At some point in every writer’s career, they were told to write the way they speak. That’s great and terrible advice. Next time you’re in conversation with someone, try to focus on the way you talk. Unless you’re a master linguist, odds are you often throw something like “like” or “um” in the middle of your sentences. I have a brother who says, “Know what I’m saying?” after half his sentences.
Notice the other person speaking. How often do they get to the point? How often do they add useless words to their sentences?
We should not write the way we speak, because many of us speak awkwardly. But if we spoke perfectly, we might lose friends.
I propose we write the way we would speak if we were at a dinner party we shouldn’t have been invited to, speaking to people way above our paygrade.
Here are some tips for speaking eloquently at your dinner party and how to save your readers’ patience:
Cut the Fat
When I went to high school, my English teacher told me never to write “in conclusion” again. “In conclusion” is how you end papers that begin with, “Have you ever drank spoiled milk? I know I have!” Look for anything similar in your writing. Some examples of dead weight include:
The thing is…
Not to mention…
When you write any of these, ask yourself why you’re not getting to the point, and then hit delete. They’re garbage phrases littering your writing. If you see anything that can be deleted, delete it. Write the tightest, most direct sentences and your readers will appreciate you for it.
Mean What You Say
One of my favorites is the word “just.” Nine times out of ten, it’s useless and makes it seem like you’re afraid of what you’re writing.
Dad: “Just do whatever you can to fix your grades.”
Mom: “Do what you can to fix your grades.”
Mom sounds like she means it. Dad’s sounds like you can do it later.
Look for sentences that make your point land soft.
Weak punch: “The environment could be saved if you just made some changes like the one I mentioned above.”
Hard punch: “If you stop littering, we could save the environment.”
The weak punch sentence is for students trying to reach a minimum word count. Real writers should go for the hard punch. That weak punch sentence also uses the passive voice.
Never Use the Passive Voice
If you learn anything, learn to recognize and destroy the passive voice. All of us slip up every now and then, but there are writers who use it constantly. Don’t. Most sentences are stronger with the active voice, unless the words are coming from a character you want to seem weak. Here is that character:
“If he could just get that car, I could get far away from this town.”
Here is the same character, with a little more backbone:
“I’ll get away from this town if he can get me that car.”
Both sentences are grammatically correct, but create different feelings. If you’re writing an argumentative or information paper do not use the passive voice. If you’re writing about a woman who has two rifles in the passenger seat and she’s not afraid to use them on some zombie scum—don’t use passive voice. But, if you’re writing about a guy who’s a little too preoccupied with how expensive avocados have become lately, then use the passive voice. The passive voice is a tool you can use, but don’t let readers confuse you with the avocado guy.
In conclusion, make your sentences as strong as possible and you will be a stronger writer because of it.
And whatever you do, never stop writing.