It’s an upward spiral: knowing how to write better sentences will help you write better paragraphs. This will help you write better chapters and stories, magazine articles and blog posts. See? Simple!
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To paraphrase Shakespeare, “the sentence is the thing.”
That’s where you start learning how to be a better writher. The sentence is the foundation of spellbinding writing – especially if you use powerful words that grab attention. These tips will help you write better sentences, which will create better paragraphs, which will blossom into better books, blog posts, or magazine articles.
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?” ~ George Orwell.
Sadly, it takes time and effort to write better sentences. But, like appreciating a fine cigar, good writing gets easier and better with time. To learn the (crucial, critical) nuts and bolts of writing, take a gander at Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose.
And, here are five writing tips for sentences and paragraphs…
5 Ways to Write Better Sentences and Paragraphs
The other night I read a blog post that made me want to dig my eyes out with my blue pencil. It was so horribly written, so poorly put together, that I wept for the writer and her family. The writing was so bad I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth later…because, of course, the writer was me. I mean I.
Here’s what I learned from my slab of humble pie — I’m ready to share a few tips to improve your (my) writing…
1. Regularly review the basic anatomy of a sentence
I won’t go into the nitty gritty grammar and sentence structure details here (that’s what books like Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style are for! And Grade 8 English class). Sure, some successful writers break the rules – but they have to know them first. Some writers have a natural talent, and can recognize a split infinitive without being told. But, most of us need to learn about passive versus active voice, run on sentences, and misplaced modifiers first…and then we’re free to break the rules.
To write better sentences, I read Strunk & White every few months, just to keep the elements of style and good writing at the forefront of my mind.
2. Don’t just “read, read, read”
When successful freelance writers and published authors say you need to “read, read, read” to be a better writer, they don’t just mean grab a margarita, head out to the beach, and sink into the latest Jennifer Weiner.
Instead, you need to notice what you are reading. For instance, when you read blog posts or magazine articles that are horribly written, don’t sit back in smug self-satisfaction. Grab your blue pencil, look at a sentence or two, and figure out why it stinks so bad. Rewrite the sentence in your head or on paper. Make it better.
This practice of editing common writing mistakes will sink into your subconscious and help you write better sentences.
3. Write each sentence with a single point in mind
Edit every sentence in your blog post, magazine article, or book chapter at least three times. Does each word matter, or are you rambling like Grandpa at the last family reunion? Put your emotions aside (yes, I know how much it hurts to slash your sentences – but better to hurt yourself than your readers). Make sure every word in your sentence is meaningful. And, triple check that there’s a logical flow from one sentence to another.
4. Get daily grammar or “better writing” Tweets or emails
Twitter is one of my favorite inventions for writers! I don’t just mean networking and learning industry news, or learning to write in short, succinct sentences (Tweeting sharpens your writing skills). What I most love about Twitter is following people like @WriteAdvantage and @GrammarMonkeys, who regularly share grammar tips.
For instance, here’s Jane’s (WriteAdvantage) tip for today: “Keep your business writing simple and your reader will keep reading. Replace: expeditious, with: fast or quick.” Writing tips like these take seconds to read, but can improve your writing immeasurably.
5. Apply George Orwell’s four writing tips to your sentences
This is a clunky way to write, but it will eventually become natural and happen subconsciously. Post these four questions on your bulletin board or computer monitor:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
Learning how to write better sentences (which will turn into better paragraphs and a better article or book chapter) takes time and effort. But it really is like learning to smoke a cigar: the more you do it, the easier and more pleasurable it becomes.
If you want to write better, learn How to Use the Power of Storytelling When You Write.