A Quick Roman Writing Test: One Easy Tip to Help You Get Published
I’m often asked questions about writing articles that will get published on sites other than your own.
There are a lot of really important aspects to doing this: write content they need; write in their voice; sell and re-sell your idea throughout the article. Stuff like that.
But, those things take practice.
So, if there’s one tip I can give you that will help immediately, it’s this: use fewer exclamation points.
On the one hand, this I’ll admit that this is a personal preference. On the other, I’m being deadly serious and I think that most bloggers can benefit from doing so, particularly with regard to getting published.
For context, let me give you a bit of insight. I hate exclamation points. Well, to qualify that, I hate them in prosaic or expositive writing. For salescopy and in dialogue, I’m okay with it.
Nearly half a decade ago, I actually wrote an entire article about this on RFS, which you can read here.
In that article–which I do recommend you read, by the way–I said, somewhat snarkily, that the frequency with which you use exclamation points is inversely proportional to your skill as a writer.
Then unbeknownst to me, my opinion is/was shared by a number of authors. Sci-Fi/Fantasy superstar Terry Pratchett, for example, has said that “a person’s sanity is inversely proportional to the number of exclamation marks they use!”
Of course, it’s worth noting that I wrote the aforementioned piece to be somewhat satirical and fairly hyperbolic. It’s also worth noting that I was being a bit of an asshole, because that was five years ago, when I was just getting started online, and in many ways I had no idea what I was doing.
Back then, I’d just started blogging, so I was hardly an authority on what makes a blog good. Then, as now, I did not make it a habit to read many blogs. Certainly, I was never asked to read a blog and comment on it’s quality.
That last point, however, has changed.
Since my silly little article decrying exclamation points as imbecilic was published on my silly little site, my blog was become one of the more popular fitness websites on the internet. It pulls more traffic than many sites which have been around twice as long, and is consistently listed among the top blogs to read. I have become one of the most well-known and influential figures in the fitness industry. I’ve written a best-selling book. I’ve published an entire manual on how to be an effective and popular fitness blogger.
More to the point, irrespective of the fact that I personally love and loathe my writing by turns and in equal measure, my blog is typically known more for the quality and voice of the writing than the content itself.
All of which to say is that, I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two over the past five years, and the advice I give about blogging is typically pretty spot on.
Given all of that, while my article of five years ago may have been a tongue-in-cheek jab at my least favorite form of punctuation, the fact remains that for reasons I was then unaware of, it was good advice. I was right, I just didn’t understand why.
These days, I’m sent dozens of articles per week, and asked for input. Some people are looking to write guest posts for me, others just want some insight on how to become a better writer.
And because I spend so much time reading, editing, and giving feedback other people’s writing, I’ve come to believe that my snarky insight of five years ago is true, and that eliminating the titular habit is the simplest high-leverage change you can make to improve the quality of your writing, the perception thereof, and the likelihood of getting it published.
Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly all of the people who send me samples receive in return a link to that old anti-exclamation point
rant article. Because I stand by it now more than ever.
I could wax philosophic about my dislike for exclamation points ad nauseum, but the real reason for my suggestion to limit your use thereof is that they’re childish. If you cannot agree with that, at least grant that they appear childish to those of us who read things other than children’s books.
You can sound excited without using exclamation points. You can imply emphasis to make a point without sounding excited. And most of all you can make a point without implying emphasis. If you cannot demonstrate the ability to do these things, editors and publishers have no use for you.
Further to that, recognize that even in conversational writing–the language in which I contend most blogs ought to be written–the Law of Diminishing Returns is pretty apparent: the more often often you use exclamation points, the less impact they’ll have.
Here’s a quick three-step test to see if this applies to you:
- Go to your blog, and find the article you’re most proud of.
- Count the total number of paragraphs, and the total number of exclamation points.
- If you find that your paragraphs don’t outnumber your exclamation points by at least 2:1, edit the entire thing.
I make just about everyone who sends me writing samples do this. So much so that my former assistant use to refer to it as “the Roman Test.” I do this because I know it will help. Even if it’s not something you need to arduously work on, if nothing else it provides an additional lens through which to filter your writing, and I think that is of great value.
Now, before I close, I’ll offer this concession: this is mostly opinion based, and I could be totally wrong.
After all, I love and use semi-colons; quite a lot, actually. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my very favorite authors, hated semi-colons, however, saying of them, “…[t]hey are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
Which may be true.
Never would I seek to deter you from writing in a way that felt like your were pouring Truth and heartsblood on the page.
That said, I truly believe that, at least in fitness, your writing and chances of success will increase if you don’t sound like you’re jumping out of your goddamn chair with excitement all the time.
After all, it’s just fitness; let’s all just calm the fuck down, already.