Before I briefly explain the note-taking process, I want to introduce Gary Provost, the author of ‘100 ways to improve your writing.’
“Being a writer is not my profession. It is my nature,” once said Gary.
His voluminous lifelong work is proof that the statement was not an exaggeration. Gary sold 22 (fiction and nonfiction) books to major publishing houses throughout his career, writing in almost every genre that the mind can conjure: How-To texts for writers, True Crime, Satire, Mystery, Romance, and more. Apart from writing books, Gary was also engaged in teaching writing, constantly honing his craft by helping aspiring writers.
For me, the reason why I decided to read Gary’s ‘100 ways to improve your writing’ was that I found out that one of my favorite writing pieces of advice was an excerpt from the book. In case you’re curious, I’ll share the image of that writing advice below, so you’ll know why it is one of my favorites.
As I was hoping, reading ‘100 ways to improve your writing’ turned out to be an enlightening experience. The book, as it is apparent from its name, consists of 100 actionable writing tips with clever examples to support them.
When I made my book notes, I essentially had one objective in mind. If I ever wanted to, say, reap the benefits of the lessons in the book without going through it again in its entirety, what parts of the book would I like to have handy. This approach, I think, also makes my notes useful to those who haven’t read the book but want to learn its major lessons.
Note: The original book has 11 chapters and 100 rules, but my notes contain 9 chapters and 46 rules only.
Reading the full book at an average reading speed of 250 words per minute will approximately take you a minimum of 3 hours. Reading my notes will approximately take you 25 minutes.
‘100 ways to improve your writing’ Book Notes
Chapter 1: Ways to Improve your Writing when you are not Writing
Expand Your Vocabulary: The most important vocabulary for the writer is the one he or she already has. For the writer of average intelligence and education, learning new words is much less important than learning to use easily the words he or she already knows. Think for a minute. How many synonyms can you come up with for the noun plan? There are program, itinerary, scheme, design, agenda, outline, and blueprint. If you concentrated for a minute, you might have come up with ten words that you already knew. But how many of them would have come easily to mind while you were writing a letter to the boss about your potentially lucrative new . . . uh . . . plan? The only way to make your vocabulary more accessible is to use it. If you want all those short but interesting words waiting at the front of your brain when you need them, you must move them to the front of your brain before you need them. Stop to think about other word possibilities when you write, and eventually they will come so quickly that you won’t have to stop. Pause before you speak. Then insert some of those good but neglected words. And when you drive home from work at night, pick out an object along the road and see how many synonyms you can think of before you pass it. There’s a house over there. But it’s also a dwelling, an abode, a building, a bungalow, perhaps, or maybe a cottage. It’s a home for somebody, it’s headquarters for a family, and it’s a shelter and a structure, too.
Read: Read. And listen to what you read. Listen for the sound of the language, the music. Note the punctuation, the spelling, the logical progression of information. And find the things that fail, also. Listen to how two similar sounds close together can cause a disturbing noise in your head. Hear how the use of the wrong word wakes you from your reading spell. Be a critical reader and look upon all that you read as a lesson in good writing.
Eavesdrop: Be nosy. Listen to conversations on the bus, in the elevator. Find out what people are talking about, what they care about. All of this will help you to communicate more effectively through your writing.
Write in Your Head: if you have a writing job, write in your head. Clear up the inconsistencies while you’re brushing your teeth. Get your thoughts organized while you’re driving to work. Think of a slant during lunch. And most important, come up with a beginning, a lead, so that you won’t end up staring at your keyboard as if it had just arrived from another galaxy. If you have spent time writing in your head, you’ll have a head start. The writing will come easier, and you’ll finish sooner.
Chapter 2: Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block
Copy Something: Yes, copy. From time to time take a few paragraphs from something that you enjoyed reading and sit down at the computer or with a notebook and copy them word for word. You will find yourself suddenly aware of the choices the writer made. You will look at the work from the writer’s point of view. In time you will feel like an insider, and you will say, “I know why he chose this word; I know why he made two short sentences here instead of one long one.” You will become more intimate with the writer’s words and with words in general, and your own writing will be better for it.
