The last blog post caught much attention. It likely well captures the “grind it out” work required to do a good job. The finishing work to be done on your writing is like a craftsman sanding down his wood-work. Quality requires it!
A note is needed here. For many of my readers, this is no longer “Writing 101.” Please, don’t decide you cannot write because the concepts discussed in this posting difficult. For quality writing, without you having to know or do all the “sanding down,” two possible work around options exist:
- You can ask several highly qualified people – with the English and grammar background to review your work. Advise these people that you are wanting a lot of red-ink, rather than encouraging words. Ask them to tell you how to do the specific things addressed below.
- There are also several online programs and apps where you can copy and paste your text for a review.
People tolerate sloppy grammar or regional terms with preaching. Those same people will not tolerate sloppy writing.
I shared a masters level college class with Pastor and author Daniel Koren. Daniel succinctly observed: the strength of re-writing is a process where an author does five things.
- Turn prepositions into adjectives. Prepositions are often phrases, meaning there is more than one word involved. Using an adjective requires less words.
- Turn adjectives into nouns. A noun used as a subject or direct object is the key figure in your sentence. An adjective is a qualifier for the noun. As you rewrite imagine eliminating the adjective or turning the adjective into the subject or direct object in a totally separate sentence. Example: westerns written by Zane Grey were incredibly descriptive. The descriptive adjectives detracted attention from the subject being described. Grey’s wrote in a time when the author had to thoroughly describe every thing. Think about it – video technology was limited, photography and films were black and white. Thirty years after Zane Grey died Louis L’Amour wrote to a similar interest group. He wrote different. L’Amour was not as descriptive but his writing was easy to follow. Turning adjectives into nouns makes short and strong sentences.
- Eliminate adverbs turning them into active verbs. An adverb qualifies the action being taken. Make the qualifier an action itself. Again, sentences are short and clear.
- Get rid “being” verbs. I’m still working on this one, actually I am working on all of these. There are several websites available to help eliminate this rather passive form of communication.
- Eliminate passive verbs. Passive verbs include: “were” “are” “is” “had” or “will be.” A sentence written in passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect, but the sentences fails to live up to its potential. Even the simplest grammar check program catches passive verbs and encourages the author to rewrite the sentence.
There are software programs and apps that can help you accomplish these five things. Please note, having a good editor for grammar is vital, but most editors for grammar will not do the work suggested by Daniel Koren. You will either have to specifically ask an editor to do these five things, do it yourself or put to use a software program to accomplish stronger writing. I would add to this list, the need to minimize the people we are describing with the use of personal pronouns, “he, she, they, we, us, our, etc.” likely need to be identified.
Perhaps you think I’m all wet. Some prospective authors have been so bold as to say, “This is what God gave me to write and not a word will be changed!” I imagine the Lord Jesus is more interested in getting His point across rather than the arrangement of the words. Don’t be stubborn and miss having your material read. If Jesus gave you an insight needing to be read then do the hard work to make it a book to be read by as many people as possible.
Earnest Hemingway’s four rules for effective writing should also be applied:
- Use short sentences. A minimalist approach to writing (and speaking) is much more effective than having meaningless, flowery prose. Cut out the drivel. Someone asked Hemingway to tell an entire story in only six words. Hemingway’s ability to communicate came through with his six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” You can communicate better by using short sentences. Amazing story, well told!
- Use short first paragraphs. A reader will decide within a few paragraphs whether you have something worth saying. The first paragraph needs to capture attention. A flash of light gets attention while the comparatively slow movement of the afternoon sun may not. Say something meaningful; say it quick!
- Use vigorous English. Do something and do it definitively. My writing easily lapses into a passive voice. The words are much stronger in active mode. This single part of re-writing takes up much of my time. You will also likely have some particular challenge that will take much of your re-write time.
- Write positively, not negatively. This is somewhat sobering, considering Hemingway eventually took his own life. However, don’t write from a defensive posture. The positive presentation of a godly life, the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the Godhead. the benefits of preaching to sinners or working to make disciples can be communicated in such a positive way that people want to consider the benefits.
Hemingway also said for every 91 pages he wrote, 90 of those pages were not worth keeping. He likely exaggerated a bit with that statement but effective writers are willing to cut, cull and eliminate for the sake of clarity and getting to the point.
Stay with me – this is hard work, but it is valuable and meaningful. I had to become aware of the process and then apply these principles. You may have never considered these factors in writing, but with this information your work will already be better.
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