Three Tips to Improve Your Writing Rhythm

As a professional copywriter, not only do I do a lot of writing but I also look at a lot of writing. One of the things I've noticed that set the good/great writers from the so-so is rhythm.

What I mean by rhythm is how the writing sounds. The rhythm of the words and sentences. It's a subtle aspect of writing, one not normally talked about, but that doesn't lessen its importance.

Unfortunately, rhythm is also tough to teach (which is probably why it isn't talked about very much). It's something felt deep inside, like it is with music. It isn't as straight forward as pointing out a grammar error. What makes it tougher is that everyone has his/her own style and own unique rhythm. However, these three tips should get you started thinking about your own writing rhythm and how to improve it.

1. Watch out for long sentences. In fact, you might want to consider avoiding them altogether.

There's nothing inherently wrong with long sentences. And there are times where longer sentences are necessary (see next tip -- but note I said longer and not long). The problem is that long sentences have a tendency to turn into flabby sentences.

Think of a sentence as an eel. The longer it gets, the more slippery and elusive it becomes. Long sentences are sentences just waiting to slither far away and completely out of your control.

So what's going on with long sentences? One problem is they're tiring to read. By the time readers reach the end of a long sentence, they've most likely forgotten the subject/verb/point of the sentence. And they're probably too tired or too lazy or too busy to go back to the beginning of the sentence and sort the whole thing out.

Another problem is long sentences lack punctuation. Punctuation is a big part of rhythm. The start and stop of a period. The bated breath of an em-dash. Think of punctuation as your percussion section.

But when you write a long sentence, all you have to work with is the quiet sigh of the unobtrusive comma. Yes, they have their place. But it's a subtler instrument. (Think triangle rather than kettledrum.)

A good rule of thumb is to make sure a single sentence doesn't go over 30 words. If it does, strongly consider breaking it in two. Or three.

2. Vary sentence length. In music, a steady beat is usually a good thing. In writing, it's considered one of the deadly sins. (Okay, not really. But it still isn't good writing.)

If every sentence is the same length, your writing is going to get pretty dull pretty quick. You need short sentences, longer sentences (but not too long) medium length sentences and very short sentences.

How do you know if your sentences are all the same? Does your piece sound monotonous? Are you getting a sing-song voice in your head when you read it? Better take a closer look at those sentence lengths. They're probably all pretty close to being the same.

3. Sentence fragments are a good thing. Forget your fourth-grade English teacher. Forget that obnoxious green line in Microsoft Word telling you your grammar is wrong. In copywriting, as well as in many other forms of writing, sentence fragments are a lifesaver. Those fragments allow you to quickly and easily vary your sentence length. Plus, they can help your writing sound conversational. People talk in sentence fragments. Therefore, reading sentence fragments gives people the impression you're talking to them -- in your own voice and your own style.

So what's a sentence fragment? A sentence that isn't complete. It's missing something -- noun, verb, both. It's not a complete sentence.

Rhythm in writing is much more than just what's going on with your sentences. (Not that we've covered everything that goes wrong with sentences.) But it's a good place to start.

Creativity Exercises -- Get in touch with your writing rhythm

Hearing things out loud is a good way to start getting in touch with your writing rhythm. You may have heard of this technique to find mistakes -- and yes, it's a good way to discover errors. But, this is also an excellent way to start getting to know your own unique rhythm.

Start by reading your own work out loud. If you've never done this before, try not to be too hard on yourself. Chances are you're going to discover all sorts of problems -- including too long sentences and paragraphs where all the sentences are the same length. Make a note of what needs fixing.

Once you fix it, read it out loud again. Then read it the original way. Listen to the difference. Even better, try to feel the difference -- deep inside, in your gut. Our gut is an excellent rhythm sensor.

You should also read out loud things you haven't written. And read a variety of things -- plays, novels, direct mail pieces, newspaper articles, Web sites, poems. Read bad writing and read writing that's so beautiful your knees buckle. Listen to the rhythm while you're reading. How does it make you feel? More importantly, how does it make your gut feel? Your gut will never lie to you -- learn to trust it.

Michele Pariza Wacek owns Creative Concepts and Copywriting, a writing, marketing and creativity agency. She offers two free e-newsletters that help subscribers combine their creativity with hard-hitting marketing and copywriting principles to become more successful at attracting new clients, selling products and services and boosting business. She can be reached at www.writingusa.com. Copyright 2004 Michele Pariza Wacek

In The News:

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at https://news.google.com/news

Winston-Salem Journal

Engineer-turned-writer finds her voice writing for kids
Winston-Salem Journal
Answer: I went to college for mechanical engineering and didn't take any writing classes. So it took me years to find my genre and voice. Not to mention that I knew nothing about the business of publishing. Initially, I bounced from romantic comedies ...


RollingStone.com

Ashley Monroe on Sexy Songs, Writing While High and Unattainable Crushes
RollingStone.com
We've been writing. We went on the road recently and that was really the first time we've sat down with the intention to just write. We did once at Miranda's house, but sometimes we get to talking, we get distracted. But on the road a few weekends ago ...