Keep a Journal: if you have some sort of notebook or diary that you return to often with your written thoughts, opinions, observations, and various bits of wit, you will have a place in which to exercise your writing muscles. You will learn to describe succinctly and clearly the events of your daily life. You will learn to pluck from each event just the details needed to create a sense of the whole. If you keep a journal, you will grow as a writer, and you will find that sooner or later, no matter what you have to write professionally, your personal experiences will play a part.
Talk about What You’re Writing: When you’re looking for a job, you tell as many people as you can. There’s always the chance that one of your friends knows about a suitable job opening, or that someone knows a guy who knows a guy, etc. Same thing when you want to buy a house. You tell people what size house you’re looking for, how much you can spend, and what kind of neighbors you can’t stand. You do this because maybe somebody has heard about a house you’d want to buy. In effect, by telling people what you need, you plug into a huge computer loaded with all the relevant information your friends have accumulated. When you have a story to write, plug into that computer. Talk about your story. Tell people your subject and your particular slant. Chances are your friend Karen read a book last week that had a chapter on your subject, your cousin Louie might send you an appropriate newspaper clipping, somebody else might remember a fitting quote from George Bernard Shaw, and your brother James might remember something significant that he heard when he was in prison.
Make a list: Some writers will not write a magazine article until they have constructed an outline that is longer than the article they intend to write. Other writers begin with no outline at all, though they probably have a vague outline in mind. How long or detailed your outline is depends on the scope of what you have to write and how secure you are with the material. But an outline is just a list of elements you want to put into your writing, and for any story or article you should make some sort of list, even if it’s just three words scribbled on a scrap of paper. Write some key words for the issues you want to cover, the facts you want to point to, the questions you want to pose. Glance at the list as you work. This will help you decide what to write next.
Picture a Reader: Before you write, figure out whom you are trying to reach. Who is the reader and what does he or she know?
When you write, don’t think about how smart you are; think about how smart your reader is. To do that you must visualize him or her. Imagine your reader in the room with you. What is his education? What are his attitudes? How important is this particular story to him? Write as if you were in conversation with your readers. Listen to the dialogue that would occur. Are your readers going to stop you and say, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What’s a grumdocle?” If they are, then don’t use grumdocle, or explain it when you do.
Ask Yourself Why You are Writing
Do not write until you know why you are writing. What are your goals? Are you trying to make readers laugh? Are you trying to persuade them to buy a product? Are you trying to advise them? To prove an argument? To inform them so that they can make a decision? If you cannot answer the question “Why am I writing this?” then you cannot wisely choose words, provide facts, include or exclude humor. You must know what job you want done before you can pick the tools to do it. And if you cannot state clearly at least one reason for writing your story, article, or paper . . . don’t write it.
Chapter 3: Ways to Save Time & Energy
Don’t Explain When You Don’t Have to
Writers often write long-winded and unnecessary transitions because they are afraid that the short phrase hasn’t said enough. In the example below, you can see how the writer slows down the story by trying to explain how Sam got to the church when all he needs to do is acknowledge that Sam got from his apartment to a church:
Sam moved slowly down the stairs of the apartment building. He walked across the street and climbed into his car. He turned the ignition key and put the car in gear. Then he pulled out into Maple Street traffic. When he reached Wilder Avenue, he took a left and drove for three blocks. At Warren Street he waited for a red light that seemed to take forever. Finally he got onto Carver. He could see the Bethany Church up ahead.
A better transitional sentence appears below: Sam drove to the church.
Unless something important happened to Sam while driving his car over to the church, don’t describe the drive. A transition is simply a bridge and should be used to carry readers as quickly as possible from one place to the next.
Wordiness has two meanings for the writer. You are wordy when you are redundant, such as when you write, “Last May during the spring,” or “little kittens,” or “very unique.” Wordiness for the writer also means using long words when there are good short ones available, using uncommon words when familiar ones are handy, or using words that look like the work of a Scrabble champion, not a writer.
