If You Want to Write: Writing as Art

When you write, think of painting a picture. It can be any picture you want, but think of the images that must be in the painting. For example, a beach scene.

Virginia Beach, VAIf you wanted to duplicate this picture, you would need to include the sand, ocean, and sky. You wouldn’t add clouds, the sun, an umbrella, etc. If you added those things, you may lose the tranquil setting this picture represents and change the meaning. Adding unnecessary items may distract your audience or lose them entirely.

The same is true in writing.

Adding unnecessary words, phrases, and punctuation can distract your readers or cause them to stop reading. Once that happens, conveying your message is almost impossible. Most studies agree that the average adult attention span is 8 seconds or 140 characters. Not words, characters. If that’s true, you would only read the first two sentences of this post before moving onto something else.

So, what does that mean to writers? It means we need to cut the crap.

In the chapter Art is Inspiration, Ueland discusses writing from our hearts and saying it like it is. She credits Russian writers, like Chekhov, who focus more on the truth rather than how they sound. Personally, I enjoy Russian writers for the same reason and believe that it is more effective to teach readers than sound like you have read the dictionary.

Here are a few tips to help while you write:

1. Don’t use words/phrases no one knows or ever says. Big words do not make you sound smarter or tell your reader anything about you – except maybe you’re over compensating for something. As you write ask yourself, “Would anyone ever actually say that?”

2. Only use adjectives and adverbs when needed and know how to use them. They do not improve your writing or ideas, and sometimes readers will think they are fluff.

3. Show don’t tell. Future post coming, but Ueland says, “… quietly describe what you are feeling. Don’t say your boredom was excruciating or agonizing, unless your own was, which is doubtful.”

4. Focus. Remember to only include what is necessary to convey your message. This tip applies to characters, setting, plot, words, objects, etc. You probably wouldn’t paint a mountain with a fruit bowl, so why would you add unnecessary words, details, or characters to your story? Everything should have a purpose.

Do you have any tips on editing? For more info, check out:

5 Tips on Editing Your Own Writing

Writing Succinctly

5 Tips on How to Edit Your Own Writing

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ― Stephen King, On Writing

How many writers out there think they don’t need an editor? I doubt many, which is why we have jobs. Editing is a special skill that develops with practice and time. But what do you do if you don’t have an editor or are short on time? What about if you’re submitting to an editor and worry they’ll rip it to shreds?

Here are five tips on how to edit your own work. These tips may help develop your editing skills, improve your writing, and win your editor’s heart.

1. Run spell check. There’s this nifty little tool called spell check. Use it, and add words to your dictionary as you go.

2. Read your copy aloud. I don’t mean fly through it like you’re reading something for school or an online article. Enunciate the words, pause at commas and periods – read it like you would to a four-year-old. You will see and hear how it reads, enabling you to make important changes.

3. Find the meaning. Read each paragraph or section and ask yourself, “What did that paragraph/section mean or tell me?” If you can’t answer that in one sentence, consider revising for clarity and focus.

4. Check your transitions. As you read, pay attention to how you change subjects or points. Does it seem natural? Does it bounce around? Each thought should lead into the next, and the entire piece should tie it all together. If you talk about parachuting in paragraph one, it probably won’t make sense to talk about shoes in the next.

5. Step back. Take a break, and when you come back, read it one final time. If it’s an assignment, does it address everything required? Do you enjoy reading it? How does it read as a whole? Make necessary changes, and if they are extensive, read it once more.

There’s no need to memorize grammar and punctuation rules, or agonize over every word. If you want to learn the rules, I encourage it; however, the above steps will help you find misspelled words (such as its and it’s) and hear things (such as missing words) to ensure you submit your best work.

For more writing tips, check out our Writing for Web and Tips section!

How to Change Passive Voice to Active


Recently I have noticed an increase in passive voice, and many people don’t know how to correct it. Passive voice is not grammatically wrong, but you usually want to avoid using it because the quality and clarity of your writing may suffer. This is especially important in articles and other nonfiction writing when every word matters.

What the heck is passive voice? Passive voice is an indirect way of writing something. Once you learn the differences and how to spot it, you can easily edit sentences into active voice.

Common terms used in this post:

Subject = Performs the verb and usually comes at the beginning of the sentence

Verb = the action of a sentence

Object = the thing the verb was done to, often at the end of a sentence

How to spot passive sentences:

The subject of the sentence becomes the object, or it is dropped entirely.

The object becomes the subject.

There is often a ‘to-be’ verb or the prepositions ‘of’ or ‘by’.


1. The population of the city grew by more than 20 percent this year.

2. The award was won by the school system.

3. Rodgers has been throwing the ball at his coach.

4. The store was not open.

Now, look at the above sentences and ask, “how can I rewrite that in a more straightforward way?” This rewrite may change passive to active. Many times if you switch the current subject and object in the sentence, the sentence will be active (example 2). Also, making the subject possessive may work (example 1), and if you are ambitious, try to replace two or three words with one (examples 3, 4).

Here are the rewrites:

1. The city’s population grew by more than 20 percent this year.

2. The school system won the award.

3. Rodgers threw the ball at his coach.

4. The store was closed.

If you’d like to practice editing into active voice, try these tests. They will even grade them! 🙂

Towson University

English Club





Writing for Web: 8 Tips on Criticism

Let’s be honest, no one likes criticism. No one enjoys pouring their heart and energy into something to hear that it isn’t perfect. But criticism is important.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” — Winston Churchill

This week’s discussion is about workshops and critiques (Chapter 13), and although you may wince at the idea of someone ripping your work to shreds, it’s for the greater good.

