Mark Twain once said that the difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

That’s a big difference!

Editors love writers who who can write cleanly, directly, and with precision. Perhaps no other skill is as essential to the task of writing than the ability to choose words that communicate directly to the mind and heart of your reader.

But writing precisely does not come naturally. It takes time and effort to sculpt sentences, to shave off unnecessary words to make room for the words that matter most.

Writing with Precision

Here are 19 tips guaranteed to help you write in a style that editors and readers most enjoy. Incorporate these tips into your writing process and discover the immediate impact they’ll have on your prose and on your writing career!

  1. Think clearly, write clearly.

  2. Get rid of clutter. Delete all words that do not serve a purpose.

  3. Rewrite.

  4. Proofread your work. Then let someone else read it.

  5. Consider writing in first person.

  6. Know your audience.

  7. Use simple words. Avoid clichés and over-used idioms.

  8. Learn to write by writing. Write! Write! Write! But don’t forget: the delete key is a writer’s best friend.

  9. Hook your reader at the beginning of your article/story. Remember, the average reader’s attention span is only about 30 seconds!

  10. The perfect ending should surprise and satisfy.

  11. When you are ready to stop, STOP! Know when to orphan your work.

  12. Bring your writing full circle—strike a note at the end that you sounded at the beginning.

  13. Keep verbs strong and active. Remember, verbs push your sentences forward and give them momentum.

  14. Avoid unnecessary adverbs. Most adverbs clutter your sentences and annoy your reader. Don’t use them unless absolutely necessary.

  15. Use adjectives sparingly.

  16. Honor your own style. Learn from the masters, but BE TRUE TO YOU. Your writing is unique and sets you apart from other writers.

  17. Find your rhythm in writing. Read your sentences aloud before you submit them.

  18. Become a word-crafter. Constantly rearrange your words to make them communicate more clearly.

  19. Keep paragraphs short. Writing is a visual medium. Use subtitles to avoid building big blocks of uninterrupted text.

Final Thoughts

If you want to improve your odds of getting published, whether you are trying to publish a magazine article or a book, spend time honing your use of words. Learn to read like a writer. Underline words and phrases that are pithy and to the point. Take courses on writing and editing. Notice the small turns of phrases in dialogue. Most of all, and best of all, HAVE FUN.

You don’t need to write like Mark Twain to know the difference between choosing the almost right word and the right word, though reading his books, and the books of other capable authors, will certainly help. The most important thing is to be able to recognize good sentences when you see them, which will give you literary instincts that will serve you immeasurably when it comes time to submit your work to a publisher.

Writing precisely should be one of the top aspirations for every writer. And if you’re struggling with this, remember that lightning rarely strikes twice. So keep a pen and pad of paper handy because you never know when the right word, idea, or story will add wings to your writing career and leave your readership spellbound.

To learn more about writing with precision, see Effective Story Crafting in our Christian Writers for Life masterclasses. Use code WRITENOW for 5% off your Lifetime membership.

Denise George is the bestselling author of 32 traditionally published books with Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Zondervan, Tyndale House, B&H, Bethany House, and many others. She has self-published 10 books and sold more than 2,000 magazine and newspaper articles. For more than 50 years, Denise has traveled and spoken internationally to groups large and small, and she leads the popular online writer’s community Christian Writers for Life.


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