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25 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Brian A.

Klemms, 2011
1. Flow
- A piece of writing is a living thing. Our goal should be to serve it and do what it
wants, to be its instrument.
- !e "low o" wor#s from our mind to the page is impe#e# in two main ways$
- A. If we try to make the story do something that it doesn’t want to do.
- B. If something in us isn’t ready to face the full implications of the work’s theme and
- %olution$ At the start of each writing session, especially if you’re having trouble
moving forward, literally ask your work-in-progress, !hat do you want to do"
!here do you want me to go with you" !hy are you stalling"#
-  $his is a psychological trick that almost always creates an imagined response,
along the lines of, $his scene is boring. !hy are you making me do it"#
2. &re'ision
- %our sub&ect remains inert until you add the precise detail that brings it, in the
reader’s mind, to life.  You nee# t!e (ey, spe'i"i' #etails to bring t!e worl# o"
t!e pie'e alive.
- A#vi'e$ 'evelop the habit of dedicating time to reviewing your work with precision
in mind. (ow would that scene change if you add a sweet tang of honeysuckle to the
bree)e" (ow might this character change if you fasten the top button of his shirt"
). *oi'e
- %our voice is how you write, the way you handle language, your style*if you have
- 'evelop your own voice+
- I write like I think. I like spontaneity. I push and pull, change speed and rhythm,
balance short and long sentences. I compare it to &a)) riffs and drum rolls. I’m
economical with words, but I won’t interrupt a nice solo.#
- A#vi'e$ ,ewrite a page of your writing in the style of someone you admire. 'on’t
worry about losing yourself in the process*you’ll be doing &ust the opposite.
+. ,riginality
- Originality is like voice, an elusive -uality that cannot be created. it e/ists or it
doesn’t, all you can do is hone it.
- A#vi'e$ If you’re in a rut, change something in your routine. !rite in a different
place. write longhand. dictate into a recorder. switch point of view. remove every
modifier in your te/t and start over*something.
-'ise$ 0rint out a page of your writing, cut it into -uarters and rearrange them.
,etype the te/t in this -uasi-&umbled state. !here before your logical brain laid
things out in an orderly fashion, you’ll now see them in &ump cuts and ine/plicable
&u/tapositions. ,eturn to your work and revise with the best of these angularities
intact, to the point they serve the piece, without reordering them back into
comfortable reasonableness.
- (onor the deeper, inherent logic of your work by allowing its -uirks and hard edges
to show.
5. Imagery
- %!ow #on/t tell 0 $ry making vague moments more vivid by replacing e/planation
with imagery.
-'ise$ ,ewrite each of the following statements in a way that shows instead of
e/plains+ (er hair was a mess. $he garden was ready for picking. I hate broccoli.
%ou always change your mind. $he moon is full.
1. &a'e
- A#vi'e$ 1et in to each scene as late as possible, and out of it as early as possible.
- $here’s no need to begin scenes by laboriously e/plaining how characters arrived
there, or to open an article or essay with e/cessive setup or introduction.
- &ra'ti'al tip$ 2!hen revising my novels, I e/periment by cutting the first and last
paragraph of each scene. 2uddenly, a se-uence that dragged can become speedy.#
3. 4nity
- 5et!o# 6 %ele'tive 7epetition 0 A detail or remark or even &ust a uni-ue word
mentioned early in your piece can be echoed later, creating a sense of wholeness
through the reader’s recognition of the previous mention.
- &ra'ti'al tip$ ,eread a piece you’re working on with an eye toward finding that
element you could repeat in a subtle way, and then look for a place later in the piece
where you could drop it in.
- Ask yourself+ If you had to cut all the details or images and retain only one, which
one would you keep" $hat’s the one you want.
-  Be subtle in #oing t!is.
8. %enten'e stru'ture
- 9o a#vi'e regar#ing it, &ust sit down and write whatever moves you, following only
one rule+ 'on’t bore anybody.
:. Wor# '!oi'e
- Fran( ,/;ara$ If you think in pictures, write. If you think in words, paint.#
- A#vi'e$ If you’re stuck on a word, sketch what it is you’re trying to describe. It
doesn’t matter how good you are at drawing.