As a proofreader, I am paid to point out mistakes. I spend 80 percent of my day telling people to change things, and I can be pretty tough. Proofreaders and editors have a special skill set for finding problems and fixing them. We don’t like our work criticized either, but it’s just part of the process. Have you ever seen a proofreader find out they missed something? It’s not pretty.

How do you not let it drag out down? Here are my top 8 tips for receiving feedback – negative or positive – and how it makes you a better writer.

1. Don’t take it personally. I cannot stress how important, and often difficult, it is to do this. Your critiques and comments do not reflect you as a person, nor do they mean your readers don’t like you. It’s not about you; it’s about your story and how you present it. It stings and can make you upset, but deal with it at the right time.

2. Encourage yourself and others. Give yourself a pep talk now and then. This will help you focus on the good aspects of your writing and reignite excitement. Give others the same treatment. For every bad comment, try to find a good one.

3. Choose wisely. Keep in mind what you get depends on who you give it to. Your mom may be more forgiving and kind than your best friend. Your best friend may not be as honest as a coworker or colleague. If you know someone is tough, be prepared.

4. Ask for specifics. When you want someone else to read your work, give them a list of things to look for while reading. You can also give them a rating scale or anonymous survey that only you see. Doing so will keep you organized and help the reviewer stay focused.

5. Own it. Admit your problems and mistakes, and fix them (see number 1). Also, if you tell your reviewer/editor to “rip it apart”, you better mean it. I have butchered dozens of papers and manuscripts and will always do so. A little secret: I do the same to my own.

6. Discuss, don’t argue. No one likes to fight, so discuss problems and questions calmly and rationally. Don’t get defensive (again see number 1), and hear the person out. Once you have time to take it all in, then make your decision about the changes.

7. Take a break. Once you receive changes and feedback, take a break for a few days. Don’t immediately jump in and start changing everything. You may not always agree with the changes, and the final decision is always yours.

8. Walk away. Once you have gone through the process, made your changes, and read the project in its entirety, it’s done. Now is the time to post it or submit it, and don’t look back. You’ll know when it’s time, and you will finally have closure.

Feedback and criticism are tough, but you are not alone. Everyone receives it all the time. The most important thing to remember is it is in your best interest to at least listen and seriously consider the reviewers’ points. They want to help you, and you picked them for a reason.

Cartoon Raven with red pen and paper

We’d like to hear from you! Have you ever received feedback that upset you? What did you do?

Writing for Web: Writing Succinctly?

For the first time since reviewing Writing for Web, I disagree with much of what Felder discusses in chapter 7. Reviews and discussions wouldn’t be as interesting if we agreed all the time 🙂

In the chapter Writing Succinctly, Felder explains her tips for achieving tight, easy-to-read content that your audience will enjoy. A few of her tips suck the fun out of using language, and if you follow these tips 100 percent, your writing will read like a book report.

I assigned a win or fail rating to each tip as you go through these. They are all important, but use your common sense and own style. That’s what’s most important.

Tip 1: Stay Focused

Win – Read your content and ask yourself, “What does that sentence mean?” You will feel the flow as well to ensure you’re not rambling.

Tip 2: Be Positive

Fail – If we were positive all the time, the world would be boring. Some of the best content, movies, art, etc. are not positive and provoke debate. Sometimes you have to be negative. Where would the Internet be today if people were always positive?

Tip 3: Trust Your Reader

Both – Don’t over explain something or break down every sentence. Although, in technical writing you have to. You know your audience, so trust your instincts.

Tip 4: Choose Anglo-Saxon Words

Fail – Felder recommends using simple, one syllable words over French or Latin/Greek counterparts. For example you would use ‘end’ instead of ‘finish’ or ‘conclude’. This takes the fun out of the language, and if your writing is clear and entertaining, it doesn’t matter what words you use. If you fine-tune your work for meaning and intent, your audience will understand and appreciate it.

Tip 5: Eliminate Excess Words

Win – Take out unnecessary words and find shortened words. Read your writing aloud, and you will hear what you can cut/change. Examples are: that, got, has gotten, all of a sudden.

Tip 6: Keep Verbs Alive, Cut Adjectives and Adverbs

Win – Avoid ‘to be’ verbs. Review the post for Chapter 2 if needed, and remember that descriptive words are not always needed, nor do they make your writing better.

Tip 7: Don’t Use Arrogant and Snooty Words

Fail – Some words Felder uses as examples are: indeed, certainly, of course, and exactly. These are not snooty words, and writers who use these are not trying to be better than their audience. Keeping these words may not tighten your writing, but if you lose your voice or personality, what’s the point? Just be yourself.

Tip 8: Avoid Happy Talk and Sales Pitches

Win – Don’t be over-the-top nice or try to sell your readers. If you follow tip 3, you should trust your readers to see through you and think you are fake. People want to enjoy reading, not feel like you are trying to buy or patronize them.

Tallied up, the score is 50/50, and I will continue to use ‘indeed’ and ‘question’ if those words fit the bill. Don’t forget, you are the final judge.