George Orwell's rules for writing well in English.
* Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
* Never use a long word where a short one will do.
* If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
* Never use the passive where you can use the active.
* Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
* Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
"It is easier and less costly to change the way people think about reality than it is to change reality," says Morris Wolfe, a press critic.
Writing tips from author and teacher Oakley Hall, general director of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a summer program for talented young novelists.
1. Write every day
2. Observe and listen
3. Employ all the senses
4. Use strong verbs
6. A specific always beats an abstraction
7. Describe people and places in terms of motion
8. Anglo-Saxon words are usually more effective than Romance-language-based words
9. Fiction is dramatization; dramatization is point-of-view, sense impressions, detail, action and dialogue
10. In dialogue keep speeches short
11. Look for likenesses, parallels, contrasts, antitheses and reversals
12. Beware of use of the habitual case (would), the passive voice and the word ``there.''
13. Plotting is compulsion versus obstacles
14. In the second draft start deleting adverbs
15. Borrow widely, steal wisely
Most persuasive words in our culture are: you, money, save, new, results, health, easy, safety, love, discovery, proven, guarantee
To become a better writer, become a better person. --Brenda Euland
If you want to be a writer, write. --Epictetus (55-135 AD)
"I found your essay to be good and original. However, the part that was original was not good and the part that was good was not original." --Samuel Johnson (1709-1984)
"Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs." --Christopher Hampton
Anybody who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly and vice versa. (Info Anxiety)
"To be a good writer, you have to kill your babies." -- Iris Murdoch (Appearently swiped from Disraeli)
Great journalism site: Poynter Online
World Wide Words
The Underground Grammarian
If You Want to Write,
a 1938 book by Brenda Ueland Sometimes say softly to yourself: "Now...now. What is happening to me now? This is now.
When writing, you should feel like a child stringing beads in kindergarten--happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another.
Behind the words and sentences, there is this deep, important, moving thing--the personality of the writer. And whatever that personality is, it will shine through the writing and make it noble or great, or touching or cold or niggardly or supercilious or whatever the writer is. The only way to become a better writer is to become another person.
Leonardo da Vinci said that if a man paints a portrait, it will always look like himself, the painter, as well as the sitter.
Read your writing aloud to yourself. As soon as your voice drags, cross that part out.
The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, familiar things new. --William Makepeace Thackeray
From Safire, country words: whole- (as in whole-wheat), split (Split-pea), fallow, furrow, sweetwater, post-and-beam, hominy, deep-dish, daisy, sassafras, muslin, dappled, quilt....
From Writing Down the Bones
* Keep your hand moving.
* Don't cross out.
* Don't worry about spelling, punc, grammar.
* Lose control.
* Don't think. Don't get logical
* Go for the jugular.
At any point, we can step out of our frozen selves and our ideas and begin fresh. That is how writing is. Instead of freezing us, it frees us.
Composting. Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time.
The problem is we think we exist. We think our words are permanent and solid and stamp us forever. That's not true. We write in the moment. Every minute we change. At any point, we can step out of our frozen selves and our ideas and begin fresh. That is how writing is. Instead of freezing us, it frees us.
Use detail in your writing.
Timing your writing adds pressure and helps to heat things up and blast through the internal censor. Also, keeping your hand moving and not stopping add to the heat, so a beautiful cake may rise out of the mixture of your daily details.
If you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things.
1. Read a lot,
2. listen well and deeply, and
3. write a lot.
There is fine line between precision and self-indulgence. Stay on the side of precision; know your goal and stay present with it.
Don't tell, but show. When you write, stay in direct connection with the senses.
We are very arrogant to think we alone have a totally original mind. We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us.
Forget yourself. Disappear into everything you look at. Writing is an act of burning through the fog in your mind. Even if you are not sure of something, express it as though you know yourself.
My Favorite Books on Writing
Write to the Point
by Bill Stott
Find your voice.
On Writing Well
by William Zinsser
It's a process.
Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott
Get in the spirit.
Wombats and Lombards
WOMBAT Waste of Money, Brains, and Time
LOMBARD Lots of money, but a real dickhead [courtesy of The Economist].
GSYFILS Go stick your finger in light socket
RTFM read the (f-word of your choice) manual
YMMV your mileage may vary
TMOT trust me on this
If you're really listening, Alice Waters' pop says you should be able to:
1. repeat the essence of what has been said;
2. repeat the feeling with which it was said;
3. sum up what you have heard to the satisfaction of the person who was talking
I have kept a journal since the mid-80's. Also scrapbooks documenting travels and interesting events.
Now I record most thoughts and ideas directly into the computer. My journal has become the General Ledger of my personal knowledge base, the spot where most everything passes on its way to a web page, powerpoint presentation, or article.
