John Onorato

Read Your Own Writing

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Visionary Writing Techniques #004

by John Onorato

As you all know, I’m a professional writer.  World-class, even!  

Today I’m going to let you in on another little secret that improved my writing from the first time I used it.  

I’m completely serious.  There’s no hyperbole in there at all.  We’ll get into hyperbole later, but for now, just know that hyperbole is the greatest and most amazing invention since sliced bananas.  

(and that’s what hyperbole is:  Massive exaggerations that aren’t meant to be taken literally.)

So here’s that little trade secret.  Yeah, most pro writers know about it, and most amateurs don’t.

That secret is this:
Once you’ve gotten to a place where you think “I’m done, now I can drop this in the Visionary group and get back to my regularly-scheduled life,” go back over your work.  

Re-read your work.  
And not only that, but read it aloud.  

That’s right. Speak it. Give life to your words, through your voice!

Reading your work aloud is the best way I have discovered to find out how my writing really sounds.  Which is another way of saying “How good my writing is.”

There are lots of benefits to be had by reading your work out loud.

First off, reading aloud is a great proofreading technique.  It helps you catch errors in spelling and punctuation; it also helps you choose different (and hopefully better) words than what you used in your first draft.  It also makes certain things painfully obvious, like missing punctuation and awkward word placement.  It  also becomes obvious when you’ve repeated words a few too many times.  

Reading aloud helps with grammar.  When someone reads aloud, you pause where you would naturally.  And when you pause, you need punctuation — usually a comma or period.  You might also notice when you haven’t taken a breath in a while.  This is frequently indicative of a run-on sentence that needs to be broken up.

Reading your work out loud reveals holes in your thought process.  It shows us places we haven’t been clear enough, and helps us remember information we might have left out.  It shows us where we might have missed some important points.  When reading aloud, it’s much easier to detect flaws in your logic.  You will quickly know when you need to tidy up your argument, or where you need to research more, or when you might need to not mention a point you can’t really support.

Reading out loud enables us to make better word choices.  Words convey meaning, and we have lots of words with similar meanings because words also convey nuance.  This is that distinction of connotation/denotation I was talking about earlier.  Hearing your words out loud helps convey nuance in a way seeing it on a screen might not.

Finally, reading aloud reveals peculiar rhythm and pacing.  In a symphony orchestra, musicians work together to create something greater than any of them could do alone.  When you’re writing a story or article, words work together in the same fashion.  Each of them has its own small task, and when taken together they form a cohesive unit that is larger than the sum of its parts.  

Want to hear how well your orchestra is performing?  Read it out loud.  One short, choppy sentence, or several in a row, serves well when you want to underline an important point.  But use too many of these in a row, and you’ll sound robotic.  Conversely, long, complex sentences are sometimes required — yet they are also best used sparingly, like exclamation points or F-bombs.

You’ll never know unless you re-read your work.  You won’t be aware of these things if you don’t read your words out loud.

Ever played with a tape recorder?  Then you know your recorded voice will sound different to your ears.  It’s not the same voice you hear in your head, through your bones.  In a similar fashion, your words will sound different when you read them.  Words sound differently to our ears than they do in our minds, when we read them on the page.

Sure, your writing might be great already, all by itself.  Just as your “real” voice is the voice others hear, though, your writing is only as good as others think it is.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 2 comments

Alliteration and Assonance

Image Courtesy Writing Forward

Visionary Writing Techniques #003 

by John Onorato


Want to write words which are memorable?

Then alliteration and assonance are your friends.  

I’m sure you want examples.  Those first two sentences represent alliteration.  The word refers to the repetition of the first consonants in nearby words.

An aside from the Department of Just-In-Case:  We all remember what vowels are:  A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.  Consonants are every other letter in the alphabet:  B, C, D, F, G, and so on.

Tongue twisters also show us alliteration:  “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.  A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.”

If you can say that ten times fast, you’ll be a master of alliteration!  And you’ll be way further along than I:  That was even hard for me to type in one go.

Assonance is a similar and related concept.  It refers to the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.  

Dr Seuss was a master of assonance:    

“Today you are you    
and that is truer than true.    
There is no one alive    
who is youer than you.”

Alliteration and assonance can lend a lyrical, sing-song quality to your writing.  When used consciously, they can set or change the mood in a written piece.  

They also allow the writer to highlight particular connotations of words.  

