Writing Tips

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Maybe you remember the signpost in M*A*S*H, with arrows pointing in every direction, each a U.S. hometown? It wasn't accurate in terms of compass direction--and neither is the one of writing tips pointing toward grace and precision. But the point is clear. You want to be where you're not and with good reason. Writing well is not a plateau.

Writing Tips with a Punch

Writing is constant work and only goes bad when we think we "have" it. The best writing tips in the world are those that provide some guidance and put the entire effort into perspective. "I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top," an English professor from Ohio University is said to have told a student. I believe it.

I recall a paper on metaphysical poetry I submitted being returned with three sentences scribbled in red on the first page. "You must have been running a fever. This is awful. Start over." I had had a fever. I did get an A on the second round. There was one comment. "This is more like it." Sometimes writing tips come from likely sources, such as online writing workshops and forums, and sometimes from unlikely. You'll know them when you see them.

Another equally memorable response came on a logic paper: "Very deep, very profound, and very very false." Mark Twain once suggested using an expletive each time you wanted to write "very," assuming an editor would cut it out, and that this was a key to good writing. This is a good deal, two lessons in one, and both apply to every writing discipline. Forget the adjectives. The second is critical. Write simply and cleanly. Do not try to impress anyone, yourself included. Say what you have to say and let it stand on its own merit.

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