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 some of my rules to help you write.
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? Visualising your reader helps get the tone right.
Don’t assume we know 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 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. Getting their use mixed up is a common mistake. When it comes to the dastardly it, the rules change. The apostrophe usually means “this belongs to” i.e. the rose’s smell. However the apostrophe in “it’s” denotes a missing “i”. It’s = it is. If unsure which spelling to use, replace your its/it’s with “it is”. Say it is aloud to yourself. Does it make sense? “She picked a rose. She loved it is smell”. No, it does not make sense. So use “its”, the belongs-to possessive. “She picked a rose. She loved its smell.”
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. Reading – be it novels, newspapers or magazines – helps improve your writing, spelling and grammar. You naturally become familiar with the way words look and sound.
This is an edited version of Winkler’s Writing Rules on my Real Food Lover blog.
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.