Category Archives: General Writing

How To Ask For Feedback on Your Writing

ask for feedback on your writing

No one was born a writer. All writers had to go through the process of “becoming a writer” and, if you’ve read as many writer’s biographies as I have, you’ll know that it wasn’t an easy path for anyone.

Maybe you want to ask for advice from a professional writer but you’re afraid they won’t respond. It’s a logical assumption that they won’t. Except for the fact that when they were starting out, many of today’s successful writers had mentors who were experienced and established.

It’s not impossible to get a writer to respond to a cold email requesting their advice. But it is a delicate endeavor and one that requires some finesse. Here are some tips on how to persuade a writer to write you back:

Read their work

First of all, if you’re going to write to a Stephen King or a Joyce Carol Oates and you’ve never read any of their work, you might want to either pick another author whose work you do know or crack open one or two of their books to get to know their writing better. It’s only fair if you’re asking them to read your works that you’ve at least done your homework and read some of theirs first.

Do background research

Read some interviews and biographical information about them. Follow their blog, Facebook Page or Twitter account if they have one. Find out what kind of philosophies they have about writing, how they got their start, what they’re currently working on. Having a feel for this information will help you craft a more personal letter. It will also help you not tread on their toes by accident. For example, if your chosen writer is an adamantly against e-books, you might not include the fact that you’re considering publishing your work as an e-book.

Work on your subject line

As with all writing, when it comes to titles, headlines and email subject lines, it’s all about grabbing their attention. It’s worth the time you put into perfecting your subject line pitch. Otherwise, even if you wrote the outstanding letter, you run the risk of them never even opening it.

Consider sending snail mail

It’s easy to ignore an email. Hardly anybody receives real mail today. There’s something about the effort you had to go through to handwrite a letter, put a stamp on it and send it off in the mailbox. That differentiates you from someone who shot off 100 emails to a bunch of famous authors. It’s the ultimate way to personalize a message. If you do send a letter by snail mail, make sure to include your email in the letter. Don’t expect them to sit down and write you a letter in reply. Make it easy for writers you want to reach out.

Why are you writing to them?

Can you articulate why it is that you’re writing to that authors in particular? Is it because you admire their work or you’re writing a book on a similar subject as one of their books? Is it because of something they said in an interview that captured your attention? Why do you think their advice would be helpful to you? Explaining this to the writers will help them take your request more seriously.

Keep it simple

You’re probably aware that professional writers are busy people. Asking them to take time away from their own projects to help you with yours is a delicate matter, so do them a favor by getting to the point fairly quickly. Professionals will appreciate you keeping your message brief. You might even want to acknowledge that you know they’re busy and you appreciate them taking them time to read and respond to your message.

What are your credentials?

People like to help people who they think are going to succeed. If you’ve published any other works, you should reference them. If you’ve won any awards or have an MFA or worked as an assistant to a famous screenwriter or author, or have worked in editing or publishing, then it would be good to mention those things. Whatever credentials you can (briefly) provide will help them get an idea of who you are and why spending time reading your work wouldn’t be a waste.

Ask them something specific

Try to ask writing experts something specific rather than something general. For example, don’t ask: How do I get published? That’s way too general and an annoying question to most authors. Where to begin? Instead ask a specific question. Make it something that’s relevant to their work or their experience that you think they will be able to give you the best answer about. It’s much easier for someone to reply to a specific question than to reply to a request for “advice” in general.

Do you have anything to offer them?

If you have something special to offer that you think they might appreciate, go ahead and offer it. If the author lives in the same area as you, go ahead and offer to take them to lunch or buy them a coffee. Maybe their next book is set in Brazil and you lived there for three years. Offer to share some of your experiences that might be helpful to them.

Make it easy for them to reach you

Give authors a lot of options for reaching you. Everyone has their preferred form of communication, so give them your phone number, email, and Skype account. Let them know when you’re available to talk and make sure you’re available if they try to contact you.

Thank them if they write back

If you do manage to catch their attention and they decide to respond to your message, make sure to thank them. It really is a big deal that well-known writers took the time to reply to you, so the least you can do is acknowledge their effort by letting them know how much you appreciate it. It will also make it easier for them to respond to you should you reach out to them again.

How to Stay Passionate about Writing

how to be passionate about writing

Every writer hits a dead end now and then. Creativity is a quality that’s defined by peaks and valleys. Many famous writers have gone through dry periods of writer’s block where they felt their work was worthless.

It’s not just fiction writers who suffer this fate. Journalists, researchers and even students also reach points where they feel uninspired by their work.

So what should you do if your spirit is lagging and you can’t find the joy and thrill in creating something new?

Go to conferences and workshops

Part of the challenge of writing is that it’s a solitary endeavor. And the human mind is a tricky beast, it can dry up pretty fast in the absence of outside stimulation. Attending writer’s workshops and conferences can spark your enthusiasm again. Getting feedback on your work can give you a new perspective on it. Hearing the advice of the coordinator can set you in a new direction.

Meet other people working on interesting projects, this will fill you with the desire to keep going or to start anew. Get yourself out of your work space – the site of so many frustrating hours – this can refresh your senses and help spark new ideas.

Try a different genre

If you’re a sociologist working on a dissertation, try writing poetry or fiction. If you’re a fiction writer, try writing an editorial article about something you feel passionate about. It’s a way for you to keep practicing writing without getting stuck in a rut.

It can also help take the pressure off. You’re not trying to publish a book of poems, you’re just playing around with words. You’re not aiming to become a journalist, you’re just finding another way to express yourself. Sometimes branching out into different areas and experimenting with styles can bring a light-heartedness to your work.

