Endorsed by the Guardian, which wrote:
“Winkler’s Writing Rules should be required reading
for aspiring writers, online or in print.”
In the world of Winkler, writing rules.
Here are my 20 golden ones:
- The hardest part of writing is getting those words out of your head on to a page.
- Struggle to get started? Put a timer on for ten minutes and see how far you go. Then set it for another ten.
- The first draft always looks a complete mess. Accept it.
- Don’t agonise over that perfect first sentence. Start anywhere and return to your stunning opener later.
- Think about your reader. Will he or she understand technical terms? Or need simpler explanations? Picturing your reader (age, gender, background) helps get the tone right.
- Don’t assume your reader knows what you know. Retain ‘beginner’s mind’. Resist the temptation to show off your superior knowledge – this is about sharing.
- A long sentence loses the reader. Four lines is a crime. Break a long sentence into two.
- Vary the length of your sentences, and their shape. Every sentence in the same paragraph should begin differently.
- Be eagle-eyed about repetition. Use a thesaurus to find alternative words.
- Be consistent. If different spellings exist, spell it the same way each time.
- It and it’s. Although most possessive forms have an apostrophe (a rose’s smell), when it comes to the dastardly it, the rules are different. The apostrophe denotes a missing letter – it’s stands for it is. If you are unsure which spelling to use, replace your its/it’s with “it is”. Say it is aloud to yourself. Does it make sense? (She loved it is smell). If not, use its. As for James’s rose, (when the possessor’s name ends in an ‘s’) my mother, a stickler for grammar, says: Use an apostrophe only after a one-syllable proper name – such as Charles’s rose – not otherwise.
- To make your copy more immediate, use active (doing) verbs, such as “I am writing the rules”. Passive (done to) verbs are less direct, as in “the rules are being written“.
- Express one (or max, two) points per paragraph. The first sentence makes a statement and the rest of the paragraph qualifies it.
- Group paragraphs dealing with the same topic together, in a logical sequence, starting with the most important, or the one that comes first chronologically.
- When it’s time to move to the next main topic, find a sentence to introduce this new topic.
- Give signposts such as “The evidence is far from clear”. Don’t be afraid to spell things out: “The main reasons for accepting the evidence are…”
- Writing is rereading what you have written, and rewriting. You have to identify the bumpy bits, and iron them out. Over and over again.
- Read your finished copy out aloud. The ear can pick up what the eye has got tired of seeing. The cause of the hiccup may be poor grammar, an incorrect fact, punctuation or lack of clarity.
- Ask someone else to read what you have written. Request they tell you if they do not understand anything and which bit it is. Don’t get huffy if they do. Responsibility for successful communication lies with the communicator.
- Read more. It will help improve your writing, spelling and grammar. You will become more familiar with the way words look and sound. It’s about seeing what works.
Writing tutorial: UK-based, I give tailor-made tutorials for organisations and individuals. Interested? Please drop me a line: elisabeth.winklerATya hoo.co.uk (use @ instead of AT, and spell yahoo normally – written this way to confound the spammers.).
Feel free to use Winkler’s Writing Rules. Do credit this post and/or leave a comment here.