Friday, February 16, 2007


I only have a few habits when writing:

To write, I need at least 2 hours uninterrupted; any less than that is too frustrating.

Read what I wrote yesterday; ask myself, "Does it suck?"

Avoid the "to be" verb whenever possible. (is, are, were, etc.)

Avoid the passive voice at all times.

Don't avoid contractions.

Vary sentence structure in every paragraph.

Have as few block quotes as possible: if I can't say it in my own words, I shouldn't say it.

Use semicolons, colons, and em-dashes often.

That's it. Not too much to keep in my head as I attempt to conjure up words of brilliance.


Anonymous chase said...

Tony, Thanks for the thoughts on writing. As someone who is beginning to do this, these are helpful. I have a question about avoiding quotes. When I quote people, it is with the mind set that what they have spoken or written is worth repeating, and good for the body to hear. I appreciate the idea of framing something in your won words though. Is there any other philosophy that under girds this thought process, or simply that you want to be a voice and not an echo? Your thoughts are appreciated.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Chris Brooks said...


It is interesting that you avoid block quotes...I know every writer must find his/her own voice, but bringing ancient and/or forgotten voices back to the fore seems like it should be of high value to any writer. Am I misunderstanding you?

1:33 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I agree with Tony on the matter of block quotes. While we want to bring ancient and forgotten voices back to the fore, I don't think lengthy quotes are the way to do it. Unless there's absolutely no way to paraphrase the quote, I think the writer needs to use his/her own words. This, mostly so that the reader can adjust to the feel and cadence of the writer's voice and style--otherwise, coming in and out of various writing styles and voices can distract from the progression and movement of a piece. Beyond that, quoting can be an easy escape in order to avoid truly assimilating and fitting others' ideas into the presentation and flow of our own. Lengthy quotes require great transitions and fitting to be effective--to let the original author keep his/her voice and integrate it in such a way that will maintain the pace of one's own writing. Those are just some of my own thoughts...don't know that any of that would be Tony's reasoning.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Scot said...


I like this -- very good advice. I struggle with the "is" one -- too much reading of history. I'd like to have had that in my head and practice when I was a young man like you!

3:44 PM  
Blogger Zach said...


Thanks for the insight.

As for block quotes...I usually skim them or pass over them because writers usually explain the quote. A lot of times its name dropping. If I read on and realize that it carries more weight than that I go back and read it. If its important enough I'll look up the source and read the original.

I have been reading "Writing Tools" by Roy Peter Clark. It has been very helpful, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to write. He was on NPR back in the fall. I suggest taking his recommendations one at a time and practicing them. It can be too much at once to read through the entire book and then try to remember all of the tools.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Heather Jamison said...

While I was reading your suggestions, I was feeling like I was going to send a comment but wasn't sure what to say other than that I would like to agree that "passive" voice is pretty lame.

You nailed it! :)

From: Another author in Africa

9:40 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

I love writing and thinking, but what about living it out?

What if I take your suggestion found in "The Sacred Way" seriously? Namely, get a group of people together to develop a Rule. What would that look like?

By chance, I may own a house soon. As a single guy, I'm pursuing the idea of inviting people to live in the house and develop a rule with localities. Each room in the house could be attributed to the exploration of some spiritual practice. Thoughts? Advice?

I'm excited. Thanks for writing the book, not as an expert, but as a mutual explorer.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous ed c said...

The more I look into writing, the more I see that it truly is an art. There are rules to follow, but using a dash instead of a comma, for example, is an acquired skill. Even accurately summarizing someone else's work can be quite difficult at times.

Thanks for listing a few top priorities for writers.

1:24 PM  

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