- 3!hat matters is the employment of a different skill set, a portion of the brain distinct
from the one that has been searching for the mot juste.4
- Or consider a soundtrack for the scene. 5et the scene play out in time along with the
music, or read it aloud with the music as background.
-  !hen you employ a different depictive medium than mere words, different
associative threads 3or synaptic connections4 can be brought to bear on the task.
10. 7!yt!m
- 7!yt!m is t!e subliminal message in writing.
- &ra'ti'al tip$ 6hoose a dramatic passage from a published piece you admire.
- (ow do you feel when you read it" 37otice your breathing, heart rate, posture and
emotions.4 (ow did the writer provoke this response" (ow do word pairings and
sentence and paragraph structures contribute to its momentum" (ow do these
rhythmic choices serve the piece’s meaning"
- 7ow, write a passage that echoes the patterns you’ve discovered. If the first sentence
is three short words, yours should be, too. !here a descriptive image blossoms for a
paragraph, let yours do the same. <ommuni'ate emotion t!roug! your r!yt!m.
11. Inspiration
- 'aydreams are our primal storyteller at work, sending us scenes and topics that our
imagination or subconscious wants us to investigate.
- 8ach day, we should devote time to reviewing our daydreams and determining which
of them insists on being turned into a story.
- 'on’t push away those daydreams that make you uncomfortable+ $he more shocking
the daydream, the more truthful about us it is. 8mbrace that truth.
12. Balan'e
- 6reating a sense of balance in your piece is similar to creating unity 3see the opposite
page4, but the repeated element is even more obviously connected to its earlier use.
- A 'lassi' e.ample$ In The Great Gatsby, as 9. 2cott 9it)gerald introduces us to the
Buchanans in early summer, he emphasi)es the bree)e blowing through the room,
billowing the curtains and the women’s dresses. 5ater, the same characters seated in
the same place are shown in the heat of summer as weighted down, dispirited,
-  $he connection between these descriptions creates balance and gives the reader a
keen 3if not necessarily conscious4 sense of progression. It also implies that the
characters are no longer free and airy, but encumbered by the circumstances that have
1). <larity
- -lements$
- A sta(e in t!e a'tion 0 ,eaders need one. 'rop the first shoe early to get them
listening for the second, and give them something to care about.
- =ogi' 0 It’s the most important element of clarity. If you’ve written something that
doesn’t -uite connect, try saying, out loud, !hat I’m really trying to say is :# and
then finish the thought. 2ounds cra)y, but it usually works.
- Bumps in t!e 7oa#$ 6heck your work for brilliant phrases that you’d love to use
somewhere, anywhere*but that interrupt the momentum. I used to cut and paste my
elegant gems into a futures# file. it rightfully became a cemetery.
- *erbosity$ Avoid longish, meandering -uotations by paraphrasing. 2ave the
-uotation marks for particularly revealing or -uotable statements.
- >argon$ 2ave it for cocktail parties*unless it’s the everyday language of your
1+. -""e'tive #etails
- ,eali)e the importance of contradictions.
-'ise$ 1o to a good people-watching spot or a place you want to describe. !hat’s
the thing that doesn’t -uite belong" 0air one or two more typical attributes of the
thing;person;scene with this anomaly, and &udge the impression. If it differs from
what you meant to describe, figure out what’s missing. Add as few details as possible.
- Often, we read a description and think, If t!is is there, then t!at has to be there as
well. <any writers then think that both details must be included, but usually the
opposite is true.
- 0rovide the stronger, more typical of the two, and the other is implied. the reader’s
mind supplies it automatically
15. <reativity
- It is t!e se'ret sau'e o" t!e writing li"e.
- ips$ A. 2witch genres. !rite a poem before diving into a narrative piece.
- B. ,eview incomplete writing for a scrap of idea or language. let it lead you in.
- <. =eep a file of art, poems, -uotes, pressed flowers*whatever ignites your
imagination. 2ift through it when you need a spark.
- ?. 1row your own list of triggers. ,epeat what works until it doesn’t. then try
something new.
11. %impli'ity
- Billy Won#er, "ilm #ire'tor$ 2ubtlety is good*as long as it’s obvious.
- $ip+ !hat really matters is whether or not something is clear. 8ach day, as you revise
the pages from your prior writing session, take a few minutes to ask yourself, Is this
clear" !ill the reader understand it"# If you’re not sure, revise until the answer is yes.
