As a writer, one of the essential pieces of your job is to read. By continuously reading and taking in new information, you can use what you read to improve your writing style. When you see something that you like in someone else’s writing, you can borrow that and implement it in your own.
As you read work by other authors, you will often see things that come up again and again. They use the same word or phrase in a particular setting or they like to use flowery metaphors. These things are all fine, depending on the type of writing you (or the author) is doing.
What can be useful for you as a writer is being able to spot these tendencies in other’s writing and then use that experience to spot your own tendencies. Maybe you always tend to switch tenses as you write. Knowing that as you write can help you spot those errors, and save you time from having to edit them out later on in your writing process.
Finding Your Voice
I wrote about this a few months back but it’s worth mentioning again here. It’s especially important to read lots of books if you are having trouble finding your voice. Go to your local library and browse through 3-4 different sections. Pick out some books in a genre that you have NEVER read before! Scary thought? Of course it is. But facing that fear is part of what is holding you back right now.
Get out of your comfort zone and look at what authors sound like in their writing. Take some time to actually read a few passages out loud so you can hear how the words sound. You may find something you want to borrow for your own writing. You may also find some things that you absolutely hate…which brings me to my last point.
Finding Out What NOT To Do
Sometimes knowing what not to do is just as important than knowing what you should do. Your friend gave you directions to his house and can’t remember the exact street to turn on, but you do remember that he specifically said not to turn until after you cross the railroad tracks. That certainly helps when you’re trying to find the right street.
In your reading, there will come a time when you come across a passage or a chapter and say to yourself, “why would anyone write like this?” Take note of that because that it your inner editor telling you how not to write.
As writers we sometimes get bogged down in the writing itself. However, it is important to be able to step back and “research” by reading a good book.
Let me know what you think. Do you have a great book that you’ve read recently that has helped your writing in some way? Leave a note in the comment section.
It’s that time again, a simple call for questions. This time I’m looking for anything you want to know about editing, grammar, punctuation, proofreading, etc.
Please submit your question in the comments below, send me an email or leave a post on Facebook or Twitter.
One of the hardest parts about the English language is the prominence of words that sound the same, or very similar, yet mean different things. My recent favorite is “there,” “their” and “they’re.” If you read these to someone and they can’t see them printed on the page, they will have no idea which meaning is intended without some additional context.
Another pair of words that I have recently seen used incorrectly is “ensure” and “insure.” At first glance, these two words are so similar. They may only differ by one letter, but that little change can make a big difference.
Both of these words can have the concept of securing or guaranteeing something behind their meaning, but again, the context is important. When using “insure” you are generally be speaking about something financial. You pay to insure your car or home against damage. You pay to insure yourself against costly health issues. In general, anything pertaining to the insurance industry will use “insure.”
On the other hand, “ensure” should be used when you are guaranteeing something will happen. “The girl sang well enough to ensure herself a spot on American Idol.” You are essentially saying that an event is a certainty because of some other action.
Now you know, and knowing…well GI Joe probably has the rest of that copyrighted.
Writing is hard. Anyone who has ever sat down at a computer (or typewriter or blank sheet of paper) knows that it can be a daunting task to set your ideas down in writing. Because of the difficulty of the task, many people often fall back on comfortable words and phrases to help them get by.
One step to fine tuning your writing is to figure out what words you rely on when you don’t know what else to say, find them in your writing and eliminate them. Here are three common ones that I have seen in writing:
Poor Miss Teen South Carolina (Caitlin Upton) didn't have the benefit of being able to write down her statement and see how silly it looks/sounds. Anyone listening to her response and having even the slightest knowledge of the English language would be appalled. That’s why I highly recommend reading your writing out loud. By verbalizing the text, you will be able to hear things that are repetitive and may not sound as good as when you wrote them.
Of course, you literally could just such as ignore my advice…
Regardless of what you’re writing, always pay attention to your tone. Your graduate school thesis is a much different piece of writing than the short story you wrote in third grade about the bunny that lost his way and the tone of each piece of writing should reflect the audience for which it is intended. Finding that voice can sometimes be difficult but when you do, your writing will become much more effective and engaging to your readers.
As you begin to write, make sure you are keeping your audience in mind. The more you do this at the beginning of your project, the easier it will be down the road to make sure your tone remains consistent. If you feel like getting into the numbers of it, take a few minutes to review my post a few weeks back about Writing in Plain English. Regardless of your comfort level with numbers and analytics, this handy tool can help give you a rough idea how understandable your writing is for your intended audience.
One more test that may work even better to judge the tone of your writing is to find someone in your target audience (and whose judgment you can trust) and simply give them the piece to read. They should be able to clearly understand the writing but also not feel like they are reading well below their comprehension level.
