Way with Words

In this post Isaac Sweeney shares some rules of writing that I think many of us as bloggers will benefit from. Isaac teaches at the School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication at James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA) and is a published author. He blogs at Ways With Words.

Whether it’s blogging, a novel, a newspaper article, a screenplay, or a poem, some writing rules are universal.

1. Revise

Nothing written is perfect the first time around. In fact, many writers don’t care at all about first drafts; they say the real writing is done when revising.

Revising and proofreading are different. Proofreading means going back and finding mistakes, from grammar to spelling. Revision isn’t about finding what’s wrong, but about finding what could make a piece better.

Some basic questions to ask when revising are: Am I being concise or could I say this same thing with fewer words? Will my reader understand my idea? Do I need to explain more? Would an example help? How can this be more impactful?

All of the steps that follow are also things to think about when revising.

2. Proofreading: It’s “Definitely,” Not “Defiantly”

Proofreading and revising are different (see number 1). Proofreading isn’t simple, but it’s simpler than revising. It requires a check for mistakes — grammar, spelling, word choice, correct site names, etc.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fast-paced writing outlets, like blogging, first drafts that contain mistakes get published again and again. In the process, these writers (and subsequently, their blogs) lose credibility. This can translate into less traffic. As you know, traffic is the lifeblood of any website.

3. Structure Matters: Beginning, Middle, End

Rants and stream-of-conscious pieces are fun and therapeutic. But real writers think about structure before publishing. They move things around and/or plan them out. While the writing process is often chaotic, the writer needs to think about structure before showing a piece to any reader.

Structure is a fun thing to experiment with, but every piece should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. This beginning, middle, and end may take different forms — that’s the fun part — but they must be there.

Some basic structural questions to ask are: Does my beginning keep the reader reading? Does my middle convey important information while keeping my reader’s attention? Does my end leave a lasting impression?

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Change

As I said, the writing process is often chaotic. Word meanings change. Readers’ vocabularies differ. Maybe your planned research is impossible because of the massive natural disaster in City X.

Whatever the case, all good writers face adversity and adapt. Maybe a natural disaster is extreme, but closing without saving happens to the best of them. So the writer may purchase some sort of anti-virus protection for the computer — this is change.

It could be as frustrating as an idea that goes nowhere, and the writer is forced to throw hours of work into the digital recycle bin. Sometimes change is as basic as adapting a writer’s process. There may not be time for the brief outline the writer usually makes before beginning; instead, the writer delves right into a draft, still leaving time to revise.

A writer’s willingness to change is necessary.

5. Revise: I’m Repeating it on Purpose

I cannot stress enough the importance of revising. Revise as much as possible. A written piece is never perfect, but the writer should always strive for perfection.

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