13. Avoi#ing 'li'!@s
- !ey signal your la'( in 'reativity.
- 2till, depending on your audience, a well-placed clich> can be more effective than an
- 2olution+ Imagine in detail the thoughts and traits of your characters.
18. <ommuni'ation
- For ea'! pie'e o" writing as( yoursel"$
- A1B W!o is my au#ien'eC Imagine the people you’d most like to reach.
- A2B W!at #o I want t!e e.perien'e an# result o" t!is pie'e to beC !hat do I want
readers to know or believe" (ow do I want them to feel" !hat do I want them to do
when they’re finished reading"
- A)B ;ow will I measure my ability to #eliver on t!ese goalsC !orkshop it in a
writing group" 0ost it on my blog" 2ubmit it to a publication"
1:. ension
- $ension results from two factors+ resistance and ambiguity.
-  $ension results from e/ternal or internal opposition to achievement of the goal
3resistance4, or uncertainty as to the narrator or character’s understanding of the
situation in which he finds himself 3ambiguity4, specifically its perils 3psychological,
emotional, physical4.
- A#vi'e$ In every s'ene strive to !eig!ten tension by #oing one o" two t!ings$
8nhancing the forces impeding achievement of the goal, or confusing;complicating
the narrator or character’s understanding of the situation.
- &ra'ti'al tip$ At the end of every writing session, take time to find and stress those
elements within the narrative that serve these purposes. $rim away elements that do
not, unless they add necessary color.
20. -vo(ing emotion
- $o evoke emotion the reader must be made to feel the situations in the story, to
e/perience what the characters e/perience.  A case o stimulus-response.
- Writers 'an a'!ieve t!is e""e't i" t!ey ta(e t!e sense o" sig!t "or grante# an#
emp!asiDe t!e ot!er senses, t!us 'ra"ting multi#imensional #es'riptions an#
- 0ractical tip+ 2ince details of sight alone almost always create a flat effect so when
revising, take a few minutes to ma(e sure t!at ea'! s'ene !as at least one ot!er
sense #etail.
21. Figurative language
- 9igurative language can enrich our writing, adding nuance and depth,
- But figurative language calls attention to itself, it can easily descend to clich> and;or
asks for the reader’s complicity, all of which could break your reader’s focus.
- A#vi'e$ ?se figurative language sparingly, strive to make it fresh, and understand the
implications of the comparisons you’re making 3directly or indirectly4.
- In creating metaphors trust your subconscious -@ ,isk a reach toward an unlikely
comparison rather than a safe one.
22. ,bEe'tivity
- $he perils of sub&ectivity arise largely from over-identifying with a sub&ect, narrator
or character in a narrative, and making it 3or him or her4 the vehicle for a thematic
point in which the author himself is overly invested.
- %olutions$
- A. 0lace a trait, belief or habit that is repellent or ine/cusable or &ust plain odd.
3allows a moral and psychological distancing from the character4
- B. ,ewrite the scene or section from the point of view of someone other than the
ob&ect of sympathy 3forced disconnect4
2). 7evision
- 7evision$ A. Wille# by t!e aut!or !imsel" B. 7eFueste#
- &ra'ti'al tips$
- A1B ,educe by a third the word count of one of your recent efforts without losing its
- A2B 'on’t constantly reread what you’ve written. if you memori)e it, self-editing will
be tougher. 0ut it away for a few days. $hen read it fresh.

2+. =anguage
- <onsi#er$
- 1. 6ould a different word bring even more energy or resonance to a poignant moment
through sound, subtleties of meaning, or syllabic rhythm"
- 2. 6ould the setting be conveyed more vividly" Is the natural world palpable"
- ). Is the emotional tone consistently resonant" Are there neutral words or passages
that could be more charged"
- +. 'oes the language powerfully enact the action"
25. %tyle
- -.B. W!ite$ 2tyle takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from
principles of composition.#
- !e (ey$ Write in a way t!at 'omes natural to you.
- 9ocus on presenting your piece clearly, in a way that connects with readers.
-  &ra'ti'al tip$ Imagine a single reader sitting across a table from you. 2pend a
half-hour relating your piece to that reader, as clearly and honestly as possible. 2pend
another half-hour striving to make the piece more clear, more honest, more affecting.