Tips for Writing a Good Title

February 9, 2018

Most of the time we’re drawn to a book or an article by the title. But it’s not always easy to come up with a title that catches a reader’s eye. Here are some tips to help you. By the way, I took my examples from the 2017 and 2018 best-seller lists on Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites.

  • Use numbers: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Use a possessive: The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Use one word: Grant.
  • Use an adjective: Lilac Girls.
  • Use an article with your adjective: An American Marriage.
  • Use two nouns: Milk and Honey.
  • Use a prepositional phrase: Before We Were Yours.
  • Use a verb: Live Fearless.
  • Use an entire sentence: One of Us Is Lying.

Look at the titles in your own library. Unless you bought the book simply because you love the author, chances are the title caught your eye. It might be fun to see how many titles you own fit the tips above. Happy writing!

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How to Write a Personal Essay

January 29, 2018

Essay? Really? You may think the college professor in me caused me to write this, but that’s not the case. I just want you to consider a new perspective about writing and a good place to start is with a topic you know better than anyone else–you!

Here are some ideas to get you thinking (and writing).

  • Consider you’re not writing an essay, which is typically thought of as a theme. Instead, give yourself permission to write your story.
  • Start with “I” because you’ve got something worthwhile to say.
  • Show how the past significantly impacts the now (and future) by digging deeper within yourself than you have before.
  • Enjoy being yourself. Sure, lots of writers quote famous people, but this is your personal essay, and you’ve got plenty of your own wisdom/experience to share.
  • Write what you want. When you get assignments in class to write essays or themes or study papers, you also get restrictions. But this is your personal essay to encourage you to get in touch with you, so write what you want.
  • Observe life. One idea is universal–writers are observers of life. Thus, get out and observe by going for a walk, watching people, seeing and hearing what’s going on around you (both large and small activities).
  • Save notes and things that speak to you so you can journal, create idea boxes to collect your thoughts, then chunk your ideas together for future writing. You never know when the smallest detail can serve as the exact thing you need to make your next story better.
  • Remember to use active verbs when writing about your experiences.
  • Allow the muse to work with you. Writing about yourself and finding ways to connect the past with the anticipated future isn’t easy, so embrace all the help the muse offers.

The most obvious tip is to write. If you continue writing, chances are your writing won’t get worse, only better. Since only you know you so well, embrace writing the personal essay and see where it takes you and your other writing. Happy writing!


Tips for Writing Humor

January 23, 2018

This is the first month of a new year and with so many issues surrounding us, it seems like a good idea to stop a moment and take some time to nurture your sense of humor. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Pay attention to what makes you laugh. Look for patterns of things you find funny.
  • Think about the people who make you laugh, then bring those people more into your life when possible.
  • Watch comedians on television or at comedy clubs and analyze what works, what doesn’t, and why. You may take it a step further and give some thought to how you’d make what they’re doing better.
  • Bring humor into your surroundings with cartoons on your bulletin board, artwork that makes you smile, a framed slogan, or whatever you have that you find humorous when you see it.
  • Enlist the help of family and friends by experimenting with humor with them. Be careful, however, that you remember these relationships are precious and you don’t want to do anything to damage them with your humor tests.
  • Remember that humor is subjective. What one person finds funny, the next person may not. Thus humor is about perspective and perception. What you find humorous says something about you that you may or may not want revealed about yourself.
  • Look at a subject you’re considering for humor writing with new eyes. By that I mean you’ll want to find ways to come at the  subject matter from a new angle to keep your humor unique to you. Let others write about the trite and tired old jokes. Your humor should be freshly yours.
  • Brainstorm top ten lists to help you make unexpected combinations. For example, what are the top ten rejected flavors for new ice cream products? What are the top ten things you don’t expect a job applicant to say during a job interview?

When I taught my college writing classes, I told students humor is the most difficult thing to write because it’s subjective and each reader reacts to humor based on his or her own life experiences and perceptions. On the other hand, most people are less resistant to paying to be amused than they are to  paying to be educated, so why not give yourself permission to write something humorous? Happy writing!


Holidays are a Good Time to Write a Memoir

December 14, 2017

We’re in the middle of the holiday season and creating lots of memories. Seems like a good time to start working on your memoir while everything is still fresh. Oh, I know you don’t think you have time with all that’s going on, but consider taking five or ten minutes before you turn out the light at the end of the day to jot down some memory triggers you can use after the chaos is gone.

You know the old who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, so consider starting there.

  • Who warrants a place in your memoir?
  • What did he/she do to get that honor of inclusion?
  • When is the time frame your memoir will cover (holidays only or longer lifetime)?
  • Where will your memoir take you emotionally, mentally, maybe even physically?
  • Why write a memoir in the first place (to help you find more meaning in your own life, maybe)?
  • How will you decide what to include and what to leave out and how to organize your writing?

It may be helpful to see that what you write fits into three categories: history, biography, and memoir. That way you give yourself permission to include facts and relationships as well as impressions.

As you write, remember this is your memoir and you’re incorporating your thoughts with your experiences. It’s better to write something that keeps pushing you toward your goal of finishing your memoir than to worry about whether you have writing talent or not. Only you can write your memoir, so why not start while you have all the excitement of the holidays around you? Happy writing!