Re-read your favorite book

Some writers have a particular book that inspired them to write. Maybe it influenced their writing style or opened them up to new possibilities in writing. When you’re experiencing a lull in your work, go back to the early source of your inspiration. Re-read it. Religious people turn to their sacred texts when they’re in doubt. Turn to yours. What did it teach you all those years ago when you first read it? What does it teach you today?

Teach

If you’re struggling to find the purpose in your work, try teaching. There’s nothing better to light your fire than passing on the accumulated experiences of your years of writing to eager young writers. You’ll have the chance to take stock of all the challenges you’ve overcome to reach the point you’re at today. It may give you the courage to overcome your current block. Giving advice to them is also an indirect way of giving advice to yourself.

Make sure you have enough time

Maybe your problem isn’t lack of inspiration but burn-out. Did you take on too many commitments at once? Are you trying to balance work and family and over-stretching yourself? There’s nothing like having too much on your plate to snuff your creative fire. Exhaustion, stress and guilt are a toxic cocktail that only work to keep the muse at bay.

Rearrange your schedule to include enough time for leisure activities, to do the non-writing related things you’re passionate about. Sparking passion in other parts of your life may have a contagious effect on your writing life too. Also, allowing yourself space from your problems is what gives you the perspective to solve them.

Take on work that you love

Nothing kills your passion for writing like writing about subjects you find boring. So, if that’s what you’re doing, stop. There are more than enough writing gigs to go around in the area that you love. Take this advice from Ray Bradbury: “I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”

Join a writer’s group

Preferably one that meets in-person rather than online, but if that’s not possible, then an online one is better than nothing. It helps to talk to other writers and share your work. Most writers tend to have a circle of writer friends, but it can be a tricky thing to depend on your friends to give you honest feedback. A group of professional writers can not only offer more objective advice, but they can give you the support and encouragement you need to work through difficult phases and reach the finish line.

Look at the small picture

Sometimes your writing dreams are too big. You want to write the Great American Novel or win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But instead you’re sitting in front of a blank screen every day. So, try something else. Don’t think about goals. Don’t even think about finishing your book. Think about today. One word after the other. And after you’re done, put it away and stop thinking about it. And then tomorrow do the same thing.

Take the pressure off to turn your passion on. Mark Twain explained his writing method this way: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Whatever lull you’re going through right now, remember that many writers before you have gone through it too. Don’t give up. Just make it to the bend. Once you round it, things will look different again.

Uncommon Tricks for Writing Good Headlines

writing good headlines

You’ve read the statistics. Eight out of ten people read the headline but only two out of ten people read the article. Effective headlines have the potential to increase your site’s traffic by 500%.

There are hundreds articles about writing catchy headlines based on formulas and algorithms. And a whole lot of energy being put into analyzing which headlines work best. But since everyone’s reading those posts and using those formulas, readers start to catch on and what worked last year may not be as effective today. Want to get ahead of the curve or simply stick out from the crowd?

Give some of these trend-bucking headline techniques a go.

Shock and awe

Find the most incredible fact about your topic and throw it out there in the headline:

“Millions of Kittens Euthanized in China”
“1,000 Times More Violent Deaths in The US than in Afghan War Zones”

Whatever your topic, find the most extreme sounding fact, the most outrageous statistic and work it. Make sure it’s true, no making things up. Just find the angle that allows you to drive home your point in the most jaw-dropping way.

Stir up controversy

If your topic is a hot-button item like politics or religion, then your best bet for a clickable headline is to dive into the deep end of the debate. Taking a strong stand one way or the other will result in two things:

  1. Those who agree will click because they agree so completely.
  2. Those who disagree will click because they’re outraged at how strongly they disagree.

This technique works best for highly polemic issues on which there is a clear split in opinions:

“Why Republicans Are Destroying Our Country”
“You Take Away My Guns, I’ll Take Away Your Constitution”
“Why the Bible Is A Lie”

Appeal to the negative

We live in the age of positivity. My Facebook newsfeed is proof of it: rife with reposts of happiness advice from the Dalai Llama to Kim Kardashian. So, if you really want to stick out, try steering clear from the current thumbs-up trend. A lot of people feel secretly relieved when encountering negativity. The pressure to stay smiling can get to be too much.

Be catty – think Joan Rivers criticizing red carpet fashion.
Be nihilist – think 90’s grunge bands proselytizing the end of fun.
Be blunt – “_____ Is a Moron”.
Be apocalyptic – “Why We’re All Going To Die in the Next Year”.

Try rhyming

Harking back to ad campaigns of yore, copywriters used rhymes to create a catchy sales pitch: “Winston’s Taste Good Like a Cigarette Should” and Pringles’s “Once you pop, you can’t stop”. Presidential campaign slogans use rhymes because they’re easy to remember and fun to repeat: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”, “I Like Ike”, “All the Way with LBJ” and “Ross for Boss”. So, if you can find a way to rhyme your headline, you might earn a click or at least a memorable line.

Use caps and exclamation points

All headline advice says to avoid this because it looks spammy. Well, since we’re trying to do things a little differently around here, why don’t you try messing around with the visuals of your headline:

“How to Think BIG When Your Budget is small”
“How to Get Out of Your Parent’s Basement TODAY!”
“8 WAYS NOT TO REACH FOR ANOTHER DOUGHNUT!”

Use other languages

Everyone writes in English. How boring! Try using popular phrases in other languages in your headlines. Obviously it has to be a recognizable phrase like “au revoir”or “capice” or “arrigato”: “Why Republicans Are Saying Au Revoir To the New Health Care Bill”.

