Righting Your Writing

Like a firm handshake, good writing gives people a lasting impression. No matter what the intention, medium, or technology — how and what you write needs to be clear, easy to read, and effective.

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser says, “We are a society struggling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.” If what you’re trying to communicate is hiding in that kind of clutter, it’s likely your readers will not hear what you’re trying to say.

“Writing is hard work.” Zinsser explains. Good writing takes time and attention. Here are some suggestions for righting what you write:

Start with an Outline. Jot down the points you want to make. Collect and organize your thoughts before you write them.

Stick to the Point. Don’t waste words telling people what they already know or don’t need to know.

Avoid Jargon. Don’t use words that people outside your line of work won’t understand. Find another way to say it.

Use Familiar Combinations of Words. “Everything that coruscates with effulgence is not ipso facto aurous,” works a lot more effectively as “All that glitters is not gold.”

Use “First-degree” Words. Words that create an immediate image will get the point across quicker. For example, use object instead of manifestation, or face instead of visage.

Avoid “Windy Phrases.” Is there a shorter way to say something? Say it that way. “The secret of good writing,” says Zinsser, “is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”

Read it out loud. Better yet, ask someone else to read it back to you. Do you pay attention? Is your message clear? Do you understand yourself?

“Good writing doesn’t come naturally,” explains Zinsser. But good writing is essential if you want to communicate effectively with your audience.

(Need help? Visit our sister website Words by Jen for information on our copy writing and editing services.)

BOOK REVIEW: Convenience Store Woman

CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN
Written by Sayaka Murata

The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.


As a former “convenience store woman” myself (college days), I easily stepped into the world of Keiko Furukura. It was very familiar — perhaps in too many ways. Who hasn’t felt a little off-center from the rest of the world sometimes? Hooray! for Keiko to figure out a work-around that brings her peace and fulfillment. And Bravo! the reader who can welcome Keiko into her/his heart…she is sweet and funny and sad, and living life on her own terms. Happily. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: How to Be a Good Creature

HOW TO BE A GOOD CREATURE
A Memoir in 13 Animals
Written by Sy Montgomery
Illustrated by Rebecca Green

Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet’s rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy’s life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets.

This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals—Sy’s friends—and the truths revealed by their grace. It also explores vast themes: the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; how we find our passion; how we create our families; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.


One of my favorite movies as a child was Dr. Doolittle. (The Rex Harrison classic, thank you.) Well, flash forward a few decades and meet naturalist Sy Montgomery and her menagerie of friends—the dog, the pig, the octopus, the spider. And more. From the stunning cover design to the sweet interior illustrations and through each charming story, you’ll get a new look at this world from the perspective of Montgomery and her chance encounters with the animals who have changed her life…and might just change yours. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: The Essex Serpent

THE ESSEX SERPENT

by Sarah Perry

An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love.

When Cora Seaborne’s brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy’s nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend. While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year’s Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief. These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart—an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected.


I did not fall in love with this book right away. It was one of those relationships where you keep asking: should I or shouldn’t I continue? But things change one muddy night in the marsh, and it’s not until then that this book gets moving at an interesting – albeit slow – pace. The themes of religion, science, superstition, and intrigue start to reveal themselves more clearly then, as do the characters. There is a lot to this story, and it’s a good one! But truth be told, I found the supporting characters much more interesting than the main ones. Forget Cora and Will – meh – pay attention to Francis, Martha, Naomi, and Stella. They are much more fun to follow! — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: The Course of Love

The Course of Love: A Novel
by Alain de Botton

We all know the headiness and excitement of the early days of love. But what comes after? In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married, they have children—but no long-term relationship is as simple as “happily ever after.” The Course of Love explores what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence. We see, along with Rabih and Kirsten, the first flush of infatuation, the effortlessness of falling into romantic love, and the course of life thereafter. Interwoven with their story and its challenges is an overlay of philosophy—an annotation and a guide to what we are reading.


This should be required reading. For everyone. Period. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: The Immortalists

Immoirtalists

The Immortalists
by Chloe Benjamin

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies inform their next five decades. A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.


While a bit predictable, the premise of this book is interesting, and you are certainly set-up for a good story from the very early pages. It wanders off a few times, puts you in some compromising positions with the characters, and trips on itself here and there, but overall it offered a new take on an old question and several distinct answers. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: Saving Fish from Drowning

Saving Fish from Drowning
by Amy Tan

San Francisco art patron Bibi Chen has planned a journey of the senses along the famed Burma Road for eleven lucky friends. But after her mysterious death, Bibi watches aghast from her ghostly perch as the travelers veer off her itinerary and embark on a trail paved with cultural gaffes and tribal curses, Buddhist illusions and romantic desires. On Christmas morning, the tourists cruise across a misty lake and disappear. With picaresque characters and mesmerizing imagery, Saving Fish from Drowning gives us a voice as idiosyncratic, sharp, and affectionate as the mothers of The Joy Luck Club. Bibi is the observant eye of human nature – the witness of good intentions and bad outcomes, of desperate souls and those who wish to save them. In the end, Tan takes her readers to that place in their own heart where hope is found.


I have had this book in my To Read pile for about 8 years. I never got much farther than 20 or 30 pages before losing focus/patience/track and setting it down. But it came highly recommended and I’ve loved so many of Tan’s books, I had to give this one last good effort. Turning the final page, I can say, it’s a great story told from a creative, fascinating point of view. And in that, it’s well worth the read. But unfortunately, that very point of view is what makes this story so cumbersome – too many characters, too much background information, and way too many sidetracks and side stories to ever really get a good foothold. — Jen Payne