Checklist for Clear Writing

November 9, 2017

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’re responsible for how well your reader understands what you’re saying. No two people see things exactly the same way because everyone uses filters that are unique to each of them when processing information. For example, my experience may show me snow is something to avoid driving in while someone else’s experience may show snow is a great opportunity for play. Thus, if I write about anticipating a snowstorm, my intent may be to show the reader dread but the reader may see fun.

Here’s a checklist to help make your writing more clear for your reader.

  • Verbs. Choose words that express your exact meaning. Consider the image your reader gets if your character runs versus jogs versus sprints versus scampers. Choose the verb that shows the reader what you mean.
  • Nouns. Again, decide the image you want your reader to see. There’s a difference between a house and a split-level or an apartment or a ranch-style or a mansion. Choose the noun that shows where your character lives or is visiting.
  • Adjectives/adverbs. I combine these because they are both used to modify other words. Consider involving as many of the five senses in your descriptions as possible. For example, a dark, cold, smelly, underground room is easier to see than a basement.
  • Synonyms. While synonyms may basically mean the same thing, there are connotations (additional meanings) possible with similar terms. For example, delicious, yummy, scrumptious, and good are considered synonyms, but the images for each can differ in readers’ minds.
  • Cliches. These are tired expressions that don’t belong in any good writer’s work. Examples are “dead as a door nail,” “poor as a church mouse,” “slow as molasses.” Avoid cliches, period.
  • Similes. These compare two things that are typically dissimilar to each other by using the work like. Example: The sound of rescue sirens was like music to the ears of the car accident victims. (Sirens aren’t typically music to most people.)
  • Metaphors. These compare two things that are typically dissimilar by saying one is actually the other. Example: The girl was a cat as she crept through the woods. (The girl cannot become a cat, but if you say she was like a cat, you’ve written a simile, not a metaphor.)
  • Jargon. Jargon is the language specific to a certain group such as those in the medical, legal, technical fields or those with specific interests such as hobbyists, etc. Jargon isn’t acceptable when writing to the general reader.
  • 5 W’s and H. After you’ve checked the list above, remember to ask the basic 5-W (who, what, when , where, why) and H (how) questions to determine if your reader will understand your intent.

I hope you’ll find this basic checklist helpful and consider using it before you submit your writing to your agent or editor. Happy writing!


How Imprints Differ from the Parent House in Book Publishing

October 26, 2017

With 2018 fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about your writing/publishing plans for the new year. Technology has allowed so many changes in the book publishing industry that I thought it might be good to get back to basics.

Parent houses are the large entities that publish books. As many of the large houses gobbled up their competitors over the years, fewer and fewer large publishing houses remained, That meant there were fewer places authors and their agents could approach with book ideas.

A solution came when parent houses divided their various (and often unrelated) editorial segments into imprints. Imprints are part of the parent house, but many imprints have their own editorial staff  (and most likely their own budgets) dedicated to the specific area that imprint publishes.

There are several reasons a parent house will have various imprints, but the most common are to keep the genres/subject areas separate from each other and the ability to focus its appeal toward each different demographic group. In other words, an imprint is much like a trade or brand name. Having different imprints allows the parent house to expand the types of books it offers under its corporate umbrella.

One important thing for you as an author to understand is the parent house will most likely not allow its imprints to compete with one another for buying your work. Why not? It’s not good business to allow two divisions of your company to bid against each other for the same item.

A new year is coming, so start thinking about how you’re going to make it your best year ever as an author/writer. Happy writing!


What to Expect from an Editor

September 25, 2017

Many of the authors I worked with over my career told me how upset they were with me when first seeing my edits, but once they realized my job was to help them make their writing better and more clear for the reader, they understood that nothing I said was personal to them–it was about improving their relationship with their reader.

So, what exactly should you expect from your editor? Here are some tips to help you.

  • Look for an editor who maintains respect for your ability as a writer while directing revisions to your work.
  • Determine if your editor can see the big picture (your general topic) of what your article or book is about while paying attention to the details in your sentences.
  • Be clear yourself about why you’re writing your article or book. Ask yourself, “What is this about in general? What are the deeper themes I want to cover?” The point is you want some compelling reason for writing so your reader feels satisfied when done reading. Once you’re clear about the reason, keep your focus on it to avoid going off in other directions.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that you know what you’re trying to say, but unless you make that clear in your writing, you’re expecting your reader to read your mind. Editors are the link between writers and readers. Your editor should always have the reader in mind when working with you to make your writing more clear and concise.
  • Ask for clarification when you don’t understand your editor’s comment or suggestion.
  • Watch that your editor helps you with both copy editing and content editing. Content editing is about clarity, understanding, organization. Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, spelling. You need your editor to provide both.
  • Remember that a good editor strives for balance between keeping your voice and style while ensuring your writing is clear and grammatically correct.

I told authors I worked with that they the only ones who can write what they write. No one else has their perspective of life based on their knowledge, experience, and observation.

My job as editor was to make sure they clearly communicate with their readers. My job as editor was not to change their voice into mine (which, unfortunately, sometimes editors try to do by rewording or reworking an author’s piece).

Your editor should challenge you to be clear and to rewrite in your own voice to achieve clarity for the reader. Happy writing!