October 29, 2018
If there’s one thing most writers can agree on, it’s that they don’t have enough time to write. Each of us gets twenty-four hours every day–no more, no less. It’s what we do with those hours that determines if we have enough time to write. Here are some tips to help you find more writing time.
- Figure out, then work with your biological rhythm. Some of us get the most done in the morning, while others are more productive during the later hours. Figuring out your most productive time, then creating a writing schedule that allows you to write during that time is one of the best things you can do for your writing.
- Realize you have other people in your life and communicate with them about your desire to find more writing time. You might negotiate two evenings a week plus a weekend afternoon or morning. In exchange for the time, you could offer to let your partner decide on an activity that you both (or all, in case of the kids) could enjoy during your non-writing time.
- Figure out how to pay others so you can buy writing time. By that I mean you could hire a babysitter, someone to mow your lawn, a handyman, etc. Examine your current life and see where you could pay someone else to do whatever it is that’s taking your time away from writing.
- Decide what activity is most important to you at any given time. Granted, you have to go to work to pay your bills. You have to run the kids to school for other activities for their life development. But do you really have to see that new movie? Join that bowling league? Stop for a drink after work with coworkers? Go to dinner with friends once a week? Remember, you get the same twenty-fours as everyone else does, and once gone, the hours are gone. You get to decide how you spend them.
- Create your writing space. Once you have you’ll find you’re on your way to being programmed to write in that space. Whether it’s the corner of a bedroom, a space in the laundry room, or a spot on the dining room table, when you use that same space for writing, you’ll notice how much you look forward to going to that space and working on your writing.
- Get away to write. You may find you can’t find anywhere in your home that will work as a writing space for whatever reason. If that’s the case, get away. Go to the local library, a coffee shop, a friend’s home (prearranged, of course), or some other place you can focus on your writing.
- Pretend you’re not at home so you can write. That means you turn off your smartphone, your television, your internet–anything that might distract your writing flow. It also means you don’t answer the door, heat lunch in the microwave, or do anything else in your home except write. If you weren’t home, you wouldn’t heat lunch in the microwave, answer the door, or be distracted with television and internet.
You are ultimately responsible for finding time to write. It takes planning and work to figure out a writing schedule, but you can do it. Others do. Happy writing!
September 28, 2018
Tone in writing is about author’s attitude regarding what’s being written. Here are some tips to help you increase your awareness of your tone as you write your next story.
- Hear what you write. Just as you hear a person’s attitude in their speaking voice, you can here your attitude toward what you’re writing when you listen to your writing voice.
- Read authors with strong tone. Look for differences in similar stories. For example, three different authors may write about the world situation in three different ways–one will use an irreverent tone, another may treat the world situation with hope, and a third could be completely cynical about everything. Look at what you’re writing and decide if you want to keep writing that way or change your tone in your story.
- Analyze your own tone regarding consistency in how you treat characters. For example, do you set your character up as a realist, then have him or her take an abrupt turn toward the sentimental? Do you intend to create a quick-witted character, but find the language you’re using is too homey or simple?
- Ask for feedback from your critique group. There’s no list regarding which attitude (tone) fits a specific event or subject matter, but it can be helpful to get reader reaction to see if your story holds together and keeps reader interest.
Tone is as complicated as people are complicated. There are no set rules for using tone in writing, but it does help to keep your attitude (tone) consistent with your story. Happy writing!
August 29, 2018
Some writers write everything down as it comes to them, then go back and rework and edit their work once they’ve got the first draft written. Other writers edit as they write because that’s how they capture ideas as they come to them.
Whichever way you write, here’s a primer on editing your own writing.
- Read your opening and ask yourself if it’s interesting to the reader, if it grabs the reader enough to make the reader want to read on.
- Go over each paragraph with the idea that you need to cut out 10 percent to improve that paragraph. You may be able to make the cut or you may not, but at least you tried to tighten up each paragraph.
