10 Powerful One-Liners to Keep Your Writing Strong (Part One)

10 Powerful One-Liners to Keep Your Writing Strong (Part One)

10 Powerful One-Liners to Keep Your Writing Strong (Part One)

Rudyard Kipling said, "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." Nothing changes people like words, written well. Here are five powerful one-liners to inspire you and keep your writing strong.

You don't have to get it right the first time. Barbara Sher

In fact, it's better if you don't. OK, OK, I don't really know if it's better; I just like the way that sounds, so I wrote it to get myself started. It's one of the techniques I use to break free from writer's paralysis.

If you can't seem to get started, just write something. Anything. Do you like the word butterscotch? Write butterscotch. Then write it again. And again. Butterscotch. Butterscotch. Butterscotch. Somewhere between the third and the 33rd time you write butterscotch you realize that the word is just a row of characters, just an assembly of lines and spaces. It's you who brings meaning to the word.

Your writing makes butterscotch an ice cream flavor, a silk blouse or a 2-year old golden retriever. More importantly, it's your re-writing that makes the ice cream creamier, the silk blouse silkier and the golden retriever a bounding scalawag.

The expectation that writing can be right the first time scares even experienced writers away from their words. Don't worry about getting it just right. Just write. Because a blank page is like a cavity - if you ignore it, it gets bigger and more painful.

Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity. William Zinsser

I feel sorry for people whose writing is sterile and lifeless, because I imagine that they're sterile and lifeless as well. Maybe not. Maybe they radiate vitality for miles in every direction except the reader's, but I doubt it. More than anything else, writing reveals the writer's relationship with the world. I once worked for someone who wrote motivational memos like "This division and all sub-units will endeavor to facilitate intra-system support initiatives". That was a fun job.

Whether you're writing promotional copy, sales training material, web site content or an article for publication, you're writing to someone. Someone human. Touch them with your warmth, your sense of humor, and your humanity. Be yourself.

Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end. William Strunk, Jr.

Here Strunk illustrates the power of word placement. He finishes his sentence with "the end" in order to impress that phrase on our attention. If he had written, "Place the emphatic words at the end of a sentence", we would naturally emphasize "sentence" rather than "the end".

In my April 2006 Onwords™ column I wrote, "Your writing will be most effective if you select words that express your ideas exactly", ending my sentence with "exactly" because I wanted to stress the importance of being exact. If I had written, "Your writing will be most effective if you select words that exactly express your ideas", the emphasis would have fallen on the word "ideas".

How can you put this one-liner to work for you? Read your writing aloud and listen for the natural emphasis. (It may be only a whisper, so listen closely.)

  • I'm confident that with the power of Strunk you can improve your writing.
  • I'm confident that you can improve your writing with the power of Strunk.
  • You can improve your writing with the power of Strunk; I'm confident. There it is.

Never use a long word where a short one will do. George Orwell

I sometimes wonder if other writers get paid by the letter. Long words don't make your writing intellectual or professional, and they certainly don't make it appealing or accessible to your readers. Precision does. Your writing will be powerful if you choose words for their meaning, not their length.

Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time...The wait is simply too long. Leonard Bernstein

Whether you live to write or write to live, at some point you face the challenge of writing without inspiration. Here are some strategies to keep you moving forward:

  • Write first thing in the morning. Keep a notebook next to your bed and jot down one idea or a few bullet points before your feet hit the floor. Sales training workshop will motivate... discover. closing skills. explore... new levels.that's all. The point is to get something on paper that you can work with later.
  • Catch up on email. It limbers your mind and fingers and removes the temptation to distract yourself with email later.
  • Commit yourself to someone else. While you're sending email, send one to your boss, your editor, your mother, even your priest. Announce your deadline and invite them to ask to see your finished work on that date. Make sure you send a blind copy unless you want your mother talking to your boss, your editor and your priest.
  • Write in five or ten-minute intervals. The only rule here is that you must spend the entire time writing - no staring blankly at the computer screen or the page. When time is up, put it away. Repeat this every hour and by the end of the day you'll have at least a couple of pages of crummy, fragmented writing. Sift through the rubble and pull out the cohesive passages and phrases you find intact. Re-read them the next day. If you still think they're cohesive and intact, use them as the framework for the rest of your writing.
  • Hold your lunch hostage. Decide what writing you must finish before lunch, and don't eat until you've done it. If you're bothered by flies buzzing on the uneaten meals piling up around you, this probably isn't the best strategy for you.
  • Stop writing in mid-sentence. This will provoke one of three responses. Either you will start strong the next time by completing the sentence, you will feel compelled to finish the whole piece rather than leave a sentence undone, or you will carefully arrange on your desk a small round stone, a marshmallow and...

Subscribe to receive my monthly Onwords™ column, and join me next month for five more powerful one-liners to keep your writing strong.

Copyright © 2006 by Sally Bacchetta. All rights reserved.


Sally Bacchetta

Sally writes training content and designs instruction for online and face-to-face deployment for clients in a variety of industries, including pharmaceutical, healthcare, security, financial services, and business services. In addition, she writes articles for publication, website content, corporate communications, marketing collateral, promotional pieces, press releases, and white papers.