The Journal is handy for reflecting on the past, enjoying memories and looking for patterns; for interpreting the present, using words to make the ethereal explicit; and doodling, for I'm always drawing, diagramming, and playing with white space.
from Time and the Art of Living
Try to make the present memorable; or, failing this, review daily what is important about the present period in your file. In so doing, you will enrich time.
Journal entries are letters we send into the future. To do this regularly and intelligently is to expand our being in time.
Few fallacies are more dangerous or easier to fall into than that by which, having read a given book, we assume that we will continue to know its contents permanently or, having mastered a discipline in the past, we assume that we control it in the present.
Philosophically speaking, "to learn" is a verb with no legitimate past tense.
In writing your journal give primary attention to detail; for it is detail which organizes and preserves experience for your future self or some other reader.
General statements like "We had a wonderful time" or "It was a dismal morning" make a mockery of the whole procedure, for they evaluate experience without recreating it. --Grudin
Writing for the Web
There's an idea.
The current mantra is...
* be brief
* prep for skimming
* some eye-candy
In four years, the web has gone from:
* text with a few over-large gratuitous images
* ransom-note, trippy colors, confusing backgrounds, blink tags
* backlash from designers (David Siegel et alia)
* Wired and outrageous lack of clarity
* ultra-backlash (I'm thinking Roger Bloch and his red-white-black atrocity pages)
* advertising-like sophistication
* and God knows what else
Perhaps the future is poems.
Writing for the Web
from Jakob Nielsen. Prepare to be scanned. Four years of research showed that:
* users do not read on the Web; instead they scan the pages, trying to pick out a few sentences or even parts of sentences to get the information they want
* users do not like long, scrolling pages: they prefer the text to be short and to the point
* users detest anything that seems like marketing fluff or overly hyped language ("marketese") and prefer factual information.
Nielsen's guidelines for writing on the web:
* Be succinct: write no more than 50% of the text you would have used in a hardcopy publication
* Write for scannability: don't require users to read long continuous blocks of text
* Use hypertext to split up long information into multiple pages
Like Nielsen, Cut the Fluff!
favors spare, limited graphics sites.
The Effects of Computers on Traditional Writing
by SHARMILA PIXY FERRIS
in The Journal of the Electronic Publshing
Writing for the web is different from writing for publication -- you can feel it in your bones. I was really looking forward to exploring those differences with this article but I came away feeling it had only scratched the surface. I'll quote a few passages (the brown text), following up with observations of my own.
Electronic writing is characterized by the use of oral conventions over traditional conventions, of argument over exposition, and of group thinking over individual thinking. The oral conventions are evident in the way people subvert or abandon traditional conventions of grammar and punctuation in electronic writing. Meaning is very often conveyed by cues recognized only by users of computer-mediated communication. Some examples are acronyms like BTW (by the way) and IMO (in my opinion), and specialized use of typography -- for example, *word* to signify italics and the use of nonverbal icons or emoticons like a smiley face :-) -- which differ from traditionally recognized textual cues.
The oral part. Well, yeah. A new medium frees authors of the traditional constraints of tradiitonal print media. But smileys and acronyms and *asterisks* were ways to overcome the limitations of ASCII text. I've written hundreds of thousands of words in my blogs, often pushing the limits of grammatical convention and getting in authority's face, but I've managed to do so without so much as one smiley. In a GUI world, I can have bold without the asterisks, so I don't use many of them either.
Scholars have been fascinated by the uninhibited, sometimes even aggressive approaches in computer-mediated communication... (e.g. flamers, trolls.)
Now flaming is an interesting psychological phenomenon, as are cracking and viruses, but I don't think it has that much to say about writing. Remember John Seabrook's article in New Yorker, My First Flame? He received an email that ripped him a new one in the coarsest street language imaginable. It left him reeling.
More interesting than the nature of the writing are issues of interacting from behind a veil of anonymity, hearing from people under the influence of drugs or personal demons, watching others act out their fantasies, and so on. Cool! Let's watch the freaks.
Finally, computer users often treat electronic writing as an oral medium: communication is often fragmented, computer-mediated communication is used for phatic communion, and formulaic devices have arisen.
This, I think, is a benefit. Writing that says what it means. Thoughts that are not distilled through the school-imposed filters of archaic written forms. Tell it like it is. Cut the crap. Get to the point. It's the Cluetrain Manifesto's message: Be honest. As Martha used to say, "It's a good thing."
Due to its emphasis on connectivity rather than linearity, hypertext discourages the use of coherent narrative (Gibson, 1996a, Gibson, 1996b). Traditional writing delivers a coherent narrative in large chunks of text; large chunks of text defeat the purpose of hypertext. Hypertext allows writers to organize information loosely, rather than in a well-developed thesis. Many Web pages are, in fact, simply loose collections of links thrown together by their creators to reflect, for example, a "few of my favorite things." Those favorite things may be of interest to their creator, but do not always clearly express a common thesis relevant to the reader.