Strike fear into their hearts

Not in a horror film kind of way (although that’s certainly one way to go) but in a way that makes them fear they’ll be in dire circumstances if they don’t read this article. Nothing like manipulating nascent fears can boost your post’s popularity:

“10 Beach Destinations To Avoid This Summer If You Want to Survive ‘Til Fall”
“Someone May Be Hacking Your Facebook Right Now”

Be absurd

Cultivate the weird and surreal in your headline. Make it so bizarre that they have to read it twice or three times and still go “huh?”:

“Male Gymnast Says Key to Success is Poison”
“Spelling-Bee Champ Loses Title For Telepathic Cheating”
“Dog Scores Higher On SAT Than Most Public School Students”

Use unusual numbers

Top ten lists are a cliché and have been since David Letterman starting giving his every night show. Top five lists are a close second. Come to mention it, people may be getting tired of top 3’s and top 7’s as well. Use unpopular numbers like 4 and 8 and pretty much every number from 11-19. Instead of a list of 20, make it 21. You get the idea.

“13 Ways To Choose A Good Wine”
“18 Careers That Are Making People Rich”
“32 Cities For Baby-Boomers”

The longer the better

Everyone says you should keep it simple. Simple clean language rules the day. Short and sweet. Try giving your readers credit for being able to make it to the end of a headline that’s longer than six words. Even if they don’t actually read the article, stop limiting your verbosity and just let things flow:

“How I Came To Stop Believing The Hype and Went Back to Non-Organic Grocery Stores – And Saved $500/Month”
“4 Books You Should Be Reading That Will Allow You To Join The Snob’s Circle At The Christmas Party”

20 Best Tools For Writers: Add To Your Bookmarks!

best tools for writers

Writers today are spoiled. There are apps for everything. You can get your grammar checked, your work organized, receive writing prompts and blog ideas. You can even indulge in caprices like writing against the falling red maple leaves of Kyoto or savoring the clackety clack of an old fashioned typewriter. Branch out and discover new horizons in modern writing. There’s an app for all your needs and desires.

Here are my latest favorite writing tools:

Goodnotes 4 is the latest version of the famed digital ink app. If you like to handwrite, but don’t want to type out your handwritten pages later, this is the app for you.

Words U. It’s an app that increases your vocabulary subconsciously. As you write text messages, it takes common phrases and replaces them with more advanced vocabulary words. Ex: help = succor, sure = indubitably, food = comestibles. The perfect vocabulary builder- and what writer couldn’t use a good vocabulary?

Blog Topic Generator. If you’re stuck on blog topics, these guys can help. I typed in “writing novels” and got these gems: “The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Novel Writing”, “20 Myths About Writing” and “5 Tools Everyone In The Novel Industry Should Be Using”. Subscribe to get a year’s worth of blog topic ideas customized to your brand/specialization.

Daily Page wakes you up every morning with a new writing prompt. Write your response to the prompt and either file it away privately or parade it before the other subscribers. Great for times when you’re lacking for ideas or to help you create a daily writing practice.

750 Words is a challenge offered to you and taken on by nearly 300,000 writers. The app tracks your writing habits over a month, marking which days you wrote, how long you wrote for, how fast you wrote, what time you started, etc. It also measures the themes and mood of your writing. You get points for meeting the daily quota and can compare your points to other people’s points too.

Writefull allows you to select parts of your text and check it against three language databases: Google Books, Google Web and Google Scholar using easy-to-read stats. You can also alter your text and compare the new and old versions to see which one has more results.

Blogo is the newest in blogging. Its platform allows you to manage all your blogs from one dashboard. It has a photo editing app, an offline version and syncs with Evernote.

Ghost.A new open source blogging platform whose claim to fame is its simplicity. Elegant formats, easy-to-use, allows for multi-user blogs. Blog away in style.

Haven is a virtual writer’s den with elegantly designed backgrounds to inspire writers. Write against a background of falling red maple leaves in Kyoto or burn the midnight oil against a backdrop of night-time in Berlin and more. And if that weren’t already pretty awesome, they also offer help choosing themes to write on, plot twists ideas, and, my favorite, classical literature excerpts that have to do with your chosen theme.

Hanx Writer. If you like the sound of typewriters but don’t want to start lugging one around like your hipster friends, try this app. Its virtual typewriter provides you the audio of an old-fashioned typewriter as you type, but without having to sacrifice the convenience of your modern laptop, tablet or phone. And, as a bonus, it was designed by Tom Hanks.

Reedsy is an online network that hooks you up with editors, book designers and marketers. You create an author profile and get connected to high-quality publishing freelancers. It’s had good reviews and quote requests are free.

Scrivener is an application designed to help you organize long writing projects like novels and dissertations. It offers many tools:

  • A virtual cork-board.
  • Quick-reference panels so you can quickly pull up other documents and research when needed.
  • An ebook publisher for when you’re finished.

Grammarly is currently the most popular and reputable editing app on the market. It runs a check for over 250 grammar mistakes on your text, has a contextual spell-checker and gives you grammar lessons to help you avoid errors in the future. You can use it for emails and social media posts as well.

iA Writer Pro is a text editor plus. It’s many features include:

  • A totally blank screen to write distraction-free.
  • Focus mode that allows you to see just one line of your text.
  • Highlights adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs, prepositions and conjunctions.
  • Night mode with a black screen and white type to save your eyes if you’re a night owl.
  • Syncs with Dropbox and iCloud.

Writepls is a selective collection of articles on writing and publishing. The topics span from “The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living” to “Guest Blogging Strategies that Helped Grow 36,733 Email Subscribers”. It can also help you craft the perfect email and offers advice from George Orwell to boot.

On Writing. The much-lauded memoir about writing from one of the most prolific and successful authors of all time, Stephen King. King bares his writer’s soul for your benefit. Read it for inspiration, a laugh, a cry and a kick in the bottom to get to work on your writing.

Let’s Get Digital. A writing manual for the digital age by David Gaughran. If you want the world of online, indie and self-publishing revealed, this is the book for you. It explains tactics and options to empower writers in our brave new tech world.

Penflip is a collaborative app for writers who want feedback on their work. Your readers post comments and make changes to your text which you manage. All revisions are stored, so no worries about losing your work.

