Would you like to be a better writer?

Ruth and I have completed about 25% our manuscript.  We’re in the midst of working on the section of Writing 180 that deals with conferring.  Even though we’re in the thick of writing, we’re both constantly trying to make our writing better by reading books about writing.  I’m unsure of which professional book Ruth’s reading right now, but a few weeks ago I started Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.

In his book, which has enough tips for every week of the year minus two weeks for vacation, Clark delivers helpful tips on how to make your writing stronger.  (FYI: The rationale for trying out one tool at a time is so that one doesn’t overwhelm themselves with multiple ways to improve their writing at once.  Clark likened using too many tools at one time to a golf player trying to listen to thirty different tips to improve his golf swing.)  So far, I’ve done tools one – five, which are:

  1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.

  2. Order words for emphasis.

  3. Activate your verbs.

  4. Be passive-aggressive.

  5. Watch those adverbs.

The third tool, “activate your verbs” was something I emphasized in conferences and strategy lessons with my fourth and fifth graders.  That tip alone makes writing so much stronger.

The fifth tool, “watch those adverbs” reflects a piece of advice Lucy Calkins gave us in graduate school.  She warned us not to use adverbs (and adjectives) excessively in our writing.  What do good writers use in place of adverbs (and adjectives), you might ask?  Strong verbs.  Interesting how that advice relates back to the third tool in Clark’s Book.

The last part of each “chapter” in Writing Tools has a Workshop Component, which suggests a few ways to implement the tool into your writing.  Often, the Workshops have you read other people’s writing looking for the tool, rereading your writing to see how you’ve used or misused the tool, and then having a-go with the tool.  I can envision teachers using these Workshop Components and transferring them into Guided Writing Sessions with students.

As educators, we spend so much time teaching students how to be better writers.  Now that I’m writing a book, I realize that I need to take the time to lift the level of my own writing as well.  Writing Tools is doing that for me, one week at a time.

Next tool up for me this-coming week: “Take it easy on the –ings.”