Here are 10 writing tips from author, editor, and teacher William Zinesser who passed away last week at the age of 92. I must admit, I didn’t know of Mr. Zinesser’s work prior to his passing, but after hearing an thoughtful appreciation of him last week I intend to read On Writing Well immediately.
Don’t make lazy word choices: “You’ll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive. The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.”
On the other hand, avoid jargon and big words: “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English.”
Writing is hard work: “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
Write in the first person: “Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.”
And the more you keep in first person and true to yourself, the sooner you will find your style: “Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.
Don’t ask who your audience is…you are the audience: “You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.”
Study the masters but also your contemporaries: “Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”
Yes, the thesaurus is your friend: “The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter—a reminder of all the choices–and you should use it with gratitude. If, having found the scalawag and the scapegrace, you want to know how they differ, then go to the dictionary.”
Read everything you write out loud for rhythm and sound: “Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write.”
And don’t ever believe you are going to write anything definitive: “Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, and be content to cover it well and stop.”
Every day I pick up my four-year old daughter from day care and every day each student produces at least two new art projects! I admire and aspire to their level of output (and to have mandatory naps and play time), but what impresses me most is the freedom and joy in their work. Kids aren’t overly concerned about proficiency and perfection, they just want to express themselves and get their ideas out. The results are always creative, interesting, and original—isn’t that what EVERY artist wants?
Level one! Monster to-do list:
1. Take an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper. It’s better if it’s a piece of paper you were planning to throw away.
2. Fold it into four quarters, so it’s divided into four chambers.
3. Take a pencil or a pen. On one chamber, make a squiggle.
4. On another chamber, make a closed shape, like a square or a rhombus.
5. On the third quarter, make another squiggle.
6. Set a timer for two minutes, that’s how much time you have to turn that first squiggle into a monster. You know, eyeballs, teeth, claws, etc. Repeat for all four chambers.
7. Make a list of 10 things you have to do that you’re not doing. (I have to do my laundry, go to the dentist, etc.)
8. Look at that list, and figure out which monster has to do what.
9. Write those tasks above those monsters. It’s an instant comic and the results are often hilarious.
Level two! Monster parenting
1. Fold another sheet of paper into quarters.
2. Take any one of those monsters, and now draw that monster’s parents.
3. Think about the task that monster has to do — like go to the dentist. Make one parent loves the monster “Honey those teeth aren’t important, what’s matter is you’re happy.” Make another parent hate you “Of course you’re not going to the dentist.”
4. Just have them start talking about the problem. It’s instant! And the most important thing is it makes you start laughing.
<Writer’s Note: This is an amended post where I have added more information>
I am a Graphic and Web Designer by trade, but for many years I’ve earned money as a professional DJ (for events, companies, organizations—and on occasion—a wedding or party on referral) and there is nothing quite like the rush and excitement of performing music for a crowd. But, before you can move the crowd there is a lot of preparation involved:
Be Prompt—respond to any and all correspondence immediately, be it a contract, question, or request; the sooner you have all the info you need, the sooner you can start your preparation
Be Prepared—ask questions, research your client, request an itinerary, walk through your performance venue, create an equipment checklist, and practice, practice, practice your material; the unexpected will happen at your event so be prepared when it does
Be Professional—respond quickly (see tip 1: Be Prompt) by phone or email; dress appropriately; arrive and set up early on event day, be friendly, flexible, and smile often
Be Productive—before, during, and after the gig engage your guests, clients, and followers in person and online (have your business cards ready); be diligent in producing content and sharing your work (this will lead to new clients and opportunities)
Academy Award winning filmmaker Liz Garbus has directed a long overdue documentary on Nina Simone using unseen archival music, photos, and film footage tell the story of a fiercely creative, complex, and socially conscious artist.
Nina Simone is personally inspiring because of her singular commitment to her craft, her art, and her message. During the height of the civil rights struggle, she put it all on the line—her fame, her reputation, and her career—to reflect the times in which she lived.
I, for one, am excited to see this film and not the fictional movie on Ms. Simone, as portrayed by Zoe Saldana(!).
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is best known as drummer, writer, and producer for the hip-hop supergroup The Roots, but just as important he is a globe-trotting DJ and avid record collector.
Quest For Cubais a thirteen-minute documentary by Okay Player Films chronicling Questlove’s funky, street-level cultural exchange tour of Cuba: spinning tracks, crate digging for classic vinyl (I spotted a classic Los Zafiros album in the stack!), and visiting the legendary EGREM Studios in Old Havana.
Ten years ago, The Roots played in Cuba and Questlove vows to return again soon. I can’t speak for the American or Cuban governments, but I trust that “Questo” speaks the truth and we will all be the richer for the effort!
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
—Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Like many Gen Xers and Millennials, I grew up with Dr. Seuss: the books, the animated specials, and the movies (in the third grade, my career choice was to be the Cat in the Hat).
I was too old to read his final book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! when it was first published in 1990, but reading it now to my family I understand why it’s message resonates with adult readers.
It is a motivational self-help manual masquerading as a children’s book. Inspiring, practical, entertaining and insightful, it is worth the read and is far cheaper than attending a seminar or training!
“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”
—Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
“My work reflects our shared human experience, in all its different, messy forms, and I feel most satisfied when something I made helps somebody feel like someone else out there gets them.” —Emily Mc Dowell
George Orson Welles would’ve been 100 years old this week and many authors and critics are writing about the breadth and depth of his creative output.
How can a man write, direct and produce for theater, radio, and film in seemingly the same space of time? Answer: He didn’t sleep.
Here at TLS, we are not advocating insomnia or being a workaholic, but we do respect Mr. Welles’ relentless drive and intense focus. The takeaway: whatever you are currently working on—be it for five minutes or two hours—give it your undivided attention.
Even in the midst of all the sorrow, rage, confusion, and anger in Baltimore; there is great humanity and love displayed in the photos of Devin Allen.
The 26 year-old West Baltimore native has been an amateur photographer for only a few years; but that will change now that his moving black and white images of the protests have attracted the attention of mainstream and social media outlets.
“My city kind of has a bad rap, but I thought if we can come together peacefully, it [would] be epic for this city, and it was my goal to capture that.”– Devin Allen