Episode 9

Steve Padilla

April 16, 2012

Steve Padilla is an editor and writing coach at the Los Angeles Times. In 2006, he gave a workshop at the Chicago Tribune, a session so well received that reporters still ask for the recording today. Steve has graciously allowed us to share “Writing Diagnostics,” newspaper-centric but applicable to all writers.

Listen to Steve Padilla
“What's the most important thing in writing? Is it syntax, rhythm, organization? None of the above. The most important thing in writing is the meaning. We forget this all the time. We should be obsessing about what we're going to say, not how we're going to say it.”


  1. Let the meaning control the words. Don't let the words control the meaning.

  2. Print out your writing. Read it out loud.

  3. The things that make music interesting are the same things that make writing interesting. Long-short. Loud-soft. Major-minor (happy-sad).

  4. Focus on the ends of sentences. Put the best stuff at the end.

  5. The meaning of life is all in verbs. If you emphasize verbs, you emphasize action. If you emphasize action, you have to emphasize people. If you emphasize people, you will have drama. If you have drama, you'll have interest. And if you have interest, you'll have the reader.

  6. Anecdotes often feel too long. Here's the trick: Don't start at the beginning, start in the middle. You never see a judge walk in, sit down and bang the gavel on "Law & Order." When they cut to the scene, the judge is already banging the gavel.

  7. Listen to song lyrics. You don't hear a lot of passive voice. The lyricist doesn't have room for passive voice.

  8. The key to a good description isn't cleverness or wittiness. It's accuracy.