Learn how to write better: 50 Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark

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Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark

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The first 10 writing tools

1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs: Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right.

2. Order words for emphasis: Place strong words at the beginning and end. Put your best stuff near the beginning and at the end; hide weaker stuff in the middle.

3. Activate your verbs: Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players.

  • Avoid verb qualifiers: sort of, tend to, kind of, must have, seemed to, could have, used to, begin to.

4. Be passive-aggressive: Use passive verbs very occasionally if only to showcase the “victim” of the action

5. Watch those adverbs: Use them to change the meaning of the verb, avoid using them when they are redundant.

Find the redundant adverbs:

  • The blast completely destroyed the church office
  • The cheerleader gyrated wildly before the screaming fans
  • The accident totally severed the boy’s arm.

Consider the effect of deleting the adverbs

  • The blast destroyed the church office
  • The cheerleader gyrated before the screaming fans
  • The accident severed the boy’s arm

6. Take it easy on the -ings: Read your recent work. Circle any word that ends with -ing. What have you discovered? Do you use too many -ings?

7. Fear not the long sentence: Take the reader on a journey of language and meaning. Especially if a long sentence reflects the reality of your writing. Keep an eye out for long sentences when you are reading – do they help or hurt the passage?

8. Establish a pattern, then give it a twist. Check out this beautiful passage from a Martin Luther King Jr. to get an idea:

Let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado!

9. Let punctuation control pace and space: Use punctuation to a) set the pace of reading, and b) to divide words, phrases and ideas into convenient groupings.

10. Cut bit, then small: Prune the big limbs of your writing, then shake out all the dead leaves. Cut any passage that does not support your focus. Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes, and scenes to give greater power to the strongest.

For a more detailed explanation of these rules, listen to this episode of On Books, or read the book Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark.


Title: Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
Author: Roy Peter Clark
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (January 10, 2008)

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