Twelve Things They Should Have Told You About Writing

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    Twelve things

    they shouldhave told you

    about writing.a good words (right order) ebook by Patrick E. McLean

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    Richard Saul Wurman, founder of TED

    Writing is how we

    define ourselvesfor someone we

    dont get to meet.

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    In Rework, Jason Fried of 37signalsadvises entrepreneurs to hire the better writer. His justification for this is simple the better writer is the better thinker. Butthe issue is much bigger than writing. Howdoes an employer choose the best

    employee?A credential like a college degree used to

    be a good filter, but not anymore. Standardshave dropped and too many people havetoo many degrees. How many MBAs doesthe world really need, anyway?

    Smart employers, at the kind ofcompanies everyone wants to work for, pay

    more attention to what a person has donethan the padding on their resume. Writingabout a subject, industry or issue not onlyq u a l ifies as doing something, itimmediately shows an employer how youthink.

    And if you think this only applies to hipso ware development companies like37signals, consider that when the NationalCommission on Writing surveyed 120major American corporations theyconcluded that writing is a threshold skill

    for hiring and promotion among salariedemployees.

    In the job market, thebetter writer wins.

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    e current emphasis on literature-based

    instruction confuses this issue. While the

    spoken word has always been an object ofinvention and recreation the written word

    evolved to get things done.

    e earliest samples of writing known to

    man are a recipe for beer and a record of oil

    deliveries a manufacturing process and a

    ledger. ese first writing samples date from2700 B.C. It is not until 2,000 years later

    that there is any evidence in the historical

    record that someone wrote down a story.

    Aer the Epic of Gilgamesh, its another2,000 years before we get to anything that

    resembles a modern novel.

    For the majority of human history

    literature has not been the point of writing.

    And, until recently, it wasnt the point of

    writing education.is change in focus hasled to the crisis in writing that faces us today.

    The business ofwriting is business.

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    What you say ismore importantthan how you say it.

    As most of us have come through school, the

    methods used in an attempt to train* us to

    write have created a counterproductivefeedback mechanism. In preparation for

    standardized tests we have been rewarded for

    using words that no one should ever use. Papershave minimum page lengths where they should

    have maximum word counts. Arbitraryconcerns of style (MLA vs. Chicago vs AP) are

    emphasized more than clarity and power of

    writing.

    Generations of students have beenbludgeoned with false and counterproductive

    rules such as ou shalt not split the

    infinitive. As Winston Churchill so observed

    of this variety of literary insanity, Not endingsentences in prepositions is something up with

    which we shall not put.

    Having a point, making it clearly and well,these are the only sure and durable rules of

    writing.

    * e skill of writing is far too personal and

    complicated to be a trainable skill. Training is for

    rats, feeder bars and high-school kids who workinozen yogurtanchises for thesummer.

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    Noamount

    of workcan

    help abadidea.You cannot polish a turd.

    Writing and rewriting are the

    process of discovering where your thinking is sloppy or

    wrong. is is not your

    failure as a writer, this is yoursuccess as a thinker.

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    Only 20% of us doproductive work.The other 80% aretrying to kill us with

    crappy email.Crisp subject lines, clear requests for actionand as few words as possible will win

    friends, influence people and help getthings done. Not getting to the point (or

    not having one in the first place) costs time

    and money. Email puts your writing front

    and center every working day. Send a bad

    email and it can be forwarded to everyonein the world in an instant for free. Its not

    fair. Its not sane. Its just the way it is.

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    The kindest thing youcan do for youraudience is notwaste their time.As Arthur Miller said, Attention must be

    paid. No matter how wealthy some of us

    may be, none of us are rich in attention.

    e fewer words you can use to get yourpoint across, the less of a persons attention

    you will use. And the more they will like

    you. Get to the point, and the 20% of the

    people who keep the world turning will

    recognize you as one who is worthy oftime, attention and assistance.

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    Use words like youare paying for them.Not from an expense account, not on acredit card, but like you were counting your

    money out and saying sad farewells to it as itslides across the shop counter. It should hurt

    to use more words than you have to. You

    should feel like you are saving money when

    you find a way to cut a word out.Big, exotic, fancy words are more expensive

    than small, simple and ordinary words. Split

    is a good 10 cent word. Bifurcate costs

    $5.00.

    Its not that you cant or shouldnt ever use

    expensive words. Its that, when you do, youshould make sure you get good value for

    them. You dont wear a $1000 suit to dig postholes. You dont wear a pair of overalls

    to the opera.e 100 most used words in the English

    language make up 50% of all written

    material. Twenty-fi ve nouns, twenty-five

    verbs, twenty-six adjectives and fourteen prepositions grant you an astoundingcommand of the language.

    To be able to convey weighty and

    momentous ideas with simple words is the

    height of the writers skill. A Spring may be

    refulgent, but describe it that way and noone will know what you are talking about.

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    The rules arenot the game.A knowledge of the rules of soccer

    doesnt make you any better at handling

    the ball. Knowing music theory doesntmean you can play the guitar. Between

    the rules and the skill there is something

    else.

    is is not to say that you shouldnt be

    concerned with grammar. Grammar,style and usage advice is nothing more

    than the work of thoughtful people

    trying to explain how the language can

    best be used. As with any kind of problem solving, seeing how someone

    else has solved a similar problem is a

    good thing to do. But recognize that

    you can follow all the rules and still lose

    the game.

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    Writers block wasinvented in

    California by peoplewho couldnt write.If your car wont start, you dont say that you

    have Drivers Block. You check to see if you have

    the right key. You check the gas tank. You makesure the battery has a charge. Although writing is

    more complicated than an automobile, it is still

    just a series of interlinking processes/systems. If

    the output of a process is bad, you dont check

    your horoscope. You check the process.

    Do you have enough information? Is there aclearer way to organize your material? Have you

    generated enough ideas? Have you given yourself

    enough time? Is it better to write nothing at all?

    Quoteom Terry Pratchett

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    The study ofgrammar isnt anefficient way toimprove your writing.e skill of writing involves at least five

    parts:

    1) General knowledge 2) subject matterknowledge 3) problem solving skills 4)

    language use, which includes: syntax,

    grammar, usage, diction 5) dealing with theemotional challenges of writing.

    All fi ve of these links must be strong for

    you to write with ease and power.

    Grammar is a part of a part. Just as it is impossible to make a chain

    stronger by strengthening one link, the

    study of grammar is not suffi

    cient if youwant to become a better writer.

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