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April 2008 UpWrite Press - We Make Writing Work For You

It’s never perfect when I write it down the first time, or the second time, or the fifth time. But it always gets better as I go over it and over it.

—Jane Yolen

Word Pair of the Month: staid, stayed

Don’t mix up this month’s word pair! While their meanings may be related, the common uses of staid and stayed are different.

The adjective staid means “something that is settled or fixed.” Used to refer to a person, it means “someone who is sedate and generally unflappable.”

The CEO remained calm through the chaos, helped by his naturally staid disposition.

The verb stayed is the past tense of stay and means “remained.”

The stock stayed level despite the volatile market.

As with all word pairs, be sure you use the correct spelling for your meaning. And remember that your computer’s spell-checker does not catch this type of error.

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April Writers’ Forum Topic

From the number of responses we received, our readers were really inspired by our April forum question, How do you prepare yourself for writing? Two of our respondents use visualization to help them prepare for writing, but notice the differences in their styles!

El pagnier Kay Hudson, Director of Human Resources at Florida Atlanta University in Boca Raton, uses an almost transcendent approach to writing.

I prepare myself for writing by identifying a location that is open and well lit. Space and accessibility are very important to me and stimulate my creativity. The environment must be quiet, with only the sound of nature as the backdrop. I search within myself—my past, my experiences, my joys, my research, my concerns, my fears and my hopes. These varied aspects coordinate and form my thoughts as I express them through keystrokes onto the monitor that serves as the canvas for my liberated writing.

Our other visualization response comes from Bruce Tichenor, who works in Training and Development for the Vermont State Employees Credit Union in Montpelier. His method is a little more concrete than El pagnier's, employing a five-step process:

The first thing I tell myself is to write with the reader in mind. I prepare by envisioning a live conversation with that reader, who has asked me a question about the writing topic.

Next, I answer the question, using the keyboard instead of my voice. This is my silent, immediate response to the live, questioning reader. Depending on the topic, l may picture the conversation taking place over coffee, at dinner in a restaurant, in a controlled classroom setting, with my wife, as part of a panel discussion, or with a few colleagues at work. This helps me to create and maintain the reader/audience frame of reference. As I type, I brainstorm about how the conversation flows back and forth with additional questions and answers, and I type all those ideas as if they were rolling off my tongue in that live setting.

Then I evaluate the fresh content, articulate implied questions, extract specific answers to those questions, and begin a bulleted outline. The outline formalizes the flow of content.

In the next step, I fill in the gaps. I do more research, rework question/answer concepts, and map ideas in my mind until I feel the content is informational and meaningful to the reader.

My final step is to write the document, using the principles of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax in a compelling way.

Mr. Tichenor adds:

When I eat well, get the right amount of sleep, exercise regularly, and practice walking away and returning later to the writing at hand, good stuff usually happens!

Using a clear process is also a priority of Beth Tarbell, Technical Writer for Carinos Restaurants, who wrote:

First, I ensure that I have a complete understanding of the project and its purpose. Next I ask the question, Who is the audience? Are they a highly educated, technical group? Is English their second language? The audience makes a big difference in how I write a piece.

I then consider the purpose of the message, along with the deadline. I ask, Who are the subject-matter experts I can consult (if need be)? Then I conduct research (interviewing experts, searching the Internet, etc.) so that I can begin to conceptualize and outline my material.

At this point, I walk away or take a break or do yoga to clear my mind before beginning a draft. After I’ve written it, I circulate the first draft to the experts and to those who must implement the written procedures, and I incorporate their feedback.

Finally, I edit and create a final draft.

Thanks to all who wrote in. It’s heartening to know that preparing to write is as important to you as the writing itself.

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Coming in May:
Sentences: Using Parallel Structure
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eTips is a publication of UpWrite Press, Inc., P.O. Box 460, Burlington, Wisconsin 53105. Copyright © 2008, UpWrite Press. All rights reserved. Visit www.upwritepress.com.