I asked a friend of mine to critique my blog. He's a very good writer, and he has a way of expressing himself that is easy to understand.
He said that my entries could use a lot of work — especially on their beginning parts. I agreed since I never know how to start writing about something. The ideas come out in spits-and-sputters, and I find that I get hypnotised by a sentence's direction. I had similar experiences when I wrote electronic music: I would fixate on a specific rhythm for hours instead of getting down to the work of creating the piece as a whole; it ended up sounding like shit being blended with an electric razor.
I wish I would have been taking notes while I spoke with my writing critic, since what he said was gold. Here are a few of the things he said that I remember:
- Read what you write out loud, or use your computer to read it to you out loud.
- Verbs, verbs, verbs ... verbverbverb, VERB! Find the exact verb required to link your subject to your object. Verbs breathe both life and colour into writing, so why just use the verbs "be" and "make" when there are so many other wonderful verbs to choose from. It is ok to use a thesaurus to find better verbs.
- If you have a good verb, you can relax your use of adjectives. Simplicity is the key, since every sentence cognitively loads your reader. Focus on getting your ideas across rather than performing a great guitar solo with language.
- Anchor your article around one thing. If you are writing about something that is abstract, it won't have a lot of verbs, because mankind hasn't been telling great action stories about abstractions since the dawn of history. HOWEVER, we have always been laying down the scuttlebutt about people, so anchor your abstraction to a person - we have thousands of verbs for people, then talk about that person, periodically linking that story back to your abstract idea.
- Change the tempo of your writing. Remember that you need to give your audience a challenge, then a break. Intermix long sentences and short sentences, long paragraphs and short paragraphs. If you have asked them to understand something that is complex, follow it with a quick win by letting the understand the next thing with very little effort.
- Install a grammar checker. Your reader is a harsh critic, if you make simple grammatical mistakes, you will lose all credibility with your audience — it's a miracle that they are looking at your stuff, don't waste their time. Use your computer to help you with this.
- ABC: Always be re-writing.
- "In other words" can be shortened into a ';'
- If you need to follow something with a list, use the ':'
- Use '—' instinctively. It's like a super sloppy period bred with an exclamation point. To type this symbol in Windows: alt-0151 (numbers punched in your keypad). To type this symbol on a Mac: option-.
- Repeat yourself. If you have asked your reader to understand a term, as an expression of a concept, don't describe that same concept using different terms elsewhere in the article. Just use the word that you introduced and stick with it.
- Sentences are like lists; people remember the beginning and the end items on a list. Their strongest memory is associated with the last thing, their second strongest memory is associated with the first thing. They might remember the middle if you are lucky. So, place your emphasis at the beginning of your sentences most of the time, and save the great emphasis for the end when you really want to hammer something home.
- The beginning of your writing should explain how you want your audience to read your work. It is the most important thing you will be writing if you get it wrong you will immediately lose your reader. It must satisfy a human need, whether it be a need to understand a mystery, or the need to be entertained. This will be dependent upon the article. When you start an article, just write anything down to get things flowing. When you are done, go back and re-write it over and over. Remember, these are the most important words in your entire work.
Along with this list, my friend challenged my belief that a blog, once published, should be written and left as-is. He said, it's yours, you can do whatever you want with it. So if you want to change it, to make it better then do so.
He convinced me. He is good at convincing people; he is a good writer.
I intend on contacting him again to get smaller doses of writing lessons that can be digested and gradually incorporated into my style. This article will be updated.
I can't say that I will be updating all of the articles, I find a lot of them too painful to read. Like delinquent children ravaging the town. The editing process, so much like a reporter's microphone shoved into my face — demanding an account of their behaviour.
Here is what Vonnegut has to say about writing: link