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Writing to win with the 'THEY SAY, I SAY' premise

by Novlet Allen 18 days ago in book review
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Helpful tips for better writing

From book below

I was rummaging through books that I have already read, and found this little gem. Not mine, I never read it before, now I am appreciating what the younger ones are studying these days.

I started reading the book, I have had to read and re-read the chapters to fully understand what they are trying to impart to me, the reader. I am no expert here, I am learning, but I thought that I might share a few insights from the authors.

My intention is to constantly try to improve my writing. I sincerely hope that it helps someone out there.

Learning curve

When I first started submitting articles or stories, I never asked myself the question ,"Am I placing words, arguments and ideas on paper or media that people actually want to read". Of course not, I was just excited to write, not necessarily to read other people's stuff. Needless to say my initial lack of readership brought this point home to me in no uncertain manner.

I now read a lot of other people's stuff, and put more thought into what I have to say. It is a very important factor in what this book is about. I am still a long way from getting this down to an art, but I am improving.

Some of the words that I wrote were just intended for my eyes only. Some were really bad, some private, and some were just embarrassing. I never really wanted other people to read them. But, hey, I signed up for it without reading the fine print carefully and thoroughly. 'My bad' as is said, so, I adapted and I feel that I am getting better.

I had a lot of zeroes at the beginning. Baby steps later, my readership is improving, I have had a top story or three. Yeah! Go me!

Toa Heftiba - Unsplash

I also realized that I am better at writing in some categories more than others. If I am writing from the heart, I think I am at my best. I am so terribly bad at the Fiction genre. I think I am bad at fiction because I hold back and stifle my imagination, the time has come to lighten up and free the thoughts to flow where they will. This book has added some keen insights which I can follow to achieve this goal.

I love doing research for articles, I get immersed in the history of things, but how to represent and present is a challenge.


I am an Aquarian, water bearer, oddball of the zodiac (if you believe such things), dreamer and defender of social injustice, among such philosophizing. I love the colors yellow and purple.


Because of your great understanding of language, you are an impressive communicator. (WHO, ME?) Your tone may be soft and tender, but your selection of words can be solid. So, next time, don’t underestimate the power of an Aquarian’s thought process. (Tendency to overthink). ('mypandit' online).


In introducing the book's thoughts, first, THEY SAY, then adding my thoughts second, I SAY, I have added urgency to writing, helping it to become more authentic and motivating. In other words, writing well means entering a conversation, summarizing what others have to say (they say) then adding your own argument (I say).

This book encourages you to think of writing in the same way that you think about driving a car. It seemed complicated and mysterious when first started, but once you mastered the basics, you no longer have to give conscious thought to the activity because you have become adept at it. The driving instructor here is the 'they say', you listened, learned, passed your driving test, now it is your turn, now 'I say'. Now you have to drive among many people (reading other people's stories) and continue to do so while becoming better at your own writing.

Shubham Dhage - unsplash

No matter how learned or impassioned you are about the subject that you are trying to impart, if the audience is lost and not following the plot or argument, it is a futile process. The most important thing that you can give to your story or article is....a point.

There is also an important lesson about the order in which ideas are presented with a view to keeping the audience engaged. A writer has to explain what he or she is referring to very early in the discussion or story. In a short story, make your point in the first one or two paragraphs, (some advise it to be the first forty (40) words). For longer stories, let it be three or four paragraphs or pages depending on length. For books it would be the first ten or so pages.


The usual style of writing once upon a time, was that one should lead with their own views, thesis or claims. This book however advises that one should start with the argument of others, and follow on with one's basic ideas or stories. In this way you are letting others do some of the work of framing and clarifying the issue that you are writing about. They have therefore helped you to have a great head start on your story.

Your audience should not be kept in suspense for too long after your central argument. Present your argument as part of the much larger conversation, indicating something about the argument of others that you are supporting, opposing, amending, complicating or qualifying.

Audience in suspense


Argument with supporting point
  • Consider for example, how George Orwell starts his famous essay 'POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE' with what others are saying:

"Most people who bother with the matter at all, would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot, by conscious action, do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language--so the argument runs--must inevitably share in the general collapse....

[But] the process is reversible. Modern full of bad habits....which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble". (End quote).

Orwell is basically saying that, "Most people assume that we cannot do anything about the bad state of the English language. But I say that we can".


