The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
19 December 2007
I am Lion, hear me roar
As mentioned Tuesday, Julie at Virtual Journey nominated me for A Roar for Powerful Words award. I’m honored that she has found my writing strong and worthy of notice.
The award is also a meme. The recipient is to blog about what she or he thinks are three essentials for powerful, effective writing and nominate others who exemplify good writing.
I’ve read other Roar recipients’ lists of essentials and agreed with all of them. But for me, the most important essentials are more basic.
1. Powerful, effective writing has a purpose and accomplishes it. A piece of writing should make you think, or laugh, or cry, or take an action, or change your mind about an issue, or go to the computer and Google for more information. If I write an article about proper footwear for people with diabetes and no readers change their shoe-buying habits, I have failed, no matter how beautiful my prose or lyrical my sentences.
2. Powerful, effective writing uses the right word in the right place. I believe a writer should have at hand at all times a dictionary (I have more than 20 dictionaries in my office, and I look up even common words to get a feel for their denotations, connotations, nuances, and etymologies) and a thesaurus (I like Rodale Press’s The Synonym Finder best) and use them frequently. Words are our weapons; we should be properly armed at all times.
3. Powerful, effective writing uses correct grammar, except when it shouldn’t. Nothing cripples an idea faster than to be expressed in a sentence rendered confusing, ambiguous, or impotent by poor grammar. Grammar rules are to writing as the proper temperature of the kiln is to clay. Strength and beauty result from knowing the limits and using them to one’s advantage.
4. I know I’m only supposed to list three items, but I feel strongly about another essential. Powerful, effective writing soars when it drops its deadwood. As a copyeditor, I see sentences weighted down by redundancy (“red in color,” “mentally assess”), filler (“very,” “due to the fact that” instead of “because,” “basically”), throat-clearing (“I’d like to start by saying . . .”), bureaucratese (“on a daily basis,” “utilize,” “impact” used as a verb), and adjectives piled willy-nilly on each other like apples in a basket (“new Murrieta Temecula Republican Assembly Gold Eagle member”). After I get the rest of my reference books unpacked, I will post on how to lighten leaden prose.
I pass on the award to three people:
•Steve Malley at Full Throttle and F**k It for his clear, concise, useful writing advice and examples
•Charles Gramlich at Razored Zen for the same reason
•Candice Proctor/C.S. Harris at Candy's Blog for her powerful posts that chronicle living in New Orleans after the flood
My Christmas/Hanukkuh/Eid/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice wish for my blog readers is for them to go forth and ROAR!