Be a literary pack rat. Brighten up your story with a metaphor you read in the Sunday paper. Make a point with an anecdote you heard at the barbershop. Let a character tell a joke you heard in a bar. But steal small, not big, and don’t steal from just one source. Someone once said that if you steal from one writer, it’s called plagiarism, but if you steal from several, it’s called research. So steal from everybody, but steal only a sentence or a phrase at a time. If you use much more than that, you must get permission and then give credit.
Stop Writing When You Get to the End
How do you know when you have finished? Look at the last sentence and ask yourself, “What does the reader lose if I cross it out?” If the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know,” then cross it out. Do the same thing with the next-to-last sentence, and so forth. When you get to the sentence that you must have, read it out loud. Is it a good closing sentence? Does it sound final? Is it pleasant to the ear? Does it leave the reader in the mood you intended? If so, you are done. If not, rewrite it so that it does. Then stop writing.
Chapter 4: Ways to Develop Style
Listen to What You Write
Read aloud what you write and listen to its music. Listen for dissonance. Listen for the beat. Listen for gaps where the music leaps from sound to sound instead of flowing as it should. Listen for sour notes. Is this word a little sharp, is that one a bit flat? Listen for instruments that don’t blend well. Is there an electric guitar shrieking amid the whispers of flutes and violins? Imagine the sound of each word as an object falling onto the eardrum. Does it make a soft landing like the word ripple, or does it land hard and dig in like inexorable? Does it cut off all sound for an instant, like brutal, or does it massage the reader’s ear, like melodious?
Mimic Spoken Language
Writing should be conversational. That does not mean that your writing should be an exact duplicate of speech; it should not.
Most real conversations, if committed to paper, would dull the senses. Conversations stumble; they stray; they repeat; they are bloated with, you know, like, meaningless words; and they are often cut short by intrusions. But what they have going for them is human contact, the sound of a human voice. And if you can put that quality into your writing, you will get the reader’s attention.
So mimic spoken language in the variety of its music, in the simplicity of its words, in the directness of its expression. But do not forfeit the enormous advantages of the written word. Writing provides time for contemplation. Use it well.
In conversation the perfect word is not always there. In writing we can try out fifteen different words before we are satisfied. In conversation we spread our thoughts thin. In writing we can compress. So strive to make your writing sound like a conversation, but don’t make it an ordinary conversation. Make it a good one.
Vary Sentence Construction
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of cymbals—sounds that say, “Listen to this; it is important.”
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write Music.
Write Complete Sentences
Usually, only a complete sentence expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has a subject and a predicate. “The cat jumped off the roof” is a complete sentence. “The cat jumped” is also a complete sentence. “The cat,” however, is not a complete sentence. You should try to write complete sentences. However, if your high school English teachers told you that all incomplete sentences were unacceptable, they were wrong. Good writing often contains incomplete sentences. The incomplete sentence is a useful tool. Used wisely, it can invigorate the music of your words. Like a chime. Or the beat of a drum.
Show, Don’t Tell
Look at the following letters from camp. Letter A tells; letter B shows. Which letter do you find more revealing: Which letter writer would you rather know—Irma, or Donna?
Letter A: Dear Jan, My new boyfriend, Arnold, is a terrific athlete. He is also incredibly smart, very sentimental, and sort of strange. Yours truly, Irma
Letter B: Dear Jan, My new boyfriend, Arnold, ran five miles to my cabin in the middle of that lightning storm last week. When he got here, he stood out in the rain and started shouting how he loves me in five different languages. Yours truly, Donna
Keep related words together
Words that are part of the same information. package are related, and they should be clustered together to avoid confusion. Adjectives should be placed near the nouns they describe so they don’t appear to be describing some other noun. Likewise, adverbs should be close to the verbs they modify, and dependent clauses should be near the words on which they depend for meaning.
Bad: The boy rode his horse through the winter woods, strong and proud as could be
Better: The strong, proud boy rode his horse through the winter woods.
