12 Tips for Writing Clearly

2 12 2019

by Simcha Fisher

On Tuesday, I insisted that people learn how to write well.  Today, I’m offering some practical tips that I have found useful.  Most of these apply to less formal pieces, like blog posts, short articles, or even comments—anything where you’re trying to make a point.  If you’re working on a research project, though, you’re on your own.

APPROACHING THE TOPIC

1.  Make sure you know what the heck you’re talking about.  You don’t have to be an expert: often, the things that need to be said are the things that people already know, but have forgotten—or things they don’t realize that other people are thinking.  So it’s okay to be simple, as long as you know exactly what it is you want to say.

If you’re still hashing it out in your mind, be upfront about that, and ask questions of the reader.  Don’t pretend to be more sure than you actually are.

2.  Make it clear why your topic needs to be addressed.  You’ll look silly if you get all worked up clarifying something that no one was confused about.  If you are righting a wrong, introduce your piece by summing up the wrong, citing at least one example.  One easy trick is to literally ask a question, and then answer it.  Or start with a short anecdote which explains what started your train of thought.

3. Don’t resort to defensive writing.  Nobody wants to read about what you’re not saying.  Say what you do mean.  Say it as clearly and firmly as you can —and then let it go.  After a certain point, if people hear what you’re not saying, then it’s their problem, and not yours.  You don’t owe them a second essay restating your point.  Do your best, and move along.

4. Don’t be afraid of trivial ideas.  Don’t hold out for the obviously profound.  If you are an intelligent person, then an image, idea, or phrase rings your bell for a reason.  Go ahead and write about it—you may be onto something.

5.  Be honest.  If you’re afraid your idea isn’t holding up, your readers will notice, too, so don’t force it.  On the other hand, “I used to think so-and-so, but I’ve changed my mind—here’s why” essays are always interesting.

6. Have you noticed that you write about the same three ideas over and over and over again?  That’s okay.  The best writing comes from insatiable fascination with a particular theme, not from fleeting infatuations with passing ideas.

EDITING

1. Editing should make you sweat.  It’s okay to write down every last thing you can think of . . . on your first draft.  Often “covering the page” is the only way to figure out what you’re actually trying to say, and sometimes your main point doesn’t emerge until you’ve written around it for several hundred words.  But don’t leave it that way.  Even if a passage is brilliant, funny, and flows sweet and clear like Grade A honey—it may not belong in this piece.  Every word must work in service of your point, or else it’s gotta go.

Even if I’m delighted with what I wrote, I cut out about 10% just on principle.

2.  Read it out loud. This is the best way to root out dumb phrases, snootiness, babbling, repeated words, and pronoun trouble.  If it’s an important piece, ask someone else to read it, and be ready to accept criticism.

3. Often, an essay doesn’t sit well because the right elements are all there, but are out of order.  Try putting your last paragraph at the beginning, and see how that settles.  If I’m really muddled, I make an outline that describes what I’ve written.  Reducing it to bare bones often shows the flaws hiding in the verbiage.

4. Not sure if you have a unified idea?  Try coming up with a descriptive title for the finished piece.  If this is hard, then you may not have said anything, or tried to say too much.

5.  Clarity before fanciness.  It’s fun to write the occasional sentence that makes people go, “Whoa, let me read that again—it sounds cool, but I’m not quite sure what it means.”  But that must be the very rare exception.  Most of what you say should be plain as plain can be.  You’re supposed to be drawing attention to your ideas, not your fancy, fancy self.

6.  Remember the Five B’s:  Be Brief, Boy, Be Brief.  I love to read, but I’m lazy, I’m tired, I’m distracted, and I rarely read a piece that’s longer than 1,000 words.  Most of your readers are even lazier.  Try breaking up perfectly good paragraphs into mini-paragraphs, just to make them easier to swallow.  Cheap, but it works.

BONUS TIPS:

Try to make the sentence structure express emphasis, rather than resorting to italics.

Pretend exclamation points and ellipses cost you $65 per use.

If you find yourself using emoticons, chop your hands off.

I believe in splitting infinitives, writing incomplete and run-on sentences, and generally murdering the language from time to time, if it gives the writing more punch or better flow.  So sue me.





Pop star, had it all, felt empty and this happened –

25 11 2019

His music group has sold over 50 million records worldwide.

