This slightly adapted, popular line from a holiday song is as much about Santa’s preparation as it is a resolution to edit your own writing. Long-standing New Year’s resolutions have ample wisdom that can help inspire your writing in 2018. We look at a few. Why go further than adapting the classics?
1. Detox your writing
Look critically at what you write: are you repeating words? Have you used “its” and “it’s” correctly? (Remember, spellcheckers won’t always catch that mistake.) Are you lazily writing “there are” to introduce information when those two words can be dropped? Be as committed to cleansing your writing as you would be to detoxing your body. You’ll notice a difference, and those around you will, too.
2. Lose weight
Get rid of extra baggage (between the margins). Superfluous words cloud your message and create more terrain for your readers to navigate. It’s easy to fall in love with what we write. But if it sounds too profound, it’s most likely an extra pound.
3. Get organized
Plan a little. Lists, outlines, research … they’re all important. Some of the simpler things, though, are critical to easier writing. Open an online dictionary and have Google ready for quick referencing. Make a “style sheet” for terms you’ll need to remember and check. It can be as basic as: ___ vs ____.
4. Be active
Use words that come alive on the page – a sizzling steak is more expressive than one that is cooking. Choose strong verbs: abandon vs leave behind; ignite vs light up. And, especially, write in the active voice. “Chiming bells rang in the new year” connects the action with the subject – moreover, aren’t you tired of hearing, “The new year was rung in by …”?
5. Be precise
Give the particulars. “Expenditures are exceeding the foreseen budget” doesn’t make the point as well as “$10,000 has already been spent over budget and the deficit is still growing rapidly”. Precision leads to better understanding and more convincing communication.
6. Replace negatives with positives
Write positive phrases. Readers prefer knowing what is rather than what is not. “Did you not have confidence in the promise of same-day delivery?” is better as: “Did you distrust the promise of same-day delivery?” And while a double negative may be handy to communicate a nuance – such as: “I’m not unsettled by his waffling” – it can weaken understanding.
7. Stop procrastinating
Get something – anything – down on paper. It may only be a small step forward but pushing the pen or typing on a keyboard instead of struggling through mental quicksand gets you started on your next bit of writing.
8. Give it time
Review your draft later. Words can benefit from being put aside and revisited after reflection. Self-editing and rereading aren’t the sexiest of tasks, but they can be the most satisfying.
9. Make a list – and check it twice
In other words, reread everything you write – from a one-line tweet to a 20-page report. Just as an error in a tweet or short email is glaring to readers, gaffes in a document could call your reputation into question.
10. Pick up a book
Read the experts. With jobs, tasks, commitments and even recreation begging for your time, reading a book on writing will pay dividends. Whether you pick up a classic (Strunk and White, The Elements of Style), experiential (Stephen King, On Writing) or modern work (Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves; Harold Evans, Do I Make Myself Clear?; Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style), you’ll find something to whet your appetite for words and how we (should) use them.
11. Be aware of new ways and practices
Keep up to date. The explosion of social media and shortened forms of communication has called into question myriad writing conventions and rules. The reaction? It’s one thing to close the door to change, and quite another to at least tolerate the revolution and acknowledge new theories (did you know, for instance, that laughter can be represented in writing 42 ways, according to Katie Heaney of BuzzFeed?). Pundits and observers are commenting on new ideas through articles and books. Check them out.
12. Remember: it’s for whom the bell tolls
Ensure proper grammar. Taking grammar lightly can result in being misunderstood and distrusted. Good grammar leads to a clear message. And as author William Bradshaw has written: “Correct grammar leads to the kind of power in leadership that comes from superior communication.”
13. Treat yourself nicely
Smile. Assembling words that sound good to you conjures up pleasing images. Lacquer? Bourbon? Zinc? Words can soothe and invigorate. And take breaks: go for a walk outside or to an exercise class to get those creative juices flowing.