Use Parallel Construction
Though several consecutive sentences constructed the same way can bore the reader, there are times when you should deliberately arrange words and sounds in similar fashion in order to show the reader the similarity of information contained in the sentences. Just as the steady beat of a drum can often enrich a melody, the repetition of a sound can often improve the music of your writing. This is called parallel construction.
Listen to the difference parallel construction makes in the following example.
Not Parallel: First, I came. Then I saw. Conquering came next.
Parallel: I came. I saw. I conquered.
Don’t Force a Personal Style
Style is not something you can put onto your writing like a new set of clothes. Style is your writing. It is inexorably knotted to the content of your words and the nature of you. So do not pour the clay of your thoughts into the hard mold of some personal writing style that you are determined to have. Do not create in your head some witty, erudite, unmistakably exciting persona and try to capture him or her on paper. Also, do not try to write like Elizabeth Gilbert, Hunter S. Thompson, Raymond Carver, or anybody else. If you fail you will look foolish, and if you succeed you will succeed only in announcing to the world that you are not very creative. Strive instead to write well and without self-consciousness. Then your style will emerge. It might be as specifically yours as your thumbprint, or it might be as common as sunshine. But at least it will be you.
Chapter 5: Ways to Give Your Words Power
Use Short Words
Short words tend to be more powerful and less pretentious than longer words. Rape is a powerful term; sexual assault isn’t. Stop is stronger than discontinue.
Use Dense Words
A dense word is a word that crowds a lot of meaning into a small space. The fewer words you use to express an idea, the more impact that idea will have. When you revise, look for opportunities to cross out several words and insert one. Once a month is monthly; something new is novel; people they didn’t know are strangers; and something impossible to imagine is inconceivable.
Use Familiar Words
Do you know what a mandible is? Your dentist does. She uses that word every day. So if you are writing a story just for your dentist, use mandible. But if you are writing for everybody else, use the more familiar word, jaw. A word that your reader doesn’t recognize has no power. If it confuses the reader and sends him or her scurrying for the dictionary, it has broken the reader’s spell.
Familiar words have power. By avoiding very long words, you avoid most of the words that your reader doesn’t know. But you should also replace short words if they are so rare that your reader might not know them. Even though delegate is longer than depute, it is better. Don’t write sclerous if you can write hardened, and if you have written that something is virescent, please go back and say that it is turning green.
Use Active Verbs
Active verbs do something. Inactive verbs are something. You will gain power over readers if you change verbs of being such as is, was, and will be to verbs of motion and action.
Bad: A grandfather clock was in one corner, and three books were on top of it.
Better: grandfather clock towered in one corner, and three books lay on top of it.
Use Strong Verbs
Generally speaking, verbs are weak when they are not specific, are not active, or are unnecessarily dependent on adverbs for their meaning.
If you choose strong verbs and choose them wisely, they will work harder for you than any other part of speech. Strong verbs will reduce the number of words in your sentences by eliminating many adverbs. And, more important, strong verbs will pack your paragraphs with the energy, the excitement, and the sense of motion that readers crave.
Sharpen a verb’s meaning by being precise. Turn look into stare, gaze, peer, peek, or gawk. Turn throw into toss, flip, or hurl.
Inspect adverbs carefully and always be suspicious. What are those little buggers up to? Are they trying to cover up for a lazy verb? Most adverbs are just adjectives with ly tacked on the end, and the majority of them should be shoveled into a truck and hauled off to the junkyard. Did your character really walk nervously, or did he pace? Did his wife eat quickly, or did she wolf down her supper?
Use Specific Nouns
Good writing requires the use of strong nouns. A strong noun is one that is precise and densely packed with information.
Be on the lookout for adjectives that are doing work that could be done by the noun. Adjectives do for nouns what adverbs do for verbs; that is, they identify some distinctive feature. They tell you what color the noun is, how it’s shaped, what size it came in, or how fast it moved. Adjectives do great work when they are needed. But they are too often brought in when they are not needed.
