Mining for gems in your writing

Writing
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Writing is not unlike mining for gemstones. It’s labor intensive, can be frustrating and sometimes surprisingly rewarding. You can write better reports, blogs, emails and tweets if you break your writing tasks into three easy steps, similar to those taken by a rock hound or gem miner.

Step 1 – Dig and collect.

Gems are embedded in rocks and minerals and are often broken free when miners are looking for major metals, like copper, gold or titanium. This is what makes gemstone mining so labor intensive — the gems are usually found by sifting through piles of gravel, crushed stone and dirt leftover from other mining activities.

Panning for treasure

First draft writing is the equivalent of getting the shovel and filling your sieve with pebbles, gravel and dirt. You need to dig the words out of your head and place them into sentences and paragraphs. The first draft is a jumble of thoughts, full of promise. It is quantity over quality. Fill the pages with content so you have lots of raw material to work with.

Step 2 – Inspect and sort.

Sift out the sediment and scan your content, looking for gems. They can be distinguished from their less valuable companions by color or weight. Washing the rocks with water can help make the colorful gemstones stand out.

For the writer looking for the gems, this is when you sit back down with the first draft and read it critically. Is it structured to be persuasive? Is it clear? Look at all the paragraphs and see if they are in the right order. When I’m editing my own writing, I notice that I often take a few paragraphs to warm up and that my writing gets noticeably tighter and better further down the page. Sometimes the last paragraph I wrote winds up being the best opener.

Step 3 – Polish and cut.

Found your gems? Time to polish and cut them to maximize their beauty and display. For the writer, it’s time to apply the usual elements of style — omit unnecessary words, rewrite cliches into fresher words, change passive voice to active voice.

With spell check there is really no excuse for errors like “teh” instead of “the.” I also find the grammar check uncovers verb tenses that don’t match and noun-verb disagreements. Ask a co-worker or friend to proof if you can. Their fresh eyes will catch mistakes that you will miss as you are so familiar with the document. Try reading the document backwards if no one’s available to proof. It’s an old editor’s trick that helps you see the writing as individual words. Error-free writing allows the reader to concentrate on what you are saying, not how you are saying it.

By thinking of your writing as a three-step process of collecting, sorting and polishing, you can greatly improve the clarity and persuasiveness of your document. You’ll produce more writing gems easily.

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