- Keep your reader in mind–always. When I taught writing for publication classes at the college, I asked my students, “Who do you write for–yourself? your reader? the person who decides whether or not to buy (or represent in case of an agent) your writing?” Ask yourself that same question as you go back through your writing and see if you were consistent in writing for your intended reader.
- Be honest with yourself about the flow of your writing. Your piece should move smoothly and carry your reader along without jarring your reader.
- Speak your written words out loud (especially dialogue) so you can determine if the words you’ve written are conversational and natural sounding when the reader hears them in his/her head.
- Understand that self-editing isn’t about ego or impressing anyone. It’s about common sense and working toward writing something others want to read and maybe even recommend to others.
This little primer could be a good start for you to learn to self-edit. Have fun with it. Happy writing!
July 9, 2018
Writing dialogue is easy–you use double quotes to show what a character is saying and singles quotes within the double quotes to show what a character is repeating from another source.
Writing thoughts can be a bit more challenging. As author, your job is to make it easy for your reader to discern what a character thinks. Here are some tips to help you.
- Avoid using quotation marks (single or double) as already stated in the opening paragraph when conveying character thoughts.
- Decide on whether or not to put the thought in italics based on the length of the thought. Italics are used in writing to show emphasis or passion and can be an excellent way to convey short thoughts, but they don’t work as well for lengthy ones. The risk in using italics for long thoughts comes because the reader may think the long emphasis is inflated or passion overstated.
- Determine if you’re writing the thought using first or third person. If your character thinks a lot in your story, consider using third person and past tense instead of first person and present tense. Why? Your reader will relate to third person/past tense more as a report of what’s going on with the character than as an intimacy intrusion.
- Consider the show versus tell advice you got as a writer. If you write from a tell perspective, you’re sharing your observations with the reader. If you write from a show perspective, you let the reader know by putting the character’s direct thoughts in italics. Example of tell: She allowed herself to dream about a better life. Example of show: She compared her life to her sister’s and it wasn’t fair.
- Choose one of the following if you really think it’s important to your story.
- He (or she) thought
- He (or she) remembered
- He (or she) wondered
- He (or she) contemplated
- He (or she) realized
- He (or she) mused
- His (or her) thoughts drifted to
- Avoid writing he thought to himself. It’s bad enough to hear people say, “I thought to myself,” but it’s even more frustrating to read. I edited one book and asked the author, “Who else does one think to?” I appreciated the author’s sense of humor when he put in his book, “…I thought to myself. (Who else would I think to?).”
I realize characters can take on lives of their own and sometimes they don’t act (or think) the way you expect them to when you create them. Still, you owe it to your reader to make the character as believable as you can, including what he/she thinks. Hope these tips help. Happy writing!
June 12, 2018
Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, writers often include lists (sometimes called series) in their sentences to either show off the depth of their knowledge or as a way to offer details.
Mystery writers offer details of the crime scene. Nonfiction writers show colorful details or offer broad landscape descriptions. Your challenge as a writer is to make sure your list shows the reader enough to see the scene, feel the atmosphere, understand the experience.
Here are some tips to help you do that.
- Use active verbs. Wherever possible, replace is, was, were, are, have, had, etc. (forms of “to be”) with active verbs. Example of a sentence with a passive verb: There were five cranes, two pheasants, and three wild turkeys in the field. Example of the same information written with active verbs: Five cranes watched the two pheasants pecking the ground while three wild turkeys scurried across the field. You decide which is more visual for the reader.
- Consider limiting your list to three items. Example: She took a deep breath as she shook off memories while sorting her mother’s china, crystal, and silverware after the funeral.
- Omit the word and in your list. And indicates the list is complete. Omitting and before the last item in your list implies the list represents a sample, not the entire list.
- Help reader understand when a long list is meant to be long because it includes everything. How do you do this? Start the list sentence with an opening statement followed by a colon (:). Then separate each item in the list with either a comma (when the items are simple) or a semicolon (when the items are complex or contain a comma within the item itself).
