Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is a spiritual philosophy of life that transcends all religions and defies any exception. It also applies to people intent on doing their best work as writers. I call it “ADOPTING A YOU ATTITUDE.” As a reminder to me, I have reduced it to the acronym, AAYA, and have written it on a sticky label that holds court at the upper right corner of my laptop’s monitor.
“What is it?” you ask. It is a mind-set that prompts you to think, and therefore to write, in the pronoun you rather than I, an attitude that gains you empathy with your reader. With a “YOU ATTITUDE,” you let go of your own agenda, crawl outside of your self-centered space and inside of the skin of your reader, study her mind and heart, and learn to write in her language—you “OTHER” yourself.
On New Years Day, for the umpteenth time, I watched the Turner Classic Movies’ showing of the film, Camelot starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero. It is one of my favorites, and I never tire of it. I saw it initially in the mid-1960s when it was premiered at movie theaters, and being very young then, I was taken with its romantic theme. However, with the passing of time, its underlying philosophy has attracted me most strongly. It is an apt example of AAYA: Upon discovering the love affair between his wife, Guinevere and his best friend, Lancelot, and after venting his self-centered rage, Arthur poses the questions, “What about them? What about their pain?” His posture of “otherness,” gained through a painful process of restraining his ego, is what transformed him into a great king, and by the same token, it will help you to become a great writer.
In formulating this essay on the Golden Rule of Writing, I consulted one of my timeless textbooks (Effective Business English, Fourth Edition, Robert R. Aurner, Ph. D, SOUTH-WESTERN PUBLISHING COMPANY, 1956, P. 246 – 284) and therein rediscovered the “SEVEN C-QUALITIES OF GOOD WRITING” based on a “YOU ATTITUDE.” They are as follows: (1) completeness, (2) courtesy, (3) consideration, (4) clearness, (5) conciseness, (6) concreteness, and (7) correctness.
Completeness – “Say enough, but say just enough. Learn how much to put in, what to leave out, and when to quit.”
Courtesy – Adopt good manners as well as a generous attitude and tone in your writing, but be sincere. Despite your efforts to camouflage a mean or miserly spirit, sooner or later, readers will find you out.
Consideration – Keep the interests of your reader foremost, and think in terms of her advantage. For example, even though your ego urges you to show off your braininess by using that polysyllabic (many, or more than three syllables) word, don’t use it unless you are writing a technical treatise to an exclusive audience that requires it, or, as in this case, to make a point! Ask yourself if some advantage is served the general reader by encountering a haughty-taughty word such as polysyllabic. If there isn’t just cause for retaining it beyond self-satisfaction, replace it with a simpler word.
Clearness – Just as you clear away rubble and illuminate the pathway to the front door of your house to make your visitor’s way easier, strive to provide an uncomplicated experience for your readers by cleaning up your sentences. Whittle them down to the fewest, and most appropriate, words. In addition, know exactly what you want to say. A muddled mind makes for writing that is a muddy mess.
Conciseness – In deciding how long your message should be, bring to mind Abraham Lincoln’s response to the question, “How long should a man’s legs be?” “Just long enough to reach the ground,” the president replied. In other words, a man’s legs should be adequate to their job. It is the same in your writing—too long and your message is murky; too short and it is curt. Strike a happy medium.
Concreteness – Descriptive power will be yours if you master the art of concreteness. The trick is to appeal to the five senses of your reader. For instance, “an ink-black sky” rather than just “darkness, or “crisp snowy-white sheets” instead of “clean sheets” will make your writing exciting and easy to grasp because the concepts are vibrant, explicit, and penetrating.
Correctness – Part and parcel of the job description of Professional Writer is the task of regularly reviewing rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. Physician are required to remain adept at their work, and in the same vein, readers have the right to expect writers to be as accurate as humanly possible. Solely relying on editors to catch writing mistakes is risky business, especially when he is overtaxed by manuscripts peppered with heedless errors.
That said, I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies in this essay and hope that you will apprise me of them. Essentially, I am a student of writing, and am always open to improvement. I welcome mentors, and love to hear from readers. You can reach me straightaway at email@example.com. You have my word that I will respond.
She is also the co-author with Debra Shiveley Welch of the best-selling mystery novel, JesusGandhi Oma Mae Adams .
Early 2013 will mark the release of BUSSY GAFFIN AND HIS CHAMPION ROOSTERS, Greene’s novella for young readers, a story adapted from an excerpt of Guardians and Other Angels. It will feature illustrations by artist, Edith D. Wadkins. To read excerpts of her current and future books, log onto www.booksbylindaleegreene-gallery-llgreene.com. To follow her blog, click onto http://Ingoodcompanyohio.blogspot.com. An online exhibition of her artwork can be viewed at www.gallery-llgreene.com.