Writing 101

Writing 101

Our latest 101 entry is about writing.  I am not a great writer, but I seek advice from good writers and try to improve my writing on a regular basis. I regularly come across writers that make some of the same mistakes that I have made in the past. So I have compiled a short list of some common writing tips that can benefit any writer (and if you are an artist trying to sell your work, you will need to write well).  Please use the comments section to add your own tips or to offer our readers some advice.

1. Avoid Lazy Sentences
When writing, review your sentences to make sure that each sentence is clear and contributes to the overall piece. You can accomplish this goal by keeping the subject and verb of a sentence close together.
The following is an example of a lazy sentence: “The patron in viewing all of the artwork in the show decided that he liked Mr. Smith’s piece the best.” Several words separate the subject “the patron” from the weak verb “decided that he liked.” You could revise the sentence as: “The patron liked Mr. Smith’s piece the best.” The revised sentence is easier for the reader to digest. The writer tells the reader upfront what is happening in the sentence.
You can also avoid lazy sentences through use of the active voice. If you write in the passive voice, your sentences are problematic because your emphasis is usually misplaced. For example, “That technique was abandoned by Mr. Smith several years ago.” You could revise this sentence as follows: “Mr. Smith abandoned that technique several years ago.” In the revised sentence, the active voice places the emphasis on the actor and creates a more forceful sentence.
2. Watch Your Words
Avoid words if you are not positive of the word’s proper usage. Two sets of words that writers often misuse are (1) effect and affect and (2) than and then.
Effect is usually used as a noun, meaning “result,” as in the sentence, “The effect of his actions on the patron was immeasurable.” Effect is often used more vaguely to refer to a distinct impression that something gives: “She said she was going to take the matter into her own hands, or something to that effect.” The only time effect should be used as a verb is when it means “to cause something to come into being”: “The goal of the organization is to effect change.”
Affect is usually used as a verb to mean “to influence” or “to act on”: “The critic’s harsh criticism did not affect the young artist.” The only time affect should be used as a noun is to mean a feigned (an outdated usage) or subjectively experienced emotion: “His reactions and affects to the painting were dramatic.”
Writers often confuse than with then, or they mistype the proper word and then miss the error when editing. Than is used for comparison and then is used as a reference to time. For example, “Tom is taller than Harry” in contrast to “Harry drove to the house and then parked his car in the garage.”
3. Revise, Revise, Revise
 
A first draft is just that, a first draft. Always find time, whether it is weeks, days, or even minutes, to revise your writing. You should also read the piece aloud to detect errors or awkward sentences. Additionally, make sure that you vary the sentence lengths and paragraph lengths. Readers appreciate variety; there is nothing more off-putting than a solid page of text. Finally, ask someone else to read your work. A person looking at your work for the first time will notice grammatical errors, awkward sentences, and typos that you may have missed.
Your writing is a reflection on you, so take the time to make sure it is your best.