How to Write Good

Yes, we all want to write good.  OK, most of us know the correct word is “well.”  But knowing the right word, where the commas go, the proper usages of colons and semicolons, where new paragraphs begin, and the difference in there, their, and they’re is old school.  Proper writing might make you a great letter writer, reporter, or blogger, but it won’t necessarily make you a great author.

What does, you ask?  If I knew that I wouldn’t be writing these articles.  I’d be sitting behind a table at Barnes & Noble, shaking off writer’s cramp, and staring at the super long line of fans waiting for my autograph.

But we’ve all experienced it.  We’ve all picked up a book to read and somehow found ourselves unable to put it down.  It wasn’t the words themselves or even the order in which they were written.  It was something behind the words, something that resonated with our own thoughts, memories, or desires.  In short—it touched us.

I recently read The Alchemist.  Halfway through the book, I kept thinking it was written for kids.  The narrative was simple, the dialog common, and the plot predictable.  Then something happened.  I realized this book was not about the boy, this shepherd from Andalusia, searching for his dreams; it was about me not searching for mine.  All of the seemingly simple writing came together to form an incredibly deep story.

I think that’s where a lot of us writers come up short.  We craft an ingenious story with great characters and an intriguing plot, and think it will make a great book.  But interesting books are a dime-a-dozen.  What we fail to ask is this: “What will it mean to the reader?”  Do we want readers to read it and think, That was interesting?  Or do we want readers to read it and think, Holy Moly?

I think it’s similar to the difference in a paint-by-numbers work of art and a da Vinci painting.  Both have the right hues of paint, the correct features, and the image is clearly recognizable in both.  But there’s something behind the paint of the da Vinci painting that moves us and makes us not be able to stop staring at it.

We can’t all be da Vinci-level artists and I guess we can’t all be Tolstoy-level writers.  But keep in mind, neither were they in the beginning.  One kept throwing paint at the canvas and one kept throwing words at the paper until they figured out how to do it right.

So keep plugging away.  And here are 20 tips I put together for you to help you write good.

  1. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  2. Be more or less specific.
  3. Avoid clichés like the plague.
  4. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  5. Parenthesis (however important) are not necessary.
  6. One should never generalize.
  7. No damn profanity.
  8. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
  9. Avoid alliteration. Always.
  10. Don’t be redundant, or repetitive, or say the same thing over and over.
  11. Exaggeration is a million times worse that understatement.
  12. No quotes. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations.”
  13. No ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  14. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  15. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  16. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  17. Go to the moon and back to avoid colloquialisms.
  18. Even if a mixed metaphor shines, it should be trampled underfoot.
  19. Contradictions aren’t necessary.
  20. Who needs rhetorical questions?


Neal Wooten, Publisher/Indie Author/Illustrator/Cartoonist

Managing Editor; Mirror Publishing, Milwaukee, WI,
Author of Reternity,

Posted by on June 18, 2012. Filed under Books,Neal Wooten. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

15 Responses to How to Write Good

  1. Meaningful and funny as I ponder feathers on a snake. Thank you Neal.

  2. Becca Mills

    June 19, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Love the list. Still chuckling, here …

  3. Sharon Farmer

    June 19, 2012 at 11:02 am

    What does your article “mean to this reader”, me? I connected to what you were saying and once again, made me appreciate Mirror Publishing and its editor.

  4. Sandra Fishel Brandon

    June 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Loved your 20 tips! They gave me a good laugh.

  5. Barbara

    June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Hilarious!! Thank you for the tips!

  6. Catherine DeWolf

    June 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I thought you were funny, insightful and all that. But what about using profanity when you write in the venacular?

    • Neal Wooten

      June 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      Yes, Catherine, in the vernacular is acceptable. Keep in mind that these 20 tips were mostly in jest. But surely if a character swears, then he swears. It is realistic. You should just avoid only a few words of profanity in the entire book, dialog or narrative. But if your character is a trash talker, swear away.

  7. I look forward to your articles. I appreciate your advice which always helps. We slowly build our foundation with each sentence.

  8. Paula Parente, Author of "Annie's Amethyst" and "Rosalind's Rose Quartz"

    June 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Great Neal!

    Yes, I look for books I hope will ‘change’ me, or help me see something in a new way. Also, as you put it, I want the book to resonate and touch me. Thanks!

  9. Jodi Fiore

    June 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Hi Neal! Your list was hysterical!!! I always learn so much from you, thank you for all of your insight and humor. I feel you are the perfect refreshing break I need whenever I hit a writer’s block wall. Keep these articles coming! PS-A teacher gave my son The Alchemist as a gift and I will be borrowing it from him for a good summer read.

  10. Lisa Sarver

    June 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    So true…What does the reader get out of the story? Can the reader relate to something on the written pages even if they aren’t written well? If the book has that wow factor, the door to success will swing wide open for that talented writer. And I must say- your 20 tips were hysterical! You have a knack for not taking life so seriously. Yes, humor is something all readers can relate to. Did I just end a sentence with a preposition?!

  11. Hi Neal,

    To quote you, “I’d be sitting behind a table at Barnes & Noble, shaking off writer’s cramp, and staring at the super long line of fans waiting for my autograph.” Yes, we all have that dream; however, I am happy to have found you and Mirror Publishing. I’m extremely thankful you wanted to publish my book. You are very talented. Don’t underestimate your knowledge, writing, and guidance. You are doing more good to all of us then you would be sitting at the Barnes & Noble table getting writer’s cramp. I look at it this way. Mirror has given me an opportunity that I may have missed had I waited around for a large publishing house to accept my book. I truly appreciate all your hard work and feedback.

  12. Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis

    June 20, 2012 at 8:25 am

    I almost didn’t click on the link to this article. I’m glad I did. It’s rainy here in Florida today and your humor gave me a much needed laugh.

  13. Alicia Freitas

    June 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Neal, I love your insights. Maybe it’s the Alabama, I mean Auburn girl in me that so relates to your humor. Keep them coming… I’m in a LULL right now with my writing and I need your push to get me going for # 4 :O)

  14. Jim Cooper

    June 26, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Extremely humorous and insightful. Thanks for reminding to focus on the reader experience. How good did I follow your tips?

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