E-book Effortless English learn to speak English like a native. Chapter 18: The Secret To Good English Writing

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E-book Effortless English learn to speak English like a native. Chapter 18: The Secret To Good English Writing

Post by Admin on Fri Mar 31, 2017 5:15 pm

Chapter 18: The Secret To Good English Writing »

The Secret To Good English Writing
Years ago, I was teaching an advanced writing class in San Francisco. My students were foreign
learners who hoped to enter an American university. They had just finished writing an essay about
why they wanted to study in the USA.
Each student handed me their paper and then walked out of class. I sat down, grabbed the first one,
and began to read. I read the first paragraph and was completely confused. The introduction was a
mess. The sentences were extremely long and complex and were written in the passive voice. The
vocabulary was complex and was used incorrectly.
As I continued to read, I was horrified. The student's essay was unintelligible. I couldn't even
understand his main idea. Frustrated, I put the paper aside and grabbed another. I began to read the
second essay and encountered the exact same problems. Once again there were long complex
sentences that were impossible to follow or understand. Once again the student used complex
vocabulary that was inappropriate and used incorrectly. Once again I had no idea what she was trying
to say.
Bewildered, I went through every essay and found the same problems in each of them: convoluted
sentences, overly complex vocabulary, overuse of the passive voice, and no clear message or point.
The essays were unreadable.
“What a mess,” I said to myself as I put down the last paper.
The Problem of Academic Writing
Why were these essays so bad, and why were they bad in such similar ways? The answer lies, again,
with the hidden curriculum of schools. Each of my students had learned English writing in school. In
their classes, they had been taught an academic style of writing that emphasized complex sentences,
complex vocabulary, and the passive voice.
Both teachers and students use this style of writing in an attempt to sound intellectual. The truth is,
however, that most academic writing is terrible. Academic journals, for example, are filled with
convoluted sentences that seem designed to be as confusing as possible. Students, influenced by their
professors, attempt to model this kind of writing. As my San Francisco class showed, the results are
typically disastrous.
Write Like Hemingway
In contrast to academics, Nobel prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway was famous for his simple,
direct style of writing. Hemingway typically used short sentences, simple phrases, and common
vocabulary to create beautiful and powerful stories.
Though you are unlikely to write as well as Hemingway, his general style of writing is the best one
to use. Most English learners write badly because they make their writing overly complex. They are
trying to sound “intellectual” but instead end up sounding unintelligible. The solution is to write more
conversationally. In other words, write like you speak.
Conversational writing is similar to (though not exactly the same) as speaking. When you speak
English, you likely use clear, simple, direct sentences. You express your ideas as simply as possible.
Short, direct sentences are best. Break long sentences into a series of short, simple sentences. In
most cases, use the active voice rather than the passive. Model your writing on journalists and
Hemingway rather than on professors, journal articles, or other academic material.
Good writing is a process of cutting and simplifying. Your goal, therefore, is to communicate your
ideas using as few words as possible. The simpler you make your writing, the more clear and
powerful it will be.
How To Develop Your English Writing
So how do you develop a simple, conversational, and direct writing style? It turns out you already
know the answer! In the last chapter we discussed the importance of pleasure reading. The research
shows that this kind of reading is not only a great way to improve your reading speed, reading
comprehension, and vocabulary — it's also the best way to improve your writing.
Just as listening is the key to speaking, reading is the key to writing. The same principle applies:
Understandable, compelling input is the foundation for effective output. In other words, listening is
the foundation for speaking and reading is the foundation for writing.
Just as you focused on fairly easy listening to improve your speaking, you'll focus on fairly easy
reading to improve your writing. Just as you focused on listening to real stories and authentic audios
to master English speaking, you'll read stories and authentic books to master English writing. You
needed a lot of listening to speak effortlessly and you'll now need a lot of reading in order to write
This is why your number one activity for writing is reading. Nothing beats high-volume pleasure
reading for improving written grammar, written vocabulary, sentence structure, spelling, and clarity.
The more you read for pleasure, the more you intuitively absorb English sentence structures. In other
words, you learn to write best by modeling your writing after good writers. The best way to imitate
good writers is to read their books.
Remember, when it comes to pleasure reading, the amount is what is most important. Your goal is
to constantly increase the number of pages you read in English every week. Read novels that you
love. Read non-fiction books that fascinate you. Read comic books. Read simple articles. It's the
amount you read that is most important, not how difficult it is. In fact, easier material is usually best,
especially for the purpose of improving your writing.
Daily Writing Practice: Speed Writing
Too many English learners focus themselves on writing academic essays. As noted previously, these
