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As a journalist, I strive to make my writing as clear and as clean as possible. AP Style demands that pieces report as much news as possible in the least amount of words. Over the years, I’ve learned how to cut out words that clutter my sentences, replace passive voice with active voice and put the most important information first. These kinds of rules can be adapted for creative writing, which gives more licence for wordiness. The end objective for any kind of writing is to communicate clearly to your audience.

Here are some basic tips for how to improve your writing—no matter your genre.

1. Figure out your audience.

In rhetoric, not understanding your audience always translates to useless words. For whom are you writing? How do these people understand the world? The style and approach in a fashion magazine will differ dramatically from the style and approach in The New York Times. 

Before you even begin writing, do some research. Read the pieces that have been successful in reaching your desired audience. Talk to the writers who consistently write for the audience. And make sure that you’re ready to reach them yourself.

2. Replace is/are verbs with action verbs.

In my freshman English class at Georgia State, the professor looked every student in the eye on the first day and established a course-long rule: no “be” verbs allowed in any paper, or points will be taken away. Fresh out of high school, we had no idea how to adjust to such a seemingly harsh rule. My first paper had red circles around every “be” verb—which turned out to be a lot. My last paper didn’t have one red circle at all.

This exercise turned out to be one of the best ones of my college career, because it became habit. I started looking for a way to rearrange my sentences to include action verbs. Doing this moves a sentence and makes the paper more interesting. Consider this example:

Johnny is playing a video game.

Now get rid of that “is”:

Johnny plays a video game.

The sentence sounds better. And it’s cleaner and easier to read.

3. Omit unnecessary words. 

It’s surprising how many words we use to make sentences more interesting or engaging. Actually, using less words that make greater impact makes a sentence thrive. Take a sentence from your most recent piece and try to scale it down. Start by taking away useless adverbs like “very,” “totally,” “so,” “absolutely.” These kinds of words only clutter a sentence. Then replace your “be” verbs with action verbs.

Johnny is singing a very interesting song to tell a story about his mother, who is turning 50 today.

Look at the difference after getting rid of many of these words and rearranging a bit:

Since Johnny’s mother turns 50 today, he dedicated a song about her life.

4. Write in active voice.

Writers use passive voice to put emphasis on the victim of an action rather than the doer of an action. Sometimes (especially in journalism) this tactic is necessary, and it’s not grammatically incorrect. However, putting sentences in the active voice as often as possible keeps the message clear and keeps the sentence cleaner.

Passive: The nail was hammered by the construction worker.

Active: The construction worker hammered the nail. 

5. Vary sentence structure

No one wants to read a piece with simple sentence after simple sentence. Throw in a complex, compound and compound-complex sentence. Create some variety so that it flows smoothly and sparks interest.

 

What are some ways you make your writing cleaner and more interesting?

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Atlanta author Charles McNair released his second book novel, “Pickett’s Charge” on September 20

Eve Bunting’s children’s book The Cart that Carried Martin was released in August, which follows a mule-drawn cart making its way through Atlanta

Melissa Keil’s Life in Outer Space is on tour with Peachtree Publishers, and you can even enter to win the novel.  

Jim Carrey conducted a reading at the Barnes and Noble on Peachtree Road on October 19 while he was in town filming “Dumb and Dumber To”

Both Publisher’s Weekly and Publisher’s Lunch provide information on publishing news and upcoming works daily. Creative Loafing is a good source that covers Atlanta-specific authors and novels, as well as the literary scene.

Atlanta is most well known for its magazines and newspapers. However, as the city grows, so do its publishing houses. Here are just a few of the houses in the city:

Peachtree Publishers

This small children’s publishing house located on Chattahoochee Avenue is an independently owned trade book publisher who publishes picture books for children as well as young adult fiction and nonfiction.

One of its most well-known authors is Fred Bowen, a former columnist for KidsPost in the Washington Post. Bowen has written the Fred Bowen Sports Story, a series of books about different kinds of sports geared toward kids aged seven to 12.

The publishing house also offers internships for fall, spring, and summer in editorial and publicity positions.

Wren’s Nest Publishing
Wren’s Nest focuses on student publishing. The non-profit publishing house holds storytellings and tours of the home of Joel Chandler Harris, Atlanta author of Uncle Remus.

The Wren’s Nest is a Historic Landmark and almost everything in the house is original property of the Harris family.

The Wren’s Nest offers both volunteer opportunities and internships.

Supreme Design Publishing
Operating out of Brookhaven, Supreme Design Publishing focuses on the “urban experience” and publishes works that reflect that focus. Their goal is to publish works that anyone and everyone can read.

It’s still a very new company—it was created in 2006—but their flagship book was extremely successful and brought a lot of attention to the company.

Keep checking back for events and new works from these Atlanta publishers!