Well, that’s great!  But what are connotations?  The second edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains over 171,000 unique words.  Each of these words has a denotation — the literal, or primary meaning.  Also known as the dictionary definition.  

Many words in the English language have connotations as well.  The word “connotation” refers to the feelings and ideas that word suggests.

For instance, take the word DISCIPLINE.  Per Google, its second definition is “a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.”  Yet in certain circles, many of them quite common, the word “discipline” carries with it the ideas of repression and punishment.

The takeaway here, therefore, is to be careful when and where you use certain words.  A long time ago, in a high school essay, I used the word “ilk” to describe a group of people.  My English teacher called me out, saying the word carried with it connotations of a dismissive or disparaging manner.  Given the the essay as a whole, where I was speaking favorably about these people, “ilk” wasn’t a great fit.

According to its dictionary definition, I could have used “crony” just as well.  Once again, though, this word has certain negative connotations.  Taken literally, a “crony” is simply a sidekick or pal.  But the connotations of the word suggest you and your pal are up to no good together.  It also suggests “cronyism,” or the practice of unfairly giving friends promotions they’re not qualified for.

So that’s a lot right there.  We started by talking about the sounds of words, and ended up with the meanings of those words.  Given how many words there are in English, there are literally quadrillions of combinations those words can be in.  Thus it’s crucial to understand how these words work together so you can use them to their maximum benefit.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

How to Reach More Readers

Image Courtesy Fine Art America

Visionary Writing Techniques #002

by John Onorato

Out on the Net today, there are a lot of words.

Sadly, many of these words are inaccessible to readers.

Why is that?

Much of the wisdom offered on the Internet is completely out-of-reach because it’s buried under a wall of text.

I don’t know about you, but I find big blocks of words difficult to get through.

Sure, you can read the first few lines just fine.  But then you might sneeze!  Someone might interrupt you!  The laundry might finish before you’re done reading!  When that happens, odds are you’ll lose your place.  Just because you blinked your eyes.  

If I lose my place while reading, and I can’t easily get back to where I was — it’s Pretty Damn Likely I’ll give up on that piece.

There’s a solution, though, and it’s super easy.  

Paragraphs!  Paragraphs make anything better.  Well, nearly anything.

So what’s a paragraph?  

A paragraph is a unit of writing.  We start with words, and we make sentences out of them.  Then we make paragraphs out of sentences.  And we make stories out of a collection of paragraphs:  Stories, articles, essays, press releases, novels, whatever … they’re all made up of paragraphs.

Paragraphs provide structure.  A little bit of structure enables your reader to identify and follow your thoughts as they develop.  

Each of your paragraphs should address one idea.  This main idea for the paragraph is expressed in the “topic sentence,” and is usually (but not always) the first sentence of the paragraph.  You know you’re using paragraphs effectively when you can get a basic overview of your material by reading each of your first sentences.

It’s important to be clear on what the main idea for each paragraph is.  Then deal with that idea as much as you need to suit your purpose.  At the same time, be alert to irrelevancies and digression.

There’s one basic rule to using paragraphs:  Limit each one to a single idea.  Include that idea in your topic sentence, and provide bits of evidence to support that topic sentence.  

Can you have several ideas in one paragraph?  Sure you can.  Just be sure they each relate to the topic sentence.  When you transition to a different idea, that’s a good sign to start a new section.  

Sometimes you’ll have an idea that’s too big for one paragraph.  Simply use a new paragraph for each sub-point within that larger idea.

You can also use paragraphs to give your readers a small pause.  As discussed above, paragraphs make your writing more readable.  And more readable means more accessible to a larger audience.  

Paragraphs can also be used to provide emphasis.  This is a good technique to use when you want certain words to have special impact.  Professional copywriters are well aware of this, and tend to overuse the single-sentence section

All.
The.
Time.

Finally, use a separate segment for your introduction and your conclusion.  Of course, depending on the length of your material, these sections may well contain several of their own paragraphs.

And if all else fails, just use line breaks.  Just hit <ENTER> every so often (or <CTRL> + <ENTER> if you’re composing in a Facebook text entry box), and it’s all good.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

Start By Shattering the Earth

Image Courtesy Printwand

Visionary Writing Techniques #001

by John Onorato

I’m going to start by sharing a tidbit about writing that positively rocked my world.  I learned this at the beginning of my freelance writing career, in 2013.
  
