5 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Writing Style

This week’s post is a guest post from content polisher (I love her title!) Rosie Morley. Did you catch my review of her book, Blog in Bloom, in September’s edition of Off the Shelf?

If you write a lot for your business or blog (most of us seem to, these days), then it’s important that you’re communicating your message as clearly as possible.

In my time editing the work of online entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed some writing habits that pop up frequently. By avoiding these habits, you can easily boost your writing style.

(Find the answers for the exercises at the bottom of the post.)

1. Weasel words

Weasel words are exactly what they sound like: words that we use to weasel out of what we’re saying. We use them (unintentionally, usually) because we don’t want our writing to come across as too direct or opinionated, or sometimes just because using weasel words is a habit that’s difficult to break.

Weasel words slip into writing easily, but they’re also easy to pick up when you know what you’re looking for. Find any words that qualify or weaken a statement—and then cut them!

For example: I want to design a website that actually makes me more money.

What’s “actually” doing there? Nothing, I’d say. You can remove it and not only will the sentence still make sense, it’ll be stronger.

Exercise: Find the weasel words in the sentence below.

A website should essentially be your online headquarters, where anyone interested in you generally goes.

2. Wordiness

Although weasel words are a type of wordiness, you can also be wordy in loads of other ways — and none of them are any good. Be critical when you’re editing. Does every word contribute to the meaning of the sentence? If not, cut it.

For example: Websites thrive on account of the fact that they contain certain elements.

The extra words in that sentence serve no purpose. They get in the way of the message and make the writing more confusing. Compare with: ‘Websites thrive because they contain certain elements.’

Exercise: Cut all the unnecessary words from the sentence below.

When website designers start new projects or get involved with existing ones, they make sure to always check whether or not they need to include certain elements.

3. Boring verbs

Boring verbs are the worst. They’re those words like “get” or “have” that don’t engage your readers.

Sometimes they’re necessary, but often they can be replaced with something far more interesting. Keep your readers entertained by using words that delight them.

For example: Get better at website building by doing these steps.

Compare that with “Level up your website building by following these steps.” Simple changes, but which sentence would you rather read?

Exercise: Replace the boring verbs in the sentence below with some more interesting verbs.

Websites can get more visitors by having some simple elements.

4. Expletive constructions

They sound scary and grammatical, but expletive constructions are easy to remove from your writing, and they make a huge difference.

Expletive constructions are words that appear at the start or in the middle of a sentence. They don’t add anything to the sentence, and you can get rid of them easily by switching the sentence around.

For example: It is my website that attracts most of my clients.

Removing the expletive construction means taking away the “it is.” Then, switched around, the sentence becomes “My website attracts most of my clients.”

Exercise: Rewrite the sentence below without the expletive construction.

There are lots of entrepreneurs who have excellent websites.

5. Passive voice

Passive voice happens when the “doer” (the person or thing doing the action) isn’t before the action they’re doing; they’re either after, or they’re left out completely. Sometimes passive voice is useful, particularly if you want to deflect blame or take emphasis off the doer. However, for most of your writing, you should try to avoid passive voice, because it’s less direct than active voice.

For example: The website was built well by the developer.

See how the doer (the developer) is after the action (built)? To make this sentence active, we just put the doer before the action: The developer built the website well.

Exercise: Change the sentence below so it’s in active voice.

My website has been neglected by the designer.

Answers:

  1. A website should essentially be your online headquarters, where anyone interested in you generally goes.

  2. When website designers start or join projects, they check whether they need to include certain elements.

  3. Websites can attract more visitors by containing some simple elements.

  4. Lots of entrepreneurs have excellent websites.

  5. The designer has neglected my website.

How many did you get right?


Rosie Morley has been writing and editing for most of her life and is passionate about the exciting growth of online writing spaces. In her business, Hedera House, she works with clients on their writing and editing projects. She also publishes blog posts and free resources, and recently released her workbook, Blog in Bloom.

Interested in learning more about how to improve your writing? Find these topics and lots more in my writing and grammar skills workbook, Blog in Bloom. For more information, head to www.hederahouse.com/blog-in-bloom.

 

Editing FAQs

I tend to get asked the same or similar questions over and over, so I thought an FAQ post might be fun this week. Here are a few of the editing-related questions I am asked regularly. I’m sure you have a list of these for your business, too, right?

Q: After you edit, will my manuscript be ready to be published?

A: Editing alone does not make a manuscript publish-ready. (In fact, I include a clause in my contract that says that I cannot guarantee publication of your work.) Editing improves readability and makes your manuscript grammatically sound, but, particularly if you are planning to publish traditionally, where literary agents and acquisitions editors at publishing houses make decisions about content, no independent editor can guarantee that your book is ready for acceptance anywhere after it goes through editing.