Draft is a complete collaborative editing package. Besides the standard collaborating and sharing features, it has:

  • Cloud service.
  • Publishers to almost anything (WordPress, Tumblr, Ghost, Svbtle, Blogger, Twitter, LinkedIn and more).
  • Transcription tools.
  • Presentation features.
  • Simplification button.
  • Analytics.

Ulysses is one of the most popular text editors for writers of all stripes. It’s simple and streamlined, and allows you to write in various designed formats. Though light-weight, it still gives you all the editing features you could ever need. iCloud synchronization and doc exportation in many formats round out the package.

The Art Of Writing Powerful Sentences

how to write powerful sentences

Whether you’re a fiction writer, a journalist or a web content writer, you want your sentences to capture people’s attention. And for that, you need to write powerful sentences that spark curiosity and drive them to continue reading.

If you think of sentences as a piece of music – which would you rather listen to: music that lifts and moves you as it spans the musical scale or music that drones on in muted monotones? You don’t have to be a natural at this. By practicing some of the advice to follow, you can shape better sentences that snag the attention of your readers.

Trim the fat

The rule of thumb in writing powerful sentences is that less is more. Don’t saturate your sentences with drawn out phrases. Be direct and get to the point. Nobody has time to slog through circuitous writing to get to the author’s true intentions.

Some examples of fat-trimming:

Due to the fact that Sally has a cold, she didn’t come to work.
Sally didn’t come to work because she has a cold.

I skipped my workout so I could make my daughter’s soccer game.
I skipped my workout to make my daughter’s soccer game.

Lynn is the type of girl who likes to go for long walks.
Lynn likes to go for long walks.

There was basically no real reason for John’s dismissal.
There was no reason for John’s dismissal.

The gasoline tank suddenly exploded.
The gasoline tank exploded.

She came inside of the kitchen and sat down.
She entered the kitchen and sat down.

Move strong words to the beginning or end

The first and last words of a sentence are the most memorable. If your sentence’s strongest words are in the middle, you can restructure to bring them either to the beginning or the end.

Ex 1:
The storm caused a big fire and several electrical shortages due to strong winds.
Vs.
Strong winds caused several electrical shortages and a big fire.

The first example starts with “The storm” and ends with “winds” vs. the second example that starts with “Strong winds” and ends with “fire”.

Ex.2
The tiger pounced on the deer and managed to rip its jugular.
Vs.
Pouncing on the deer, the tiger ripped its jugular.

By starting out with the word “pouncing” you get the reader’s attention right away.

Get to the point

Don’t write in circles. Don’t try to be crafty or sneaky or hide your point in innuendo or double-meaning. Nobody is going to take the time to decipher your complicated sentences. Say it plain and clear or don’t say it at all.

Ex:
It was as if John were trying to fish for some sort of compliment about the quality of his report.
Vs.
John was fishing for compliments about his reports.

Oddly, there were virtually no young-ish men at the fireman’s bachelor party.
Vs.
There were few young men at the fireman’s bachelor party.

Don’t use fluff

Even fiction writers who are allowed a certain license to ramble can fall victim to this one. Make sure that your sentences are there for a reason. Are they moving the story forward? Are they driving the point home? A gourmet meal doesn’t include filler and good sentences don’t include fluff.

For example, if I added this sentence to the above paragraph:
Fluff fills up the page but doesn’t bring your reader any closer to understanding your message.

Is it really necessary? Or has this point already been made by the previous sentences?

Get rid of passive voice

Passive voice does not make strong sentences. It slows down the flow of information and sounds awkward. Replace your passive voice with action verbs and see what happens:

The deer’s jugular was ripped by the tiger.
The tiger ripped the deer’s jugular.

A fire was caused by the storm’s strong winds.
The storm’s strong winds caused a fire.

The child was knocked out by the flyball.
The flyball knocked the child out.

Choose better verbs

“To be” and “To have” are some of the first words taught to ESL students. Why is that? Because they’re the most commonly used verbs in the English language. For powerful sentences, you want to forge new terrain. Shelf “To be” and “To have” and venture into the wide world of verbs. Check out this list of action verbs for some ideas. Just be sure not to weaken them by putting them in passive voice (see above).

Create an image in few words

Okay, so you’re not going to use fluff, you’re not going to use passive voice or extra words. It may seem like I’ve taken away all your tools as a writer, leaving you with 5 word sentences that sound plain and robotic. But, believe me, there’s a better world waiting for you beyond wordiness. And you can write strong sentences with few words. Hemingway was the master.

He claimed that this was the best sentence he ever wrote:
“Baby shoes: for sale, never worn.”
It tells a story, creates an image and evokes emotion and has zero fat to trim.

Build suspense

Yes, you want to get to the point. No, you don’t want your individual sentences to be too complex to understand. But as you build a story, you can use good sentences as tools to help build suspense. You want your readers to hunger to know what happens next. Giving them suspense propels them to the next sentence without too much effort on their part. That’s what you want for your writing – to be effortless to read.

A sentence like…:
Jack had placed a letter under their door for them to find when they got home to their apartment.

…can be made more intriguing by adding some suspense:

Once inside the apartment, they found a letter shoved under the door.

Be provocative

Provoke someone’s anger or applause with polemical sentences.

Instead of this:
Many intellectuals tend to be atheists.
Try this:
Unlike believers, many intellectuals are atheists.

Here you have a fat-free sentence that gets to the point and doesn’t hide an opinion behind objectivity. Great sentences take practice. Good luck working on yours!

10 Storytelling Tricks For Fiction Writing

storytelling for fiction writing

The difference between telling a story and storytelling is simple. Telling a story relates the facts to your reader, but storytelling makes a tale come alive.

Below you’ll find 10 tricks to help you incorporate storytelling techniques into your writing at every stage of the process.

