Writing Advice to Help You Succeed

Writing Advice to Help You Succeed


School's starting in less than a month: Do you know where your writing skills are? Just joking -- but not really. Effective writing skills must be in every student's toolkit, and the best way to acquire those skills is to study the masters.

Take E.B. White. He's know for the graceful fluidity of his prose, and the direct nature of his thoughts. Take a look at the paragraph below, for example:

"This is a dark morning in the apartment, but the block is gay with yellow moving vans disgorging Mary Martin's belongings in front of a house a couple doors east of here, into which (I should say from the look of things) she is moving. People's lives are so exposed at moments like this, their possessions lying naked in the street, the light of day searching out every bruise and mark of indoor living. It is an unfair expose--end tables with nothing to be at the end of, standing lamps with their cords tied up in curlers, bottles of vermouth craning their long necks from cartons of personal papers, and every wastebasket carrying its small cargo of miscellany. The vans cause a stir in the block. Heads appear in the windows of No. 230, across the way. Passersby stop on the sidewalk and stare brazenly into the new home through the open door. I have a mezzanine seat for the performance; like a Peeping Tom, I lounge here in my bathrobe and look down, held in the embrace of a common cold, before which scientists stand in awe although they have managed to split the atom, infect the topsoil with strontium 90, break the barrier of sound, and build the Lincoln Tunnel."

The prose here is crisp and very descriptive. Let's take a look at another paragraph:

"The movers experience the worst trouble with two large house plants, six-footers, in their great jars. The jars, on being sounded, prove to be a third full of water and have to be emptied into the gutter. Living things are always harder to lift, somehow, than inanimate objects, and I think any mover would rather walk up three flights with a heavy bureau than go into a waltz with a rubber plant. There is really no way for a man to put his arms around a big house plant and still remain a gentleman."

Another admirable paragraph. If we were to deconstruct this paragraph, we might notice that the sentences have been constructed in a most logical fashion. Let's take a look at how they are constructed:

The first sentence is an initial sentence. The second is causal, and the third is additive. And the fourth is again causal. Very elegant, very simple.

Let's look at one more paragraph:

"When I was in my teens, I lived in Mount Vernon, in the same block with J. Parnell Thomas, who grew up to become chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. I lived on the corner of Summit and East Sidney, at No. 101 Summit Avenue, and Parnell lived four or five doors north of us on the same side of the avenue, in the house the Diefendorfs used to live in."

White uses this as an effective opening paragraph, one that catches the reader's attention an holds it. Should you wish to catch your instructor's attention, you might try writing something similar. 

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