On Improving Writing

Advice from a member of my writing group:

There are some details that aren’t really crucial with a limited word count, and in a review you want to hook the reader just as the writer must.

“Write with your mouth, not your hands.” — Jeff Herr in a 2008 teleseminar, who was speaking about Internet article writing. I guess it could be applied to all kinds of writing.

The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club — I finished this book just before Christmas 2010. Although it’s geared toward fiction writers, this journal, with blank pages for making notes, is a tremendous kick in the pants for anyone doing any kind of writing project, from novels to plays, short stories, blogs, and nonfiction works. It is a series of letters written by Maeve to advise University of Ireland (Dublin?) writing class students on their work. Essays are included from agents, publishers, and additional authors. Examples of Maeve Binchy’s short stories and newspaper articles appear at the back of the book, along with a wealth of links. Binchy said in her introduction that the book is meant to use daily and to take with you. I recommend it highly, and I will eventually buy my own copy.

Revision — This is a necessary, and expected, part of writing. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how many times you have been published. The other day I was working on a short summary, and nothing seemed right, so I am left with no choice but to start over.

Since I started the PostADay blogging challenge, I’ve had good days and bad days. The newsletters from WordPress staff, are enormously helpful. Take this one from Erica Johnson on January 21st:

Don’t you hate it when you think to yourself, “That would make a great post topic,” only to find that when you finally sit down to start writing, you can’t remember what your idea was?

The folks at Walking the Pattern recently shared this post about the benefits of keeping track of your writing ideas so that you can spend less time planning and more time writing:

With the notebook always in my pocket, I can quickly scribble down any thoughts I have during the day that I think would make interesting posts.  That way, when I sit down at my laptop, I don’t have to waste time trying to think of something to write about; I just flip through my notebook and pick an idea.  I love working this way because I get to spend more time doing the fun part: writing.

Here’s another from Erica on February 8th, I subscribed to the blog she references:

Speaking of getting back on track after losing your writing groove, Jamie Wallace of Live to Write – Write to Live recently voiced her frustration with how her personal and professional responsibilities have been imposing on her writing time:

I had intended to get back to journaling…I had meant to get back to work outlining my novel, working on character studies, and creating a fabulously retro “map” of my story using markers, sticky notes, and some very large pieces of paper. But, these intentions were all summarily slaughtered by the demands of my Real Life.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I felt disappointment, anger, and guilt.

But she’s working on giving up the “I don’t have time” excuse by making writing a more routine part of her schedule. She explains, “The beauty of a habit is that you do it almost without thinking. It’s not something that you have to work at; it’s just part of who you are and your life.”

Here are seven tips she shared on how to cultivate effective writing habits:

1. Find, make, or steal writing time

2. Have a purpose

3. Avoid the shoulds

4. Start small

5. Be consistent

6. Measure progress

7. Find your joy

Scott Berkun offers these writing quotes.

I recently started Unless It Moves the Human Heart, by Roger Rosenblatt. It’s a memoir of his teaching in the undergrad and MFA programs at a university in New York. It’s very good, but it reminded me too much of my undergrad English major days, even though they were great. The book is excellent for fiction writers, and I may revisit it and his other essays at some point. I liked this quote from Mark Twain at the front of the book:

The difference between the almost right word and the right one is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

I enjoyed this recent post (June 2011) from Seth Godin, as he referenced George Orwell’s writing tips.

This is from a July 1, 2013 issue of “The Writer’s Almanac.”

American author Dorothy Parker once wrote: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

 

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