Cutting The Flab from Your Writing

When I ran across a quote by Hilaire Belloc last night, it set me to thinking about what I write much of the time. Here’s the quote:

Writing itself is a bad enough trade, rightly held up to ridicule and contempt by the greater part of mankind, and especially by those who do real work, plowing, riding, sailing — or even walking about. It is a sound instinct in men to feel this distrust and contempt for writing; and as for writing about writing, why it is writing squared; it is writing to the second power, in which the original evil is concentrated… There is even, I am told, a third degree of horror. Writing about what other people have written about writing: “Lives of the Critics,” “Good English,” “Essays on Sainte Beuve” — things of that sort. Good Lord deliver us.”

While I hesitate to disagree with a writer of the stature of Hilaire Belloc (he has been described as “the man who wrote a library,” producing voluminous amounts poetry, books, essays, letters, pamphlets–filling over 150 volumes), nevertheless I do take an opposing view. I enjoy writing about what other people have written about writing, even if puts me into the third degree of horror category. I enjoy writing about what has been written before, even it’s not something newly written.

Here’s an example from The Basics of Writing for Magazines (published in November 1998 — proving that I never throw away good writing advice). In that publication, Jack Hart, a managing editor of the Oregonian and a nationally known writing coach, presented “25 Ways to Supercharge Your Manuscript.” Hart offered this advice about cutting the flab from your writing:

Paula LaRocque, writing coach at The Dallas Morning News, says anything that doesn’t add to a piece of writing takes away. Unnecessary words deflate impact by padding the active, precise vocabulary that carries core meaning.

Some flab invariably creeps into first drafts. So rewriting should focus on cutting anything superfluous. The simplest technique is still the best. Work your way through the draft, eliminating each word mentally. If you can remove a word in your imagination without doing great harm, remove it from the draft.”

Also consider the words of the late Paul Friggens, a former roving editor of Reader’s Digest who conducted seminars and workshops on writing at colleges around the country. Here he was writing about revisions and rewrites in The Complete Guide to Writing Non-Fiction:

Some, in fact, most serious writers go over their work with great care. They weigh every paragraph, every sentence, often every phrase with a view to improving their first, second, and subsequent drafts. Many would be surprised to learn that professionals revise and rewrite over and over to achieve the result they’re after. It’s easy when you’re just starting out to be so smitten with your precious prose that you’re blind to its abuse or misuse. And you’re so happy to have completed an article that little or no thought is given to such mundane matters as length and pace or even readability.”

Paying attention to advice like that may help me make my manuscripts more acceptable to editors. And if writing about it helps me, and other freelancers, profit from the advice and become more successful, it bothers me not a whit to be included in the third degree of horror category. It’s one reason this blog exists.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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Here’s Help for Lazy Writers (or Those Who Need Discipline)

If you haven’t yet discovered The Adventurous Writer, you might want to take a look. I happened upon the site this week and right away found a most helpful post, “Top 10 Tips for Lazy Writers: How to Increase Your Writing Discipline.”

The site belongs to Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, a full-time freelancer who has contributed to Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day, Spirituality & Health and MSN Health, among other publications. You’ll find lots of worthwhile information on her site.

In “Top 10 Tips for Lazy Writers,” she says you’ll increase your writing discipline with at least one or two of the motivational tips. I immediately honed in on these two:

No. 8. Write in baby steps. This is a good exercise and weight loss tip, too: when you don’t feel like writing, force yourself to work for 15 or 20 minutes. After your writing time is up, then you can go play X-Box or watch Friends. Or, maybe you’ll want to keep writing for another 15 or 20 minutes–this “motivation to write for lazy writers” tip can lead to solid writing habits.”

No. 9. Read a book about writing. The more I read about freelance writing, the more I want to work! Find a book about writing that inspires and motivates you – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is a good one. “Prep” yourself for writing by reading a passage or chapter before you click on your computer.”

All 10 tips are excellent. I’d earlier done some of the things suggested in several tips, and I think numbers 8 and 9 can be helpful to me now even as a long-time freelancer. I don’t think I’m a lazy writer but I intend to use those tips to become a more disciplined writer.

On the site, you’ll find other posts that freelancers can profit from (check out “11 Types of Articles to Write for Magazines”). I’m always impressed when writers freely help other writers to get published and to become successful. You don’t have to sign up for classes or pay a fee to tap into Laurie’s writing expertise. She willingly shares her knowledge of freelancing on the site. I like that. And I expect to return often to see what’s new on The Adventurous Writer.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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On Choosing Simple Writing

While checking one of my grammar guides today (needing a bit of help with an article I’m writing), I came across this advice in The Little. Brown Handbook:

Any writing that is more elaborate and ornate than its subject requires will sound pretentious, this is, excessively showy. Good writers choose their words for their exactness and economy. Pretentious writers choose them in the belief that fancy words will impress readers. They won’t.”

And a bit further on, I read this:

When either of two words will say what you mean, prefer the small word to the big one, the common word to the uncommon one.”

In my writing, I have to fight the tendency to use big words all the time and I don’t always win. Sometimes I will go back over a completed article and try to root them out, but not always. And sometimes I will take advantage of two little gems in my MS Word program that test reading ease, the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Scale. I’ve not done that a lot lately, although I should.

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level measures the difficulty of a piece of writing and gives you the grade level of the text. The Flesch-Kincaid Index tells you how easy something is to read. A sentence scoring 8.0, for example, means someone in the eighth grade could understand it. Normal writing is usually between 7 and 8. You can find details about both measures all over the web. (I’ve been told that Reader’s Digest is aimed at the reading level of a 13-year-old, which probably would be grade 7 or 8.)

I decided to check one of my earlier posts (Seven Motivation Tips to Help You Write More, Sell More) to see how I was doing, and as I suspected, the post didn’t fall between 7 and 8 but slightly over at 8.4. That may be because my paragraphs were long (averaging 16.3 sentences per paragraph). Now that I know this, I’m going to try to make it a habit to check every post before I publish it and to aim for a lower number on the scale.

I’m also going to aim for more exactness and economy in my word choices and to bypass fancy words. By the way, I checked this post before publishing it. The Flesch-Kincaid grade level was 7.9. Looks like I just squeaked by.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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Celebrating One Year of Words into Print

Taking a cue from my friend, Peggy, who is celebrating the first birthday of her blog, Light Green Stairs, I’ve decided to follow her lead and celebrate the one-year anniversary of Words into Print, knowing that, in this case, imitation is intended not as mere flattery, but as a compliment. One year ago today, I posted the welcome message that first sent this blog in cyberspace.

I congratulate Peggy on her very successful and attractive blogs (she has several other blogs in addition to Light Green Stairs) and wish her even more success in coming years.

As part of her celebration, Peggy invited readers to read her seven favorite posts of the last year. I thought I’d share with you my posts that drew the most hits during the year. I must say I was surprised that certain of the posts were popular (who knew that dangling participles would be of so much interest!), and also surprised that several I expected to do well drew few hits. And I was and am pleased with your response to the posts and with all the comments you made.

That said, here are the six posts that drew the most hits for the year:

Seven Motivation Tips to Help You Write More, Sell More

Eight Magazines that Pay $1 a Word for Articles

Five Helpful Websites for Freelance Writers

Six Paying Markets for Short Articles

Grammar, Humor and Dangling Participles

Six Magazines that Welcome New Writers

In my welcome message last year, I invited you to jump in with new topics, opinions, suggestions and your unique ideas about how to make our freelance work better. Several of you did just that, and I’m grateful for your input. The invitation still stands. I welcome more imput and I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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