First Things First: Pace Yourself

1. Identify key moments

Before you write a scene, take the time to think about the key moments that need to occur. Make a list of both emotional and action based moments. This will keep you focused on the elements of your plot and make it clear where and when you can add storytelling to enhance these crucial points.

2. Save the best for last

Now that you have a list of key moments, make sure that you are saving the most impactful moment for the final part of the scene. This doesn’t need to be a cliffhanger, but it should be the most important part of the scene – where you reveal something that drives your plot forward. Placing this information at the end of a scene keeps the reader interested, and gives you a good rule of thumb by which to structure your storytelling.

Next Fill In the Gaps: Get Physical

3. Build your stage

Think about your scene as a play. Too often as authors we can be so focused on our character interactions that we forget to build a set around them. With each scene, you need to convey where your characters are to give the reader a foothold in their world. This means you need to name a location and/or give a few details as to what the place looks like.

4. Check your 5 senses: Sight, Touch, Taste, Hearing, Smell

Barring alien life forms or disabilities, our characters are experiencing the world with their whole body. Bring your stage to life by having your character remark on their surroundings via their five senses.

For example: a heroine could note that the roses her lover sent smell rich and heavy, like springtime. This gives the reader a chance to experience the gift vicariously. On the other hand, bringing in the senses could allow a detective to see his suspect’s eyes twitch to the left, signaling to the reader that our suspect is lying, without the dialogue.

Checkpoint: Watch the Details

5. Note the mundane

What time of year is it? In writing a scene, it is important to remember to relay seemingly mundane information to the reader. Not only does give a fuller picture of your scene, knowing that it is the middle of winter shows that it really must be love if our hero runs outside in a t-shirt to beg forgiveness from our heroine.

6. Does anyone want a drink?

This is another reminder that characters are people too. They’re going to eat, drink, and excuse themselves to go to the bathroom. Now, we don’t necessarily need to see the characters eat three square meals a day – but we can use food, wine, and the call of nature to build our story.

For example: describing Thanksgiving dinner by saying you ate turkey and pie is underwhelming. Try to include details, like how the pumpkin pie had a dollop of fluffy whipped cream on top. Make the audience’s mouth water – it will make the readers feel as though they are in the scene.

Food and drink can be used for purposes beyond tantalizing taste buds. Taking a sip of wine in the middle of a conversation is a good way to express that character is stalling for time and having a character go to the bathroom in the middle of a road trip gives the sense that a long time has passed. Common necessity is a great way to build your stage as well as give information without having to explicitly state it.

7. WWXD

“What Would X Do?” The key to telling a good story is to stay true to your characters. It would be nice if the Editor of the High School Newspaper was able to deduce who cheated on the test with fingerprint analysis, computer hacking skills, or telepathy. But unless your character is at a special magnet school for criminology, a tech geek, or has paranormal abilities – they have to solve the crime the old fashioned way: gossip and maybe the assistance of a teacher or two.

It’s tempting to aide our characters when we want them to succeed or to kill them off when we start to dislike them. Still, the truth is, good storytelling happens when your character lives within the personality, and the world you’ve created.

Finally: Major Elements to Note

8. Cause = Effect

Bear with me here…this one is tough. Cause happens and then we see an effect. If we forget to set a kitchen timer for our cookies, they’ll come out of the oven burnt. I know, this seems simple enough, but we often forget to proceed in this orderly fashion. Sometimes our protagonist has burnt cookies and we’ve forgotten to tell the audience why.

An example: “Sam pulled the charred cookies out of the oven, thinking Susie would never want to go to prom with him now.” While we’ve gotten our point across (the state of Sam’s prom-posal is in jeopardy!), our readers are thinking… “Wait, how did the cookies get burnt?” Small (or large) slips like this pull the audience out of the story and hurt the flow of your tale.

9. Tension is your driving force

Readers keep reading because of unmet desires. Good storytelling instills in the reader an intention to keep reading; to find out what happens next. As an author you need to keep building tension to maintain that desire.

10. Just Trust Me

The keystone of storytelling is trust. You get to build your world using storytelling techniques. In the act of reading your story, the audience gives you their trust – it’s your job not to break it. So no matter if it’s a big plot twist or a small detail, it needs to belong in the world you’ve created.

An example: let’s use vampires. One of the tenets of world building with vampires is addressing the issue of sunlight. Are your vampires sparkly, sunlight safe vampires? Or are your vampires going to disintegrate into a pile of ashes with the first rays of the dawn?

Either instance is believable to readers, but if you say that your vampires are allergic to the sun, you can’t negate that – even if the vampire really, really wants to have brunch outside with the heroine. Breaking the rules of your world will not only pull readers out of your storytelling spell – you’re going to kill the world of the book for them too.

10 Essential Things You Will Learn From Writing

how to write a research paper

Writing is an act of sharing and teaching others about your perspective. But there are also many things that writers learn in the process. No matter what type of writing you do- content writing, blogging, journalism, poetry, novels, etc – all writing teaches us some valuable lessons.

Here are 10 things you can learn from writing:

Become a better observer

I once met someone at a party who asked me what I did for a living. When I replied that I was a writer, they said, “Well, that’s the end of our conversation. I don’t like writers. They always use the people in their lives as raw material.” Ouch. Unfortunately, it’s kind of true and kind of unavoidable. Often the people, places and experiences in a writer’s life find their way into their stories. That’s because the part of being a writer is being a good observer. The more attention you pay to the details of your environment (tastes, smells, words, accents, etc), the richer your writing will be.

