Writing 101

13 Apr

For the past couple of days, I’ve had my head buried in two unexpected books, Writing with Style by John R. Trimble and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. While I’m usually a fiction girl, these books have entertained and enlightened me. The blunt tone of Elements had me laughing. Really.

I feel like my writing has improved since the move to Little Rock. My blog has forced me to put fingers to the keyboard nearly every day. I think the habit has helped me develop my voice and clean up my grammar. Practice makes perfect, right? But reading these two books proved to me that I’m still not as thoughtful about my writing as I could be. Two lessons in particular have pierced my writing conscience. I’m ready to get them off my chest. Oh no, was that a trite phrase? Thoughtful writing is hard.

Scary Punctuation

I’ll admit it. I avoid semicolons, colons and dashes while commas and parentheses get all the love. I am writing casual blog posts. But I could switch it up. Trimble writes that my beloved aside markers (parentheses) should be used the most sparingly of all punctuation. In his words they “quickly become eyesores” or makes the reader feel whispered at (118). Ugly and creepy.  What to do? I’ll start sneaking in more varied punctuation. Let an em dash* join the party. It is only fair. If I get really brave, I’ll add a colon: the most feared of all punctuation. Oh dear, I’ll stop playing grammar games now. Someone – or my sentences – could get hurt.

* Oh, it’s a real thing. Hiiii-YAH!

Direct Diction

This is a two-fold issue.

Issue 1: Wordiness

If Elements harps on anything, it is direct word choice. If you ever have a spare afternoon, grab a glass of something refreshing and read Chapter IV, “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused.” If we have anything in common at all (beyond our humanity), it will shame you and make you laugh. Here are words that we all could eliminate from our writing and not miss them. Oh, and don’t worry, I left a lot more for you to discover at your leisure.

Certainly/Very – indiscriminate attempts to “intensify any and every statement” an annoying mannerism in speech and writing

Currently
– Why not give specific day and time information?

Factor and Feature – “hackneyed” words (loving the word ‘hackneyed’, by the way)

Bad Example:
The main factor of her success was her looks.

Good Example: Her looks made her successful. (Ahhh, so direct)

Thread-bare phrases like – “He is a man who” “As to whether” “One of the most” “The truth is”

Strunk’s frustration with filler makes me laugh and shudder to re-read my old posts.

Issue 2: Indistinct Word Choice

We don’t always know what we are saying with the words we choose. But as a writer or a person who communicates – ummm everyone – think about your words! I know I will now, armed with this new knowledge.

Contact – labeled “vague and self-important.” As a job searcher, I will drop that one and go with the more specific “email you” or “get in touch.”

Flammable – This one blew my mind. Inflammable actually means combustible. But because so many people were confused by the “in” in inflammable, trucks carrying dangerous gases are now labeled “Flammable.” The writers suggest only using this incorrect word when you are “concerned with the safety of children or illiterates.” ZING!

Insightful – “A suspicious overstatement.”

– ize verbs – a pretentious “list of abominations” including prioritize, finalize, utilize. Wow. I know I use (not utilize) those words.

I could go on. But I won’t. If you made it past the break with the promise of grammar lessons, I applaud you. I wrote this because I was inspired. I want to be a writer and working on my punctuation and diction is like doing push ups in my brain. I hope you also feel inspired to tweak your communication style, make it crisper, more clear. If not, I at least hope you have a fabulous Wednesday!

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2 Responses to “Writing 101”

  1. David Condolora April 13, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    This post was excellent! As a frequent blogger and something of an aspiring writer, I was challenged and inspired. 🙂

    • alexispeters April 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback! I think as aspiring writers it can’t hurt to brush up on the basics. If you want to grow in something studying it is important, even if that means hitting the style and grammar books:)

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