Writing Tips

You have something important to say and you want to put it in writing? However, you might feel like you're on shaky ground, taking this on.  The suggestions below are key characteristics of writing that you might lean on for guidance as you forge ahead.

 

Main Idea
 

Be clear, and make sure your focus is tight.  Most often the idea is too big, and that can be hard to wrestle with. Less often, you’re too narrow and you need to flesh it out. Can you express the big idea in a single sentence? Who is your intended audience? What do you want them to take away from reading your piece? Why should they care?

 

Whatever your big idea, or the core thing you want to say, you should go about probing and testing this idea from many directions.  The main idea can serve as a thread the runs through your piece, though the sentence itself might never appear in the piece as written. But it will be the animating focus, and it will give you direction. Should you go off on tangents, it becomes easier to decide whether the detour contributes to the investigation of your main idea or is simply a well written, brilliant, tender, funny section that, alas, belongs in another piece of writing.

 

The big idea may not be obvious when you start. You have a spark of something and you start writing. It’s not uncommon to write your way to the big idea.  What’s important is moving the pen or clicking the keyboard.

 

Don’t fret if the big idea is late to the party. Keep writing. Have discussions with yourself on the page.  Some people find it helpful to talk it out with others. If you feel stuck, take a break. Work on something else. Exercise. Hike. Garden. Try long showers. Take home points: 1) A main idea is pivotal 2) Don’t panic if it’s not there. It will materialize. Usually in the shower!

 

Organization

How will you present your idea? What’s the opening? How do you hook your reader? Do you use subheadings through the piece or will these chunks interfere with the momentum of the piece?

 

Will you bring the reader up close into a scene, leaning heavily on narrative elements and storytelling, and insert data and details along the way? Or will you address your topic from more of a distance and maybe include examples to illustrate a point or to demonstrate to the reader how your ideas or argument plays out in real life.

 

Experiment with different organizational structures. You may need to rewrite your piece using different organizational structures.

 

Word choice

 

This will depend on the purpose of the piece. Will you use more technical language?  It’s important that the word choices is authentic to you and the piece you’re writing, and that the reader can relate to you. Also pay attention to active verbs, interesting word choices. Remember, more effective writing values concision and brevity. Make every word count.

 

Stay away from the Thesaurus. Use everyday words well.

 

Sentence Fluency

Think rhythm and flow.  Does it have a cadence that’s in synch with the ideas or narrative unfolding in your piece?

 

Read your sentences aloud. Sentences that sound well to the ear while read well on the page.

 

If you find yourself stumbling or your tongue cramping up, rework it. Usually, this means find a simpler or more straightforward word choice. Or, the awkward language could mean you’re not entirely clear about what you’re trying to say.  Step back and think about your ideas and the point you're trying to express. Ask yourself, “what am I trying to say?” Then put those words on the page.

 

If you find yourself speeding through certain sections of your piece as you read, that could be a sign that you’re not exactly happy with it, though you might not know why you feel this way. Possible diagnostics: 1)  You’ve said it already 2) the idea is interesting but you’re not there yet 3) the language misses the mark.

 

Voice

 

Be natural. Your voice. Authentic to the piece. Voice can inform your choices as you write. Sometimes voice receives attention after you’ve written a draft or drafts. When in doubt, choose a voice that’s comfortable and conversational.

 

Cleaning Up
 

Proofread your piece. Sometimes you’re so invested in the piece and familiar with it that it’s hard to locate typos or grammatical errors. Running your piece through an editing program like Grammarly can help identify pesky mistakes. Be careful. It may also make suggestions that don’t align with word usage in your piece.

 

Sometimes the power of a piece emerges from trimming away. A good rule of thumb is cut 20%.  Even when you believe you’re done with the draft, take a break, put it away for a while, and look at it with fresh eyes. There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself trimming 20%.

 

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

 

~ George Orwell.

 

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

 

~ Strunk and White “Elements of Style”

The above tutorial was adapted from educators at Education Northwest. The suggestions above are just guidelines.  Hopefully, you’ll find these points helpful as you write and yes, rewrite.  We understand that frustration may surface along the way, but this process should ultimately be fun and rewarding.

 

Good Luck and Thank You,

The Editors of Triage

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