Writing “Fitness” Is Essential To The Development Of Clear Writing Skills

Here’s a “fitness” secret to keep in mind – write every day.  It’s like your daily physical exercise, only it’s about writing.  The more you write, the faster you will become a “fit” writer.  Find something to write about, formal or informal.

For example, the other day I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about one of my “favorite” politicians, who shall remain unnamed here.  I wrote a comment to this article and so far have received 22 recommendations to the comment.  This response was gratifying because it only took me a minute or two to write the comment, and because it apparently had a far reaching impact on other readers.

Writing fitness is like physical fitness in one respect: you should vary your approach to it so you don’t get bored.  Don’t lose focus.  Find  ways to stay motivated about your writing.  Make a commitment to yourself, set a goal, and stick to it.  A good approach that works for me is to write on a topic of interest, save it on Word, and  use it on a later date if I don’t publish it immediately.

Another way to keep fit is to work on your paragraphing.  Effective paragraphing was previously stressed on this site last March,  but the subject bears repeating.   There is more to writing a good paragraph than just stringing a few sentences together.  For one thing, overall appearance of your writing is important, so paragraphs should be uniformly indented.  Also, begin each new paragraph with a new thought.  Beware of too many short paragraphs, which suggest that a writer has not given enough thought to his writing.  Other requirements for tight paragraphs include the following:

1.  Use of a topic sentence will unify the paragraph, start the reader in the right direction, and tell the reader where you are heading.  A concluding sentence will tell the reader what you have said.

2.  Achieve paragraph coherence by clear arrangement of sentences, and connect them by use of reference words, key words, parallel structure, and transitional words and phrases.

Paragraphing can take many forms.  The following example uses narrative paragraphing to tell a story:

The lingering echoes of California’s 1849 gold rush can still be heard today.

It was a watershed event in America’s economic history, starting innocuously enough with the discovery of gold at John Sutter’s sawmill near Sacramento, California.  Pandemonium reigned with the spread of news as the influx of gold seekers into California swelled to a crescendo.  Outsiders from all over the world poured into California; they sailed around South America, crossed Panama, and swarmed in from other parts of the world.  San Francisco mushroomed from a sleepy little village to a boom town virtually overnight.

California became known as the “Golden State.”  The huge supply of gold that was ultimately generated provided riches for the  United States.  The enormous amount of gold now available enabled the U.S. Mint to add two new gold coins, the gold $1 coin and a large, heavy $20 coin (Double Eagle).

So began a new worship of money.  The discovery of gold paved the way for the transformation of pastoral America to manufacturing America and for the institution of the gold standard – paper money backed by gold and free convertibility of currency into gold.  The price of gold was pegged at $20 per ounce.

But the gold standard worked to the disadvantage of indebted farmers, who favored bimetallism (as did Alexander Hamilton), and the minting of silver coins to create cheap money.  Their struggle with depressed crop prices in the late nineteenth century was aggravated by a shortage of money and an escalation of the farmer-banker conflict.

Banker J. Pierpont Morgan was a strong advocate for the gold standard.  But to William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, Morgan was a Pontius Pilate who nailed starving farmers to a cross of gold.  The agrarian fanatical hatred for the gold standard was reflected in Bryan’s famous speech at the 1896 Democratic convention, when he passionately proclaimed to thunderous applause that “mankind shall not be crucified on a cross of gold.”

America eventually departed from the gold standard in 1933 when President  Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to the depression, impounded all the country’s gold.    In 1971, because of a serious cash flow crisis, President Richard Nixon permanently closed the gold window by decreeing that the U.S. would not exchange gold for dollars for anyone.

With the departure of the gold standard came the untrammeled printing of money by the U.S. and other nations.  This creation of easy money (fiat money, i.e., money created by government decree) leading to excessive spending and the resulting budget deficits have arguably directly contributed to the sovereign debt crisis plaguing much of the world today.  As a solution, some analysts are now calling for a hardening of currencies and a return to the gold standard.

 One of the simplest teaching vehicles to illustrate the viability of the foregoing paragraphing concepts, believe it or not, is a recipe.  Here’s a recipe for “California Gold Rush Brownies.” My wife has been making them for years.   The recipe is as easy as pie (no pun intended) and makes great brownies!

 Only four ingredients are required.  They are as follows: 30 whole Honey Maid graham crackers, 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, 1 tablespoon of milk, and 12 ounces of chocolate chips.

Preparation of the ingredients for baking is easy.  Break up the graham crackers and add them, a few at a time, to a food processor, grinding them until very fine.  Place the ground up crackers in a bowl with the sweetened condensed milk and 1 tablespoon of regular milk.  Mix well and blend in the chocolate chips.

Baking is the next step.  Place the mixture into a well buttered 9 by 12 inch baking pan, pressing down evenly.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven about 25 to 30 minutes until the sides start to separate from the pan.  These brownies are best when soft, so don’t overcook them as they will become too dry.

Finally, let the brownies cool and cut them into squares.  The recipe makes 24 to 30 squares, depending on how big they are cut and what size pan is used.  Add chopped nuts if desired.

WARNING: these brownies are habit forming and disappear fast.  They never disappoint.  You’ll have to taste them to believe it!

 I selected this recipe to use  because it’s easy to formulate topic sentences for the paragraphs.  While you don’t have to use topic sentences in this recipe because it’s so short, using them here will help you get in the habit of using them.

Both the narrative paragraph and the brownie recipe will be found in my forthcoming eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” soon to be published on Kindle.

My article, “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved the Union,” is presently available on Kindle.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Filed under clear writing, history, Writing Improvement

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