Before you write a noun that is modified by one or two adjectives, ask yourself if there is a noun that can convey the same information. Instead of writing about a black dog, maybe you want to write about a Doberman. Do you want to write large house, or is mansion really to the point? And before you put down cruel treatment, ask if you can make a greater impression on the reader with savagery, barbarity, or brutality.
Read these two sentences:
A man just walked into the room.
A priest just walked into the room.
Use Active Voice Most of the time
When a verb is in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is also the doer of the action.
The sentence “John picked up the bag” is in the active voice because the subject, John, is also the thing or person doing the action of “picking up.”
The sentence “The bag was picked up by John” is in the passive voice because the subject of the sentence, bag, is the passive receiver of the action.
Generally the active voice makes for more interesting reading, and it is the active voice that you should cultivate as your normal writing habit.
The active voice strikes more directly at the thought you want to express, it is generally shorter, and it holds the reader closer to what you write because it creates a stronger sense that “something is happening.” Listen to how the following passive voice sentences are improved when they are turned into the active voice.
Passive: Dutch drawings and prints are what this book is about.
Active: This book is about Dutch drawings and prints.
But realize that there are times when you will need to use the passive. If the object of the action is the important thing, then you will want to emphasize it by mentioning it first. When that’s the case, you will use the passive voice.
Let’s say, for example, that you want to tell the reader about some strange things that happened to your car.
In the active voice it would look like this:
Three strong women turned my car upside down on Tuesday. Vandals painted my car yellow and turquoise on Wednesday. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched my car into orbit around the moon on Thursday.
The example shown above is not wrong, but it sounds choppy. To give the story a flow, you would want to use the passive voice, keeping the emphasis on your car:
On Tuesday my car was turned upside down by three strong women. On Wednesday my car was painted yellow and turquoise by vandals. On Thursday my car was launched into orbit around the moon by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Say things in a Positive Way Most of the Time
Usually what matters is what did happen, what does exist, and who is involved. So develop the habit of stating information in a positive manner.
If you want your reader to experience the silence of a church at night, write “The church was silent.” If you write “There was no noise in the church,” the first thing your reader will hear is the noise that isn’t there.
Look at the sentences below and see how much more effective each one is when written in a positive manner.
Negative: Renaldo’s plan to breed giant rabbits did not succeed.
Positive: Renaldo’s plan to breed giant rabbits failed.
Of course, there are times when the negative statement should be used. If it’s ten o’clock on a stormy night and your wife was due home at six, you won’t call your brother and state the positive: “Jennifer is out.” You’ll emphasize the negative: “Jennifer is not home yet.”
Put Emphatic Words at the End
This is a lesson best learned by the ear. Listen to how the impact of a sentence moves to whatever information happens to be at the end.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him.
Ask what you can do for America, not what America can do for you.
Ask not what America can do for you; ask what you can do for America.
Chapter 6: Ways to Avoid Grammatical Errors
Do not Change Tenses
If you begin to write in one tense, you should not switch to another.
Bad: We were going over to Tad’s house to see his daughter, Riley. When we arrived, Molly says, “The baby just fell asleep, so you can’t see her.”
Better: We were going over to Tad’s house to see his daughter, Riley. When we arrived, Molly said, “The baby just fell asleep, so you can’t see her.”
Know How to Use the Possessive Case
Most nouns are made possessive by adding ’s: The dog’s paws, a child’s toy, the ocean’s beauty. However, if a noun ends in s already and is plural, simply add an apostrophe: The dogs’ paws. A singular noun ending in s may be made possessive either way: The actress’s role/The actress’ role.
Make Verbs Agree with their Subjects
Plural subjects require plural verbs; singular subjects require singular verbs. When writing a long or complicated sentence, check to make certain your verb agrees in number with its subject.
Wrong: One of the nicest memories Linda has are those memories of her wedding.
Right One of the nicest memories Linda has is the memory of her wedding.
Or The nicest memories Linda has are those of her wedding.
