As 2011 recedes in the rear-view mirror, we’ll raise a cup of kindness for auld lang syne – literally old long since or, more colloquially, days gone by. And then it’s time to look ahead with New Year’s resolutions.
A common resolution, especially on the heels of holiday feasting, is to get to the gym for regular workouts. No wonder bright Planet Fitness banners are popping up like crocuses in spring, luring us with their $10 monthly fee. But what about your writing? When you look at your Microsoft Word docs, do you like what you see? What can you do to strengthen the way you’ll express yourself in 2012?
Here are five simple resolutions to get your writing into better shape:
1. Use active verbs. Why is Ernest Hemingway still a go-to writer in college literature courses? Because his writing is so muscular. At the heart of Hemingway’s narrative prose are simple declarative sentences using active verbs. With active verbs, the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action:
The party-goers > toasted > their hosts.
With passive verbs, the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the action:
The hosts < were toasted < by the party-goers.
Good writing combines active- and passive-verb sentences for stylistic variety. But when the majority of your verbs are active, your writing is more engaging, uses fewer words, and avoids confusion and dullness. Do your fourth-grade teacher proud and follow his or her subject > verb > object mantra!
2. Be conversational. Write as if you are speaking with someone, not writing to them. Read your draft out loud. If it doesn’t sound like something you’d say to a friend in a conversation, it’s time to simplify and use more everyday language.
3. Embrace the rewrite. Great writing is great editing. That’s why kids in elementary school are taught to generate a “sloppy copy” and then go back to edit. It’s a smart practice for all of us, because our first draft is rarely our best.
4. Check spell-check. While spell check is an efficient way to give your writing a first scrub, it will never replace proofreading. That’s because there are mistakes that spell check can never catch. It doesn’t know that you mean lose instead of loose, your instead of you’re, or it’s instead of its. Proofread your work to ensure that spell check-proof errors do not undermine the brilliance of your content. And if you weren’t born with the spelling gene, recruit someone who was and have them check your work.
5. Get in your writing reps every day. Whether you are at the keyboard or in the gym, practice builds muscle. So write every day, plus follow this great advice from a Wicked Whimsy blog: write for others every day. When you do, you’ll hold your writing to a higher standard.
Keep these five resolutions in 2012 and your writing will be more buff, almost immediately – and there’s no startup fee!