(What? Two posts in twelve hours; she must be a workhorse. Nope, I’m just procrastinating.)
Some of my posts will deal with style, which in my opinion is just as important as grammar. You can know all the words and grammatical rules in the world, but without your own, unique voice, you’ll never become a great, unique and creative writer. Find your style and that’s where you’ll find your voice. It may not always be easy to hear, but it’s there, waiting to be let out into the world. All you can do is nurture it with practice and a little homework.
I like to think of developing your own style of writing as akin to showing off your swagger. Having swagger means that, not only are you confident, but you like showing it. So, why not throw some swagger into your writing? Confidence and a bit of a cocky attitude can actually help you to write more quickly, given that you are willing to go back and make revisions.
Today, and on any day I’m discussing style, I’ll be using the book, “Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve Your Writing,” by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. The table of contents for this book is almost a checklist in and of itself; just check out these two pictures from the table of contents:
I also just discovered, while finding a link for the book, that it is now one of Kindle’s FREE books. So, go download it! 😀 I downloaded it to my tablet, so I can read it anywhere. If technology these days isn’t awesome, then I don’t know what is. Ninja kittens?
For now, I’m going to talk briefly about Cheney’s introduction. Note that I use several quotes in this post, all from Cheney; I usually dislike direct quotes, but his writing must speak for itself, as you will hear it rather clearly and loud.
In his introduction, he shares with the reader the inspiration behind the book’s title, quoting Hemingway from an interview with the Paris Review:
Paris Review: “How much rewriting do you do?”
Hemingway: “It depends. I rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.”
Paris Review: “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”
Hemingway: “Getting the words right.”
I love that quote because it resonates very deeply with my inner-writer. I don’t know how many times I’ve rewritten a sentence because it just didn’t feel right; the words weren’t working the way I wanted them to work. And, what’s the point in writing if you can’t manipulate the words to clearly, creatively and uniquely form your story.
The author also discusses several other topics in his introduction. He provides a very lengthy definition of the word “revision,” stressing the point that proofreading isn’t simply looking for mistakes, but instead it involves reworking your earlier work. For Cheney, “revision expresses succinctly most of the activities involved in getting the damned words right: writing, rewriting, rereading, reviewing, rethinking, rearranging, repairing, restructuring, re-evaluating, editing, tightening, sharpening, smoothing, pruning, polishing, punching up, amending, emending, altering, eliminating, transposing, expanding, condensing, connecting, cohering, unifying, perfecting, transitioning…” In his view, every writer should follow the above process when writing. In the real world, I realize that this isn’t always possible, as some writing assignments have deadlines that are too soon for you to spend the time reworking your article. However, I strongly agree with his point-of-view. Revision is an important process, and trying to do it while writing will only slow your work down. In order to succeed as a writer, proofreading and revision can’t be viewed as “uncreative drudgery;” one has to enjoy the revision process as much as they enjoy writing. In Cheney’s eyes, revision and writing are both identical and inseparable. ((BTW: I provided a link for the word “emending,” as I was unaware of the definition. Think of it as another word of the day.))
A great point to keep in mind when writing is a rule followed by professional authors: the best way to write is to “write in haste; revise in leisure.” In other words, just sit down and start putting down words. Don’t go back to what you’ve previously written, since that can halt and infect your creative flow. Just write and write, and worry about revisions later; this way, your inner thoughts are able to flow from your brain to your fingertips, at a pace that can build up your “creative momentum.” Once you’ve got a momentum going. and the words are flowing, try not to stop writing unless you must. Or, unless it’s time for a break, as those are important as well.
Cheney’s book is built on the premise that one should always revise. He recommends doing it at the end of each chapter or get a start the next morning by reading and revising your work from the previous day. There is no doubt that a fresh set of eyes makes proofreading much easier. Take a step back and give your article/blog/etc time to be “forgotten;” this way, when you’re making revisions, it’s almost as it you’re reading another person’s work. Once your writing has become fresh(er) to you, chances are that you’ll “find at least something you can revise to make your piece more accurate, more concise, more helpful, more euphonious, more humorous, more serious, more in keeping with the times, more appropriate, more dramatic, more heart stopping, more memorable, more — or somehow better — than the words that had originally arrived… this book, then, deals with finding the more and the better.” Revising after the writing part of the task is over frees up the energy that was being used by your creative mind. Now that the work is written, you can go back and insert the proper punctuation, making your words and ideas as clear and accurate as possible. Cheney adds that the words should be “attractive,” too. I didn’t know that words had fashion sense, let alone poor fashion sense! 🙂
He also stresses the importance of keeping the reader in mind at all times; this may seem obvious, but it’s actually quite easy to forget once you’re elbow deep in words. By keeping your reader in mind, you can act as if you are writing directly for him/her. Be as clear as possible, lest your words get lost in the “abyss” in the gap between the author’s mind and the mind of your reader. Find some way to jump across that abyss to get to the side, joining the reader and evaluating their point-of-view. Once you’re on the reader’s side, there’s no reason you shouldn’t able to clearly and precisely convey your meaning. Take as objective of a stance as possible when revisiting your work; an editor isn’t going to be biased, so you sure hell as shouldn’t be!
I found that using a text-to-speech program works great as a revision tool. Hearing your paper read aloud (by another person besides yourself) makes any errors glaringly apparent, whether they involve homonyms or phrasing problems. Depending on the version, MS Word sometimes has an add-on for using text-to-speech. If you’d rather not deal with Microsoft, there is a free program called Free NaturalReader 9 that I can vouch for. I use this program and not only is it easy, but it will read any text you ask it to, not just text from MS Word. I included a link to CNET’s site in case anyone wants to download it — I recommend at least trying it out.
I suppose I should wrap this post up for now. It didn’t go quite the direction I had planned, but that’s alright; I just hope some of the information was useful. Next time I discuss style, I’ll be listing and thoroughly describing Cheney’s different methods for revision. Once I’m done with the book, it will be a breeze to type up a “proofreading checklist.” For tomorrow, I’ll be writing a post for my friend Danielle, the author of the blog “American Wordsmith” (along with several others). She’s brilliant and an outstanding writer. The post will address the pros and cons of various content mill sites, e.g. Textbroker, Merchant Circle or WISEgeek, including the application process, how often they pay, etc. I may have mentioned that in my previous post; if so, my bad.
I’ve got several big projects that are due tonight, so now that I’ve warmed up my writing muscle, it’s time to get to work! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