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7 Ways to Write Better Today

Easy things to do. Easy things to remember. And your readers will notice.

Great writing often feels like a little bit of magic -- the product of finally getting into "the zone." 

But that's not what's going on, not really. The magic of great writing comes when you know what you're doing.

How to get there? Great writers make a lot of simple rules and guidelines a part of their mental landscape. You can join them. When you come across a useful technique, commit it to memory, then put it to use as often as you can. It'll become habit, and you'll become a better writer.

Here are seven easy techniques that will make you a better writer today.

1. If you have more than one comma in your sentence, take a closer look. Are you linking two or more ideas? Write them out as separate sentences to see if that makes them clearer. As for lists, they’re the exception, but be careful anyway. How many examples do you need? A single, strong example is more powerful than three pedestrian citations. Or use a bullet-pointed list.
2. Stop using exclamation points. Rely on the substance of your sentence, not how emphatically you want the reader to hear it in their head.

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3. For most readers, a semi-colon is pretentious, meaningless, or both. A semi-colon emphasizes the connection or contrast between two ideas, but it's rare you need so much drama. Making the two ideas into two sentences works just as well, at least in business writing, and the ideas stand out more clearly.
4. Paragraphs need a point. Start or end every paragraph with a succinct statement of what’s in it. No exceptions.
5. A document isn’t finished when it’s perfect. It’s finished when you say it is. One difference between a professional writer and a frustrated aspiring one is that the pro knows no piece of work will ever be perfect. In fact, beyond that second or third draft, the professional writer knows their work will rarely be improved in any substantial way. George Lucas revised Star Wars a while back, but you’ll notice he put out an earlier version that seemed to do pretty well. If he had waited until it was "perfect," he’d still be editing and you wouldn't even blink at the name Luke Skywalker. Once you’ve put your heart into it, put your work out there for whatever impact it might have, declare victory, and move on.

Skip the semi-colons. Give your paragraphs a focus. Define your own finish line.

6. Don’t equivocate. We say words like “uh” and “well” when we talk to soften the blow of a direct statement, which we sense is rude, like not saying please. That word-blubber is social lubricant so you can avoid being direct. Yet think of the speaker whom you respect. Usually it's the one who starts with a firm "yes" or "no" and goes on from there. Such a person radiates confidence, and confidence is attractive. It’s the same for the written word. Words such as “perhaps” and “in general” and “as for me” delay getting to the point. Say what you mean, simply and directly.
7. When editing, watch out for an overloaded opening. Most writers just start writing. Few make significant notes before they begin, and even fewer outline. So start planning before you write. If you can't bring yourself to do that, here's how to edit yourself better: read the opening paragraph to look for sentences that state the same thing over and over. You'll find them. When we begin to write, one way we prepare for deeper thinking is to reinforce to ourselves what we intend to say. This usually takes the form of writing that thing in several different ways. Pick the one sentence that is the best statement of a given idea, and mark out the rest.


Mike's Calendar
Topic Organization Date Location
PR & Business Writing Series
Part I
Federal Government Cabinet Department August 3 Washington, DC
PR & Business Writing Series
Part II
Federal Government Cabinet Department August 7 Washington, DC
Speechwriting for Military Writers and Others Georgetown University Aug 26-28 Online 
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Creative Writing Georgetown University Sep 23 - Oct 28 (weekly) Online 
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Speechwriting: The Method & The Art Professional Speechwriters Association October Online 
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PR Writing Series Trade Association October Washington, DC
European Festival of Political Rhetoric European Speechwriters Network Nov 6-27 Online
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