kinds of essays are often overly complex. Even when well written, academic writing is challenging
and is one of the most advanced levels of writing.
This is why most learners benefit by first focusing on simpler forms of writing. One of the best
ways to do this is to write a daily journal. Daily journal writing helps you to improve sentence
structure, write faster and write more clearly.
The key to journal writing is to keep it short and simple. Each day, choose one clear topic to write
about. You might write about something you did the day before. You might write about one of your
goals. You could write about something you recently read, communicating your thoughts or feelings
about it.
The next step is to set a timer, with an alarm, for ten minutes. When you are ready to begin, press
“start” on the timer and write as quickly as possible. The most important point is to never take a
break. You must write during the entire ten minutes without pausing. Do not pause to think of what to
write next. Do not pause to correct mistakes. Do not pause to think of a better phrase. Do not let your
hand stop moving — continue writing anything that comes into your head for the entire ten minutes.
This technique is called “timed writing” and is commonly used by professional authors. By writing
quickly, without pausing, you bypass your critical brain and learn to let the words flow out. When you
first try this you will probably feel frustrated. You'll struggle to think of what to write. Your writing
will be disorganized. You'll make a lot of mistakes. Don't worry.
As you continue doing timed writings each day, you will improve. Your writing speed and fluency
will get faster. You'll find yourself naturally using phrases that you read in a book or article. Because
you are writing fast, you'll be forced to write more simply. You won't have time to think about
grammar rules.
Week by week, your sentence structure will improve. Perhaps more importantly, your confidence
with English writing will improve. If you feel confident enough, you could post your journal publicly
online by writing it as a blog. Each day, publish a new post of your timed writing.
Rewriting Is The Secret To Good Writing
Reading for pleasure and daily timed writing are the foundation of your English writing practice.
However, you will not become a great writer by only using these two methods. In fact, your timed
writings will probably never be great. They'll always have mistakes and problems, and that's fine.
In fact, your imperfect journal writing will be in good company. This is a secret that few writers
discuss, but all know: almost all first drafts are bad! In other words, even professional native
speakers, who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their books, can write badly. All writers
make grammar mistakes. All writers make spelling mistakes.
Great writers know that the secret to good writing is rewriting. You see, with writing we have a
great advantage compared to speaking. We have time. You have time to read what you wrote. You
have time to identify your mistakes. You have time to correct those mistakes. You have time to
completely rewrite everything. You even have time to show your writing to other people and get their
For casual writing, such as a blog post or email, it's not usually necessary to rewrite. However, for
important communication such as business proposals, school essays, important emails, professional
articles, etc., rewriting is absolutely essential.
The good news is that you don't need to write perfectly. It is acceptable to make mistakes in your
first draft. We all do. It's even acceptable for your first draft to be terrible. With writing, only the
final draft is essential and it must be mistake free.
You create your great final draft through the editing process. First, use timed writing to quickly
write your first draft. Get your ideas on paper. Make mistakes. Just write quickly.
Once you have the first draft, you have something to work with. Think of yourself as a sculptor and
the first draft is your clay. Read the draft, imagining yourself as the final reader (your audience). Are
the ideas clear? Is everything stated as directly as possible? What's confusing? Are the ideas well
Undoubtedly, you will find many problems. That's when you rewrite. Correct the problems. Cut the
mistakes. Rewrite whole sections, or the whole thing, if necessary. Your focus is to make the second
draft simpler, clearer and more direct.
When you finish your second draft, save it and put it aside. If possible, wait a day and then reread
it. Again imagine you are the final reader. Look for overly complex sentences. Look for unclear ideas.
Fix the problems again and rewrite for the second time.
For many kinds of writing, two rewrites will be enough. However, if the writing is particularly
important, you'll need to do more. For this kind of writing, it's best to get outside help from an editor.
Your editor might be a friend, or a tutor, or even a paid professional. This person will read your third
draft and offer advice. Ask them to quickly rewrite any sections that are problematic.
Working with an editor will help you create the best writing possible. It's not always necessary,
but do it whenever you can, and carefully notice their rewrite suggestions.
After a few rewrites with your editor, you'll be ready to publish what you have written. Before you
do so, be sure to use spell check to catch spelling mistakes you may have missed.
For Practice
Do a ten minute timed writing exercise every day. During this time, write as quickly as possible
without stopping.
The next day, reread the previous day's journal entry. Quickly identify problems and mistakes.
Rewrite your journal entry to make it clearer. Cut out anything that is unnecessary.
On day three, you'll go back to step one and do another timed writing. Continue following this
pattern, alternating timed writing with rewrites.


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