The other day at the library book sale, I spotted a title that seemed to belong among my useful books about writing, Jefferson D. Bates’s Writing With Precision.
I only just looked it over yesterday, and saw with delight that Bates’s first principle of more effective writing is, “Prefer the active voice.” (Seabury students will moan inwardly as they read that advice.) He goes from that to advocate using strong, vivid verbs rather than inert “nominalized” forms, hewing to specific rather than vague expressions, and keeping related sentence elements near one another. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I still plump for Joseph Williams’s Style as my premier book on writing, but every reinforcement is welcome in the battle against empty, flaccid prose. Bates adds a section on outlining (absent from my second-hand copy, darn it, since I need someone to help me cultivate my outlining discipline) and exercises-and-answers that illustrate his principles of writing. Well done, more than worth the fifty cents I spent for it, and refreshing encouragement for my approach to writing.
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One of the problems I always had with outlining was that I just don’t think linearly, so trying to organise my thoughts using lists just doesn’t work very well (even though I am a habitual list-keeper). Instead, I used to just start at the beginning and write, and hope that something approaching structure would spontaneously emerge.
Now I used mind-mapping (aka spider diagrams) to organise my thoughts visually. I was using FreeMind, which is a Java app that runs on PC and Mac, but it ate some work of mine so I switched to NovaMind on the Mac. It makes it much easier for me to visualise the subject matter, group themes and ideas, and reorganise until I have a workable structure. Then I export as a series of headings and start writing.