Don’t Want to be a Boring Writer? How to Electrify Your Readers

    boring writer

    Do you want to be a boring writer?

    No, of course you don’t!

    But how to avoid it?

    Do you sometimes read a piece that moves at an agonizingly slow pace? I do. Well, let me be honest here – I tend to read only the first paragraph, and then I put the boring book aside or flick over to another website.

    Boring is bad. Boring is slow.

    Enter Sol Stein. A master-editor who knows a trick or two. His book Stein On Writing
    lies on my bedside table and is a source of constant inspiration.

    Stein’s take on ‘boring’ is that we need to accelerate the pace of our pieces. This means compressing the perceived flow of time.

    Pace is often the deciding factor whether you bore or electrify your readers.

    That’s especially true when it comes to stuff we publish on the Net, as internet savvy readers all seem to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder.

    The good news is that we can learn to control the pace of our writing.

    Sol Stein suggests three techniques to speed things up which can be used in fiction as well as nonfiction.

    1. Use short sentences

    Here is an example: I stopped. The silence was awful.

    2. Use frequent paragraphs

    Frequent paragraphs move the reader forward. One way to use frequent paragraphing is to use dialogue. Because each line is really a separate paragraph. While it’s enlivening to use direct dialogue in non-fiction, it’s sometimes difficult to find a way to place it. Another way to use dialogue is as a conversation with your reader. Here’s an example by Brian Clark of CopyBlogger fame in this Teaching Sells Report:

    Want to have a profitable online business?

    Here’s the part where I tell you all about how fabulous it is to have a purely online
    business.

    And then I tell you how you can have the lifestyle you want, live where you want,
    and have unlimited income potential -all from publishing online.

    What’s that?

    You mean you’ve already heard all that stuff?

    Oh… You’ve already been sold the dream, over and over.

    Now you’re looking for a way to make the dream come true that actually works?

    OK.

    Let’s just jump straight to that part.

    That’s beautifully written, isn’t it? It’s engaging and enlivening. The reason it’s enlivening is because of the pace is accelerated through ultra-short paragraphs.

    3. Use jump cuts

    Sol Stein suggests skipping about two-thirds of your words in order to increase the pace. Here are two of his examples:

    Version A:
    In the morning he would shower, brush his teeth, shave, dress in a suitable business suit with shirt and tie, get down to the kitchen in time to have his coffee and then rush off to the station, but he’d frequently missed his train anyhow.

    Version B:
    He washed his body, shaved his jaw, drank his coffee, and missed the seven-thirty-one.
    (This is what John Cheever wrote in his celebrated story “The Country Husband”)

    So, here are Sol Stein’s three techniques to accelerate the pace – all ready to put into your writer’s tool box. But don’t just leave them in there. Bring them out and use them next time you wonder whether your piece is boring.

     

     

    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

    • I’m kind of upset by this post. Not at the post writer, and not at the commenters. I learnt to do all three of those things before I started school. Sure, I started school at 12, a helluva lot later than most usually do, but that’s another story. I learnt this from drafting business letters for Dad, who amazingly did use one or two of them. I’m upset because I’m still surprised that otherwise blameless people still needs to be told this. What I find pleasant is there are still people today like you who still reminds us those three good and goodly tips. Nice one that.

    • D. Friend says:

      So I may be a year late on commenting but what a wonderful post. This is what I’ve been looking for. Thanks

    • Holly Wilcox says:

      If something is boring, it doesn’t matter whether it is short or long. Does writing need to speed up to nearly real time to keep the attention of the reader?

    • Natural says:

      i like using the short paragraphs. it definitely helps because people don’t seem to read as much as they used to. the short paragraphs are less intimidating.

    • Andrew Richter says:

      Mary,

      Thanks for your response. My money’s on Strunk and White. It’s the industry standard and has been for a half century. The AP Stylebook only mentions one guide outside of its bibliography — guess which one. I teach a continuing education editing course at Rutgers, and it’s what I use, and my son’s tenth-grade honors English teacher is using it exclusively to teach writing.

      Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing for interminable paragraphs, nor is the point to write things that don’t matter. Another poster above says it’s all about the reader, and it is. Single-line graphs are distracting and never allow ideas to come together.

    • Great post! I can see a variety of uses for this information both online and off! Especially in my field – writing booklets!

      With today’s short attention spans, it makes sense to write shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, and shorter manuscripts!

    • Walter says:

      I actually teach students to write for the web… scary since I am scared to start my own blog… but I do focus on the rule I was taught in journalism was that the first 25 words sold the piece. I wonder if there is some carry over here?

    • Good stuff here Mary. I’m always striving to make the pace of my writing as absolutely flowing and rapid as possible because I don’t like reading wordy stuff.

      In some ways I think slow pace writing is a method of insulting your readers. Be kind to them… they just want to read what matters and nothing more.

      Lastly… When we write it isn’t about us. It’s about THE READER. Make it fast and easy for them, you’re writing for others to read not yourself.

    • I liked your article, and if you believe what you wrote, then I am betting you will love reading my book Champion.

      See the Rave Reader Reviews on the Barnes and Noble webpage at:

      http://tiny.cc/mmfYU

      All the best,
      Miles Cobbett, Author Champion

      PS By the way the writing ideas you present sound much like the ideas presented to a 17 year old Ernest Hemingway as the Writing Guidelines from his copy editor boss when he got his first job out of High School at the Kansas City Star Newspaper.

    • Hi David Cain!
      Let us know how you find Sol.

      Hi Andrew!
      We should organize a cage fight between Sol Stein and Strunk&White.

      My money’s on Sol!

      It’s important to keep in mind that Sol isn’t saying, “Always write in short paragraphs”. The suggestions I list above are tools for increasing pace in boring sections.

      In a longer piece it would be important to have restful parts as well. I mean if there’s always a breathless pace, that’s exhausting. And boring too, right?

      Hi Diana!
      I agree – writing for the Net is different. It takes a while to get the feel for it. It’s certainly more colloquial and less formal. But shouldn’t be sloppy, either.

    • Diana says:

      Blogs are for reading but they are also entertainment. I can relate to the attention deficit disorder created by reading on the internet.

      I cannot read long paragraphs on the screen. Type is too small. I appreciate line breaks. I am 56 years old and bifocals are awful.

      Rhythm and pacing is more important than grammar on the internet (for me). Yes I did like English class and classic literature, but the internet seems to call for new rules. I say, let’s let the internet be out of the ordinary.

    • Andrew Richter says:

      With due respect, the first two rules fly in the face of Strunk and White:

      –“Principles of Composition,” rule 17: Omit needless words: “This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

      –“Principles of Composition,” rule 13: Make the paragraph the unit of composition: “As a rule, single sentences should not be written or printed as paragraphs, An exception may be made of sentences of transition, indicating the relation between the parts of an exposition or argument.”

      The example from CopyBlogger actually proves rule 13 correct: The frequent breaks are distracting and leave me as a reader unable to settle on a single idea.

      If your goal is to attract readers who don’t actually want to read, then congratulations. Otherwise, you’ve missed the mark.

    • David Cain says:

      This is really helpful Mary. My posts are usually quite long and paragraphy. I’ll take this to heart.

      I’ll have to check out Sol Stein.

    • I’m a bit overwhelmed by your acceptance and sweetness Mary. I will never forget it, and after a really bad week filled with negativity, you helped reaffirm my faith in the kindness of others. So you see, I am humbled and have even forgiven myself:)

      @Janice: I usually learn the most valuable lessons from stuff like this. Sometimes brevity is best, sometimes it’s not. The way I see it is there’s a time and place for both. Honestly, because of the focus of my own fiction writing (horror & transgressional fiction—ala Marquis de Sade—without moral boundaries in many cases), my overly-conservative teachers have tried to force their moral superiority on me. It hurts to be told your writing is without literary value because it delves into extreme darkness. I can write love stories and normal fiction, but prefer to go where most writers don’t (or perhaps wouldn’t ever even consider going). Accepting who I am as a writer has been painful and upsetting, but I’ve developed a revulsion to the status quo of what is deemed “good” or “of literary value”. It’s what I’m going through right now.

