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Tuesday night, The Sacramento Press office was the place to be if you wanted to improve your writing.
Clare Noonan—who has more than 20 years’ experience working as a reporter and copy editor for The Modesto Bee and The Sacramento Press—presented to a crowd of roughly 50 people to “Improve Your Writing and Self-Editing.”
The interactive workshop focused on tips for self-editing and common mistakes that Noonan found when reading copy.
“Get rid of the clunk,” she said.
She suggested to “tighten up” writing by getting rid of saying things twice. For example, the phrase “massive aircraft carrier” does not need the word massive, since an aircraft carrier is large enough already.
On the handout passed out to participants for concise writing, Noonan said to make your verbs count, and most importantly, use the active voice instead of the passive. For example: Instead of writing “was able to jump out” write “jumped out.”
She also said to eliminate the obvious. Phrases such as “Graduated college from Chico State” does not need the word college since we know Chico State is a college.
Noonan recommended that writers become familiar with the Associated Press Stylebook — a book she frequently checks for accuracy when editing.
“If you’re a writer, the AP Stylebook is the bomb,” she said.
Participants went through an already-edited article to see how edits are made, and what phrases or words can be eliminated to “tighten up” writing.
“As an editor, my main thing is to do no harm to any of your stories, believe it or not,” she said.
She suggested that all writers read their work out loud before they submit it, even if it means letting your coworkers think you’re crazy talking to yourself.
One question cleared up by Noonan from a workshop participant was the rule of numbers: from one to nine, write it out. Numbers 10 and above should be figures.
Other useful tips included: Don’t use Wikipedia as a source (ever), don’t begin sentences with a clause, avoid slang and alliteration, give full names even if it may seem obvious and use transition between quotes.
“We’re all in love with our writing,” Noonan said. “But what you think is important in a story, sometimes really isn’t.”
Photos by Colleen Belcher