On the Topic of Prepositional Phrases in Writing

A few months ago, a pastor/author I’d never heard of contacted me and asked if I’d consider reviewing a book he’d written before it hit the market.

The book’s topic about owning your Christian faith sounded interesting enough, so I said sure,Prepositional phrase and maybe he could reciprocate some time. No problem, he responded, and a virtual handshake deal was done.

A few days later the book arrived, and I carved out some time to give it a thorough read. Just into page two, this paragraph screamed:

“I have long been compelled to write this book because I have discovered solidarity with my fellow second-generation Christians as we search for authentic faith. Children of the church live in a paradox between the biblical knowledge in our heads and the wanderlust in our hearts. Ours is a misunderstood struggle, unknown to those who have been dramatically rescued from enslavement to the world, their faith still fresh.” emphasis mine.

Let’s bypass the passive voice, and save that for another post.

This man is a previously published author, represented by a fairly prominent agent.

Prepositional phraseI read the paragraph several times fighting for comprehension that never came. I read on, hopeful it was an anomaly, only to find it was just the beginning of a literary disaster – in my opinion – which is exactly what he’d requested.

I struggled with a response. Who was I, in particular, to judge this man’s work? I wanted to rip the text apart, and offer an honest reply that it was among the most convoluted things I’d read. My editor would have had a field day with it.

So with respect, realizing he was previously published, and represented by an agent of some regard, this is what I said:

“Dear XXX: Thank you for your contact and book review inquiry. Because I cannot give your book a favorable review, I’d prefer to pass this time. I believe your editor, and your agency have done you a serious injustice, allowing text into a book that’s not yet ready for publication. If you’d like to know my concerns more specifically, please feel free to contact me via email.”

The author did contact me, and I pointed to countless areas in his book where prepositional phrases were rampant. It’s not that prepositions are bad things. They’re just not the best of things, and overuse points to seriously amateur work.

Prepositional Phrase

Every writer does it. It’s a terrible trap, and one I work hard to avoid  (see there) – and it does take work. But to make our writing its best, we should avoid prepositional phrases like the plague.:)

It’s a subliminal thing. When a reader pours through copy permeated with prepositional phases, he/she may not know exactly what is bothering them, but they know something is bothering them. It may not be enough to compel them to toss your work aside, but it may well be distraction enough that they never get a clear picture of what you really mean.

Example:

Incorrect: The opinion of the manager.

Correct: The manager’s opinion.

Another example:

Incorrect: The obvious effect of such a range of reference is to assure the audience of the author’s range of learning and intellect.

Correct: The wide-ranging references in this talk assure the audience the author is intelligent and well-read.

See the difference?

Sentences and paragraphs with too many prepositional phrases, simply lose their point. It’s in there somewhere. The reader just can’t find it, and he can’t pull it from your brain, or what you meant.

Take a look at your own work and see how many prepositional phrases you can eliminate. Then go back and judge for yourself if your work’s not clearer, more concise and more to the point of what you want your reader to know.

What tips do you have for using, or not using prepositional phrases, or better writing in general?

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Blogging Outside Your Comfort Zone: 7 Tips

(Blogger’s Note: If you’re a blogger or writer, I’d love to hear your own experiences about writing outside your comfort zone. Please share away!)

Traditional tips you’ll read about effective blogging will typically tell you to write about the things you know, choose a niche and pitch yourself as an expert and an authority.

It’s good advice. Everyone’s an expert in something, and there’s definitely something to be said for consistency in your blogging topics. It’s the best way to build a strong platform and a loyal audience. Your readers should come to expect a certain style in your work.

But the adventuresome blogger, will, from time to time, will make a gutsy move and go outside his comfort zone for the sake of curiosity, and just to see what happens. That’s exactly what I did yesterday.

My brand of writing is designed to make people think. Not necessarily to change their minds, but to think differently with new perspectives about certain things. Mostly, I enjoy using Biblical metaphors and writing about the application they have in our present lives. But every so often, I’ll jump outside my writer’s comfort zone to experiment, and yesterday’s blog, titled Here in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j …. was just that. An experiment that proved interesting.

The blog’s topic was the national attention that’s been drawn to the University of Arkansas’ football program and the subsequent firing of head coach Bobby Petrino. Moreover, it speculated the Razorbacks would attempt to lure Arkansas State University coach Gus Malzahn (just 300 miles down the road) as his replacement.

It’s a topic ripe for speculation and controversy, and so I ventured into the unknown to see what attention might be drawn to my theory of how the scenario might play over the next few days.

The results: A record number of hits for a single post with readers in seven countries.

In thinking about writing outside our comfort zones, I wanted to offer seven tips, lessons learned, if you will, for how this post generated record traffic. Consider these tips in a future venture outside your own blogging comfort zone.

