Writing Help for Artists, Grad Students and New Writers
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD.
You’re not crazy if you can’t seem to eek out a 300 word bio or artist’s statement without wanting to call your therapist.
Professional writers find writing excruciating. I sure do.
Even the world’s best wordsmiths struggle with writing:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”— Ernest Hemingway.
About five years ago I had a head slap moment at my desk.
What I figured out that day has allowed me improve, and on rare occasions, enjoy writing.
Let’s see if my personal writing realization and solution can help you as well.
The Big Kahuna of Stumbling Blocks For All Writers
What’s the biggest problem all writers (especially new writers) face?
Communicating our ideas clearly.
In my work as an editor I’ve noticed many artists, scholars, and newer writers; craft sentences that confuse the heck out of their readers.
Artists, New Writers, and Dissertation Writers Often Confuse Readers for 4 Reasons:
1. We write sentences that are too long.
2. We write sentences that contain three points instead of one.
3. The 3 points often don’t have a hell of a lot to do with one other.
4. We include words people outside our specialty may not understand. Writing instructors call such words, “jargon.”
Example of The Problem
Here’s an example of a sentence a glass fusing* instructor wrote in an advert for their workshop.
I randomly selected this sentence off the internet and changed the medium and specific techniques mentioned, to ensure the artist’s anonymity.
“The problem solving we implement on cabling or combing , the way we use crizzling and how we implement techniques , and of course the designs – both practical and otherworldly – all are informed by our creative thinking.”
Can you see how trying to communicate 4-5 ideas (albeit luscious ones) in a single sentence, is confusing? Not to mention the use of words or concepts a general audience may not understand.
I wrote exactly like this before my stress-induced writing epiphany.
A Seductive, Deadly Duo
Go back and look at the use of dashes and commas in the glass blower’s sentence. I marked them in a contrasting color.
It’s common for artists and beginning writers to use wagon loads of commas and dashes. The comma and dash usually prove to be a seductive but deadly duo when placed in the same sentence.
Why do we use them?
We do so in a misguided attempt to corral a herd of thought-horses into one sentence stall.
My head slap moment was the minute I finally realized my arguments were confusing because my sentences were too crowded.
How I Saved My Own Bacon
I forced myself to only write short sentences. I allowed myself to write as many as necessary. But short.
My word count remained the same.
The only difference was, folks finally understood what I was trying to convey.
“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words.” — William F. Strunk.
Writing shorter sentences is not rocket science. Yet very few non-professional writers do it.
Hemingway was the sultan of short sentences.
Forcing yourself to write short sentences won’t make you Hemingway, but it will foot-bind your brain and get it to learn to write one idea at a time.
Eventually you can add back in medium size sentences.
Medium and long sentences are actually beautiful things. They add soul and texture to your prose. They also help a writer control the pace and power of their pieces.
But keep long sentences in your hope chest for now. Stay short.
Here’s the glass blower’s sentence after its makeover. It’s now re-shaped into 3 short, one idea at a time, type of sentences.
Solution Sentence Example
“Want to design and fuse your own mythic glass form? Leave this workshop knowing how to comb, crizzle, and cable glass. Take home an otherworldly expression of your unique creativity.“
My version is less lyrical but clear. I kept in the artist’s signature words but took out the dashes. I opted for periods instead. Periods help you instill order and make the kind of lego piece-like sentences you can click together to form pleasant paragraphs your readers will understand.
Try it with your sentences today.
You will be giving your important, individual ideas the luxury of a room of their own.
Further Writing Resources
Need more info on how to write clear paragraphs readers will love?
I recommend Henneke’s illustrated writing site, Enchanting Marketing. Pop on over there to read her clear, example-packed piece on exactly how to prune down unruly sentences and paragraphs.
You might also want to read my post: 5 Crazy-Good Writing Books I Wish Someone Told Me About Earlier, for further ideas.
The ThesisWhisperer.com has quite a respectable book list for dissertation writers. However, the under sung book responsible for me finishing my thesis, didn’t make her cut. You can find it here.
Okay, I’ve given you an idea on how to tackle the physical problem of overcrowded sentences.
Stay tuned in 2 weeks for the next post in this Writing For Artists series, where I’ll share:
The Surprising Psychological Reason We Write Obscure Sentences in The First Place.
Subscribe (bottom lower left of page) not to miss a post in this series. No spam, no Herbalife, no Ginzu Knife offers- just helpful articles. If you sign up this month and mention this article, I will give a complimentary writing help session on a short piece of your own web copy! Polish up your bio or artist’s statement.
This post is dedicated to Kathy Vilim, freelance environmental writer and copy editor.