Fix Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier is a word or group of words that appears to modify an inappropriate word in the same sentence. The error occurs most often when passive rather than active verbs are used.
Dangling: Knowing this, and wanting a nice home, a new kitchen had to be installed.
Revised: Knowing this, and wanting a nice home, the Smith family had to install a new kitchen. (The kitchen did not know, or want.)
Avoid Shifts in Pronoun Forms
Be consistent in your use of a pronoun. Do not switch from singular forms to plural ones.
Inconsistent: After a student has written a paper, they should take a break.
Consistent: After a student has written a paper, she should take a break.
Do not Split Infinitives
An infinitive is split when an adverb is placed between the word to and a verb.
Bad: She wanted to quickly run the race.
Better: She wanted to run the race quickly.
There are times when you will need to split an infinitive in order to make the meaning of your sentence clear. Do so, but do so only when the split is necessary.
Bad: To go grocery shopping frequently will result in increased spending.
Better: To frequently go grocery shopping will result in increased spending.
Beware These Common Mistakes
Many people cannot remember the difference between who and whom. (Who is typically the subject of a sentence and whom is an object that follows a preposition such as to, with, for, or about. “Who is going to the prom with you, and with whom did she go last year?”) Many writers use like as a conjunction (She walks like she’s got a train to catch), even though most grammarians insist it be used only as a preposition (It looks like a luxury car, and it rides like a dream).
Another tricky distinction to remember is between was and were. Use was when you’re talking about a fact or possible fact: “If he was afraid, I couldn’t tell” (I don’t know if he was afraid or not) and were when there is no possibility of fact (Beyoncé sings “If I Were a Boy” because she is not a boy).
The difference between that and which is another frequent source of confusion. That is used to introduce a restrictive clause. A restrictive clause “restricts” the meaning of your noun and can’t be removed from the sentence without subtracting some of its sense. “I love the book that Alex gave me” restricts us to, or identifies, the specific book: the one Alex gave me. A nonrestrictive clause is a piece of extra information introduced by which. For example, “I love the book, which Alex gave me” assumes you know which book we’re talking about but adds the detail that it came from Alex. You’ll usually see a comma prior to a nonrestrictive clause.
This distinction is a good general rule of thumb, but it’s so common to see which used with a restrictive clause (“Students protested the rule which prohibits gum chewing”) that you’ll never get dinged for it.
Prefer Good Writing to Good Grammar
Keep in mind that good grammar, even perfect grammar, does not guarantee good writing any more than a good referee guarantees a good basketball game.
“It is my objective to utilize my management expertise more fully, than has heretofore been the case” is acceptable grammar but poor writing because it is poor communication. The sentence should read, “I’m looking for a better job.” On the other hand, “I ain’t got no money” is terrible grammar but could be good writing in some context by communicating exactly what the writer wants to communicate.
There are many writing situations in which inferior grammar makes for superior writing.
Whenever you knowingly use poor grammar, you should ask yourself two questions. The first: Is my meaning clear? If the answer is no, rewrite. The second question: What am I getting in return for the poor grammar? If you can’t answer that, don’t use poor grammar.
So strive most of all for good writing, but make proper grammar your rule and improper grammar your exception. Don’t give easy access to every bizarre construction or chunk of senseless jargon that comes whistling down the pike. Never violate a rule of grammar unless you have a good reason, one that improves the writing.
But never choose good grammar over good writing. There is nothing virtuous about good grammar that does not work. Your goal is good writing. Good grammar is only one of the tools you use to achieve it.
Chapter 7: Ways to Avoid Punctuation Errors
Know When to Use a Comma
Here are some rules to help you with commas:
1. Use a comma following introductory words like Yes, No, and But. Realize, though, that there are times when such words are not being used as introductions to a sentence.
Wrong: Yes I did take the money.
Right: Yes, I did take the money.
Wrong: Now, is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
Right: Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
2. Clauses joined by but often require a comma: He wanted to eat out, but he didn’t have any money.
3. Use commas between members of a series.
Wrong: Jim, Jane, and Sue, went to the store.
