Since I started blogging, so many people have told me that they’d like to start a blog, but they’re afraid that their writing skills aren’t where they should be. The good news is, writing is a skill that can be improved with practice, just like anything else.
This series, “Writerly Wednesdays,” is aimed at bloggers who want to improve their writing skills and make their posts more clear, engaging, and un-put-downable. Even if you have to break a few syntax rules every now and then. 😉
This week’s lesson is about quick and easy fixes that will make your writing flow better. Here’s my list:
1.Avoid echoes. An echo is when you use the same word (or very similar words) more than once in close proximity. For example:
“I’m an explorer by nature. Any adventure I come across, I want to be a part of it. Doesn’t matter what it is–An African Safari, a helicopter ride, eating an Arby’s sandwich without a toilet nearby–I’ll do anything! The only problem is, I’m too poor to afford it, even crappy barbecue. I wish I had a million dollars. There are millions of things I would do!”
You see how the word “million” jumps out at you? It catches your attention, and not in a good way. Here you are, reading along, absorbed in the narrative, and then: BOOM! That echo pulls you right out of it. Instead of thinking about my adventure bucket list, you stop and focus on that one word. Million.
Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix. Just replace one of the “millions” with another word or phrase. Like this:
“I wish I had a million dollars. There are so many things I would do!”
Sounds better, right?
2. Don’t use “multiloquent” when “talkative” will do. We all want to sound smart, but sometimes, the bigger the word, the stupider you sound. Remember that scene in Friends when Joey wrote a letter of recommendation for Monica and Chandler’s adoption? He used a thesaurus on every word, and the letter made no sense at all.
This doesn’t mean that you can never use big words. Just make sure they’re called for.
“But we should be fastidious to the extreme of sanity, disregarding the gibes of those who are more unfortunate than ourselves.”
–Henry David Thoreau
“When you get dressed, make sure you’re fastidious to the colors of your shirt and pants. You don’t want to clash!”
–Hopefully No One
3. Don’t use non-sequiturs. A non-sequitur is a sentence or paragraph that doesn’t follow a logical sequence. It means the author has drawn a conclusion that doesn’t logically follow the explanation. Similar to non-sequiturs are hasty generalizations and red herrings. This means that you’re basing an argument on insufficient evidence, or you’re throwing in some evidence that has little, if anything, to do with your argument.
I see this all the time on blogs and submissions for articles on my site. Here’s an example:
“Keeping your kids safe at the pool is hard because you’re spending all of your time changing into bathing suits and putting on sunscreen. Trust me, the best tips for parenting kids at the pool will be your only viable option to handle such a situation.”
There are two major non-sequiturs in this passage. Can you see them? If you’ve ever taken a small child to a swimming pool, you know that keeping said child from drowning can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience.
Take a look at the first sentence above. The first part is true. Keeping your kids safe at the pool IS hard. But what makes it hard? Is it changing into bathing suits and putting on sunscreen? Of course not. Those things are time consuming. They might be a pain in the butt. Maybe they’re the reason you never want to take your kids to the pool again. But do they make it difficult to keep your kids safe? No! In fact, one of them–putting on sunscreen–actually makes your kids safer. The things that make it hard to keep them safe are that 1. They can’t swim, 2. You can’t take your eyes off of them for a second, and 3. That xanax you took to calm your nerves is really dulling your senses. (OK, I made that last one up. Probably.)
The point is, the sentence doesn’t make sense, because the conclusion doesn’t logically follow the evidence. The same thing goes for the second sentence. Does it make sense to say that “the best tips” are your “only viable option” to handle this situation? No, again. For one thing, “the best tips” is a pretty non-specific phrase. The author probably means “my best tips,” but that’s not what she said. Second, even though I haven’t told you what the tips in this article were, you can probably still think of other viable options that weren’t included. Not taking your kids to the pool, for example. Making them a raft out of dead bugs and soda cans. Forcing them to wear a bathing suit that reveals an embarrassing message when wet, like “I have 3 nipples and 1 of them squirts jelly.”
(It was an over-active milk duct problem, OK? Stop making fun of me!)
Finally, (and this may sound nit-picky, but nit-picky is what I do) even if this article were chock full of fantastic tips for keeping your kids safe at the pool, and even if it was the end-all-be-all, the ONLY thing you ever needed to read to prevent your children from drowning, it STILL wouldn’t be true that the tips were your only viable option. What the author means is that following these tips is your only viable option. And here’s the thing. Good writers are nit-picky as hell. Every word matters. This entire section could be summed up in just one sentence: Say what you mean.
Those are my tips for today. If you have any questions, leave a comment below. If you’d like me to edit your writing to make it look as fantastic as possible, check out my freelance writing and editing page.
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