The Work of Words

Last week, we attended the inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival. It was a thrill to hear authors including Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Don Winslow and Jon Krakauer speak about their process. Although each has a unique style and genre, they all have a goal of writing so many words a day and consistently devote many hours to that end.

Grisham thanked his wife Renee, who edits his work. “She’s cruel with her red pen,” Grisham said as he honored her talent. He gives her a half-finished manuscript, then one chapter at a time.

Jon Krakauer joked that if someone saw his first draft, they’d think he couldn’t write or speak English. Krakauer tirelessly rewrites until the tone and story meet his standards. And he uses journalistic skills to get all the facts right, out of which distinct characters emerge.

Don Winslow said that once his drafts are solid, he makes three additional passes; one to make sure the verbs are strong and the nouns suit the message. Then he deletes as many adverbs as possible, similar to Hemingway. Winslow also uses white space and shorter sentences to make the reader stop and absorb a particular scene. Or, he’ll jam paragraphs together to quicken the pace of action.

As you prepare your presentation, ‘take a page’ from these successful writers. After your first draft, edit to make sure the material and message suits your Intention. Rehearse out loud and adjust the pacing and tone. Use strong verbs for increased muscularity. And cut out unnecessary flotsam like adverbs, so that your presentation is clear, focused and compelling.

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