This week, some writing reminders: Avoid long words whenever possible; Twitter is an ideal place to practice lean writing; and one of the best ways to improve your prose is to read the work of talented writers—or in this case, their sentences.
Also, lessons from good science writing, and a new way to collaborate on a writing projects—it is all part of the Week in Writing. Here we go:
The power of simple words.
Maria Popova at Brainpicker highlighted a video this week from TEDed, a new educational series from TED, which effectively captures the reasons to use short and identifiable words. Chicago-based copywriter Terin Izil explains that novelists have license to use larger words and that “$10 words are rendered worthless if they're not understood.” The post also includes some similar—and less visually appealing—reminders from Mark Twain and Strunk and White. Watch the video here
Improv with Google docs.
Collaborating on a writing assignment can be a maddening task. Most writers have a different pace, style, and grasp of language and grammar. But, in an essay from Byte
magazine, a Jersey Shore resident and Londoner demonstrate that collaboration needn’t be a dirty word for writers. From their respective locales, the pair collaborated on a novella through Google docs—and they claim to have enjoyed the experience. (Perhaps because they were an ocean apart.) Read the story here
Why Twitter is good: A response to Jonathan Franzen.
A few weeks ago, I featured a piece on author Jonathan Franzen's argument against Twitter
. He said it's “unspeakably irritating.” Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker
is the latest writer to take issue with the statement. “One of the most felicitous uses of Twitter is to promote long-form nonfiction by circulating a blurb leading to the full text," he writes. And on Franzen's claim that an argument cannot be created on Twitter: “Twitter is both where the untruth flies first and where it gets shot down. It’s sort of a self-cleaning oven, where the wisdom of the crowd can work out the kinks.” Frere-Jones goes on to mention the many follow-worthy categories on Twitter (comedians, journalists, nonsensical robots, Shakespeare). But some of the best people to follow are those who mastered the ability to write elegantly in a small space, he concludes. Read the piece here
Writing Memorable Lines. The New York Times
' Learning Network blog features a helpful lesson this week for writing teachers (or writing students) about what makes a good sentence. The piece describes an activity—presented as a lesson plan—that asks students to explain the building blocks of a good sentence. Students find their own versions of a good sentence, interpret it in their own words, and build a new sentence based on that interpretation. Through the exercise, writers Shannon Doyne and Holly Epstein Ojalvo say they've learned that “one hallmark that helps a sentence endure and resonate with many people is language that puts the reader squarely in the action.” Read the article here
This is how to write about science.
Science writing is improved by an engrossing first sentence, even if it is grisly or uncomfortable, argues writer Penny Sarchet in The Guardian
. She gives the example of neuroscientist David Eagleman, who wrote a piece on brain morphology by starting with details of the man who shot 13 people from the University of Texas tower. Additionally, she explains why a unifying scientific narrative can “explain strange phenomena, hint at deeper meanings and question societal issues.” Not a bad lesson for all types of writing. Read the story here
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.