Habits and Lifestyle
Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours. ~ Poet Jane Kenyon’s Advice on Writing
every walk is a sort of crusade ~ Thoreau
Steven Pinker’s Tips for Good Writing
- Reverse-engineer what you read. If it feels like good writing, what makes it good? If it’s awful, why?
- Prose is a window onto the world. Let your readers see what you are seeing by using visual, concrete language.
- Don’t go meta. Minimize concepts about concepts, like “approach, assumption, concept, condition, context, framework, issue, level, model, perspective, process, range, role, strategy, tendency, variable”
- Let verbs be verbs. “Appear,” not “make an appearance”
- Beware of the Curse of Knowledge: when you know something, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Minimize acronyms and technical terms. Use “for example” liberally. Show a draft around & prepare to learn that what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.
- Omit needless words
- Avoid cliches like the plague
- Old information at the beginning of the sentence, new information at the end
- Save the heaviest for the last: a complex phrase should go at the end of the sentence
- Prose must cohere: readers must know how each sentence is related to the preceding one. If it’s not obvious, use “that is, for example, in general, on the other hand, nevertheless, as a result, because, nonetheless,” or “despite.”
- Revise several times with the single goal of improving the prose.
- Read it aloud.
- Find the best word, which is not always the fanciest word. Consult a dictionary with usage notes, and a thesaurus.