I’d been writing for years before that, but my words weren’t that effective.  Sure, I had a certain facility, but wasn’t everyone taught how to write in school?  Was I really that different than everyone else?

Turns out, I was.  

It would be fairly accurate to say that “Writing is my life.”  And if you were to say that to my face, I’d follow it up with “And my life is writing.”  

But when I learned this one thing, my writing changed forever.  It became immeasurably better.

What is that wisdom, you ask?

It’s super simple.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.  

That’s it.  Just know your audience.

Are you writing for yourself?  Great!  Let it all hang out.  Do what you’re gonna do and don’t think too much about it.  You can always re-read your work later and pull it into a piece meant for public consumption.

Are you writing for clients?  Then use their language.  Use the same words you hear them using.  So doing gets you inside their heads.

Are you writing to share knowledge or wisdom?  Then make your best guess as to what language will be most effective.  Use words and phrases that will be accessible to the largest segment of your intended audience.  

Avoid using “jargon,” or language that’s used by smaller segments of the population.  If you feel that’s the best way of getting your message across, then explain your use of the terms.

Here’s another tip, closely related to that one:  Know your subject matter (as much as you can, anyway).  Do your research.  

Writing about anything positions you as an “expert” on that thing.  But you don’t have to actually possess expertise in that subject — you have to know just a little more than your audience.

In other words, don’t “wing it.”  If you do that, your reader will figure it out.  It might be super subtle, but it’s easily seen by a person who knows about the subject.  

It’s the same as when my daughter was 14, and I tried to “be cool.”  I would use terms I didn’t fully know the meaning of, and I looked a fool to her friends.  

So that’s about it for today.  Just to let you know, I’m planning on releasing these short pieces about writing periodically.  I’m envisioning 2-3 times a week.  I’ll keep the pieces short, for easy digestion.  

But I want to front-load this process with the tip that moved the needle the most for me.

Know your audience.

That’s all.  Just know your audience.

As you write here, in the Visionary Group, your audience is a lot like you.  But when you start messaging for clients, when you start writing for others with the intent to be read … that’s when you really have to know your audience.

Stay tuned to this bat-channel for more tips and tricks!

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments
Mincing Words

Mincing Words


Your breath
synced with mine
your sounds
synced with mine
your eyes
locked with mine

we’re doin’ time
your eyes
ultimate divine
your sounds
you and me
supine

your breath
synced with mine
bleeds into mine
your sounds
synced with mine
slides through time
your eyes
locked with mine
bore into mine

your thoughts
slow grind with mine
your heart
slow grinds with mine
your eyes
slow grind with mine
your soul
slow grinds with mine

doin’ time
divine
slow grind with mine


Thanks to Akua Naru for the inspiration.

Posted by John Onorato in Poetry, 0 comments
Water Over Whispers

Water Over Whispers


Let us close the door
behind us,
shut the world away.

Slowly, slowly, off
slip our clothes.

It is as if gods
were releasing their essence
we are those gods,
you and I
deep in the eyes
our arms raising.

Hush —
let us do without words
only sighs
only whispers
only glances
only touches
soft and gentle

Before you, someone made the Earth
and the moon
and the comet,
fire in the pitch of space.

What will we make, you and I?
a rush of blood and water,
a tropical sun,
moonrise over a mountain
a mighty river’s murmur
in her bed.

The gods watch over us.
Time himself attends us,
standing stock still.
Even their keen stares cannot hold back
the first word we speak:

Everything.

Posted by John Onorato in Poetry, 0 comments
Here We Go Again

Here We Go Again


This is the end
of the beginning
of the end
of the beginning
of the
end
of the
beginning

and on …

You are gone
gone now
yet not gone
You are here
yet not here
now you can sing
now you are silent

Where are you?
released, released
Where are you?
here, you are here
with me
with us
with love
always
with love

this
is the end
this is the end
this is the end
of the beginning
of the end
of the beginning
of the end
of the beginning
on
and on
and on

( birthed
in violent red fire
yet holding still
six feet above me )

you
is it you?

it’s the end
it’s the beginning
it’s the end
it’s the beginning

it is the beginning

Posted by John Onorato in Poetry, 0 comments
Blowing Down the Walls

Blowing Down the Walls


Despite my
best efforts to keep my life all
status-quo
and shit
I feel things changing
and it scares the crap out of me
I want it so badly
I want to change so badly
I know how
complacent I have become
and I hate it
I hate myself for that