At twenty years old he was a teenage sensation, a huge rock star and lived in a 17th century castle in Europe He had all the riches, fame, fortune and the adulation of millions.

His name is Paddy Kelly.

His band, The Kelly Family, sold out the huge Westtaleanhalle in Dortmund, Germany nine times in a row. A feat no other musician has since accomplished. They filled football stadiums, some shows with over 250,000.

He was born in Ireland to American parents. He has eleven brothers and sisters and most of them sang in the band. They started out singing in the streets of Europe, but quickly their incredible singing talents took them to the top. Paddy Kelly became a huge idol with adoring female fans. He needed body guards in public. He was hounded by paparazzi where ever he went and traveled by private jet and helicopters. He was recognized everywhere.

He “had it all.” But despite the fame and money he began to feel empty and isolated.

He felt lost. He felt his soul was dying.

Even with the love of his family, he began to fall into depression, even despair. He lost the sense of who he was and all his ideals and false securities began to break down. He felt like he wanted to end his life. Nothing made sense to him anymore. Material goods and money, not even his music made him happy.

This was when a deep search for the truth began. He asked himself, “If all this doesn’t make me happy then what is the sense of life. Why do I exist?” He eventually asked the question, “Who can tell me who I am? Who has the true answers to my questions?”

At a moment of deep crisis, standing on a ledge of his room, ready to kill himself, he sensed in him a voice telling him to “hold on, hold on,” and after this moment passed, he wept bitterly at what he had almost done.

Soon, after he began to search his spiritual side. He read about eastern religion like Buddhism, and even the Koran, but it was the Gospels that seemed to pull him in a new direction. He felt the Gospels were alive. At a chance meeting with a gathering of priests near his palatial home, he felt his spirit grow. Still, he struggled with depression and sadness.

Then one day, he was “zapping” his television and by chance he came across a program about Lourdes, the shrine dedicated to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

His first thought was that shrines of the Virgin Mary were “only for blue-haired grandmothers and naive people who believe anything”. But he felt pulled to Lourdes like a magnet. He decided to go. But he was certain that the town would be filled with “horrible plastic statues” and would be no place for a “rock star” to find God. When he arrived at Lourdes, to his surprise not only were “gray haired grandmothers” praying the Rosary, but many young people dressed in a way he thought was “cool” and they liked rock and roll. He therefore joined the youth program.

Then that evening hanging out with the youth group there came a moment of “Prayer and Silence” and during that moment he felt a simple, yet deep peace in his heart. He was experiencing a deep presence of someone inside of him. Wow! He thought God is accessible and this came to him through the Blessed Virgin Mary. He realized that Mary was not some Christian myth, but a person.

He felt she was asking him to give life a second chance. He felt she wanted to help him and he no longer felt alone. He had grown up Catholic, but now he knew that he could meet God and that night he gave life a new chance. He decided to live his life according to God’s will. He knew Mary had planted the seed of faith in Lourdes and now he also knew only through prayer could his faith grow. As his spiritual quest moved forward, he found his brothers and sisters also saw that money and fame did not bring happiness.

A few years ago, he and two of his brothers and sisters decided to go to the youth festival in Medjugorje. Here he met Fr. Jozo and quickly through his words, counsel and abundance of graces a deep movement of conversion with God came to his brothers and sisters and in the months and years to follow. Through Mary, through Medjugorje, he finally came to know Jesus.

He believed that God existed, but he had not yet experienced the Holy Spirit in a deep and powerful way. He wanted to know if Jesus was truly the Son of Man. He wanted to believe it and not just tell himself so or because the Church said so. He wanted to feel the interior confirmation of the Holy Spirit. Then one morning the Holy Spirit entered his heart in a real way.

On a quiet sunny morning, the Holy Spirit came to him. He believed and then with great excitement he called his brothers and sister that he loved so much and said to them “Jesus is God, Jesus is God, Jesus is God!”

Today Paddy Kelly tours with his band bringing his joyful music and love of Mary to happy audiences around the world.





Gay man finds God Watching TV Nun

20 11 2019

Paul Darrow went to his first gay beach when he was 15.

