Reverse-engineer what you read. If it feels like good writing, what makes it good? If it’s awful, why?
Prose is a window onto the world. Let your readers see what you are seeing by using visual, concrete language.
Don’t go meta. Minimize concepts about concepts, like “approach, assumption, concept, condition, context, framework, issue, level, model, perspective, process, range, role, strategy, tendency,” and “variable.”
Let verbs be verbs. “Appear,” not “make an appearance.”
Beware of the Curse of Knowledge: when you know something, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Minimize acronyms & technical terms. Use “for example” liberally. Show a draft around, & prepare to learn that what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.
Omit needless words (Will Strunk was right about this).
Avoid clichés like the plague (thanks, William Safire).
Old information at the beginning of the sentence, new information at the end.
Save the heaviest for last: a complex phrase should go at the end of the sentence.
Prose must cohere: readers must know how each sentence is related to the preceding one. If it’s not obvious, use “that is, for example, in general, on the other hand, nevertheless, as a result, because, nonetheless,” or “despite.”
Revise several times with the single goal of improving the prose.
Read it aloud.
Find the best word, which is not always the fanciest word. Consult a dictionary with usage notes, and a thesaurus.
My guest this week on the Cool Tools show is David Moldawer. David is a Brooklyn-based writer and book collaborator who spent more than a decade as an acquiring editor in New York City publishing. He was an editor on a number of books I’ve written. He also writes a weekly newsletter for nonfiction authors […]
For twenty years, novelist Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men) has been an unofficial “editor-at-large” for the Sante Fe Institute, where he is a trustee. McCarthy has helped numerous scientists improve the writing in their technical papers about theoretical physics, complex systems, biology, and the like. In the new issue of Nature, […]
Gollancz, a venerable British science fiction publisher (now a division of Hachette) has announced its BAME SFF Award, with a top prize of £4,000 for science fiction written by over-18 BAME ("Black, Asian, minority ethnic) writers.
People tend to keep luggage around for a long time. And why not? New suitcases are pricey, and no matter how banged up or patched up that old bag gets, it still holds your clothes. Right? Maybe not. Here are 15 travel bags and accessories that make a strong case for upgrading your gear. They’ve […]
Do you own a Mac? Unless you’re using it for a paperweight, you almost can’t afford not to get the Magnificent Mac Bundle. It’s a roundup of some truly essential security and file management apps, bundled up with great photo and video enhancers. The best part is that all nine apps are potentially available for […]
As much as vaping has taken over the market during the last decade, there’s still a lot of questions about the technology, as well as health concerns that we’re just now finding out about. One thing you can say about smoking: You know exactly what you’re getting, especially when it comes to pipes that you […]