(not a long leap
by any imagination)

but simultaneous-like
change scares
the living shit out of me
I suppose it would scare anyone
I suppose I can’t always
blame that one on my brain injury
but fuck change scares me
but hey, the muse struck, here at four am
like she usually does

that bitch

I mean really, why can’t she keep
normal fucking hours like the rest of humanity
but I digress

so hey, the muse struck, at four am
and I listened to her
whereas usually I would mistake her
for something else,
or not hear her at all,

or maybe even stuff a sock in that fat bitch’s mouth …

and I dunno, it feels like I just ate
a stick of spiritual dynamite
and that sucker just went off
in my under-used heart
blowing it wide open
here’s hoping I can get some more mileage
out of it

real soon now
being complacent sucks
I gotta tell ya.

Posted by John Onorato in Poetry, 0 comments
Stemming the Tide

Stemming the Tide


Let me see you —
my eyes light on you
from across the room.

Softly,
slowly
you meet my gaze
and smile.

Oh, heaven!

It is
as if
I see you
for the first time —
branches released
(stars released
from the trees
of our being-ness.

Let us do
without words, without noise
only touches
only glances
only sighs
soft and gentle
yet insistent
as the world falls away.

Chaos behind us,
you belong to me
just as I belong to you
twin islets of sanity
in a world made of madness,
chaos before us.

Before you,
there was no form
only void
and me, waiting.

Before you,
there was a cavalcade of souls
each more inadequate
than the last.

Time himself
stands stock still
immovable, immaterial
as our host moves,
oblivious

The gods themselves
write paeans to our desire
there you are
and here I am
locked,
locked,
locked in the memory of your eyes.


Posted by John Onorato in Poetry, 0 comments
Go Figure

Go Figure


Crotchwell thinks I am mad.
Crotchwell thinks I am mad
while he sits in his corner
playing with his paddle-ball
bouncy-bouncy-bounce.

When his time comes
Crotchwell sits in front of the board
hands fidgeting
occasionally going to the key
around his neck
just as I sit at the board
when it is my turn.

When it is not my turn
that is, when it is Crotchwell’s turn
I like to write.
I have run out of paper
margins and all
so I have taken to writing on the walls.

Crotchwell watches me
and undoubtedly considers
whether this is odd behavior
or not.

Sometimes his hand strays near
the .45 on his hip
and he thinks
of whether he should kill me
or not.

For if one of us is acting strangely,
it is the duty of the other
to shoot the strange one.

This is an order.

We have many orders.

We are to watch this board
and wait for something unusual to happen.

We were not told
what this unusual thing would be,
but we were assured
that we would know it
when it came.

If something indefinably unusual
happens on the board,
Crotchwell is supposed to proceed
to one end of the room
and I to the other.

Then we are to take the keys
from around our necks,
insert them in the special locks
and turn them at the same time.

If we do that,
something very unusual will happen.

Something much more unusual
than a few lights on a board.

In the meantime,
though,
Crotchwell plays with his paddle-ball
and I shall write on the walls.

I covet Crotchwell’s paddle-ball —
I have asked him if I could play with it
and that earned me only a baleful glare
from Crotchwell,
keeper of the paddle-ball.

I tried to take it from him
and play with it myself
but he found out.

Now he sleeps with it
under his pillow,
and sometimes
the ball hangs down
as if his pillow
were growing a testicle.

Crotchwell’s pillow
grows a testicle
and I compose sonnets on this event
writing them on the wall
so small that none can read them
not even Crotchwell.

I do not want him to know
that I am composing sonnets
about his paddle-ball —
I used to write large
but I have gotten smaller, because
of space considerations as well as
Crotchwell himself;
I wonder if he will consider this strange behavior.

Crotchwell watches me
he undoubtedly thinks of shooting me
and I watch Crotchwell
I try to decide if I should shoot him
or not.

Perhaps if I shot him
it would bring some reprieve
to this madness.

Perhaps if he shot me
it would bring some reprieve
to this madness.

It is an endless game,
between Crotchwell
and I
and we’re not even players —
I’ve got the strangest feeling.

I think I’ve got it figured
that we’re just pawns.

We don’t figure,
Crotchwell or
myself,
and the paddle-ball
and the poetry
figure even less,
but at least
they give us
something to think about
when we are not
watching the board
for something unusual to happen.


Here’s some background on the subject of this poem.

Posted by John Onorato in Poetry, 0 comments