From International Viewpoints (IVy) Issue 11 - November 1993
See Home Page at http://www.ivymag.org
All Write On The Night
by Terry E. Scott, England
Antony has this idea that I can give you tips on how to write.
he will then seduce you into writing for IVy. That's an editor
for you. Strange people, editors. Devilish.
What of this notion that I can tell you anything about writing?
It is my profession, true, and I have about two million words in
I had better tell you that, if only to suggest that I am not talking
out of the wrong orifice.
(There was an amusing science fiction tale about forty years ago where
the aliens had two mouths: one for speaking, the other for eating.
It was a gross indecency and insult to talk through your eating
Yet professors teach writing, teachers teach writing, and there is
American English and British English and they even talk a form of
the language in out of the way places such as Basildon, in Essex.
And if you do not know about Basildon, well, restrain your curiosity.
Remember cats and curiosity.
'Essex Man' lives in Basildon and wife-swopping was invented
So I am told. Of course.
How to write?
Ron gave more than a hint on this from time to time, and I am not
above cheating by more-or-less quoting him. In a different context,
Ron said: '...Put him back in the chair and say `Do it!'.'
That's actually all there is to writing if you want the fundamentals.
Just the intention to Do it.
This will to do can actually be taken very seriously. Some writers
get up at 5:00 a.m., wash and shave (even the ladies), skip breakfast,
and Tr-zero the typewriter/wordprocessor at 6:00 hours sharp, and
hack a day's work on the machine until sunset, then crash. Six days
a week they work like this. Not recommended. Although I have handled
the discipline of an office job as a journalist, coming in at 9:30
and leaving at 5:00, yes, you can do this, and turn out good copy,
but there is nothing like hitting the keyboard when inspiration really
strikes and staying with if for the sheer zest of the flow. It's like
riding, I don't know, a runaway train, except it is not running from
you, you are swimming the flow and it is yours.
That doesn't really tell you much. Let me be more particular and less
full of bull. Writing 101, as they would say in the States. Gulp.
What can I tell you? At this point, many a writer takes a break
for coffee, and that is just what I shall do here.
Okay. That done, I shall Instruct you. First, an anecdote. Another
great little no-confront, which, by the way, is what distinguishes
the non-Scn writers from the Scn writers. Not that Scn writers don't
do it, they just do less of it.
Know what you want to say and say it. This rule also applies to
Don't waffle. (I should also write, don't do what I do, do what I
tell you.) Do not be ambiguous, and if you do not understand this
word, look it up in a dictionary. If you wonder whether something
you have written might be misunderstood by being interpreted another
way - well, try reading the whole article out loud to yourself.
Use small words rather than big ones, provided you don't need
the big word for a more precise meaning or a delicate shade of
These are some of the basics. Beyond these, be kind to your reader.
Don't be repetitive with words. This isn't training for Opening
by Duplication, that great process known in the UK as Book and Bottle!
There are often many words in English that are similar enough and
amount to the same meaning. Buy a Thesaurus (a wordprocessing computer
software might have one). Use synonyms, then, when it works for what
you are writing.
Understand some of the things I am talking about by doing. Write
Use punctuation as 'music' for clarity, stress and pause.
Good punctuation is becoming rare; who loveth the semi-colon -
yea, and the dash?
But don't be afraid to now and then start sentences with a
And don't overdo it. Rules are made to be known and understood, at
which point some of them are seen as guidelines only.
Write in differing styles. Long, long sentence with long, long
have a style quite distinct from short paragraphs built of modest
sentences. Play with styles. Find how some styles suit one subject,
some another. This makes for flow in the eye, the mind, the ear.
Clauses. This sentence has one clause. This sentence, a bit
longer, now has three. As to this one, it has two. And this one, going
on and on, moving over here and there, and you try to keep track of
all the ideas being stacked up, well this one, this one has so many
damn clauses you begin to wonder what the heck the writer was on about
by the time you arrive at the buffers at the other end; and look at
the length of the clause before last; and this was an easy sentence,
not your ten years in the penitentiary (prison) for hard labour.
For magazine articles, keep sentences short, but not abrupt. Flow,
baby, flow! Paragraphs, quite short, not silly-like though. Have a
main idea. Deliver it sufficiently. Any secondary ideas of importance,
deliver those. Now knit them together, expanding them. Start your
article, proceed through it, stop it.
Professionally, one starts an article with a punchy paragraph and
ends in the same way. Don't let the thing peter out. Good TRs on the
reader, all the way through. Leave the stage with the audience
and remember to invoice the editor.
I'll leave you with this (secondhand) story. Tales of L. Ron, issue
one billion and 99, sub-edition 246. Ron tells us on one of his tapes
that he was at a meeting of writers, I suppose back in the Forties,
and they were all pretty successful people. They began talking about
their qualifications to do the job, and most of them had zero
Yet here they were, making a living at it, enjoying what they did,
entertaining their readers. Then one voice from the back said that
he had a qualification. Ah.
Know what he was? Not a writer at all, but a book reviewer.
Like Ron said, 'Just, do it!'
And what better a note to quit on?
Mon Jul 17 19:04:03 EDT 2006