My goal with students is very simple. Under my watch, they MUST become confident, competent writers. Their ability to clearly express themselves changes their lives.
To help them, I beat three specific lessons into their heads. These concepts are actually fairly intuitive. If you relax and don’t fight them, they can even become part of you quite easily…
And these drills work! My students have gone on to tremendous careers all around the world. They are writers, editors, playwrights, business folks, actors, activists, artists, scientists and yes, even teachers.
I originally blogged about each of these lessons so that students could learn on my website instead of buying an expensive book — $90 for a paperback college text, can you believe it?! But plenty of non-students have responded favorably to the material. So pulling stuff together here provides a strategic overview of the writing process:
1) Write conversationally.
Most students start off in love with long, twisted sentences. They seem to believe that the more they load up on commas, the more intelligent they sound. They also believe that short sentences are too simple. But the reality is that simple sentences are how we actually talk.
If this is true, then a simple sentence is not an act of dumbing down content. By the way, achieving conversational simplicity is far from simple. Hey, just try creating a paragraph built on short sentences. It requires an extremely sharp mind because each line must logically lead to the next one. There’s no way to hide behind windy words that say blah blah blah.
There’s a powerful tool for organizing conversational writing. The device has an odd name. To learn about the nut graf, click here.
2) Know the difference between using “it” and “they.”
Okay, this is a biggie. Getting this right might seem subtle. But knowing how to use “it” versus “they” is an instant game changer…Are you perceived as a talented person with writing potential? Or are you known as a polished writer with a meticulous passion for your craft?
To find the answer, read this:
I love that diner. They serve the best coffee.
Did that look fine to you? If so, ooops! Because this is how it should read:
I love that diner. It serves the best coffee.
To understand the difference between using “it” and “they,” go here.
3) Punctuation defines your writing.
People can be very careless with punctuation. After all, it’s just a bunch of dots and squiggles, right? Nope.
Once I explain the importance of commas, periods and dashes, students are quite shocked. Apparently, no one ever told them that punctuation is a marvelous vehicle for self-expression.
Here’s an example. Punctuate the following sentence:
Woman without her man is nothing
It can be tidied up like this:
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Or maybe you prefer this:
Woman — without her, man is nothing.
Care to read more on this fascinating topic? Here’s the link.
I think this is a good time to be posting practical advice. There are papers to write, memos to email, job applications to send out, letters to send. Sure would be nice if you came across as a lean, mean writing machine. :)