David Kirkpatrick

February 28, 2008

Writing tip #1

Filed under: Arts, et.al., Media — Tags: , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:56 pm

I’d probably be a terrible writing coach, but as a professional writer and editor I sometimes get asked for an easy way to improve any piece of writing.

This tip will only work on shorter pieces, but do a universal “search and delete” for all instances of the word “that.” Then go back and work with the piece putting “that” back in everywhere it’s needed. I can guarantee you’ll end up with fewer “that”s.

Many people tend to think about how they would say something before they write it. In speech most people throw in a lot of “that”s. They fit the conversation, sound fine and don’t detract at all. In writing they are often completely unnecessary and actually detract from the work.

I think most people don’t realize how disjointed actual conversation — even what sounds like very polished conversation — is on the printed page.

Sometime record about four or five minutes of a conversation (follow any local laws if you’re taping a phone conversation, of course) and completely transcribe that exchange. Leave in every “er,” every “I mean, like,” and carefully transcribe the exact words. Now read that transcription. The results may really surprise you.