Sunday, June 25, 2006

18 Rules of Contemporary Writing

By Dr. Dennis Hensley

A few months ago I attended a writer's conference here in the Quad Cities. This was one of my favorite sessions I sat in on, and although the notes may not show how interesting the session was, they are practical and useful for anyone interested in growing as a writer. Dr. Dennis Hensley is a great communicator, and his passion for writing comes through as he speaks. Maybe these simple points will help you as much as they've helped me!

1. Prefer the plain words to the fancy.
*Use language people can understand.

2. Prefer familiar words to the unfamiliar.
*People will stop, reread and lose momentum.
*You want people to feel comfortable with your writing.

3. Use action verbs and picture nouns.
*House [boring!] --> mansion, shack, etc. .
*Hit [boring!] --> tapped, slapped, etc.

*not more words, but better words!

4. Avoid clich├ęs or worn-out expressions.
*The “eternal squelch” --> people tune it out b/c they hear it too much.
*i.e. “works like clockwork” or “clean as a whistle” --> Eliminate and replace!!
*i.e. Instead of “roaring thunder” use “the universe cleared it’s throat.”

5. Never use a long word when a short word will work just as well.
*Using shorter words takes more sophistication as a writer when they’re used correctly.

6. Master the simple declarative sentence.
*Clear, direct.
*What do you want me to know?

7. Vary the lengths of your sentences.
*Keep them awake and surprised.

8. Keep paragraphs short.
* It's psychological
*Dialogue is good!
*We like to see white space on the pages!
*It’s a cheap trick and it works everytime!

9. Put the key words you want to emphasize at the beginning or end of sentences.
*Force the reader to pay attention to what you want them to.

10. Use active voice whenever possible.
*Draws you into the action
*Shorter! Crisper, tighter.
*i.e The book was given to Tom by Bill [8 words].
Bill gave Tom the book [5 words].

11. Cut needless words, sentences, paragraphs.
*Hensley Law: if it doesn’t move the action forward or provide vital info, CUT IT!

12. Write like you talk.
*Don’t use plastic, artificial, fakey language.
*If you would never say it, don’t write it!

13. Avoid Imitation.
*You don’t want to be a 2nd best, watered-down someone else. You want to be a 1st best

14. Think clearly and you will write clearly.
*If you don’t understand something, don’t pretend like you do.
*Make sure it’s so clear in your mind that your readers can’t get confused.
*Give them something they can relate to [parables] --> dumb it down if you need to.

15. Avoid jargon, Christianese, “garble-de-gook.”
*Use language the average person will understand.

16. Write to be understood, not to impress.
*If you are understood, you will impress.

17. Beware the temptation to overuse any one point of punctuation.
*It’s like seasoning: sprinkle a little here and there to give it flavor.

18. Revise with time.
*Whenever possible, let your writing sit and “get cold.”
*When you get a little distance from it, you can look at it with a little more of a critical eye.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Mark and I were strolling through the little tourist town of Mt. Hood, Oregon. We had just finished trekking through the Mt. Adams wilderness and rewarding our tired bodies with pizza. As we headed back toward our car, a storefront caught our eye. There was nothing special about it - it was actually rather plain - except for one hand-written sign that said boldly what is now posted on our office door:
“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”
~David Polis~

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Race for the Cure

This past weekend my friends Kate, Heather and I ran the Quad Cities Race for the Cure, a 5K, or 1 mile run/walk [respectively] that supports breast cancer research. It was my first "race" to run in, even though I love to run and have been doing it for years. Needless to say, I'm not really a "racer," but it was fun to do and for a good cause. You had the opportunity to run "in memory of" or "in celebration of" someone you know that has died due to breast cancer or that has survived, which makes the race all the more special for many who have lost loved ones. I don't know anyone personally that has died from breast cancer, but I will give a little shout out to my friend and co-worker Kathy Brothers, who has won that battle in the past couple years. So, even though I couldn't find a sign to wear during the run, know that I was thinking of you!
Jess, Kate, and Heather with our racing numbers.

They were handing out these pink scarves for free at the finish line. I might also mention it was like 50 degrees and rainy out...brrr!

Only in the midwest would race banners be held up with John Deer tractors.

this pic got put in the mix b/c I need a url to put my pic in my profile. :)