WTFIGO? (Computerish acronym for What's Going On?)
Hypertext gives me the freedom to hop around; it doesn't force me to do so.
"Well-developed" is not always good, particularly if the author is not trying to sell his or her conclusion so much as to arouse curiosity or throw an issue open to debate.
And what, pray tell, is this article, if not a few of the author's favorite things? Its paragraphs may be of interest to the writer, but do not always necessarily express a common thesis relevant to this reader.
Reading traditional texts is a passive and solitary activity; reading electronic texts is an active and engaging process, as the reader makes choices about where to go, and then navigates using links and online forms to get there. Additionally, as Bolter (1991) observes, a reader who follows links is interpreting the author and the medium. Because the reader has a choice of which links to follow (and even whether to follow the links), the reader becomes the author's partner in determining the meaning of the text.
This strikes me as very important. If I can be the author's partner in discovery, I receive greater rewards than simply being an adoring fan. Our intellectual mission in life is to grow, is it not?
I enjoy writing online. While given short shrift in the article in JEP, I enjoy being able to process the words, i.e. to return to the original text to make it better. This also makes me a fearless writer, knowing that when I put on my editor hat, I'll tame down the words that could land me in jail.
I love having control over the appearance of my output. Wow. How can one complain about having more tools with which to do the job?
I should know better than to read academic journals in my leisure time. Their obfuscation and unwillingness to make a commitment drive me up the wall. This early paragraph should have tipped me off that I was going to be disappointed.
The computer, developed in the mid-twentieth century, is undeniably a product of a literate and technological society. Prominent scholars like Bolter (1996), Heim (1987), and Ong (1982) consider computers to be late developments of the print age. Yet to consider computers merely an extension of the printed page is to ignore their unique nature (Ferris & Montgomery, 1996; Langston, 1986).
Phatic = of, relating to, or being speech used for social or emotive purposes rather than for communicating information. (I had to look it up.)
ROTFL = Rolling on the floor laughing.
from The Moment of Complexity
What does it mean if the electricity in our heads conforms to the rules of complex adaptive systems? The author doesn't ask that directly. Instead, he writes several pages worthy of Castaneda's brujo after a double-dose of peyote:
I, Mark C. Taylor, am not writing this book. Yet the book is being written. It is as if I were the screen through which the words of others flow and on which they are displayed. Words, thoughts, ideas are never precisely my own; they are always borrowed rather than possessed. I am, as it were, their vehicle. Though seeming to use language, symbols, and images, they use me to promote their circulation and extend their lives. The flux of information rushing through my mind as well as my body (I am not sure where one ends and the other begins) existed before me and will continue on flowing long after I am gone. "My" thougths--indeed "my" self--appears to be a transient eddy in a river whose banks are difficult to discern.
Wow. That's one hell of a paragraph. I read it three times. Web without a weaver. Nothing new under the sun. Reproducing, not producing. Nobody will re-engineer this one. Unless they look at it as denial of responsibility. Or taking on a new religion which submerges the individual. Or Mark smoking something.
As boundaries become permeable, it is impossible to know when or where this book began or when and where it will end. Since origins as well as conclusions forever recede, beginnings are inevitably arbitrary and endings repeatedly deferred. One of the few things that is clear even if not obvious is that all writing is ghostwriting. This work, like all others, is haunted by countless specters. The silent noise of ghosts clamoring for attention transforms me into a "colony of writers."
Gotta love this one:
Writing, it seems, is the obsession of the possessed. For the possessed, writing is a search for je ne sais quoi.
Oh, God. Kill me before I write again!
All of this takes time; thinking has rhythms of its own--it must simmer and cannot be rushed. It is impossible to know just how much time is required for thought to gel because I am not in control of this process--nor is anyone else. Thought thinks through me in ways I can never fathom. Much--perhaps most--of what is important in the dynamics of thinking eludes consciousness.
Better not rush things.
writing is good for your health
writing is a social act
writing is for you
writing is murder
writing is easy
writing is different
writing is indispensable to success in today's world
writing is like house painting
writing is a mothefucker
writing is an art
writing is a sensation
writing is on the whiteboard for traditional training service
writing is an ideologically constrained set of practices
writing is in their blood
writing is rewriting
writing is finding moments of truthre
writing is not enough
writing is never a waste of time
writing is a mess
writing is a winding road
writing is just part of the process
writing is not the result of obedience to prescriptive rules
writing is life itself
writing is an emotional activity
writing is an act of free choice?