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DanG: Many Writers Don’t Know Where to Start

DanG: Having served a sentence as an editor … I can assure you that most often the first paragraph of anything written by most people can safely be eliminated. It takes practice to hit the ground running. The screwiest letter I ever got as an editor was 6 pages long. I made the mistake of writing the guy back (I was new). I asked him to pare it down a bit, as he did have something worthy of saying. He replied with a 12 page letter, one that spent most of the time calling me an idiot for rejecting the 6 page letter. Around the office we called those long letters “When the Dinosaurs…” letters; most of them framed their arguments by starting with ancient history.

DFO: The key to writing a good letter is the same as writing an editorial — figure out what you want to say and a point or two you want to highlight. Then, zero in on that basic outline. Stay away from rabbit trails. Indeed, a lead paragraph by an unskilled writer often can be eliminated. The same can be said for the last graf or two — even those written by a skilled writer. Often, when I stumped for an ending to an editorial or column, I check out the preceding graf and see that my thought actually ended there. DanG’s comment reminds me of that old saying: “I didn’t have time to write well; so, I wrote long.”


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D.F. Oliveria is a columnist and blogger for The Spokesman-Review. Print Huckleberries is a past winner of the Herb Caen Memorial Column contest by the National Association of Newspaper Columnists. The Readership Institute of Northwestern University cited this blog as a good example of online community journalism.

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