Margaret, I chuckled at your description of an article writer changing voice midstream. It's so true! In writing, you have to keep the same vibe going from start to finish.
Is Your Article Honey or A Skunk?
Your article on Biznik can be a fantastic showcase of your assets-- or a red flag to potential clients.
Anybody can write a sentence. Okay, maybe not anybody, but let's assume that 99.8% of Biznikkers can write a sentence. That sentence will have a subject and a verb, and possibly an object. Sticking a period on the end of it might feel so good that another sentence comes tumbling out, and before you know it, a full-blown article lies beaming up at you from the page (or screen, or cocktail napkin).
"Great!" you exclaim. "I've been meaning to author an article for Biznik," and with a mere few clicks your brilliance gets immortalized on your profile page. Then you sit back and wait for the congratulatory emails and business propositions to pour in.
Well, sometimes they don't. In fact, the silence can be deafening. "Is my article even visible?" you may wonder. "Is there a ghost in the machine, jinxing it, eating my accolades as they arrive, before I see them?"
This is a woeful reality for many earnest and well-meaning sentence writers. With so much written material out there in the world, it's simply not good enough anymore to write complete sentences and put a string of them "out there" with the expectation that it will be read. Sorry to break it to you, but to be effective you must hit numerous other marks. Here are a few of them:
--Your sentences need to be either grammatically perfect OR so interesting that you will be forgiven the indiscretion of improper grammar. Kooky grammar is sometimes acceptable if the errors are A.) scarce, and B.) not errors-- meaning that you've deployed them deliberately for artistic or dramatic effect. Careless or unwitting errors are likely to prompt the reader to stop reading. Unless your name is e.e. cummings, don't get too kooky.
--Your sentences need to support a coherent thesis or argument. Why are you writing this article? What is your point? Does every element of the article support that point? Why is it important? What do you want the reader to DO with the information? If you go off on tangents then the reader is likely to go off on his own tangents, leaving you and the article in the dust.
--Your sentences and paragraphs need powerful transitions to escort readers from one idea to the next. The transitions are not only "binding clips" for ideas, but also stones in the river, or launch and landing pads where the reader can pause to fully absorb the previous assertion while crouching to spring toward the next one.
--Your article needs a consistent voice. If it starts off sounding like a parson's sermon on kindness, then takes a hairpin curve into bitter complaint, and finally closes on a note of raunchy humor, certain judgments may be made about the author's mental state. Pick a voice and stick with it-- then get a friend or an editor to read through and tell you if you succeeded.
--Be as precise as possible in your word choices. Common colloquialisms like "...and all that good stuff" can look dumb on the page. Is there a word you feel 85% sure you could define if you had to? If so, look it up before you use it in your article. There is no shame in this. Professional writers look up words all the time, because we know how high the stakes are if we get it wrong. A reader's respect is virtually impossible to recover if you lose it on a reckless mistake.
Does all this sound like more than you had bargained for when you wrote your first article? I sympathize (and commiserate every time I put finger to keyboard), but language is a sharp tool and we can cut ourselves on it unless we wield it responsibly. If written expression isn't one of your core competencies, then it might be worth hiring a writer or editor to help you. A good wordsmith for hire can save you time, money, anguish... and quite possibly professional face.
Learn more about the author, Margaret Friedman.
Comment on this article
Posted by Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades, Seattle, Washington |
Jan 29, 2009
Posted by Michael Foster, Seattle, Washington |
Jan 29, 2009
Just what Biznik needs, more humor! All of the articles read dry, good for you Margaret.
Posted by Ken Peters, Phoenix, Arizona |
Jan 29, 2009
You're scaring me. Every time I post now I'll be nervous that you're waiting with your "virtual red marker" to grade my work like a term paper :)
Seriously though, good and pertinent commentary. Please feel free to read my articles and hit me with a critical appraisal.
I totally disagree with your sentiment. All of the articles on biznik are not dry. In fact, many are well written and colorful while being informative and helpful. There are a lot of positive and good thoughts being shared. I hope you can find something beneficial in the community's sharing of knowledge and support.
Posted by Richard Baum, Phoenix, Arizona |
Jan 30, 2009
I think this is a good reminder that once our words are in cyberspace they float around forever. The chance to make a "first impression" is ever present. We should take care to make that impression as good as possible, especially when trying to attract customers.
Posted by Dan Smith, Seattle, Washington |
Jan 30, 2009
This was a 10 for me! I'm trying to write a book and I constantly struggle with all these issues. My concepts are best sellers, and I'm trying to get my language to be the same. I'm tucking your guidelines away to help me stay on track!
It is scary to put something into cyberprint! I can't even remember how to spell words right...and I keep looking them up! They just don't stick sometimes. Writing is not my favorite thing to do, but in my business, has to be done. It's such a two edged sword. It can cut through to success, or to the bone.
I'm glad there are pro's like you out there. I hope others are inspired to use your services...and keep writing! (Maybe you should follow this article up with one on the fears and loathing ever writer feels toward their own work sometimes.)
I've got to go...can't think of anymore spurious tangents to chase and I'm loosing my voice. :) (Was that too kooky?)
Posted by Margaret Friedman, Seattle, Washington |
Jan 31, 2009
Thanks to everybody for the generous feedback... and for not letting me fall into that gaping abyss of silence that sometimes occurs after publication:-)
Take heart-- all writers struggle with some part of the equation, be it thinking through the ideas, figuring out a clear flow structure for the piece, putting words together, or keeping the surface pretty. Persistence and seeking help are the twin keys to this city.