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Michael Long is a speechwriter, author, educator, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright.

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The Real Secret to Better Writing
Leaving "look and feel" in the dust. 

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When I started teaching, I ran into a problem my first time in front of a class.

I was hired because I knew how to write and had given a few successful talks about it. But I soon realized that knowing how to do something is not the same as being able to explain how to do it. I had to figure out some things, and fast. I was trained as a physicist, so I put that skill to work, which at its core means examining a problem, breaking it into its component parts, and understanding things on that basis.

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Applying that to writing, here’s what I learned: Most of what we do as writers is not calculation but intuition and habit. While this serves us well in doing the job, it does not equip us to impart that skill to others, or to get any better at it. To learn to teach effectively, I had to examine the mechanics of what I was doing, and move beyond the romantic but incomplete method of relying on what “sounds right.”

Figuring out how to explain what I do has given me a career as a professor and has taken me happily around the world teaching seminars on business writing, PR writing, speechwriting, plus creative writing and practical creativity itself. 

It’s also made me a better writer than I would have been. Why?

Your stereo probably has two tone dials, one for bass and one for treble. What if it also had a graphic equalizer -- and all you had been waiting for was someone to show you it was there?

Knowing the techniques you use when you write gives you vast ability to create the emotion, persuasion, and understanding you wish for your audience. You’re no longer just making broad strokes. You’re doing particular things for particular purposes. 

This isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think. For instance, when you write a list, insert “and” between each item and the next to emphasize how many there are. If you ask your spouse what he or she did today, she might say, “I went to the market, picked up the kids, and paid bills.” But if she said, “I went to the market and I picked up the kids and I paid the bills,” you would understand she wasn’t too happy about it – that she was stressing the volume of her work, not just recounting her day. (That’s called polysyndeton, by the way. Most writing techniques have names. You don't have to know them, but it can help you keep an inventory of your tricks and techniques.)

Or this: When you want to sound authoritative, cut the adverbs. Unmodified verbs and adjectives feel more emphatic and precise and therefore more confidently expressed – more believable. “I’m really sure this will help you,” sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself. “I’m sure this will help you,” sounds like experience.

One more: Be sure every paragraph has a topic sentence. It’s easy to forget. Place that sentence at the start or at the end, and be sure each of the rest of the sentences adds to its meaning or believability. A paragraph without a topic sentence is a paragraph without a point, and that is confusing and boring to a reader – which is why they stop reading.

To improve your writing, learn how to get beyond just knowing that something "sounds right."

These are three random tips, but they are practical, easy to remember, easy to employ, and powerful in their ability to make you a significantly better writer. And when I teach things like this, I tell people not just what works, but why it works, so they can find other applications I might not have considered. This is the best way to improve your writing, and to get equipped to improve on your own.

(And if you’d like me to teach these techniques in your office, let’s plan a seminar! I’d love to meet you and your group.)

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© 2019 Mike Long. All rights reserved.
Burke, VA  22015
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