak one that needs an adjective. Use a stronger verb instead of one that leans on an adjective or adverb for help.”
4. Use active voice.
Employ active voice, rather than passive, to create interest and keep readers engaged.
5. Avoid fancy words.
Don’t use a splendiferous fancy word when a plain one will do.
6. Eliminate unnecessary words.
If any words or sentences can be removed without changing a text’s meaning, your writing will be stronger if you scrap ‘em.
7. Vary sentence length and structure.
Use simple, short sentences. Also use longer and more complex ones.
8. Choose original combinations of words.
Reach beyond clichés and stereotypes to discover fresh expression. “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” (Orwell’s 6 rules of writing in “Politics and the English Language,” 1946)
9. Write to one person.
I’ve heard my wise friend Jonathan Merritt say, “If you try to write a book to everybody, you’ll end up writing a book to nobody. If you try to write a book to somebody, you’ll end up writing a book for anybody.” Identify your target reader—sister? neighbor?—and write to that one person.
10. Show, don’t tell.
Allow readers to discover what you have by painting colorful moments, conversations, conflicts, etc. Writing that “tells” simply informs, like recipe ingredients. Writing that “shows” offers reader a taste of yummy cake.
Cheering you on,