Become more disciplined

Becoming a professional writer requires momentous amounts of self-discipline. Writing every day, whether inspiration is here or whether the words are coming out like molasses stuck in a jar, writers muscle through it. For anyone who’s ever tried to write a novel or longread before, you know how much work it takes to see it through to the end. Not just the first time you type the words “The End” but the thousandth time you think it’s finished while your editor disagrees. Sometimes writing is like coasting down a hill on a bicycle. Other times, it’s like trying to summit Mt. Everest. A disciplined writer writes no matter what kind of day it is.

Become a better reader

Reading is research for writers. Whether you’re a poet, a novelist, a journalist or blogger, you want to see how other people are doing it. What makes their writing successful? What do you think could be better? What tricks do they have that you want to learn? Every writing course I’ve ever taken has urged me to read more. The more you read, the better you’ll learn to read, the better you’ll learn to write.

Know thyself

You learn a lot about yourself by becoming a writer. Whether you’re writing advertising content or poetry, the words are yours and you’re the only one who can write them. A journalist wants to bring a story they think is important to the world’s attention. So does a novelist. The act of writing is the act of sharing who you are. The more you write, the more you’re able to define your values and the messages you want to put out there.

Learn how to shut out distractions

Writing is a task that requires concentration and silence. It’s hard enough without adding ringing phones, crying children and other things to the mix. Many writers go to great lengths in order to carve out that quiet time in order to write. Some get up early to ensure they’re distraction-free. Some shut off their phones and disable their internet connections. Others wear earplugs and the list goes on. Becoming a master at shutting out distractions comes with the job.

Get better at research

Most forms of writing require some type of research. Whether you’re writing a historical novel or an article on widgets, you need to find the most relevant and credible sources to make your writing reputable. A well-researched piece of writing stands out from those based on glances at Wikipedia.

Develop a style

Different genres require different writing skills. In web content writing, less is more and simplicity rules. In novels, it’s all about the angle you choose to tell a story from, character development and tone. Poets often use metaphor to capture the essence of a feeling or object they’re trying to describe. In all of these cases, the writer’s work is to cultivate a “voice”, a style that defines their work so that readers can recognize it as theirs. This is an important step in a writer’s development.

Get better at editing

Getting the words out is just part of the writing process. Getting the words right is another part of it – the editing part. Between grammar, spelling, word choice, clarity, tone and structure, almost all writing needs some editing after the first draft. Writers must learn to have the patience to wait a few hours, days, weeks or months to let the words “settle” before looking at their work again. They must also develop the ability to look at their work objectively to see how the piece can be improved.

Learn to handle criticism

Chances are some people won’t like the things you write. And because writing is such a personal form of expression, it can be really hurtful when someone criticizes yours. That’s why it’s particularly important to develop a thicker skin and learn not to take things personally. If every writer stopped writing the first time someone threw a stone at their work, there would be precious few writers left.

Some criticism can be useful – it can make you to rethink your angle, your words or your style in a way you hadn’t considered before. Some criticism is just downright insulting and them it’s best to lick your wounds and carry on writing. The sooner the better.

Be courageous

Many writers have had moments where they became paralyzed with fear and were unable to write. Maybe you want to write something but you’re afraid of other people’s judgment. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll offend someone or someone will offend you if you write it (see #9). Maybe you’ve just created something that was very successful and aren’t sure you can top it. There are lots of reasons that fear enters into the picture. And therefore, writing itself requires great courage. To overcome those fears takes a leap of faith. Not everyone is able to take that leap. But for those who do, often the act of overcoming their fear is reward in itself.

How To Fight Writer’s Block and Win

how to fight writer'sblock

Writer’s block is an affliction that affects almost all writers at some point. I say “almost all” because I have to allow for some cyborgs from outer space posing as writers who never have writer’s block. For us humanoid writers, it just so happens that sometimes the words don’t flow. The ideas don’t come, panic sets in. And then paralysis.

Writer’s block can be debilitating and some writers can take a really long time to get back up on the horse after falling off. Ralph Ellison, whose novel Invisible Man made him not only an overnight literary genius but also a hero, is one of the most famous cases of writer’s block. Publishers and critics waited for decades for his second novel to come. It finally did, in 1999, published posthumously five years after his death.

Harper Lee’s story is much the same. After publishing To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, she finally birthed her second novel this year in 2015. Some writers have prolific careers and then suddenly stop cold. Truman Capote’s last novel, In Cold Blood, was the one that made him most famous and, arguably, the one that ended his career. Sometimes, a work is so famous that the writer becomes intimidated by the task of trying to top it. And then, writing becomes not only difficult but impossible.

So, if these literary giants were defeated by writer’s block, what possible hope do the rest of us have? Well, it can be that you have even more hope than they did. Because chances are you haven’t reached your peak or written your masterpiece yet. That’s actually the good news. Let’s get you writing again, so that you have the chance to reach your top.

Can-Do Attitude

Jerrold Mundis has a great method for beginning writers. You can read his book or listen to his audio tapes which are sold on his site www.unblock.org.  Mundis’ method encourages first a healthy dose of self-esteem and a can-do attitude about writing. Silencing the inner critic and believing that you can write are the first steps to getting over writer’s block. He also warns writers not to focus on the end result, on book deals and movie contracts, but to concentrate on the writing itself, making the goals small and doable. Looking too much at the big picture will inhibit your ability to focus on the small tasks of putting one word after the other.

His recommended method is freewriting, with no editing or revising allowed during writing sessions. And he also champions the idea of quitting while you’re ahead, i.e. not going past time or word count goals for the day but saving whatever might have spilled over for your next session. Hemingway also recommended doing this. It makes you thirsty for your next writing session to see where that thought process you started will end up.

Don’t Fight It

College professor John Perry made waves recently with his book The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing. The genius of his advice lies in the same wisdom as those martial artists who use the enemy’s energy against them by not reacting. Don’t resist it. The more you resist, the worse it becomes and the harder it is to get over it. He urges people to make lists of tasks starting with the least important and building to the most important. Knocking the less important tasks off the list make you feel productive and builds your confidence so that by the time you get to the important one, you feel more prepared to take it on.

