Simple versus Simplistic

Write simply. Its one of the first, most frequent, and loudest writing tips I give my students: write simply.  Some of my students - those fond of referring to “individuals” when they mean “people,” talking about how an author “utilized” something when they want to talk about use, and those who have thesaurus.com in a … Continue reading Simple versus Simplistic

Active Voice Was Taught By Me

Back when I taught at Fancy Pants University, my writing courses were very popular (for reasons I have never completely figured out) with engineering students.  I loved teaching the engineers: they were funny, geeky, and had a different, more concrete way of looking at literature than humanities-focused students did. Yet the engineers (and the pre-med … Continue reading Active Voice Was Taught By Me

Writing Exercise: Tonal Mix ‘n Match

Hello, loyal (or occasional, or brand-new) readers!  You’re all craving some good news, right? We may be smack in the middle of the times that try men’s souls, but there is a silver lining to it all, which is that I’ll be updating the blog more often now that I’m stuck at home!  There, you … Continue reading Writing Exercise: Tonal Mix ‘n Match

Getting Squatters Out of Your Sentences

After “commas any time you pause” and “your thesis has no stakes,” this is the piece of writing wisdom I distribute most often to my students: adverbs are not your friends.  During this past week, as I’ve been helping seniors revise college essays in the Writing Lab at my Esteemed Place of Employment, I’ve been … Continue reading Getting Squatters Out of Your Sentences

How to Know You’re Looking at Bad Writing: One Weird Trick

Back in the 90s, Denis Dutton, editor of the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature, held a yearly “contest” for bad writing, intended to bring attention to “the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years.”  Anyone who has spent time in even the middle echelons of higher … Continue reading How to Know You’re Looking at Bad Writing: One Weird Trick

Verbs Are The Only Things That Matter

...okay, not quite the only things.  Nouns matter too.  We’ll give them their due later.  But verbs are the most important things. My favorite book to teach, second to none, is Paradise Lost - not just because John Milton (praised be his name) used the English language to create one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful … Continue reading Verbs Are The Only Things That Matter

Writing Exercise: Ruin Someone Else’s Work

Pictured: what you want your students to do. Metaphorically. (image credit: seton.co.uk) If you have not yet made acquaintance with Star War the Third Gather: Backstroke of the West, am I ever about to enrich your life. Here’s what happened: in 2005, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith landed in movie theaters, and … Continue reading Writing Exercise: Ruin Someone Else’s Work

Writing Exercise: The Bucket

Helps With: Imagery, concrete nouns, active verbs, symbolism. Great readers and writers must be great observers, and great observers hone their observational craft on people, places, and objects.  In other words, they’re always looking at things (which in this case includes people), and watching what those things do. That’s what most writing is about: things … Continue reading Writing Exercise: The Bucket