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Subscribe to this feedDon't Be A Syntax Couch Potato

Old, comfortable syntax can be a copywriter's trap. It restricts our creativity and funnels thoughts into monotonous rhythm, vernacular, meaning. It can also make copywriting weak: when we get too comfortable with a certain construction, we become blind to how it can thwart clarity.

The most interesting writing ebbs and flows—a short, spare sentence here; a complex sentence there. It mixes the abstract with the tangible; and mingles flights of longing or other emotion with hard fact. And it's clean.

So when a particular syntax becomes a crutch, how can we break free from it? Here are three exercises that may help:

  • Sit down for ten minutes every morning to write freeform from your dreams. Do not try for logical sentences. Let words flow and see where they take you.
  • Look at a few pieces of your own writing. Analyze your sentence structure to find syntax that you abuse. Then find a completely new way to say each of those sentences.
  • Or, take a read of Natalie Goldberg's seminal book Writing Down the Bones. (It will become your writer's companion.)

Natalie says: "We think in sentences, and the way we think is the way we see. If we think in the structure subject/verb/direct-object, then that is how we form the world. By cracking open that syntax, we release energy and are able to see the world afresh from a new angle." (From the chapter “Syntax” in Writing Down the Bones)

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