You can apply the same to writing. Instead of working on your book, for example, work on an essay or a journal entry or a poem. Build yourself up to the intimidating tasks by knocking off some writing assignments that hold less emotional weight for you.

Just Focus On the Work

Most writers are pretty good at inflicting terror on themselves. They get caught up in thoughts like “How will I be able to market this?” or “How will I be able to look my mother in the eye after publishing this book with sex scenes in it?” Don’t try to write someone else’s book. Don’t try to write a book that your mother would approve of. Don’t think about what publishers will say. Just write what’s inside of you. That’s the only concern you should have for a good long until you have something that’s developed enough to show to someone. Then let an agent or publisher tell you their thoughts.

If you get caught up in preemptive worries about the finished product, you may never get to that final stage. Shut those thoughts down and every time they come up, recognize them, breathe, and get back to writing. Remind yourself that this is your job, not worrying about other people’s opinions or the future criticisms of your work. Tape a note above your desk reminding you of this. Type it at the top of every page if you must until it sinks in. Your art is yours, your words are yours.

Get Comfortable With Routine

All of the professional writers I know follow some sort of routine. And there are scores of interviews with famous writers about their writing process that all go pretty much along the same lines: write every day. Some may, argued that writer’s block is more of an existential crisis than anything else. Like most artists, writers write because at some point they had a taste of the thunderbolt of inspiration and they wanted more of it.

Most days aren’t inspired days. So what do you do in the meantime? The only way to get on with writing when the inspiration isn’t there is to humbly accept the fact that writing, like being a chef, a plumber, a construction worker or a teacher, is work. You’ll have good days and bad days, but that you must show up to work. So, create your routine. Designate your working time, punch your time card and write.

Developing Your Writing Style

develop writing style

Sometimes, you can come across a piece of writing in a magazine or a book, and, without looking at the author’s name already know who wrote it. Who else but J.D. Salinger could write such agonizingly existential yet scorchingly judgmental phrases? There’s a reason why Gabriel Garcia Marquez is credited with inventing magical realism. Who but Elizabeth Gilbert makes you feel like you’re reading your best friend’s diary? Would anyone ever mistake Normal Mailer’s work for Toni Morrison’s?

You can pick these voices out from a crowd because they are from writers who have a distinct writing style.

But why does that matter? Why do I need a writing style?

Your writing style is your trademark. Whether you are a blogger, a content writer, an academic or a novelist, developing a style is an important step in your writing life. It not only helps you grow your brand, it also helps you write more and better. If your writing voice is already well-honed, it’s easier for you to jump into a new piece. You start to lose that fear of “how do I begin?” Your writing voice, once it’s developed, serves as your guide.

So, how exactly do you develop a writing style? Here are some tips:

Read a lot of other people’s work

Read a lot of the genre you want to write. Gather a collection of the top writers in that area and read their work. Don’t read for information or entertainment. Dissect their work to determine their style. A blogger who always includes interesting personal experiences that tie to his theme vs. a blogger that tends to quote a lot of stats and news stories. A horror fiction writer who goes right for the gore vs. a horror fiction writer who sets up a creepy psychological landscape. An academic writer who has a conversational tone vs. an academic writer who is more conservative and scholarly in tone.

Keep dissecting and notice more about the tone. Does one writer tend to be humorous while another tends to plummet into political apathy? What are key words and phrases they might tend to us? Are their sentences long and descriptive or short and informative?

Now read your own work

If you’ve already written some pieces, be it blog posts, essays or even books, go through some of your own writing with the same discerning eye. Pick out things you notice about your own style: key phrases, tone, sentence structure and length. Do you get to the point right away or do you take your time building a case? Do you tend to write long descriptive passages or are you focused on action and moving the story forward? What are the things you want to change? What are the things you want to develop more?

Write what you know

This is what most authors do anyway. Your surroundings are often your inspiration. Even fantasy and science fiction sometimes have characters and settings culled from the author’s real life. Writing what you know already takes some of the pressure off of having to imagine a unique story. Write an autobiographical piece about your family. What do you have to say about where you came from, how you grew up? Let loose and don’t hold back. Don’t think about how someone would feel if you wrote that about them. Say exactly what you think.

Having the courage to tell the truth is perhaps half the battle to developing your style. Have you ever read any of David Sedaris’ work? It teems with jaw-dropping anecdotes about his family. Totally no holds barred. Sometimes I cover my mouth in delight and then wonder, “How could he write that about his mother? No, how could he publish that about his mother?” That is his style: caustic humor and brutal honesty. Starting with writing about something familiar is a good way to develop your own writing style.

If you’re writing content, the same holds true. Don’t try to write content about technological gadgets when your background is in Italian Renaissance Art.Write what you know. A writer can write just as eloquently about technology as another writer writes about art. The trick is to be familiar with your subject.

Have the guts to be yourself

Writing takes a lot of courage. You are exposing your thoughts, opinions, fears, emotions and, sometimes, your soul to a group of strangers. Who may actually behave very cruelly in their criticism. In order to survive as a writer, you have to be able to get past your fear of judgement and failure and have the guts to express yourself. In your own way. Not in a way that you think someone would like. In the way that you like.

Like any other endeavor, be it becoming a star athlete, a world class opera singer or a celebrated painter, you must have courage. What if Jackson Pollack thought, “Oh no, I can’t develop this drip paint style. Nobody will like it. Nobody will understand it. I’d better just paint some landscapes.” Don’t be afraid to develop your voice. It’s the unique gift that only you can give.