Soon after, he hitchhiked his way to New York, where there was a thriving gay scene and where he could pursue a career in modeling. Once there, he landed a high-end job as an international model and rubbed elbows with celebrities at clubs in the city.

When he wasn’t at the studio or at the gym, Darrow spent his time looking for partners. He found himself going through dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of lovers.

“It became frantic, and it was never my intention…but I became insensitive to what it means to be with a partner, both body and soul,” he said in the documentary film, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.”

But after the AIDS epidemic claimed around 90 percent of his friends, a disease he himself narrowly and miraculously escaped, Darrow decided to move to San Francisco for a fresh start. He met his partner, Jeff, there and they moved to a cabin in Sonoma County.

It was in their shared home that Darrow accidentally discovered a one-eyed, straight-talking “pirate nun” wearing an eye-patch who would change his life forever.

“It was so strange that I said ‘Jeff Jeff come in here! You gotta see this!’” he said, pointing to the image on the T.V.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, it was Mother Angelica on EWTN. She had just had a stroke, which pulled the left side of her face into a slump and required her to wear a black eye patch over one eye.

“So (Jeff) comes in and I’m laughing mockingly at this nun with a patch over her eye, a distorted face…and a complete old fashioned habit,” Darrow said. “We both mocked her and laughed at her, you know, ‘Gosh these crazy Christians.’”

Jeff left the room and Darrow was about to change the channel, when Mother Angelica “said something so intelligent, so real, and so honest, that it really struck me,” he said.

“You see God created you and I to be happy in this life and the next,” Mother Angelica said through slumped lips, her good eye still twinkling behind her glasses.

“He cares for you. He watches your every move. There’s no one that loves you can do that.”

Mother Angelica’s words struck a chord with Darrow that day, and he found himself secretively snatching glimpses of her episodes every chance he got.

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), passed away on March 27 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.

“She really had…a huge influence on my life, and I learned to love her,” he said, “but at the same time, I had to hide her.”

“So when I turned off the TV, I would always change the channel so that when Jeff or whoever was watching that TV came in, they would never see that I was watching Mother Angelica. And it reminded me as I was doing this of when I used to turn the channel when I was watching porn because I didn’t want Jeff or anyone else to see a porn station come up.”

Eventually, Mother Angelica’s influence convinced Darrow to go back to church after decades of absence. It was a move that made Darrow very wary; he was sure he would lose friends and clients if they saw him going into a Catholic Church.

And in some ways, he was right.

“I lost clients, I lost friends,” he told CNA in a 2014 interview at the premiere of the documentary.

“People were in shock that an educated, relatively intelligent man could believe in Jesus Christ. These were the few friends that were aware that I was back in the Church.”

But it’s a move that he’s never regretted. Since his conversion, Darrow has shared his experience through talks and conferences. Mother Angelica also led Darrow to discover Courage International, the
Vatican-approved apostolate that reaches out to Catholics with same-sex attraction with the goals of growing closer to God, engaging in supportive friendships, and learning to live full lives within the call to chastity.

It was through Courage International that Darrow became involved with the film “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which he saw as a chance to share his story and to give others the same hope that he found in the Catholic Church.

“I was not discriminated against at the beginning of my journey back to the Catholic Church, I was never told that I was a bad person, that I was doing something wrong, even in confession,” he said.

“The Catholic Church really is, according to its teachings, open to everybody.”

Darrow said he felt he owed it to God to share his story through courage and through the film because of all that God had done in his life.

“I wanted to express my love to God and my appreciation for all that He has done for me,” Darrow said, “that He had never forgotten me during the decades that I had forgotten him or turned against him.”

The full documentary is available for free online at everlastinghills.org/movie/.

Originally posted on Catholic News Agency





Most inspiring Woman in 2019 spent 35 yrs in death row

15 11 2019

As we near the end of 2019, people are beginning to look back on the year at the individuals and events that have defined it. The BBC, for example, has compiled a list of 100 women considered inspirational in a multitude of different contexts.
Among the 100 women proposed by the BBC, one has been completely hidden and silent for 35 years, in order to protect the success of her mission. She is a Catholic nun from Singapore and her name is Sister Gerard Fernandez. She spent a good part of her life on death row—that is, accompanying prisoners condemned to death, doing her best to open their hearts to ask for and accept forgiveness, and preparing them to meet God. The story of this religious sister takes us into the most sordid depths of the human soul where, indeed, only the power of God’s mercy can reach.