There are many other powerful ways to start your story instead of opening with someone else's view. You could start with an illustrative quotation, a revealing fact or statistic, visual aids or a relevant anecdote. If you chose one of these formats, be sure that it illustrates in some way the view that you are addressing, or leads you to the view directly with the minimum of steps.


It is very important that you keep your main idea in view as you move through your story. Readers will not be able to follow your unfolding ideas unless you keep reminding them what the central idea really is. At strategic moments throughout the plot it is recommended that you include what are called "return sentences", such as; "as I suggested earlier", "in conclusion", "the idea that", "in defense of", among other return sentences.

Your story will maintain a sense of mission and urgency from start to finish.

It is also very important to carefully study what others are saying when you channel their thoughts and ideas. Be careful not to confuse this with what you already believe. Failing to do this leaves you with imaginary thoughts which are your own biases and preconceptions.


Do not get caught in what is called "the closest cliche syndrome", in which what is said by the quoted author or article, (they say) is mistaken for a known cliche which is actually in the writer's own head and is being projected onto the quote (I say).


When writing, an effective story requires you to temporarily adopt the view point of another, it does not mean ignoring your own view altogether. The paradox here is that while you are summarizing and presenting the text or narrative of another, fairly, your influence on the story should be quiet, but well represented. In other words your (they say) and (I say) should be well matched.

Here is a slight deviation from text to wake you up while still representing the tone of the book's message. Who can resist 'The Rock'...singing!

Not from the book! Smile. Just a diversion from the hum drum of reading plain text. Still it's a little bit relevant, the words open the mind to allowing an appreciation for a diverse world of topics. Also, it gives an example of explaining why I used it, as mentioned in a chapter below on the subject.


Writers who summarize without regard to their own interests, fall prey to what might be known as 'list summaries', which simply inventories the original author's points. In doing so they fail to focus on the larger, broader and overall external points.

Here is a perfect example of the reaction to this situation.

The one-sided argument effect

Remember: Insert your views into the conversation.


The satire mode can sometimes be a very effective style of critique. It allows the summarized argument or words to condemn itself, without overt editorializing by you the writer. This style merely summarizes the silly things that are said and allow them to undermine themselves. The book references 'The daily show', which makes fun of things political leaders say and do, simply by allowing the actions to 'speak for themselves', so to speak.


Before selecting relevant quotations, videos, or any visual aid. you need to have a sense of what to do with them. Make sure that they support your story at the particular point that you insert them into your argument. Do not select them just because you read a book or an article. Use the 'quotation sandwich', serve it much like a slice of bread at the top, with the explanation following as the bottom slice. Explain why you think the quotation is important and what you understand it to be saying.

This is a beautifully written song. It encourages release, acceptance and a freeing of self. Exactly what is needed to let the creative self soar and be it's own natural beautiful entity.


The book suggests that if you are writing and reach the point where you encounter doubt, and fear skepticism from your readers, that is a good thing. This moment of doubt and panic is where your writing really begins. You get to revise what you have written, incorporating the criticisms, thus allowing your writing to become stronger and more interesting.

Using a naysayer to agree to disagree

Regardless of how interesting a topic may seem to you as a writer, readers need to know why you are writing it, and why they should care. Very often, however, we leave this question unanswered, leaving readers hanging, which causes loss of interest. If you are writing for an audience that already know the purpose of the chosen subject, you should still go as far as possible to be clear. Do not take your readers for granted.


Many professional writers will blend language with popular expressions and sayings. They blend writing styles with informal expressions like, 'mellow', 'the Bad Old Days' or even the word 'folks', instead of more academic sayings like 'student centered' or 'process based' as ways to soften the readers point of view or acceptance of a particular story. People's views on everyday lives have changed. Less rigidity is needed to break monotony and relieve stress.

This book covers many other topics; such as:

a. Agree, but with a difference - concur with the finding but offer an alternative explanation.

b. Disagree----and explain why

c. Say why it matters----consider the significance of what is said and why it's impact should matter.

This book has certainly challenged my 'sticktoittiveness'. There are a great deal of ins and outs and twists and turns. All very eye opening and informative. I have tried to cover the topics as concisely as I can, without tarnishing the views of the authors.

So, best of luck in our writing one and all.

I sincerely hope that someone will glean some insight from this story.

Kyle Glenn - unsplash

I have learned while trying to teach you. I hope that I have done the real authors proud.


book review

About the author

Novlet Allen

I am an aspiring writer and poet. I find words delightful. Every poem, or story that I read or write, enriches me. 'Read a thousand books (or stories), travel a thousand miles'.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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