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Writing

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

5. Detail!

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  

Pick a number, select a buzz phrase:  
  1. integrated
  2. total
  3. systematized
  4. parallel
  5. functional
  6. responsive
  7. optimal
  8. synchoronized
  9. compatible
  10. balanced
  1. realtime
  2. synergistic
  3. organzational
  4. monitored
  5. reciprocal
  6. digital
  7. logistical
  8. transitional
  9. incremental
  10. third-generation
  1. process
  2. system
  3. options
  4. flexibility
  5. capability
  6. mobility
  7. programing
  8. time-phase
  9. projection
  10. hardware
  11. contingency

This particular chart is showing its age. I'll start another for updates:

  1. Open source
  2. Virtual
  3. Global
  4. Viral
  5. Object-oriented
  6. Linux
  1. Wireless
  2. Web-enabled
  3. Meta-
  4. XML
  5. Hypermined
  6. Sticky
  7. Interactive
  1. Community
  2. IPO
  3. Portal
  4. Singularity
  5. Knowledgebase
  6. Microsoft acquisition

    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.  

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.  


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


Listening

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

 

 

World Wide Words

Writing World.com

The Underground Grammarian

Textism

English Idioms

 

 

 

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.

 

JOURNAL

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-only
  • 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.

Whatever
it
takes.

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.

 

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