50 Writing Tips from School for Journalists

29 Jun 2007 (Fri)

FOUND 50 GREAT TIPS ON WRITING just now while browsing a few sites: Fried Beef’s Tech, then LifeHacker.Org, then to the archived version on Poynter Online (a publication of a school for journalists) and then to the recently posted Fifty Writing Tools: Quick List (May 2007). So, here they are, summarized and linked for quick and easy reference in the near future:

  1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs. Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right.
  2. Order words for emphasis. Place strong words at the beginning and at the end.
  3. Activate your verbs. Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players.
  4. Be passive-aggressive. Use passive verbs to showcase the “victim” of action.
  5. Watch those adverbs. They can dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it. Use them to change the meaning of the verb.
  6. Go easy on the ‘ings’. Prefer the simple present or past. For example, “wish and hope and think and pray” is better than “wishing and hoping and thinking and praying“.
  7. Fear Not the Long Sentence. Take the reader on a journey of language and meaning.
  8. Parallel Lines – Establish a pattern, then give it a twist. Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain.
  9. Let punctuation control pace and space. Learn the rules, but realize you have more options than you think.
  10. Cut Big, Then Small. Prune the big limbs, then shake out the dead leaves.
  11. Prefer the simple over the technical. Use shorter words, sentences and paragraphs at points of complexity.
  12. Give key words their space. Do not repeat a distinctive word unless you intend a specific effect.
  13. Play with words, even in serious stories. Choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands.
  14. Get the name of the dog. Dig for the concrete and specific, details that appeal to the senses.
  15. Pay attention to names. Interesting names attract the writer – and the reader.
  16. Seek Original Images. Reject clichés and first-level creativity.
  17. Riff on the creative language of others. Make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language.
  18. Set the pace with sentence length. Vary sentences to influence the reader’s speed.
  19. Vary the lengths of paragraphs. Go short or long — or make a “turn”– to match your intent.
  20. Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind. One, two, three, or four: Each sends a secret message to the reader.
  21. Know when to back off and when to show off. When the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate.
  22. Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction. Learn when to show, when to tell, and when to do both. (At the bottom are bloody knives and rosary beads, wedding rings and baseball cards. At the top are words that reach for a higher meaning, words like “freedom” and “literacy.”)
  23. Tune your voice. Read drafts aloud.
  24. Work from a plan. Index the big parts of your work.
  25. Learn the difference between reports and stories. Use reports to render information and stories to render experience.
  26. Use dialogue as a form of action. Dialogue advances narrative; quotes delay it.
  27. Reveal traits of character. Show character-istics through scenes, details, and dialogue.
  28. Put odd and interesting things next to each other. Help the reader learn from contrast.
  29. Foreshadow dramatic events or powerful conclusions. Plant important clues early.
  30. To generate suspence, use internal cliffhangers. To propel readers (to turn the page), make them wait.
  31. Good questions drive good stories. Good stories need an engine, a question the action answers for the reader.
  32. Place gold coins along the path. Reward the reader with high points, especially in the middle.
  33. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Purposeful repetition links the parts.
  34. Write from different cinematic angles. Turn your notebook into a “camera” — shifting focus to capture both landscape and character.
  35. Report and write for scenes. Then align them in a meaningful sequence.
  36. Mix narrative modes. Combine story forms using the “broken line.”
  37. In short pieces of writing, don’t waste a syllable. Shape shorter works with wit and polish.
  38. Prefer archetypes to stereotypes. Use subtle symbols, not crashing cymbals.
  39. Write toward an ending. Help readers close the circle of meaning.
  40. Draft a mission statement for your work. To sharpen your learning, write about your writing.
  41. Save String. For big projects, save scraps others would toss.
  42. Turn procrastination into rehearsal. Plan and write it first in your head.
  43. Do your homework well in advance. Prepare for the expected — and unexpected.
  44. Read for both form and content. Examine the machinery beneath the text.
  45. Break long projects into parts. Then assemble the pieces into something whole.
  46. Take an interest in all crafts that support your work. To do your best, help others do their best.
  47. Recruit your own support group. Create a corps of helpers for feedback.
  48. Limit self-criticism in early drafts. Turn it loose during revision.
  49. Learn from your critics. Tolerate even unreasonable criticism.
  50. Own the tools of your craft. Build a writing workbench to store your tools.
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Posted by J.K. in *Roundups, Writing | View Comments |

  • http://www.myspacenow.com Layouts

    great post…interesting how this is a list of tips for journalists, but it certainly applies to all forms of writing

  • http://www.ouch.co.il/ OUCH

    Thanks for the great tips! :-)

  • http://highwayoflife.wordpress.com HighwayBlogger

    great tips for bloggers :D

  • http://bu.bulicio.us/ Vic

    As a blogger my biggest weakness is my writing thanks for such a great post ;)

  • http://www.auto-broker-magic.com Josh

    Hey, great resource list … thanks!

  • ciska

    Hi there kind stranger.
    I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting these tips. I have trawled the web for them but it seems since Mr Clarke turned them into a book, all links to his essays were severed (And his book is not availible here in South Africa.)
    One poossr-arse journalist owes you a debt of gratitude (figure my readers do too)

  • http://www.superiorpapers.co.cc writing tips

    Thank you for this.
    50 writing tips — linked and summarized interestingly. Now that’s what you call a great list of resources. :-)

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