Monday, September 29, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum Redux

Every now and then I feel compelled to raise the idea of the powerful connection between reading and writing because it comes as such a revelation to so many people. In nearly every class I teach, I say, "You become a better reader by reading a lot, but you become a better writer by writing and reading a lot."

Even many highly educated people have not reflected on this truth. I have met accountants, engineers, executives, lawyers, scientists, and professionals from many other disciplines tell me that they so strongly desire to become better writers. Yet when I ask whether they read regularly, many say no. Then it ain't gonna happen.

I have spent years teaching the writing process: plan, draft, revise, edit, and proofread. But the real process is a reading-writing one. To be a successful writer, you must read and write. A look at the accompanying graphic starting from the upper left box explains:

  1. READ to know what to write. Reading will inform, persuade, and inspire you as a writer, so read with an aim toward mining for ideas.
  2. WRITE to take key notes. While you are reading, take notes to capture ideas that you want to express.
  3. READ to evaluate your notes. Now that you have scribbled some notes, determine the best place to slip them in your draft and the best way to express them.
  4. WRITE to draft the ideas. During this phase, you are writing with a mindset of quantity, not quality, so that you will have a complete draft, if not necessarily a neat one.
  5. READ to assess content and structure. As you are revising, check for purposefulness of content; emphasis, unity, and coherence of paragraphing, consistency of format, and cohesiveness of style.
  6. WRITE to focus the ideas. As you do step 5, move, add, and delete ideas based on your reader's perspective.
  7. READ to make sense of the draft. Now that you are editing, read sentences aloud for fluency and congruity.
  8. WRITE to sharpen the style. In tandem with step 7, rewrite ambiguous, verbose, awkward, or weak phrases.
  9. READ to find overlooked mistakes. In the final proofreading stage, read not for meaning, which you have already done in step 7, but for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors.
  10. WRITE to perfect the message. You have found those mistakes in step 9, so correct them.
If you think I am complicating the writing process, consider that most purposeless, dull, unorganized, unclear, wordy, or incorrect writing results from a failure to read. Keep the Reading-Writing Continuum graphic handy the next time you need to write an important piece on the job or for publication.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Really Real and for Real, Really: Adjective-Adverb Confusion, Part 5

In addition to considering parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series on adjective-adverb confusion, we should look at certain words that can be both action verb and being verbs. They include appear, become, continue, fall, feelget, grow, lie, lookprove, remain, seem, smell, soundstand, stay, taste, and turn. Using the action-being verb test explained in part 1, we should be able to settle these tricky words.

The Action-Being Verb Test
A sure way to decide whether a verb is an action verb or a being verb is to substitute the verb with the verb to be (e.g., am, are, is, was, were, shall be, or will be). If you can substitute the verb to be, then you have a being verb; if you can’t, then you have an action verb. 

You appear strong.
You are strongly.
You appear weekly.
You are weekly.
She grew tired.
She was tired.
She grew tomatoes.
She   was tomatoes.

Now you can easily choose adverb forms (for action verbs) or adjective forms (for being verbs):
  • You were strong in holding your grip.
  • You strongly held your grip.
  • She seems tired.
  • He works tiredly.
Questions? You can always write me at

Monday, September 15, 2014

Really Real and for Real, Really: Adjective-Adverb Confusion, Part 4

Earlier this year, I began a series on adjective-adverb confusion. (Click on these numbers to read parts 12, and 3.) Getting these words wrong is so common in everyday speech that we might have trouble deciding on which word form to use. For example, we often hear expressions such as "I'll see you real soon" (not the correct really) or "I'll get there quick" (not the correct quickly). It's no wonder that we struggle with knowing which word to use when writing.

Part 1 describes the way to choose the adjective form (real and quick) or the adverb form (reallyand quickly). It usually comes down to the verb used. In short, being verbs (e.g., amareiswaswerebebeingbeen) require adjective forms (e.g., you are real, she was quick), and action verbs (e.g., try,work) require adverb forms (e.g., you really try, she works quickly).

But some words function as both adjective and adverbs, so you do not have to worry about the rule. Here are some instances, all of which are correct:

  • I am alone (being verb), or, I will travel alone (action verb)
  • We are fast (being verb), or, We drive fast (action verb)
  • His work is hard (being verb), or, He works hard (action verb)
  • She was late (being verb), or, She arrived late (action verb)
  • You were silly (being verb), or, You acted silly (action verb)
Why is English such a confusing language? If you really want to know the answer to that question, you'll get more than you asked for by reading The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language by Steven Pinker. Until then, you might want to review this series on adjective-adverb confusion.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Art of On-the-Job Writing

Become a more effective and efficient writer today!

More than a technical manual of writing style and grammar, The Art of On-the-Job Writing offers a unique method for achieving workplace-writing success by offering four critical tools: the PDQ integrated writing process (planning, drafting, quality controlling); the 4S Plan for composing writing product (statement, support, structure, style); techniques to move writers from a me-focused style of essay writing to a results-oriented, us-focused business writing style and it-focused technical writing style; and the groundwork for becoming and remaining a successful on-the-job writer through inspirational, memorable, and relevant writing tips.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Art of E-mail Writing

Write e-mails: faster ... purposefully ... thoroughly ... clearly ... concisely ... correctly. Manage your e-system: filing ... attaching ... copying ... initiating ... responding ... forwarding. It’s all here in The Art of E-Mail Writing: a powerful, workable, and reliable method for:
  • jumpstarting the writing process without cluttering your mind
  • getting to the point without missing a beat
  • laying out your ideas without overloading your readers
  • keeping a fresh style without breaking the rules

Saturday, September 06, 2014

How to Write Fast Under Pressure

Anyone who regularly deals with work-related writing deadlines knows the kind of paralysis that can take over when there's too much to accomplish and not enough time to compose a clear sentence. How to Write Fast Under Pressure contains an easy, efficient, and confidence-building process for keeping up and being productive, even under tight time constraints and concentration-sapping obstacles. The book contains an immediately usable approach based on the mnemonic DASH, standing for the four critical components most needed for writers working under pressure. Filled with helpful tools and time-saving techniques, this indispensable guide reveals how anyone can break through writer's block and write faster and better.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

American Haiku

American Haiku is a collection from four decades of my work on the traditional Japanese three-line, 5-7-5- syllable poetic form. Always enamored of the haiku's demand for concision, I nevertheless break from its usual pattern by adding a fourth title line to many of the pieces in this volume. 

Readers of this work will immediately capture the essence of experience with a uniquely American perspective of angst, longing, and hope in an unstable, unpredictable world.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Like the Day I Was Born: 40 Poems, 40 Places, 40 Days

Like the Day I Was Born: 40 Poems, 40 Places, 40 Days is my first collection of poems. All of them were previously published in literary journals and websites around the world over a 20-year span.

The connection between poem and place in this volume is not always apparent. In truth, the duality of human nature is evident in our ability to have our bodies present in our environment while our mind transcends it. Thus, many of these poems see people isolated and desperate, trapped in a mechanized world and in conflict with nature or themselves. But underlying each poem is a reaffirmation of the will to live.

The book is divided into four sections of ten poems each around the themes of knowing (the marvels and limits of our knowledge), having (the things of this world we possess or desire), doing (our daily interactions with our work), and being (our reflective moments). I wrote each in a different location from age 19 to 39. Therefore, my hope for this collection is that it reinforces what I write in the preface: Poetry is. Everywhere. Always.