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"Books aren't written, they're rewritten." The published words on a page, which read so artfully and gracefully, have likely been worked and reworked countless times. Have patience. With diligent polishing, your sentences too will shine.

1. Does your first paragraph bring readers in? How gripping, mysterious, or compelling can you render it? The opening sentence should be like an arrow shot from a bow: it will shoot through the entire text.

2. Is there a clear setting for your essay or story? Keep anecdotes grounded in specific locations. The more vivid and specific your details, the more memorable the scene. If your action occurs near a tree or shrub, name it: Is it an acacia bursting with yellow buds, a weeping willow that sways in the wind, or a fiery red Japanese maple? Let your environment enhance the mood.

3. Is there sufficient dialogue? (That’s the part readers rarely skip.) Read drafts aloud to keep the rhythms lifelike.

4. Does the central character change? We want to see movement and transformation, the heart of literature.

5. Can you find needless duplication? Look for synonyms or alternate wording that will keep your manuscript fresh. Most of us have writing "tics," words or phrases that creep onto every page. Be alert to your repetitive habits.

6. Can you delete words? Padding like “In fact,” “actually,” “very,” “almost,” or “often” weaken prose. As you prune them you will see tepid sentences spring to life.

7. Are you interested? Writing that keeps the writer awake at night will keep the reader awake. When you are passionate about your subject, that heat will infuse the pages.

8. Insert strong, active verbs. "She loped into the room," rather than "She walked into the room." Richard Blanco's Inauguration poem, "One Today" is a fine example. I was especially struck by the early sun which "kindled" over our shores, morning faces "yawning to life," and the moon "like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop."

9. Cut long lists, which glaze readers' eyes. Name several specifics—daisies or rat-infested condos--to represent the whole.

10. Is there a subtext? The most fascinating writing is layered. You have an apparent situation, but the real story swims below the surface. An intent reader will notice it subtly emerge.

Finally, remember: What do writers do? They write.
Happy writing!