10 Simple Things To Do To Improve Your Prose

Here are a few suggestions to help you write like a writer.

1. Read great books, but also read bad books that will show you how Not to Write!

2. Write about what you know and where you lived and what you did in life. You have a ‘feel’ for that and it will come through in your writing.

3. Write about people and incidents you know. Use the correct names and places to keep it real. Later you can change the names and locations and call it fiction.

4. If you get hung up trying to remember a fact or piece of history, just leave it and move on and get ‘something’ written. You can drown doing research. It’s easy. Writing it hard.

5. Write everyday, even if it is only a few lines. Hemingway, they say, wrote only 50 words a day and then went fishing. (Actually I think he wrote many more words everyday, but that story sounds good, so I always tell it.)

6. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs, is how E.B. White suggested. When Gertrude Stein was editing Hemingway in Paris she would cut out all the adverbs and adjectives in his prose. It worked for Ernie. Try it.

7. When you think you have finished writing, read it out loud. If it reads awkwardly, or bores you, start over.

8. When you are finally ‘done’ with a piece of work, put it  away for awhile and then come back to it and read it again.

9. Edit. Go through your prose and cut out one line on every page. Next, go through your prose and cut out: so, just, very, perhaps, all.

10. Finally, join a writing group. Get people to read what you have written and tell you honestly what they think. People are, don’t forget, who you are writing for.

(Yes, I know I am ending the sentence with a preposition. As Churchill said, (accourding to the American Heritage Book of English Usage)

This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

8 Comments

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  • So, all I have to do is just follow all these suggestions to become a very good writer. Perhaps I’ll give them a try.

  • This post on prose and the others on blogs and publishing are helpful and worth repeating . . . and repeating. Thanks

  • Pretty good advice.As for #6, cutting all adjectives and adverbs. That’s a good basic principle, especially when it comes to adverbs. (Some adjectives are essential, like “good and basic” in the last sentence.) But once you’ve cut them all, go back and add one or two for emphasis. They will stand out.

  • Good advice, though I find writing groups to be useless (for me, not necessarily for everyone else). Also, tighten up your prose. Get rid of every extraneous word such as the overused “there is” or “it is.” It’s also handy to have complete command of English. Too many would-be authors, many of whom end up self-publishing, have English errors scattered over too many pages.

  • Winston Churchill on how he wrote his books:

    “I write a book the way they built the Canadian Pacific Railway. First I lay the track from coast to coast and then I put in all the stations.”

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