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April 1, 2015

Improve Your Writing Skills, Part I

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

Thanks to the popularity of the Internet, having an outlet for your written self expression isn’t a problem. Back in the old days, to be read you’d need a column in the paper or at least a frequent Letter to the Editor campaign. Today, anyone can start up a blog, post something to Facebook, or tweet.

As a paid scrivener, and someone who has millions of words to his credit, I’ve become more experienced than most when it comes to crafting written text. Three things that I avoid are teensy words to begin a diatribe.

Those words are:

  • So
  • OK
  • Well

Just take a moment to visit Facebook or view some blog. You’ll probably find a lot of the posts begin like that.

So, I finally decided to take the plunge and get my butt pierced.

Or worse, they combine them:

OK. So I’ve been talking about drinking more vodka recently.

Such writing appears folksy, and I’m sure few outside the professional literary categories would pay further heed to unnecessary interjections at the start of a sentence, paragraph, or novel. In verbal conversation, of course! Lots of people start out with, “so” or “OK” or “well” or even my personal favorite, “Hey.”

My guess is that these word provide an initial momentum. It takes a lot of practice and millions of words before you get to a point where you can properly start written text. The easy way is to begin, “So…” It’s a crutch. It’s a glide word, something to write that makes you feel like, “There! I’ve started it! Now I just keep going,” but the result is weaker text.

I learned this lesson when I served as the editor of a computer magazine. A lot of the articles began with the word “So.” In fact, the great bulk of them did. I was guilty as well. (Remember, this was early in my career.) I can’t tell you how many times I wrote, “So you want to buy a computer?” I now cringe at that phrase.

What I learned was that you could pull out the word and still have an effective sentence. In fact, you could pull out the first sentence and still have an effective paragraph.

In the end, I learned that you could probably pull out the first paragraph — sometimes the first three paragraphs — and still end up with a cohesive, well-written document.

That observation doesn’t remove the reason for using one of those teeny words: How do you start writing something?

When I began honing my skills, I’d just write crap — on purpose. I knew it was crap, but it would get me going. Well-kept in my mind was the task of returning later to recraft the introduction. Often it was as easy as just removing the first paragraph. You still have to write that paragraph, but with the foreknowledge that you’ll zap it away later. After, words are cheap.

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