Freewrite

Doing freewriting exercises can really help uncover your writing style. In freewriting you’re tapping into your brain’s subconscious and letting out anything that comes up. Without filters or worrying about spelling or grammar or if something even makes sense, you’re spilling out a raw form of your writing style. Do a lot of freewrite exercises over the course of a month and see if you can determine a common thread in them that you want to pick out and develop.

Find out who you are

Well, this may sound like a tall order, but when you’re developing a style, it really comes down to defining your vision of the world. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you a hedonist or a pragmatist? Are you a poet or a detective novelist? Writers often write because they feel they have something they want to share. What is it that you essentially want to share?

9 Obstacles To Writing a Blog and How To Overcome Them

how to write a blog

1. Writer’s Block

Step Away. Sometimes all you need is a break. Go for a walk, do the dishes, or craft for a bit. You’re looking for a physical activity that requires little mental concentration. This will give your mind a break and let it wander. Don’t be surprised if in the middle of vacuuming your living room an idea hits you. Just like anything else our minds need a reset button sometimes.

Get Stimulated. Talk to a friend, scan your favorite social media, or read a book. Many of our ideas for writing come from our everyday live – whether we consciously or unconsciously choose them. When you’re at a loss for what to write, interacting with fresh sources of information can help introduce new ideas to the creative parts of your brain.

Scene Change. While it’s important to have a designated space for your writing, during about of writer’s block that space can start to feel like a jail cell. Give yourself a mental refresher by moving somewhere new. Instead of your office try the kitchen or playroom. If you have the ability, try a coffee shop, public library, or park bench. Many public spaces – even those outside – have WiFi connections: take advantage of them!

2. Time

Write Every Day. This is a pretty standard rule for writers, but one that can feel overwhelming. Like any other craft, the more you do it, the better you become. However, sometimes this advice seems to imply that we need to produce mass amounts of work (500, 1,000, 2,500 words: hello NaNoWriMo!), but in reality all that you’re asking for is to write something each day – even if it’s only one sentence. The point is to make writing a habit rather than a special activity.

Multitasking. We think we can simultaneously write and check our email, Facebook, and online banking pages. Many of us sit down, intending to write, and end up multitasking our time away. Paid computer apps like Freedom, which stop you from surfing the internet and block social media sites, force you to concentrate. However, if you have tight pockets and willpower, a good rule of thumb is to only allow one window or tab open on your computer at a time.

3. Grammar

Outsource It. Apps like Grammarly will check your work as you write for correct spelling, grammar, and word choice. Bonus: the program also gives explanations as it corrects you, so you have a better understanding of why the suggestion is being made.

Read It. But don’t read it from start to finish. Your brain will skip over all of the mistakes because you created the piece; you’re too familiar with it. For short or very important pieces try reading the text backward (from the end to the beginning); mistakes will become glaringly obvious. For longer pieces try reading them out loud. Again, you’ll hear mistakes you would have missed reading it silently to yourself.

4. Fresh Ideas

Take a page out of someone else’s book. Take a look at other books or blogs you enjoy reading and look for trends. Do you like how they summarize a piece? Do you like the hook they use for their start? Is there a topic that interests you as well? Use what you like as a starting point and make it your own.

Try a new meme. Look for weekly or monthly memes that you can participate in. You can find these via other blogs you read or a Google search for your subject matter and ‘memes’ (i.e. “book blog memes”). Bonus: participating and commenting via the meme will build a larger network.

5. Lack of confidence

You learn something new every day. Always remember that writing, like all arts, involves a constant state of learning. Even in the best writers there is room for improvement. Be consistent in your writing and it will get better with time.

Join a group. Find a writers group online where you can get feedback from others. You’ll find that not only will they offer constructive criticism, but they’ll also offer compliments on what you’re already doing well!

6. No Traction

If a tree falls alone in the forest, does it make a sound? Answer: Who knows? No one is around to hear it. The same is true for your blog. Blogs are a very social space to write in. If you want more people to view and comment on your blog, you need to take the time to view and comment on other people’s blogs as well.

Sharing is Caring. Supporting smaller memes, posting for giveaways, and hyperlinking out to other blogs when appropriate are all great ways to not only support other bloggers, but to put you on their radar to get support in return. Remember, you can also do this via the social media channels attached to your blog too!

7. Word Choice

Go Old School. It’s called a thesaurus. It’s the book that’s kind of like a dictionary but instead of giving you a definition, it gives you a list of other words that have similar and opposite meanings to the word you are looking up. Thankfully sites like Thesaurus.com make using it simple. ProTip: highlighting a word in a Google Doc or Word document and opening the shortcut menu will give you the option for synonyms – it’s a quick and easy way to get a new word.

Rule of Thumb. Never use the same descriptive word twice in a single sentence or within two sentences of its first (i.e. John liked playing on the playground. Playing on the swings was his favorite activity. Changed to: John liked playing on the playground. Swinging on the swings was his favorite activity).

8. Negative Comments

“Bye Felicia”. Sometimes haters are just going to hate. If you receive comments that are purely negative delete them and move on. Remember that you have many readers who enjoy what you write, even if they aren’t so active at commenting.

The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done to you. This means you don’t get to engage the commenter. Don’t have an argument with them on the comment boards, don’t email them nasty emails, and don’t go to their blog and trash them there. It will just make the situation worse

Be Clear. Is the comment mean? Or does it offer constructive criticism? Remember, even if unsolicited, a critique of your work will only help you grow as a writer.

9. Idea A.D.D.

A Plethora of Goodness . The opposite of writer’s block and yet just as paralyzing. When we have too many good ideas it can be difficult to pick, concentrate on, or follow through with just one. Try opening up multiple folders, documents, or posts and writing a description of a different idea in each space. Then pick one and devote a set amount of time to it (say 30 minutes) – when time is up you can move on to another idea or stick with the one you chose if your creativity is on point. Bonus: the other documents you started can be great problem solvers when you’re struck with writer’s Block.