how to write

How to be a con man, and 5 other great lists

Lists of Note is from the guy who brings you the ever brilliant Letters of Note.

Contrary to popular belief, numbered lists have been around for longer than the blogosphere, and indeed for longer than the internet.

These 10 commandments for Con Men are good. A sample:

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).
  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.

I also enjoyed:

  1. Fumblerules of Grammar“Late-1979, New York Times columnist William Safire compiled a list of “Fumblerules of Grammar” — rules of writing, all of which are humorously self-contradictory”
  2. Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing“In the early-1930s, as he wrote what would become his first published novel — the hugely influential Tropic of Cancer — Henry Miller wrote a list of 11 commandments, to be followed by himself.”
  3. The rules for the Anti-Flirt Club“In the early-1920s in Washington, D. C., a lady named Alice Reighly founded the Anti-Flirt Club — an organisation “composed of young women and girls who have been embarrassed by men in automobiles and on street corners,” and which aimed to protect such women from future embarrassment.”
  4. Rules for Wives“In 1923, the Legal Aid Society of New York City published some advice to wives in the area, in the form of the following list of rules.” 
  5. How to Write – advertising legend David Ogilvy wrote a letter to his staff. Part encouragement. Part motivational lecture. Part kick up the bum.

The last one strikes me as either being straight out of Mad Men, or a preaching class. So I’ll reproduce it in full.

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing*. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

CS Lewis on writing

Craig linked to this list of 8 writing tips from CS Lewis. There are eight of them…

  1. Turn off the radio.
  2. Read good books and avoid most magazines.
  3. Write with the ear, not the eye. Make every sentence sound good.
  4. Write only about things that interest you. If you have no interests, you won’t ever be a writer.
  5. Be clear. Remember that readers can’t know your mind. Don’t forget to tell them exactly what they need to know to understand you.
  6. Save odds and ends of writing attempts, because you may be able to use them later.
  7. You need a well-trained sense of word-rhythm, and the noise of a typewriter will interfere.
  8. Know the meaning of every word you use.

11 great grammar tips

As Guthers points out, in his comment on this post, the site that particular little clarification came from is incredibly useful.

It’s chock full of common grammatical errors you should avoid (and the rationale behind including them) if you don’t want to look like an idiot.

Here are ten helpful tips (and pet hates of mine)…

And grammatical fallacies that will help you avoid looking like a goose when you correct other people.

Orwell’s guide to better writing

Gordo posted a simple summary of an article by George Orwell about how to write better. It’s pure gold. You should read his summary. Or the article.

Orwell on metaphors

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Those of you who don’t already check out Gordo’s blog regularly should do so. He works for AFES (with Izaac) at Cumberland College.

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