1. Avoid the overly long parenthetical side note.
For example, the sentence:
Our book club (think alpha male with brilliant and beautiful and ridiculously well-read women dropping in from time to time to remind us that males and females often perceive the world differently) last night discussed Julian Barnes’s A Sense of an End, a novel that explores the misconceptions of an insecure man exploring his past and discovering that memory can be selective and unreliable — think Brian Williams meets J Alfred Prufrock
Bet you forgot the subject is sentence.
2. Avoid the stilted, pretentious, anally-retentive compulsion to use the third person pronoun one when you want to provide a general example.
NOT: When one shops for crack cocaine, one should try to purchase the product through third party acquaintances who retrieve the crack and deliver it to one, which makes it less likely that one finds himself bleeding to death on a street in an unfriendly neighborhood of track houses.
BUT: Cop your crack from a buddy, not a dealer, or you might find yourself bleeding to death in some godforsaken lower lower middle class cul-de-sac located in Phosphate Acres.
If you find yourself incapable of committing to such shocking familiarity, you can eliminate both one and you:
Cop crack from an acquaintance, not a dealer, and avoid bleeding to death in some godforsaken lower middle class cul-de-sac located in Phosphate Acres.
3. Every time you proofread, look for nouns that could be more definitive.
For example, our English Department uses a vocabulary series called Wordly Wise. I still use my original 1985 copy for nostalgia’s sake, and believe or not, the publishers have seen fit to make various changes over the years, like dropping the word “buxom” (defined as “plump”) from its word lists.
Here’s an original sentence from my 1985 edition : “The answer to the conundrum ‘Why did the Arab starve in the desert’ is ‘because he couldn’t use the sand which was there.’”
Here’s the edited 2015 version: “The answer to the conundrum ‘Why did the man starve in the desert’ is ‘because he couldn’t use the sand which was there.’”
The first one is much superior because you get a visual clue as to what the man looks like, his native costume, etc.
Plus, when did the word “Arab” become pejorative in and of itself?
4. Be precise using the relative pronouns “who,” which,” and “that.” For example, the sentences above use the pronoun “which” imprecisely. Both sentences regarding the conundrum should read “the sand that was there,” even though it fucks up the joke, a groaner anyway.
Here are the rules.
Use “who” instead of “that” for people.
NOT: He’s one of those Rolex-wearing Saudis that only flies first class.
But: He’s one of those Rolex-wearing Saudis who only flies first class.
Most people won’t notice, but the ones who do, do.
The choice between “that” and “which” is more subtle. Use “which” only when you’re adding superfluous info to the sentence, in other words, parenthetical, i.e., non crucial, information.
For example, I totaled a
car Lamborghini that I had stolen from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud.
I totaled a Lamborghini this morning, which obviously got my day off to a less than stellar start.
5. Don’t write when you’re drunk or high on judiciously purchased crack, or if you do, proofread when sober.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, bulldogs and babies, there you have them: five quick tips that that will make you a better writer.
One thought on “Five Quick Tips That Will Immediately Make You a Better Writer”
I really enjoyed that one.