A truly black sheep
Today Sister Gerard is 81 years old. She finished her mission in prison in 2017, which is why her story can now be told; for all the years she was at the side of those condemned to death, she too was “dead to the world,” that is, she performed her mission in secret and in silence.

It probably makes sense to tell this story starting with the most shocking episode: In 1981, Singapore was shaken by a terrible event: the killing of two children in order to perform a magical ritual at the hands of an alleged medium, Adrian Lim, with the collaboration of his wife Catherine Tan and another woman. All three were sentenced to death. Sister Gerard was deeply affected by the tragedy, because she knew one of the victims, who was only 9 years old, and she also know the father of Catherine Tan, one of the murderers.

She wrote to Tan, who replied from prison after six months, signing the letter as “Catherine, a black sheep.” The nun went to visit her in prison, where she says was met by the culprit’s sad eyes that said to her: “You haven’t condemned me. Please help me change.”

Going after the lost sheep
The parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to follow the one that is lost could almost be called romantic. What it means to accept the request for help of a murderer who killed two children pulls us to the brink of a cliff that not all shepherds, however good, would be willing to go down.

With a serene voice that patiently measures out her words, Sister Gerard explains to a journalist, with amazing candor and radical humility: “There is still hope in their hearts, and this has changed me.” The starting point is not the will to change someone who is “bad,” but the fact of being changed by a glimmer of light glimpsed in eyes of a person no one would like to meet.

She stayed seven years praying at Catherine Tan’s side, until the day she was hanged. Starting then, Fernandez’s place was on death row (executions in Singapore continue to increase in number). Throughout her 35 years, she came to know many different stories, but with one common denominator: “They begin to face death, to know a day will come when they will be told, ‘This is your last week. On Friday, you will be hanged.” Now, I’ve walked with them, preparing them for that moment. And when that moment came, their hearts were ready.” (from The StarTV)

Using a rather inadequate image for such a serious context, we might think of a bouncer stationed at the entrance of a chic night club, who selects who may enter. Sister Gerard is the “anti-bouncer”: she throws souls in, not out. She has made herself available to accompany and encourage those sincerely open to returning to God, even under a thick blanket of sin. There is no sinner willing to take the step who cannot be guided to repentance.

“Don’t make me out to be a saint”
Sr. Fernandez has been too much in touch with the realities of life and death to be flattered by the attention she is now getting. She says, “Don’t make me out to be a saint, because I’m not. My ego can be as big as a satellite. But I try to use the dark moments to become better.” (from The Straits Times)

Calling her a saint could be taking the easy way out. Yes, she’s admirable, but her example is not beyond reach. Her life teaches us that God can lead us, little by little, to places we never would have imagined in His service. Some are called to live their Christian mission to the extreme, on the peripheries, but sometimes those peripheries are within us. All of us carry inside us certain dark corners of our heart that we don’t want to open to God, because we deem them too shameful, too unsightly. Yet, there is no dark corner that God cannot illuminate with the light of his grace and forgiveness. We are all called to conversion, and we are all called to recognize that God’s mercy is greater than any sin — ours or someone else’s.





Inside story of a death bed convert

8 11 2019

One of the sweet things about being a priest is being able to minister at a person’s deathbed.

The veil between this world and the next is very thin at that point, and you can see so much. When I say you can “see” so much what I mean is that so much is revealed. At that point the person who is dying is usually very vulnerable and open. Their worldly facade is fading. Their accomplishments and pride are forgotten. They realize that all the stuff of this world will soon be left behind.

Often the person is quietly sleeping. The family is gathered around and there is no response as the last rites are given. On the other hand, sometimes the process is very conscious. More than once I’ve been called to visit a man or woman who has called the parish office specifically because they know they are dying and they want to see a Catholic priest.

So I once made my way to a small apartment in a not so good part of town. I was admitted to find a man in his sixties with a haggard expression gasping for air. Call him Ralph.

“Are you a Catholic priest?”

“I am.”

“It’s about time. I’ve been calling all around town for the last three weeks trying to get hold of a Catholic priest.”

“I’m sorry. It looks like you’re pretty sick.”

