This is my first to the last post. Please let me give you a present. I have so valued your participation over the past six months that I want to give you something you will value. You all love and appreciate good writing. Many of you have blogs of your own. I hope you will find these rules helpful.
I first gave a copy of “Leach’s Rules for Revision” to our son Chris before he went to college. I’ve given out only a dozen copies since: to our son Jeff before he went to college, to my best friend, to a prisoner who asked for advice, and to a handful of authors, established and new.
I’ve revised these rules over the years. Here is what it’s about: sometimes the Holy Spirit takes over our writing. We look at a paragraph and wonder, “Where did that come from?” (We don’t take credit for spontaneous wonders.) More often our best writing appears in the rewriting. God writes straight with crooked lines. And so do we. “If it sounds like writing,” wrote Elmore Leonard, “rewrite it.” Even if it doesn’t, these simple rules will improve what you’ve written—a blog post, a book, an essay, an e-mail, a resume—one hundred percent.
Here then, in gratitude, is a present.
Leach’s Rules for Revision
- Change passive voice sentences to active voice, e.g. change the sentence, “The active voice is used by Mike,” to “Mike uses the active voice.” This rule will become a habit in your first draft, and your writing will appear effortless.
- Change static verbs to action verbs, e.g. change “Mike went to the store,” to “Mike raced to the store.” Action verbs make your writing jump.
- Eschew adverbs.
- Never use two words where one will do.
- Limit adjectives.
- “Whenever you can shorten a sentence, do. And one always can. The best sentence? The shortest.” —Gustave Flaubert
- Break up pages with short paragraphs.
- “The truth is concrete (or particular).” —Karl Rahner. Don’t say food when you can say hamburger, and don’t say hamburger when you can say Royale with cheese.
- Stories, images, and figures of speech make ideas come alive. Make sure you have at least one figure of speech—simile, metaphor, comparison, analogy, exaggeration—on every other page.
- Quotes and dialogue enliven ideas. Fit them in.
- Appeal to the senses. Remember smell.
- You may break these rules when you understand them.
And remember: use your own voice—the one that speaks inside—and your writing will shine.
Mike’s final post will appear on Monday, August 8.