- Avoid overwhelming your reader with your vast knowledge of things that belong together or long descriptions of things contained in your list. Both you and your reader are better served if your lists contain things unexpected, visual, well-selected from your knowledge inventory.
I hope these few tips help you write lists (series) that not only show your understanding of a subject, but also create visuals your reader can see and relate to. Happy writing!
May 21, 2018
I’ve written two columns in my writing career: “Sharin’ with Sharron” (in Oklahoma for one year) and “Reliving Anoka County History” (in Minnesota for fifteen years). If you’ve considered writing a column, these tips may help.
- Write about what interests you. If you’re interested in your subject matter, your writing will show it and your reader will see and share that interest.
- Develop your own voice. Your readers want to know your ideas and thoughts, not just a repetition of another writer’s style.
- Look for a variety of things to write about. When you find a variety of things to write about, you open all sorts of possibilities for column ideas.
- Read what you write out loud. I belonged to two different writers groups for many years. One met weekly and the other monthly. The writer read his/her work out loud to the group in the weekly one. A different group member (not the writer) read the writer’s work out loud in the monthly one. In both groups, hearing the words instead of just reading them with eye helped point out confusing sentences, fillers, and excess verbiage. If you don’t have a writers group, read your work out loud to yourself or to a friend who will be honest with you about what they hear.
- Scrutinize your verbs. Avoid using the same verbs repeatedly. Check each verb in your column and challenge yourself to find a more active and more accurate verb. Some examples are ponder versus consider, stroll versus walk, stare versus watch. You get the idea. Use verbs that create images and say what you mean, but keep them simple so the reader doesn’t have to wonder what you’re saying.
- Spend time on your column ending. Writers know to hook their readers in the opening/beginning sentences/paragraph. It’s just as important to spend time writing a satisfying ending.
- Make sure you have a point to every column you write. The point may be minor or subtle, but it should exist to give meaning to your column. “Sharin’ with Sharron” offered more opportunity for general topics than “Reliving Anoka County History.” But the purpose of each column was different. Know the purpose for your column.
If you’ve thought about writing a column, consider these tips. Happy writing!
May 1, 2018
Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or both, settling for the first draft never produces your best writing. Consider trying some of these ideas to help you when your nonfiction article needs something, but you aren’t sure what.
- Determine what you’re really writing about. I told my writing students they should get at least three different articles from whatever it is they were researching. For example, I interviewed a woman who owned an antiquarian bookstore. The three articles I sold from that interview were: (1) Her story as a business person, (2) what types of people bought antiquarian books, and (3) what to look for (condition, edition, etc.) when buying antiquarian books to start a collection.
- Detach yourself from your writing and consider your reader. Get rid of long sentences, extra words, anything that’s unclear at first reading. Don’t make your reader work to try to figure out what you’re trying to say.
- Hit the ground running. Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention. You do that by writing in your own voice, creating vivid images, or bringing out an emotion within your reader.
- Limit your focus. Each article should have a narrow focus or angle. Test your focus by summing up your article in one sentence or by writing a headline that grabs the reader’s (and editor’s) attention.
- Organize using an outline. One of the most useful outline tools I learned in graduate school is mind mapping. It allows you to insert ideas into your outline without the structure of Roman numerals, numbers, and letters. Google “mind mapping” and consider using it as a tool for you.
- Show, don’t tell. Yes, I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you write. Readers visualize images, not written words. Go through your article and highlight the generalities (which are harder to see) in one color and the specifics (which pop up fairly quickly) in another to see how well your writing creates visuals.
- Remember to communicate with your reader. Writers love words, which is one reason we use so many of them. Readers, on the other hand, want information and how they can use it. Think communication when you write.
- Describe the personality of your piece. Is it enthusiastic? Authoritative? Challenging? Inspiring? Entertaining? Humorous? OR Is it bland? Argumentative? Superficial? Infuriating? Horrifying? You get to decide which you want it to be.
You don’t have to use all of these ideas on everything you write, but consider which will help you improve your nonfiction writing, then try them. Happy writing!