When a master offers lessons, you seize the opportunity to learn.
Medha Shri offered a group writing workshop for os.me members. I signed up at once. The workshop was a great experience – we wrote in 30-minute settings, with the group holding one another accountable over Zoom. After 30 minutes were up, we took 5 minutes to edit our piece, proofread it (with Grammarly), select an appropriate image. We then (tried to) post it immediately on os.me.
This event was not just a workshop. It was a masterclass where the participants had an opportunity to learn from the master. Medha Shri did not disappoint. She gave us several nuggets to help us write better pieces.
I wanted to write an article summarizing the tips from the masterclass. Ever the consummate professional, Medha Shri summarized almost every point she covered in her newsletter.
I went back to my notes and found a few gems that Medha said in the workshop but did not include in her newsletter. Here they are.
Write Interesting Sentences
On Day 5 of the workshop, we performed a group writing activity.
We wrote a story as a group. Each person would have to provide the following line in the story. Medha Shri wrote down everyone’s sentences, and the end product was a story produced as a group.
Something about this exercise caught my attention.
As everyone was speaking out their sentences, Medha Shri spiced up the sentences and made them interesting. When I asked her about this, she mentioned her experience at the editor’s desk of a newspaper and how she trained herself to write interesting sentences.
Now, we all cannot go and land a job at the editor’s desk. We can, however, practice writing interesting sentences. A good starting point is to study the weekly os.me newsletter Medha writes each week. They are replete with strong sentences that catch the reader’s attention.
Deliberately practicing writing interesting sentences will help us write strong sentences in our pieces.
Alliteration (and other literary devices)
Medha Shri mentioned using literary devices such as alliterations to make our sentences interesting.
When each word in a sentence starts with the same consonant, this technique is called alliteration. Something about our brain likes patterns, and techniques such as rhyming and alliteration provide a hit to the brain’s pleasure centres.
Companies have recognised this. Coca Cola and PayPal are alliterations. So are Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme.
Here are a few phrases that are examples of alliterations:
- Busy as a bee
- Home sweet home
- Last laugh
- Make a mountain out of a molehill
What Do You Write in the Tagline?
We know that the tagline is important.
But what the heck goes in the tagline?
Here are two suggestions:
- The tagline should introduce your piece.This sounds like a powerful utility for the tagline. If you can have the tagline introduce your piece, excellent.
This, however seems like a lot of work. What makes for a good introduction? I don’t know the answer. I therefore like the following suggestion better (while secretly admiring this suggestion):
- Take a powerful sentence from your piece and make it the tagline.I love this suggestion! It makes my life easy and adds some zing to the piece. Medha Shri used this technique in the tagline of her first os.me article. I love the effect the tagline produced.
Dialogues Should Be At Most 20% of the Piece
This tip is more relevant for fiction writers, but has its place in non-fiction as well.
Dialogues add a nice touch to the piece. Overdoing dialogues will, however, will be an overkill. Moderation is key to everything in life, and dialogues are no exception.
Dialogues should comprise of no more than 20% of the piece.
Use No More than 5 Complex Words in Your Article
I love learning new words.
I no longer settle down on the couch, I ensconce myself on the couch. I don’t find tasks difficult, I find them onerous. And so on.
Writing online forced me to mend my ways.
I now settle down on the couch and work on the difficult task.
Medha Shri made the same point – use simple words. A fifth grader should be able to read your piece. She added something that delighted me: It is okay to use a few difficult words – they will embellish the piece.
Foreshadowing: A Technique to Hook the Reader
Don’t Bore the Reader – Om Swami
In one of the lectures in the Creative Writing Course, Swamiji drives home one important point: Don’t bore the reader. You want to captivate the reader.
Medha Shri echoed this advice. She added, “hook the reader”. She mentioned a technique called foreshadowing – give the reader hints on what is coming up in further paragraphs. This builds suspense. The following paragraphs should contain the big reveal. And again end with a further hint to further hook the reader.
Write with an Online Buddy
Writing in a group held the participants accountable.
When someone is watching you over your shoulder, you psychologically feel like doing the work. Procrastination, going down the rabbit hole of watching YouTube cat videos, checking social media, are all not options.
Medha Shri suggested a website called FocusMate.com, where two people do their own respective work (in silence), and hold each other accountable.
I decided to take things meta.
I wrote this article in a 50-minute Focusmate session. My focus partner worked on a spreadsheet, while I wrote this article.
I made much more progress than usual. The presence of another human being watching me prevented my brain from getting dopamine hits on the internet. I closed Gmail and worked mindfully on this piece.
As the 50 minutes came to a close, I finished 90% of this article. A successful session.
I intend to do this again.
Write a Stream of Consciousness piece. Then prune the weak parts out.
Stream of Consciousness is a great technique to let the thoughts flow, let the ideas loose.
Medha Shri provided the second piece of the puzzle: after completing the stream of consciousness writing, weed the weak parts out. Kill your darlings, as Stephen King may say. There is no need to keep every word. Retain the good thoughts, and prune out the weak ones.
Medha Shri’s Writing Tips Revisited
Don’t Give Generic Gyan – Medha Shri
For completeness, here are the tips Medha Shri summarized in her newsletter here
- Have I run this through grammarly.com (or any other writing assistant that you like)?
- Have I given a catchy headline and an interesting tagline?
- Have I used a good copyright-free picture (head to Pexels.com)?
- Are my sentences and paragraphs short?
- Is my vocabulary easy enough for a fifth grader?
- Have an engaging introductory para. Give hints about the crisis your piece is dealing with
- Don’t give generic gyan. We all know water should be saved, pollution should be contained, and health is wealth. Edit it out. Start from the middle
- Take a personal incident and make it universal. Or, pick a universal theme and make it personal
- Show, don’t tell. Use emotions, feelings, sounds, sights, and visuals. Make the reader feel what you felt
- The blog must deal with a challenge/crisis/obstacle. Then show the reader what it is, why it is what it is, and how you dealt with it
- Take the reader through a logical sequence
- Stick to a narrow focus
- Have a solid ending
- Write to move, motivate or inspire
- Don’t follow too many rules.
Image Credit: Art Lasovsky from Unsplash