Woman writing in journal

The hardest part of writing is making yourself sit down to write.

Of the many first blog post lines I have ever read, I think that yesterday’s Over Easy first line was one of the best:

Yesterday I was up against a wall.

After reading that first line, I had to read the post, because I could not help but wonder what this author was experiencing. Turns out Kris was facing a bit of writer’s block:

Suffering from a bit of writer’s block even. I could not come up with a topic for today’s post that stirred my passion as an activist, a person, a parent… anything. My only semi-solid thought was a post about gun control, but it seems like such a large and complex issue.

By coincidence, I was in the same position over the weekend, so I decided to share a few writing tips that I have learned, and invite others to share as well.

Keep this fun site in mind as well, because it impossible not to learn and enjoy while you visit.

I was in this position because I have been researching my legal case, and writing an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim (11.42 in Kentucky) against my trial lawyer. I was experiencing writer’s block for online essays, because I have been doing formulaic legal writing for the past month.

To get out of the legal writing mindset and return to the fun of writing, I phoned my retired-English-teacher elderly mother over the weekend and asked her to reflect on the worst of the worst that she observed in writing over the years, and with that in mind, share her handful of key writing tips for anyone covering any topics. My mother, Letty Owings, is 88 years old, and here is what she offers:

1. Begin with whatever you begin with.

If you are writing about your recent trip to Hawaii, for example, do not begin with “We decided to go to Hawaii,” because you obviously decided to go to Hawaii or you wouldn’t have gone there! Letty uses the Christmas letter as an example of where one might see unnecessary overstatements of the obvious: “This year has gone by so fast. Here it is Christmas and I don’t have anything ready.” The year obviously went by, or else it wouldn’t be Christmas!

2. Be careful with adverbs.

The adverb “very” is terrible, according to Letty. For effective embellishment, replace the adverb “very” with an adjective. For example, rather than say “very hot,” say “scorching” and leave it at that. Do not be tempted to turn scorching into an adverb by saying “scorching hot,” because the adverb diminishes. Also, anything that ends in an -ly is an adverb that can diminish through unnecessary overstatement and redundancy. For example, a “brutally horrific murder” is a murder, and what murder is nice and polite? Are not all murders horrific? A better way to embellish would be to say, “She was tortured and bludgeoned.”

3.The Dreaded “It”

The dummy subject ‘it,’ followed by the ‘be’ word ‘very’ can kill, especially at a post beginning. While sometimes the only or best word at the time, rather than say: “it was a very horrific scene with marbles in the aisle,” try, “When I ran to an exit, I slipped in marbles and fell on my back.”

4. Omit Omit Omit

As Strunk and White insist in their classic Elements of style, OMIT needless words, making cuts and edits, thus allowing meaning, rather than overwriting. Growing up with my mother, she red-penned my writing and deleted my thesaurus enhanced writing. Oh the shouting, crying, vows never to write again, but rather leave home and submit my sophomoric screeds to caring folks who were, for the most part, more interested in weed that in essays.

What are your favorite first lines, from fiction or nonfiction? I offer two, for hooks that one cannot avoid but reading on:

This is what happened, — “The Mist,” by Stephen King.

or,

We were somewhere around Barstow when the drugs began to kick in. — Hunter S. Thompson

Share your writing tips, secrets, marketing techniques, style, where to get ideas, share some concepts, or anything else bout blogging/ news linking, as well you your experience with writer’s block! Improv/warmup ideas, anything on writing of on any topic, please join!

Also, what first lines last lines are memorable for you?

Photo by Erin Kohlenberg released under a Creative Commons license.