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How to Write Fast & Well, Part 11: Find Your Voice

Singer at microphone

So far in this series, I've been offering tips that can be used right away, by just about anyone who writes. But now we come to something that can require significant time and dedication: finding your voice as a writer. The good news is you can start making progress today.

What is does it mean to have a voice? It's the way people know you're you and no one else -- as if they were speaking with you in person. It matters, because when people can't get a feel for who you are, they're likely to move on to someone more interesting.

How to Write Both Fast and Well, Part 9: Why Clichés Are Evil

Identical light bulbs arranged in a grid of 3 rows and 3 columns

(Also published at Huffington Post.) Of all the threats to good writing, the worst -- and most insidious -- is cliché: the re-use of the over-used.

Like all other sins, cliché is much easier to spot in others. We all know to roll our eyes at a schmoozer's "Hot enough for ya?" or a jock's "We gave it 110 percent!"

But the clichés lodged in our own minds disguise themselves as self-evident truths and cherished beliefs. It's the clichés you like that are the toughest to escape.

How to Write Fast and Well, Part 8: Block that Metaphor!

Photo: John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

(Also published at Huffington Post.) Used effectively, metaphors can make ideas come to life. But used ineffectively, they can make a mental mess.

Consider this: "He unleashed a torrent of invective."

At first, that might seem fine. In fact, you've probably seen versions of this sentence in many places (that's because it's also a cliché, but we'll talk about that another time).

But ask yourself a question: Since when has a torrent, which is a fast-flowing river, worn a leash?

How to Write Fast and Well, Part 7: Get Physical

(Also published at Huffington Post.) Last time, I showed you how to improve your writing simply by getting rid of adjectives and adverbs. Instead, I said, use the right nouns and verbs. This time: how to find those nouns and verbs.

The key is to remember that we invented nouns and verbs to stand for things and actions that we can see, hear, feel, smell or taste: "I bit into an apple." Later we created abstractions, like "nutrition". But what's most real to us is reality: the crunch and taste of the physical world.

Our emotions, too, are physical. Have you ever felt anger, love or fear in your brain? No, you felt them in your throat, your heart and your gut.

How to Write Both Fast & Well, Part 6: The Case of the Murdered Modifiers

Sherlock Holmes portrait by Sidney Paget, public domain

(Also published at Huffington Post.) “How will I ever learn to be a good writer?”

It's a scary question - and the hell of it is, the more you appreciate good writing, the scarier it gets.

But it turns out there's a non-scary answer to how to be good: just avoid being bad.

Think of it as the Sherlock Holmes technique: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” (The Sign of Four)

How to Write Both Fast & Well, Part 5: An Ancient Lesson in Three Acts

Bust of Aristotle, By Copy of Lysippus (Jastrow (2006)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons-Aristotle_Altemps_Wikipedia_Public_Domain.jpg

(Also published at Huffington Post.) Last time, I showed you how to give your writing some shape by using the Inverted Pyramid format. As I said, this shape works well for news, because the reader finds more important material closer to the top. This has a downside, though: the farther you go into the piece, the less interesting it's likely to be. So it doesn't work too well when you want to build interest, such as in a story or a blog post.

To meet that challenge we can use another kind of shape, this one derived from ancient principles of drama.

How to Write Both Fast & Well, Part 3: The One Point Rule

Message box

(Also published at Huffington Post.) In any one communication, you can only make one point.

Count on people forgetting everything else. That's because our minds throw away almost all new information -- by necessity, since we wouldn't be able to tote brains big enough to store a day's worth. Even the seven digits of a (US) phone number are hard to learn, requiring that we repeat them over and over to get them out of short term memory and into the long term version.*

This is why a good angle -- a simple, emotionally compelling idea -- is so important: if people are only going to remember one thing (and they are), you want it to be the right thing.

How to Write Both Fast & Well, Part 2: Know What the Heck You Mean

Cloud-shaped thought bubble containing question marks

(Also published at Huffington Post.) Last time, I introduced the power of a good angle for both speeding and improving your writing. Today I'll go into more detail on how choose that angle. The most important question to ask yourself is the simplest: "What the heck am I actually trying to say?" As, it happens, this also is one of the hardest questions. That's because: (1) You must truly understand your subject. That means work, and (2) You must commit to an idea that may turn out to be wrong or unpopular. That means risk.

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