  • LOOK FOR A HOT TOPIC – Even if you’re not an expert, it’s okay to jump in the middle of something. Sports, especially college football, is a big deal. In the SEC, some call it Saturday Down South. Take advantage of writing directly to a well-defined audience. SEC football fans are pretty well-defined.
  • SPECULATE – That you are not an expert – it matters not. Opinion piece writing generates more opinions, and more hits on your blog. It creates conversation and back-and-forth dialogue. Everyone has an opinion. Share yours.
  • TAG TAG TAGHere in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j had some 50 tags attached, and the search engine results showed the tags worked.

  • USE POWERFUL VISUALS – It was an easy choice for this particular post. Choose an image of a Razorback and one of an Arkansas State University Redwolf, and the collective blood pressure of football fans across the state skyrockets.

  • GO PLACES YOU’VE NEVER GONE BEFORE – I placed this post on Facebook pages everywhere … official pages of both universities, football blogs across the South, media outlet blogs, and it worked.
  • USE POWERFUL METAPHORS – The Perfect Storm perfectly described the possible scenario for the outcome of this unique situation. All the elements are perfectly lined up for a monumental fight if UA even breathes on Malzahn.
  • BE INTENTIONAL IN LOOKING FOR RIVALRIES – For your post it may be politics, education, religion or whatever. College football in the South is ripe with rivalries and putting yesterday’s post in the middle of it all just added a small bit of flame to the fire. That’s what writers love, right?

Niche, consistency, expertise – yes – it’s the best way to blog. But stretch yourself sometimes and get in the thick of something wild.

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The Binge: 12 Lessons Learned

“The only book that shall ever be written is the one that flows up from the heart, forced out by the inward pressure. When such a work has gestated within a man, it is almost certain that it will be written. The man who is thus charged with a message will not be turned back by any blase’ consideration. His book will be, to him, not only imperitave, it will be inevitable.” ~ A.W. Tozer from “God’s Pursuit of Man.”

Over the long weekend, I reverted to a style that has served me well from college to the present.

I was never good at composing research papers over extended periods of time, never embraced studying a bit each day, and really never have been good at doing a “little bit” of anything. For most of the things I do, I have to go “all-in.” It’s why I stay away from casinos.

I’m a binger.

It goes agains the conventional writing style that most experts will offer. Most say the best way to begin writing is just that, begin writing … write something each day, even if it’s just a few hundred words. That’s good advice for beginning writers, I’ll grant you. It creates a habit, and habits are good things for writers.

But if you’ve moved to a point where you’re more serious in your work, the notion of bits of pieces of writing daily may no longer work.

It’s become apparent that if my first book has any chance of being released by Thanksgiving – I must binge.

Last weekend, Friday 3am through Sunday noon was a 57 hour writing session with very few breaks. It was productive, resulting in nearly 10,000 words of decent copy.

When you write for three days straight, you inevitably learn some lessons. Here are 12 I learned:

  1. Without moving your cell phone’s switch to the “off” position, it will continue to ring.
  2. A.W. Tozer is magnificent.
  3. Periodic naps help.
  4. Grape juice keeps you going.
  5. One moment, you think what you’ve written is brilliant. On second read, it can sound really stupid.
  6. Sometimes, just sometimes, volume trumps quality.
  7. There’s no substitute for a good chair.
  8. The environment in which you write can make a huge difference.
  9. If you have a random thought, put it on paper immediately.
  10. Sometimes, it’s more important to write randomly, than chronologically.
  11. It’s ok to take a short Facebook break now and then, but just a short one.
  12. It’s going to take at least three more binges to get this thing done.

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Going on a Binge

BINGE – an act of excessive or compulsive consumption…

Twenty-four hours from now, I’m going on a 60-hour binge – a writing binge that is.

If you’re like me, you necessarily live your life in compartments – work, play, family time, hobbies, service, etc.

Our hope is that the lessons from the good compartments somehow permeate over into the not-so-good ones and that, in the process, we somehow find a pleasing life balance.

Unfortunately, I live life in binges.

Never have I been able to do a little bit of anything. I can’t just run 3 miles, it has to be 10; can’t just plant a small garden, it has to be an acre-plot; can’t just grill a few burgers and steaks, it has to be enough to feed the entire neighborhood.

And to be effective, I can’t just write effectively in spurts, it has to be extended, focused, dedicated time with a closed door, silence and no distractions. It has to be hours, not just an hour. And sometimes, days.

The book is now written and complete in my head, but it does me nor anyone else any good in that foggy place. It’s time for the vision to move through the heart, pass though the fingertips and onto the keyboard.

The interviews are complete; I see the pages; the sidebars are tucked away in the right corner of my brain; the graphics are in sight; I see the bolds, the itals and the garamond fonts; and the cover, it’s a thing of beauty to me.

But alas, they are but a vision. It’s time to let the Light produce the vision so all can see it.

The 60-hour binge is almost here.

I’ll see you when the binge is over.

I hope the hangover’s not too bad.

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