Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Writing Secret Revealed! by Kay Marshall Strom

Not too long ago, I came across this article by author Kay Strom on her blog. (Dawn here.) I liked it so much I asked Kay if she would be willing to share it on Seriously Write. So with her permission . . .

Writing Secret Revealed!

All the time, at writers’ conferences and on airplanes and just out doing my shopping, as soon as people find out I’m a writer, they want to pull me aside and whisper conspiratorially, “So, what’s the real secret to writing?”

Sigh~! If there were one great secret, don’t you think it would be sold in a book for $99.98? Or presented at a one-day seminar for $599.99? Or at least written up on a blog?

Oh, right . . . that’s what I’m going to do right now on this blog.

Okay, here it is:

The secret to great writing . . .

is . . .

No, really. It’s true. Too many people spend the majority of their time talking about writing, reading books about writing, wishing they could write, dreaming about the writing life… well, you get the idea. But the fact is, writing is work, and to be a writer one must write and write and write some more.
That’s not to say that instruction doesn’t help. It most certainly does. Which is why, having made the point about actually writing, I want to go ahead and suggest these

Six Rules for Great Writing

1) Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. It is true that short sentences and paragraphs feel comfortable while long ones feel threatening, and also that short ones give the feeling of something one can manage while long ones feel overwhelming, not to mention the fact that a shorter sentence is easier for readers to follow than a long, long, long confusing sentence in which they tend to get lost and wonder how it all started. Whew! Break up that sentence! When you have a longer sentence, follow it with a short one. And surround a long paragraph with shorter, punchier paragraphs.

2) Prefer the simple to the complex. The preponderance of didactic scriveners who lucubrate their discourse with rubbish is abominable. I know! You see what I mean, then? Often people argue with me on this point, insisting that their novel or whatever is aimed at an educated audience. Well, I am a college graduate. I’ve read plenty of college textbooks in my life. But I can assure you, it’s been a long old time since I’ve curled up in front of the fireplace on a rainy night with a cup of cocoa and college textbook! Write to express rather than impress.

3) Show, don’t tell. Yep, you’ve heard this one before. But it’s so true. In movies and on TV, we can see what’s happening. But a book author must paint the pictures with words. You can do this with anecdotes, with good dialogue, by writing out a scene rather than just telling us it happened. ”Show, don’t tell” is important in both fiction and non-fiction.

4) Tie in with the readers’ experience. If your reader can’t comprehend what you are saying, you may as well not say it. Here is a good example: “BP must set aside $20 billion for those who suffered damage and loss in the horrendous oil spill.” Yes. Um-hmm. Here’s the problem: that word “billion” is constantly being thrown around, but it is outside our actual experience, so it means little to us. How much more effective if you tie it to something to which we can relate: A billion seconds ago, it was the year 1959. A billion minutes ago, Jesus walked on the earth. A billion hours ago, our ancestors lived in the stone age. Yikes!

5) Give your reader something to take away. Remember, you are writing for your reader, not for yourself. You may feel better for having poured out the agonies of your gall bladder surgery, for instance, but what is in it for the reader? Why not reshape your personal experience article to something like: “10 Ways to Help Your Loved One Recover” using your experience as background?

6) Write, write, and write some more! Keep on writing. Everyone gets better and better. No one gets worse and worse.

There you have it. The writer’s big secret!

Kay Marshall Strom is the author 36 published books. Her writing credits also include numerous magazine articles, short stories, curriculum, two prize-winning screenplays, and booklets for writers. For 10 years Kay taught writing classes through the California State University system, during which she designed and directed the Writers Certificate Program for Long Beach State University. Today her writing and speaking take her around the word.

You can learn more by visiting


  1. So helpful and true! Thank you for this blog. I will definitely be returning often!


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