Q: Will you rewrite my work?

A: A good editor will be up-front about how much work your manuscript needs before you hire them. Generally speaking, though, an editor does not rewrite. If there is a section of your manuscript that is not clear, often an editor will either query you OR query you with a potential re-cast. I tend to do the latter, because I try to be helpful with my feedback rather than just point out where something is not correct. This isn’t always possible, of course, if a subject matter is too technical for me to offer a good suggestion. But when I can, I do.

If you want writing assistance, look for a ghostwriter rather than an editor. If you’re looking for your writing to stay intact but perhaps be structured differently (moving paragraphs or sections, for example, within a chapter), a developmental editor will do those things.

Q: How do I know you won’t steal my idea?

A: I, like all editors, work on the honor system. A lot of people outside of publishing think plagiarism and idea stealing is rampant; it really isn’t. This issue does come up occasionally with fiction, but it doesn’t really even make sense when it comes to non-fiction. It wouldn’t do me any good to steal someone’s idea about, say, gardening, because I don’t know enough about it to do anything with the idea. I can’t blog about it; I can’t even keep a house plant alive! My expertise is book publishing, and yours is whatever your industry is.

Q: How long will it take?

A: The real answer is the dreaded “it depends.” Sorry! It depends on many factors, among them how complicated your project is as far as the type of editing it needs, the length of your manuscript, how soon I have an open slot in my calendar. Good editors are booked several weeks or even months in advance. Look for an editor early, pay a deposit, and secure a spot on their calendar. That way, you won’t waste time later waiting for someone to be available when you’re ready to move forward with editing.

Q: What’s the investment?

A: Again, the answer is the dreaded “it depends.” This depends on how much editing work your manuscript needs and how its length. If you self-edit[LINK TO SELF-EDITING POST] before submitting to an editor, this will clean up grammar and mechanical errors. In general, no matter how an editor charges (by the hour, by the page, or by the word), you’re paying for their time. The less time it takes, the less it will cost you. For a book-length manuscript (beginning at 30,000 words), you can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand. That generally includes at least two rounds of editing, so you won’t get your edited manuscript back and then never hear from your editor again. You’re paying for the editor’s skill but also their collaboration.

Q: What will the manuscript look like when I get it back from you?

A: I caution clients not to be alarmed when they open the Word document and see all of the comments and markings (if they look at the version with every change tracked). It’s overwhelming! And it takes you back to elementary-school English when your sentence diagrams were covered with the teacher’s red ink. (That wasn’t just me, was it? Luckily I learned to love diagramming, and I’m one of few people who skill use the skill regularly, I bet.)

Every editor I know uses Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature so that clients know exactly what was changed. Queries to the author are embedded in the manuscript as comments so they are easy to find and answer. If you’ve never used “track changes” before it can be a little confusing, but it’s quite use-friendly once you get the hang of it.


I hope this answers some of your burning questions about book editing. If you need help polishing your writing, check out my editing services. If you have other questions, let me know and I’ll include them in the next FAQ post!

Writer’s Toolbox: Writing and Editing Books

You’d never take some pieces of wood and a hammer and try to build a bookcase without some instructions or at least looking at a couple YouTube videos, would you? Writing can be thought of in a similar vein. In addition to practicing writing every day, you need some tools in your author toolbox — your own reference library, if you will. Few (and even that might be an exaggeration) people can simply start typing and end up with a book-length manuscript without having read any reference books about writing, structuring a book, or self-editing. A quick search on Amazon for “writing books” yields more than one million results, so how do you know where to begin to find what you need and/or are looking for? There are books for every type of writing, every genre in a bookstore, every issue that gets in a writer’s way, and more. I’m listing here a few of my favorites here that are more general about writing rather than focused on one specific issue/theme. (That post will come later!) And because I know not everyone reads full-length books as regularly as they might want to, I’m including online resources and podcasts, too.
 
Books
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
 
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott
 
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers
Betsy Lerner

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English
Patricia T. O’Conner

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Natalie Goldberg
 
On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction
William Zinsser
 
The Elements of Style
E.B. White and William Strunk, Jr.
 
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles
Steven Pressfield
 
 
Online Resources
Grammarly
Merriam-Webster (dictionaries/thesaurus)
 
 
Podcasts
Grammar Girl
Writing Excuses
I Should Be Writing
The Creative Penn
 
What are your favorite writing resources? I’d love to hear them!
 
For more hands-on help, schedule a Discovery Call with me today to see how I can help you with your project. In the meantime, do you have a favorite resource to share? I would love to hear from you!