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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

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!


virtual nexus said...

I love your four points - especially number 4 on deadwood. I intend to collate a few of these aims from other bloggers before they all vanish into archives - they are a valuable resource in themselves!

Charles Gramlich said...

Congrats on the award. A great selection of points. And thanks very much for naming me as a lion as well. Much appreciated.

Lisa said...

Congratulations and these are terrific points. I look forward to the post on eliminating the dead wood. As an ex-bureaucrat and a rambler, this may be my biggest battle. My first drafts are always at least 1/3 longer than the second pass and I work toward tightening with every revision. Unfortunately, I don't spend as long working on blog posts and many, if not most of them are much heavier than they need to be. I'm thinking of writing down some writing resolutions to focus on going into the New Year. Great post!

Shauna Roberts said...

That's a great idea, JULIE. It will be like a checklist for what is most important. I've found it interesting how much overlap there has been in the various lists when one looks closely. The concepts may be expressed very differently, but they boil down to a few main points.

You're welcome, CHARLES. You have a gift for isolating a single concept and dissecting it fully and simply.

LISA, thanks. I don't think rambling counts as a sin, as long as one goes back later and prunes. Writing is a useful method for forming ideas by thinking "out loud." In that sense, it's useful to put a lot of ideas on the page and then, as you focus in on what you truly want to say, remove the extraneous material.

Sidney said...

Cool award!

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks, SIDNEY!

Steve Malley said...

Merry Christmas, Shauna!

I'll get that ROAR done shortly!