In first grade I had my first Valentine. His name was Sean and he was in second grade. (The boys my age just weren’t mature enough.)
He never really asked, Will you be my valentine? Instead, Seany Boy met me by the tire swing at recess and handed me a chalky white heart that read, Be mine.
With only two written words, I got the message loud and clear. I ate the candy heart to accept Sean’s offer. It was official.
Conversation hearts are a Valentine’s Day favorite. They’re yummy, colorful and nostalgic. Most importantly though, they get right to the point. The little sugar morsels prove that if you want to say something meaningful, say it simply. For instance:
I love you.
The most powerful sentence you can mutter requires only three little words. (It’s no coincidence it’s in subject-verb-object order. We’ll get to that.)
Don’t take it from me. Here’s what the greats say about simplicity.
- The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is. –August Wilson
- There’s a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together. –Josh Billings
- It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book. –Friedrich Nietzsche
Instead of candy, my Valentine’s Day gift to you is these five tips that will make you a better writer and a better Valentine:
- Put some thought into it. Good writing is good thinking. Before you put pen to paper, delve deeper for greater understanding. If you need to conduct more research or ask more questions, take the time to do that. It’ll facilitate the writing process and guarantee a better final product.
When I write, my first step is to create an outline. This way, I have developed my thoughts into an organized roadmap before I embark on my writing journey.
Remember: As a writer, you’re distinguishing yourself as an expert. Your readers trust and expect you to have interesting ideas, which can only come from a deep level of understanding about your subject. Make your readers proud, and think before you write.
- Break the rules. Your third-grade teacher lied to you. Paragraphs may be shorter than three sentences and sometimes and, but and because can initiate a sentence. In fact, by trashing Miss O’Brien’s advice, your writing may be clearer.
There’s nothing that scares a reader more than intimidating chunks of black and white filling up a page. Make your paragraphs easy to digest by keeping them short. To do that, you must get to the point quickly.
Further, the ability to begin a sentence with a conjunction allows you, the writer, to easily break up run-on sentences.
- It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. There are several ways to structure your words within your sentences to achieve the greatest and clearest affect. The two most important syntax considerations to keep in mind:
- Active voice. This refers to structuring your sentence in subject-verb-object order. For example: I (subject) love (verb) you (object). Passive voice, the opposite of active voice, would go something like: It is you (object) that I (subject) love (verb). As you can see, active voice accomplishes a shorter clearer sentence.
- Positive position. Tell me what it is (positive) rather than what it isn’t. Don’t tell me what it isn’t (negative) instead of what it is. The former is easier to digest and requires fewer words.
- Tell me what you really mean. So many times, especially with bad news, we resort to sugar coating. Unfortunately, the niceties and subtleties cloud our writing and often leave readers confused. To alleviate this, be blunt. Take these break-up sentences for example:
- Ambiguous sugar coat: It’s not you, it’s me.
- Transparent truth: I’m just not that into you.
Even though you don’t want to hear either of these sentences on Valentine’s Day, at least with the latter option you’ll know where you stand before you give him or her the VDay gift you spent your hard-earned money on.
- If it’s not a match, let it go. After you write, comb through your copy. If your sentence, or your entire page, doesn’t get to the heart of what you’re really trying to say, scratch it and try again.
Ernest Hemingway said, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of sh*t. I try to put the sh*t in the wastebasket.” (Hemingway was also a fan of bluntness.)
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/34827444@N08/3232292173/”>Amydeanne</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/11810232605/”>Thomas Hawk</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>