“Yep. I’m dying. Doctor says only a few more weeks. They can’t do anything for me.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Lung cancer. It’s my own damned fault. I couldn’t give up smoking,”

“Uh huh. Why haven’t you seen a priest up til now?”

“I was in the hospice and when I asked they sent some old guy around wearing a blue shirt. That made me suspicious so I asked him and he said he was a Methodist. I told him to get lost. I want a Catholic priest. So off he went and a few days later I asked again and they sent some woman around wearing one of those shirts priests are supposed to wear. I knew she wasn’t a Catholic priest, so I told her to get out and go find me a Catholic priest.”

“Why didn’t you send for your parish priest? What church do you go to?”

He laughs, then starts coughing. Coughing really bad. I think he’s going to cough his lungs up—what’s left of them. Finally he stops laughing-coughing and says, “Hell, Father I haven’t been to church for fifty years.”

“Then why start now?”

“Because the nuns told me when a Catholic is dying you’re supposed to call the priest. Right?”

“Right.”

“And I’m a Catholic and I’m dying so I called a priest. What next?”

“Well, are you prepared to make your confession and receive the sacrament of healing?”

“Is that the same as last rites?”

“Yes. Do you want to make your confession?”

“That might take a long time….” starts laughing-coughing again.

“I’ve got as much time as it takes.”

So I began to hear his sad old confession of a wasted life and tragic losses. There were tears on his side first, then on mine. I gave him absolution and promised to bring him communion the next day, and that communion was one of the sweetest things I can remember. He was like a little child. He had faith. In fact he had nothing but faith.

Then after communion and a blessing he lit up a cigarette. “You shouldn’t smoke.” I said. “Those things are going to kill you.”

He thought that was hilarious.

A week later his carer called and I went to see Ralph again. This time he was in bed in a darkened room. There were no family members there. He’d screwed his friends, alienated his kids and divorced his wife. He was alone.

I sat by his bedside. “Ralph, who is with you right now?”

“Nobody Father. Nobody, and it’s my fault. I admit it.”

I took out my rosary. “Do you remember this?”

“Sure. The nuns taught me to say the rosary.”

“That’s who is with you now, Mother Mary.” I give him the rosary. “You’re going to die soon, but I want you to hold on to this rosary as you go. She and your guardian angel will see you across the river. Are you good with that?”

He whispers, “Sure I’m good with that.”

Do you want me to say the prayers for passing?

He nods. I pray. He goes to sleep, and a few days later at his funeral his people are surprised to see a Catholic priest show up. Nobody knew Ralph was a Catholic.

When I told them how Ralph died there was total silence and reverence, and in some strange way Ralph, who was a pretty lousy Catholic in life, bore a radiant witness to Christ the King in his death

This article originally appeared on Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog

Visit his website, browse his books, and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.





Stones would cry out: Kanye praises Jesus

31 10 2019

I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!” Confound me if I am wrong, but are not these prophetic words of Jesus being fulfilled before our eyes. When so many Christians have denied their love for Jesus and embraced adulterous paganism; when christian celebrities shriek with horror when someone tries to associate them with Jesus in public for the sake of the worldly glamour, stones, men you least to expect are praising Jesus, in public and at the top of their voices. A lesson for all to see. Watch notorious Kanye West, rapper and songwriter and Chicago bad boy praising Jesus





12yo girl soon to be made a saint

29 10 2019

On October 24, 1941, in a Brazilian village, a boy hid in the bushes in hopes of catching a 12 yro girl called Benigna off guard when she was fetching water. He was hoping to rape her, but she valiantly fought off his attempts and prevented him from forcing himself upon her.

This refusal added fuel to his rage and the boy took out a machete and started attaching Benigna. He made several blows, the last one killing her instantly. The boy fled, but her body was soon found. He was eventually arrested and spent most of his life in prison. In 1991 he was released and returned to the site of the murder, sincerely repentant of what he had done.

Benigna’s heroic example became an inspiration for the local people and in 2011 her cause for canonization was open. On October 2, 2019, Pope Francis authorized her “martyrdom,” paving the way for her beatification in Brazil.

She will join the ranks of Maria Goretti as a “martyr for purity,” highlighting the beautiful gift of sexuality and how it is to be preserved and used in the right way according to the plan God has created for it.








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