Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Book Review: Unless It Moves the Human Heart

In Marketing Communications, Writing on June 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Chances are, you are not packing up (or downloading) a bunch of books on writing to take on vacation this summer. You may not even put such books on your “must read” list. But if you are serious about improving your writing skills, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, by Roger Rosenblatt, is worthy of a place on your bookshelf.

Unless It Moves the Human Heart details one semester of the author’s Writing Everything class at Stony Brook University. While Rosenblatt shares many thoughts on how to write well, the heart of this book is his case for the necessity of writing, which he refers to as “…the cure for the disease of living.” This is not a dry book about grammar. Instead, it is a reminder of why we all should write well.

Here are just a few of the author’s thoughts on writing that are worth sharing:

  • Eliminate throat-clearing. Rosenblatt uses the wonderful phrase, “throat-clearing,” to describe when writers have difficulty beginning a piece and thus add extraneous words and thoughts. He suggests plunging in without hesitation. How? Understand what your piece is about. My suggestion is to form one clear sentence summarizing what you want to say before you start writing.
  • Write every day. I often hear the question, “What’s the best way to improve my writing?” The answer is simple — write. Rosenblatt goes so far as to say, “You ought to write every day if you can, even if it’s a single sentence.”
  • Find the starting point. Whether you are writing an email, a report or a novel, you must decide the best place to start. For example, you may choose to write in chronological order, by topic or by offering up your solution first. Rosenblatt suggests that you choose “…the place where you think the story will unfold most completely and with the greatest impact.”
  • Make every word count. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the same words over and over again when we write but the richness of the English language allows us to be very precise in our choice of words. Rosenblatt explains, “Every word is an idea. It triggers images in your reader’s mind.”
  • Write as if your reader needs you. This is a wonderful reminder of the power of words, even in this age of tweets and texts. Whatever your reason for writing, write as if your readers need to hear your message. Rosenblatt concludes, “You must write as if your reader needed you desperately, because he does.”

Think Before You Write

In Effective Communication, Marketing Communications, Writing on June 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm

When you face an important writing task, do you find yourself putting it off until the last minute because you don’t know how to tackle it? Or do you begin immediately only to delete more words than you save? Both approaches can be time consuming and frustrating.

To be more effective and efficient, think of writing as a thought process that requires a great deal of work before you can successfully put words on paper. Refrain from the temptation to rush the process and begin writing before you are ready. Instead, gather facts, connect ideas and understand the message you want to convey to your readers before you begin to write.

The writing process can be used successfully whether you are crafting a brief letter or a lengthy report. Follow these steps to successful writing:

  1. Understand your assignment. Think about your goal, audience and format. Consider what you want your written piece to achieve, such as voicing an opinion, persuading your readers to take action or sharing information. Understand your audience, including their level of interest and understanding of your topic. Finally, consider the format of your writing, such as a brief email message, a major report or a 140-character tweet.
  2. Brainstorm. Once you understand your assignment, think about the type of information that should be included. Ask yourself the traditional questions posed by journalists — who, what, when, where, why and how. At this point, you may have more questions than answers. Jot down these thoughts in no particular order. Be creative.
  3. Research. You now must search for information to answer the questions raised during your brainstorming session. You may need to use a variety of sources ranging from personal interviews to books and reliable websites. As you research, look for connections and discrepancies.
  4. Organize your thoughts. Organize your research then arrange the information into a logical flow of ideas. Develop some form of written outline, although it does not need to be formal. Include enough detail to guide your writing. Take a break to give yourself time to mull over your ideas and your approach. Review your outline one more time to be certain that your ideas flow logically and will be understood by your readers. At this point, about 75 percent of your work should be completed.
  5. Write. You are ready to write when you can form one sentence that summarizes the point of your writing. Complete your first draft in one sitting. If that isn’t possible, complete sections at a time so you do not break your train of thought. Use your outline and refer to your research as necessary. When you finish your first draft, put your writing aside.
  6. Edit, edit, edit. All good writers edit mercilessly. Edit for meaning, mechanics and style. Read your piece through once before making any changes, focusing on the flow of ideas. Do your thoughts unfold logically? Will your readers understand what you are trying to say? Are there inaccuracies or vague thoughts? Once you are satisfied that your message is clear, move on to the mechanics — spelling and grammar. Avoid jargon and acronyms that will confuse your reader. Finally, edit for style.  Be clear. Be succinct. Delete any unnecessary words. Use a natural tone.

When you are confident that your piece is complete, set it aside. After taking a break, read it again, make any necessary changes and you are finished!