PEOPLE.com

Jordan Peele Jokes He's Writing Get Out 2 After Kanye West Tweets About the 'Sunken Place'
PEOPLE.com
Jordan Peele, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning horror thriller, joked that he's getting started on a followup after the rapper referenced the film in a Twitter post. “Do this look like the sunken place,” West, 40, asked fans, along with a photo ...
Jordan Peele Tweets Kanye West Has Inspired Him to Start Writing 'Get out 2'Comicbook.com
Kanye West's 'Sunken Place' Tweet 'Inspired' Jordan Peele To Start Writing 'Get Out 2'UPROXX
April 25, 2018 - TwitterTwitter
PEOPLE.com
all 754 news articles »

KOMO News

Eric's Heroes: One woman's fight to keep the art of letter writing alive
KOMO News
Rachel is a one-woman army, venturing out to wage mortal battle against lazy, thoughtless communication. She puts out little tables and chairs, stationary and envelopes, buckets of pens. Rachel calls herself "the letter farmer." She is here to help you ...


Vulture

Curtis Sittenfeld on Writing Her New Short-Story Collection and Adapting It Into a Kristen Wiig TV Series
Vulture
I think I felt wound up from being on book tour, and kind of distractible, and I thought, “I need to calm myself down by writing.” So I wrote this story that I called “Gender Studies,” and I submitted it to The New Yorker. When that story was submitted ...


Engadget

Researchers digitize writing with cheap, touch-sensitive paper
Engadget
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a paper that can track touch, which, among other applications, could lead to an inexpensive way to digi...

and more »

The Texas Observer

In Washington, DC, Republicans are Writing the Recipe for a Smoldering Panhandle
The Texas Observer
A plan to increase the number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program but cut staff to enforce program rules spells trouble for the fire-prone region. by Christopher Collins @collins_reports. Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 8:41 am CST. Prescribed ...


Hartford City News Times

TU professional writing students published by American Christian Fiction Writers
Hartford City News Times
Four Taylor University students in the professional writing major have co-authored a piece published in the Spring 2018 edition of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Taylor students Aubree DeVisser, Olivia Lauritzen, Kenzie Nevins, and Rachel ...


Edgy Labs (blog)

Researchers Discover an Inexpensive way to Digitize Writing
Edgy Labs (blog)
Researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University developed a type of paper that could make digitize writing less expensive. Because digitizers like the Wacom Tablet are costly, a group of researchers came up with a way to make digitize writing and ...


ECM Publishers

West Metro Walkout students launch letter-writing campaign for gun reform
ECM Publishers
West Metro Walkout members hosted a letter writing and phone bank event April 20 at Lunds & Byerlys at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka. The event was after the day's school walkouts and Minnesota State Capitol rally that marked the 19th anniversary of ...

and more »
Google News

Writing Styles for Fiction: Which Voice to Use

I recently set up a website to promote a new... Read More

The Bottomless Notebook

Reading through a writer's notebook or journal is like discovering... Read More

What You May Not Learn In College... (Part Two)

If you become a writer for any publication, private business,... Read More

How To Cut the Clutter and Win Readers

Most of us hate housework.Nevertheless, even the most hopeless slobs... Read More

Zany Ideas That Increase Writing Productivity And Quality

Welcome to the zany ideas of a productive writer. My... Read More

Discover the Writer Hiding Inside You

Has the thought run across you mind that you might... Read More

Creating Great Business Correspondence

Obtaining the skills for writing good business correpondence is important;... Read More

Print-On-Demand: A Definition and a Comparison

The purpose of this article is to consider Print-On-Demand publishing... Read More

Keeping a Journal - One of the Three Treasures to Leave Behind

(excerpted from the "How to Use a Journal" audio series... Read More

Writing Tips for your Journey

Tips for your writing journeySo, you'd like to be a... Read More

Publisher Ethics For Reprint-able Articles

Let's Discuss Publisher Ethics:If you are an ezine publisher or... Read More

How I Became a Syndicated Columnist -- And You Can Too!

Real Estate has "Location, location, location," and writing has "Clips,... Read More

To Transcribe or Not To Transcribe Interviews?

11 Secrets from an Experienced InterviewerOne of the unwritten rules... Read More

Mama Dont Allow No Fighting in Your Writing

When you sit down to write a steamy romance, a... Read More

Understanding Editorial Guidelines

Editorial guidelines, also known as writer's guidelines, are the rules... Read More

Applying KISS Principle in Writing

I have added a new word to my vocabulary. Logorrhea.... Read More

Become the Writer You Always Dreamed of Being

So you want to be a writer, except you don't... Read More

How to Write Funny -- Its All About Timing

My Dad has this old joke that goes, "What's the... Read More

Why Book Writers Need A Running Mate

By far, I have found that the lack of discipline... Read More

Need a Book Coach, Ghost Writer, or Editor? Part 1

If you either want to write a book to help... Read More

10 Ways to Shatter Writers Block

1. Use Logic: Check for External PressuresAre you under physical... Read More

Writing from Home: It Can Be Great and Not-So-Great for Mothers

I went to school to be a teacher. In fact,... Read More

What Does It Take To Make Your Memories Into Publishable Memoirs?

Why should you consider creating a memoir of your personal... Read More

6 Ways to Jump-Start Your Writing Day

1. PLAY A GAME LIKE SOLITAIRE....for half an hour or... Read More

How to Publish a Book: Key Differences Between Publishing and Self Publishing

For many authors just starting out, it can be a... Read More