      Thanks so much to both of you!

    • janice says:

      @Bobby,
      If it’s any consolation, I spent the whole day weaving back and forwards between feeling bad because I’d blurted here and bad because the way I worked through it involved writing even more overly long emails and comments to friends when I did eventually log back on! Use the feelings you have now; create something from them (after you’ve visited Mary’s blog 😉 .Investigating what pushes our buttons is a fantastic gift to us as writers. We write better when we know who we are, how we’re evolving and what we long to achieve. But Mary genuinely is evolved enough to embrace everyone and everything here. It’s a breath of fresh air.

    • Thank you Mary! I can sleep tonight without feeling bad (even though I will anyway), but I really shouldn’t have taken out my angst here. One thing my mother taught me is to think before you speak, but I momentarily failed to remember her wise words. I would be honored to pay your site a visit:)

    • Awe, Bobby – now I’m crying because you’re so SWEET 🙂

      A short time ago I reread some of my first articles on http://goodlifezen.com. BTW Bobby, have you visited me there yet? [Must make the most of his contrition – hi, hi.]

      Anyhow I noticed that my posts have become longer and longer – as did my face when I read a comment by a fellow blogger who said my posts used to be just the right length…

    • I sincerely apologize Mary. I just finished a horrific literature class about the use of minimalism in post modern writing where my teacher degraded me in the most vitriolic manner because my style is so rooted in imagism. It’s really no excuse for me to say what I did and I felt bad as soon as I clicked “submit”.

      I am the one crying right now and I hope you can forgive me. I do agree that in certain articles, a succinct and concise style is effective. Even in fiction, mixing variations of minimalism with descriptive prose can work well. Your post is not boring, it actually made me think and incited an emotional response.

    • Hi everyone!
      There’s an interesting post by Skellie:

      5 Content Strategies That Top Bloggers Use + 3 Things That Set Them Apart

      She talks about long versus short blogposts. Very good article!

    • Hi Omar, Karen, and Reem!
      thanks for your nice and succinct comments. See, Bobby – they LIKED my post [still sobbing]

    • Hi Janice!
      So nice to read a passionate, emotional response. This post made you cry? Well that has to be good. Anyhow it’s a more pleasing response than Bobby’s (hi Bobby!) who said my post was boring.
      Sob.
      See, Janice – now it’s my turn to cry…

    • Short meaningless articles simply placate the ever growing inattentiveness of today’s skim readers–especially when the streamlined articles are usually rehashed drivel. I appreciate your point, but I was burnt out on minimalism in the 1980s. I’m in no way trying to insult the author, but this is a boring article (seriously).

    • This is a very timely post for me! Very good advice! I stumbled upon it while surfing the net looking for good advice on how to improve my blogging. I just wrote my first ever blog post last week, and am struggling with what to write about next. I’d love to read about how you as a blogger constantly come up with topics to write about.

    • To answer your question: Yes.

      LOL, now that was short, right? Loved the tips here.

    • Omar says:

      I will pick up the book!

    • janice says:

      Hi Mary,
      Fantastic advice and sound. Also beautifully written. A mini series on Sol would be fantastic as I can hear the passion in your voice. It’s your passion for the subject as well as your style and content that got me hooked on Write to Done in the first place. I love your crisp, fresh clarity. It doesn’t surprise me that we share a love of haiku and all things zen.

      But today’s post has made me cry and I’m now about to log off. I am that boring writer.

      I can write as you suggest. I can alter and break up long pieces to suit a blogging style, like I did with my last guest post here. I can do it in informative posts, in my fiction, but my natural style isn’t like the example above. I write long sentences. I write long paragraphs, but I always encourage a reader to explore the silence, the sacred space between the thoughts and after a piece of writing.