Right: Jim, Jane, and Sue went to the store.
4. Use a comma before a direct quotation. (If the direct quotation is long, use a colon rather than a comma.)
Wrong: She said “I am a nun and so I can’t go out on a date with you.”
Right: She said, “I am a nun and so I can’t go out on a date with you.”
5. Following a person’s name, set off by commas information indicating residence, position or title.
Wrong: Mr. and Ms. Smith-Johnson of Portland, Oregon were at the ball.
Right: Mr. and Ms. Smith-Johnson, of Portland, Oregon, were at the ball.
6. Use a comma to separate elements of a sentence that might be misread.
When happy, men and women tend to smile.
If I make a will, will I ever be able to change it?
Know When to Use a Semicolon
The semicolon signals a distinct pause in a sentence. Use it when a comma would not give your sentence sufficient pause.
1. Use a semicolon to separate closely related independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction.
Not all sailors love the sea; not all garbagemen love garbage.
2. Use a semicolon to separate word series that contain commas.
They bought soda, potato chips, ice cream, and candy; several games and toys; and three books.
Know When to Use a Colon
Know When to Use a Colon Colons are used to introduce lists, formal quotations, and examples:
Please bring the following items: cups, sugar packets, spoons, nondairy creamers, napkins, coffee, and coffeepots. We will bring everything else required to make the coffee.
In Act I of Falling Bodies, Bernice speaks of a white cross: “We used to lie in our beds at night and watch this sign on top of the life insurance building. . . .”
JoDean wants to become a nun for the wrong reasons. For example: She speaks endlessly about how upset her ex-boyfriend will be when she enters the convent; she speaks endlessly about how she will get to wear a habit; and she speaks endlessly about how nice it will be to have her own bedroom.
Chapter 8: Ways to Avoid Making Your Reader Hate You
Bad: I advise you to remain un-ambulatory for the next six weeks.
Better: Don’t walk for six weeks.
Bad: We believe these improvements will lead to enhanced learning environments.
Better: We believe these improvements will lead to better classrooms.
Bad: The forthcoming regulations have been instituted due to the increasing incidence of postschool vandalism.
Better: There’s been a lot of vandalism after school, so I’ve made some new rules.
Clichés are a dime a dozen. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They’ve been used once too often. They’ve outlived their usefulness. Their familiarity breeds contempt. They make the writer look as dumb as a doornail, and they cause the reader to sleep like a log. So be sly as a fox. Avoid clichés like the plague. If you start to use one, drop it like a hot potato. Instead, be smart as a whip. Write something that is fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack. Better safe than sorry.
Chapter 9: Ways to Edit Yourself
Read Your Work Out Loud
Often when you write and rewrite and constantly rearrange information, your ear for the sound of the writing becomes corrupted. Reading out loud will return to you the true sound of your story. You will hear the sour note of the word that’s “just not right,” and the drastic changes in tone will cry out to you for editing. You’ll notice that you are breathless at the end of one long sentence, and you will know that you must break it up into two or three.
Think About What You Have Written
It’s very easy when you are locked in the passionate embrace of the writing muse to write something that sounds really dumb. The writer routinely includes the banal, the inaccurate, and the just plain stupid in early drafts simply by forgetting that what one meant to say is not always what got written down.
But when the passion cools a bit and the writer rereads his or her work, curious phrases will suddenly show themselves: Did she mean to write, “There was literally an ocean of people . . .”? Of course not. But she did. Did he intend to write, “He could care less . . .”? No. He meant to write, “He couldn’t care less.”
You will make mistakes in your early drafts. That’s okay. But before you complete a final draft, let at least a day pass and then think carefully about what you wrote before turning to your keyboard. You may find that what you thought was brilliant prose on Tuesday borders on the moronic by Friday. On the other hand, you may discover that what seemed trivial when you wrote it is, in fact, profound.
More Books By Gary Provost
How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales
Make Every Word Count: A Guide to Writing that Works–for Fiction and Nonfiction
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