The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Received
by Jake Poinier
If you can consider a piece of red-ink-soaked paper “writing advice,” I received more than my fair share from Lew. Just out of college – and long before starting my freelance career – I was working for a national trade magazine as an assistant editor, and he was hired as the editor to tighten things up in the wake of his rather relaxed predecessor.
Several days in a row, I got back stories with no edits in the first two paragraphs – just two big red “X” marks through them. The first day I was bummed out; the second day, I started to think Lew didn’t like my writing style. On the third, he came over and gave me an explanation. “Most of the time, your first two paragraphs are just clearing your throat,” he said. “Cut ’em. Your story starts at the third paragraph.”
To a wet-behind-the-ears junior editor, this was painful. I mean, those were clever, lovingly crafted, perfectly grammatical paragraphs, and you just want me to hit SELECT and DELETE? Oh, the pain!
The thing is, he was right. As I looked at my stories, I was dancing around rather than throwing a good opening punch. And, as I’ve progressed in my career, I always give those first two paragraphs a long, hard stare, and see if maybe my story should start at graf 3. (For the record, I cut one of my original two paragraphs from this blog post, and radically modified the other.)
In retrospect, I probably should have bought stock in Newell Rubbermaid (which manufactures the Flair pens that Lew emptied by the dozen), because I might have been able to retire on the gains. As it happens, I got rich with his old-school wit and wisdom instead.
To answer in the comments: When you think back on all the best writing advice you’ve gotten over the years – from teachers, editors, peers, writing groups, etc. – what is the one piece that has influenced you the most?
A freelance corporate copywriter and editor since 1999, Jake “Dr. Freelance” Poinier blogs regularly on freelancing topics at DearDrFreelance.com. He is the author of The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid and Help! My Freelancers Are Driving Me Crazy, available in print and ebook versions on Amazon.