Don't do everything blogger/columnist/book author John Scalzi says.
In response to a reader's query, Scalzi posted ten suggestions for nonprofessional writers who'd like to "write better." He offers a few good tips, such as "when in doubt, simplify" and "learn to friggin' spell," which really means "use the friggin' spell checker."
But he leaves out a couple of key guidelines, and his grammar and punctuation suggestions will create more chaos than they'll clear up.
What he forgets
Scalzi omits one absolutely vital
guideline rule: Use the active voice. Instead of saying, "The running back was tackled by the linebacker," say, "The linebacker tackled the running back." The passive voice moves the actor (subject) away from the action (verb) and makes it seem like the whole world sits around waiting for something to happen.
Use simple, strong verbs (not simple, weak ones, like "use"). For example, instead of saying, "The linebacker tackled the running back," say, "The linebacker torpedoed the running back," or say, "The linebacker flattened the running back." Vivid verbs appeal to the reader's senses and help make sentences more memorable. (A little alliteration doesn't hurt, either.)
Sleep on it. In these days of blogging, breaking news, and instant gratification, it's hard to give our writing what it probably needs the most: time. Before you publish, try to put your piece down and come back to it a day or two later. You'll end up thinking about the piece while you're away from it, and when you come back, you'll look at it with a fresh eye.
Get feedback from at least two people. One, a member of your target audience and the other, a more experienced writer than you. Unless you're Emily Dickinson, you shouldn't write in a vacuum. During the drafting stage, a reader's impressions or another writer's advice can help you shape your piece or even take it in a new direction. Post-publish comments on your blog may provide some insight, but when people know you're looking for help while you're still writing, their feedback tends to be far more constructive.
What he nails
When he says:
Front-load your point: If you make people wade through seven paragraphs of unrelated anecdotes before you get to what you're really trying to say, you've lost....Now, sometimes people write to find out what their point is; I think that's fine because I do that myself. But most of the time after I've figured out my point, I'll go back and re-write.
That's like the old rule of thumb that recommends writing your article and then, when you think it's finished, deleting the first paragraph.