Find the perfect voice and tone for your writing and stick with it. As long as you maintain your consistency, people will begin to trust what you have to say.
I have been working for the last few weeks trying to get the word out about Best Word Forward and I came across something that astounded me. I found a website called ProfileTree which allows people or business to post their services. I quickly took advantage of this opportunity to get some more exposure for Best Word Forward.
Once I had posted my information, I browsed around the site for a bit to see where my postings landed when someone searched for them. I found a few people posting writing services where they would write articles for a small fee. The only problem with these posts that offered writing services was that each one had misspelled words and absolutely terrible grammar. Granted, when you’re working with 30-70 characters, grammar can tend to take a back seat to simply getting your point across. However, if you’re advertising writing services, you probably want to make sure the writing in your advertisement, follows the basic norms of the language you’re writing in.
Now, if I am to believe the images that went along with these pictures, the people posting these ads were likely from foreign countries and not native English speakers. This does not excuse them from having to use the English language correctly if they are advertising to do so. I would compare this to a graphic designer advertising her services with something drawn in crayon on the back of a napkin or a company that makes fine stationary advertising on a piece of ripped up cardboard.
With all of the noise in the world today, it’s hard to get noticed and I’m worried that these people might get noticed simply because of their silly mix-ups and I might get skipped over because I seem to know what I’m talking about. I hope that’s not the case, but the fact that these advertisements are allowed to remain on the sight with their glaring errors, frustrates me to no end. Perhaps I should offer my services to these people and help them become better writers and in turn spread that around the world.
Please let me know if you would hire these people to write for you. Maybe I’ll have to rethink my advertising strategy.
I was playing around in MS Word the other day and noticed an option to include readability statistics when doing a spelling and grammar check. I decided to mark the box and see what happened.
A little to my surprise I fewer misspellings that I had anticipated, many thanks to the autocorrect function in Word for that. I also received a little window that gave me a “readability score” (in the mid 60s) and a “grade level” (nearly 8th grade!) for my document. I didn't entirely understand the meaning of these numbers or what scale they should be judged against, something Microsoft might want to incorporate into their programming when they are provided, so I went online to find out more.
The name associated with the numbers was Flesch. I quickly came upon an article by Rudolf Flesch on the website of the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) titled How to Write Plain English. Apparently Mr. Flesch developed a formula for figuring out the readability of any piece of English language writing and placing it on a scale. Regardless of what you are writing, there is something in here for everyone. If you’re writing young adult novels, this formula can help you determine if you’re writing to old or young for the average reader in the ages you are targeting. If you have a piece of writing and the readability score comes back in the teens or single digits, you probably need to find some time to edit as soon as possible.
I can hear you asking already, how can language be distilled down into a formula? It can’t. We can however use this formula as a tool for guiding us in our writing. Something as complicated as language can never be measured simply like numbers but the more information we have about our writing, the better off we will be.
Check out Flesch’s entire article. And while you’re at it, browse around the rest of the University of Canterbury’s website. I always find it interesting to see what sites look like for places around the world.
I posted a note about this on the Best Word Forward Facebook page yesterday but wanted to make an official post about it on the blog. I originally wanted to make posts here at least three times a week, but that proved to be far too much to handle. For the time being, I will be making weekly posts every Friday, alternating between an editing topic and a résumé topic each week. Hopefully this will keep the blog moving forward and will help you the reader know when to expect new content each week.
If there is a topic you have questions on regarding your own writing or résumé, please leave a comment below or email me and I will do my best to answer your question in an upcoming post.
Thank you and keep working to put your BEST WORD FORWARD!
As a writer, I compose short stories as well as poetry. One question that has come up in conversations about writing poetry is how it should be edited.
My personal feeling is that poetry should come from the heart. This being said, the best poems are those that run in some form a stream of consciousness. There can be sentences of sorts, even if they cross line breaks, but the thoughts simply flow from the poet. If authors start to tinker too much with their poems and make them “just right” in their own mind, the spontaneity of the poem begins to be lost.
Now, does this mean that you shouldn't edit your poems at all? Absolutely not!
I urge you to read through your poems just like any other piece of writing. Print out a copy so that you can see it printed on a page and above all, read it out loud. Poetry and song have long been intertwined, so hearing how the words sound against one another can be a powerful tool for a poet trying to figure out if a poem it “done.” (If you have ever read Dr. Suess out loud you know exactly what I mean)
One last note about poetry that I’m sure everyone has heard but not every quite agrees with. It doesn't have to rhyme to be poetry. Just because Shakespeare, Coleridge, and Poe all did it, doesn't mean you have to. Use your own style and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Jonathan Ytreberg is the owner of Best Word Forward, committed to providing the best resume advice and services to clients around the globe.