      I’ve come to accept that I’m not a natural blog-post writer and that most blog-readers won’t be able to scan what I write or even want to. I try to compensate by varying my posts if I can’t vary my style without losing myself.

      I write for those who are meant to read what I write, who are drawn to a different rhythm. Who don’t just scan or process visually. Some people process kinaesthetically, like my dancer friend who needs a variety of movement and rhythm. Some readers process in an auditory or even olfactory way. If I were to sum up my pieces in a phrase or sentence, they’d all say “Here I am, living the details, sharing the journey.” Not exactly SEO snappy but that’s who I am. Our landscapes all vary. That’s what makes the sharing enjoyable.

      Thank you, Mary. Love you – needed this article.

    • Hi Charles!
      Your say: “Another effective way of writing is to use a much longer and thought- provoking narrative.’

      I must admit that I wobble about a bit between the loooong post and the shorter one with a crisper pace. I cordially invite you all over to Goodlife Zen to read a short article on GoodlifeZen [coffee and cakes just coming up]

      Why Susan Boyle Makes Us Cry: Ugly Duckling Becomes a Swan

      Whatever you do, play the video – if you don’t already know it. Tissue alert: Even if you’re a staunch guy – you might shed some tears.

    • Hi Kirk!
      You say, “We have enough words, we need significance, right?” Too right. And I’m glad you feel energized when you read my articles. What would energize me…

      would be to read a guest post by you here on WTD 😀

      That would be an opportunity for you to “tell a story” and “keep it visual”

      [I know this guy, folks. He can WRITE!]

    • Hi Jim!
      I’m glad you liked the article. I thought I might write a mini series of articles based on Stein’s work using online examples. What do you think?

    • Hi Roger!
      Good question! Yes, Sol does say something about varying the pace:

      “Yet the best writers have purposeful slow-downs in pace from time to time because the authors know that readers, like athletes, must catch their breath.”

    • Hi Writer Dad! Good to hear that there’s a crossover in skills from nonfiction to fiction and vice versa.

    • Hi Nadia!
      You read at work??
      Actually, I’m not surprised.

      One of the greatest mystery when I first started out as a blogger was that there seemed to be so few people around on the weekend. I just couldn’t work it out. Finally I asked a fellow blogger and he told me that most people read blogs at work. My jaw fell…

      What you say about using saying all one sentence is important – and challenging.

    • Lety G says:

      Excelente! Fabulosos consejos.

    • Short and stout — that’s a great way to go.

      Another effective way of writing is to use a much longer and thought- provoking narrative. I notice some bloggers are pretty good at this (Steve Pavlina, Skelliewag.org). They seem to pull you in by creating a sacred space with their words.

    • Groovy, Mary. We have enough words, we need significance, right? Keeping it short and energetic helps point to the significance.

      Remembering some advice my good old Dad gave me, he also said “tell a story” and “keep it visual.” It’s something I notice that you do all the time.

      I always feel energised to write when I read your blog. Thanks.

      Kirk

    • Jim Bessey says:

      This is dynamic advice, Mary!

      Great headline, super-fast read, easily adopted and adapted to our own goals. I love Brian Clark’s use of dialog in a non-fiction setting.

      Short paragraphs rock! -grin-

      ~Jim

    • Thanks for the useful advice!

      Does Sol have any advice about when to vary the pace?

    • Writer Dad says:

      I love the idea of using frequent paragraphs. This is an area where blogging has bled into my fiction. I use frequent paragraphs while blogging a LOT, but I’ve found that it works as a device for telling the story and moving the reader along as well.

    • Hi Mary,

      I have found that most readers do have a short attention span when reading things online. I have to admit that when I am looking at blogs while at work (shhh…don’t tell anyone), the longer the piece, the more likely I am going to skim through it.

      Someone once told me that if you cannot describe your piece in a sentence, then you are not a good enough writer. I think there is some truth to that statement. The suggestions you make are really good so off they go into my writer’s toolbox! 🙂


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