Writing Tips

I found a scribbled, hastily assembled, crumpled piece of paper simply titled “Tips” in my desk today.

As far as I recall, it was the product of grading a set of essays a couple years ago on the novel Wild Geese by Martha Ostenso.

A common practice of mine after reading/marking a set of essays is to assemble a list of “pet peeves,” or writing errors, or tips that emerge from the set.

Here is the list:

  • practice writing a thesis/topic statement that can be parsed
  • the inclusion of a detail must support it’s purpose
  • structure, connect, state clearly, order, each subtopic as it develops the thesis
  • avoid “if…then” as logical proofs of what is
  • when discussing technique, consider the degree of complexity
  • avoid pronoun shifts: “you”
  • avoid plot summary
  • develop a Linking Lexicon
  • avoid dropped quotes
  • No X=X (see Rule 3 of 6):
    “These things…”, “There is nothing…”, “… shows us something important…”, “In this essay…”, “Many examples…”, “The quote…”, “In the book…”, “On page…”, “… the same thing…”, “I don’t think…”, “This is the end of my essay…”, “She was herself…”, “As a human…”, “… the way it did…”, “… start doing things…”, “… many times…”, “After reading…”, “I will be writing…”, “These symbols are the things…”, “… good with the bad…”, “It made things…”, “They did what he told them to do…”, “Her true feelings…”, “… an effective way…”, “… a secret way…”, “… the way…”, “… many ways…”, “… a different way…”, “… it speaks…”, “We, as readers…”, “… finished reading…”, “… the ideas of…”, “… something in the end.”

This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases [X=X] can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain. George Orwell

Personal Universe Lexicon

To construct your Personal Universe Lexicon, start with a new post. You may wish to construct the list with pen and paper first and transfer it to your blog later. Begin by following these instructions:

Write down as many words as you can then sort the words into the categories outlined below. Complete each category. Write as quickly as you can.


  • 16 words of each of the five senses (16 x 5 = 80 words). The words must mean, suggest: taste touch, sight, smell, and hearing. For instance, desiccated or frozen might suggest touch to you, or birdsong hearing.
  • 10 words of motion. The words must mean, suggest motion to you. They do not necessarily need to be verbs. Baby could be a motion word for someone, for example.
  • 3 abstractions. Such as love or freedom or truth.
  • 7 anything else. Any word with meaning to you that does not fit into the other categories.

All the words on the list must

  1. have significance to/for you
  2. be specific; that is the word must not be “bird” but “robin,” not “tree” but “aspen.”
  3. sound good to the ear.

Use no adverbs. Use no plurals.

Keep track of the words with your blog. Move them around each other in the list every day for a week. Choose one word at random from the list; write what the word(s) sparks, what the juxtaposition of words builds for you.

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