Category Archives: General Writing

Common Mistakes in College Paper Writing

essay-writing-mistakes

Writing assignments for college credit take all different shapes and requirements—and of course, present a variety of stresses. Ultimately, though, a paper is a great opportunity to explore your own ideas and express independent conclusions. Even if you admit to not being the best writer, there is room for success in college paper writing, as long as you see the pitfalls coming and divert via the route of clarity, logic, and compliance.

To follow are some common mistakes students make in college paper writing. Take heed and weed costly errors out of your prose; after all, mistakes are less often related to your skills as a writer, and more often the result of carelessness and bad habits.

Failing to Understand the Assignment

Not taking time to comprehend what a paper assignment calls for is a huge error. Most professors offer ample detail about what they want, so get into the fine print. If the professor assigns 500 words, meet that expectation. Don’t short the essay by 19 words and assume it’s fine because it’s still “in the ballpark.” It is always better to go over by 5 to 10 words (no more) than to miss a word-count benchmark. And don’t question this part of an assignment: there’s method to a prof’s madness in requiring that writers get it said in so many words.

Get clarity, too, on documentation requirements: are in-text citations appropriate, or does this instructor craves footnotes? Ask about how much and what kind of source material you should access and annotate, then dig into research.

Informal Language and Colloquialisms

An academic paper should be presented in formal, academic English; this is no time for “street talk” or for “text speak.” A good rule of thumb is to avoid abbreviations altogether (that includes contractions) and never to rely on slang or jargon. For example, the phrase “a lot” seems to convey something like “many” or “much.” In all actuality, though, “a lot” presents like a noun, especially with the article in play. The phrase is vague; leave it out.

Steer clear of everyday expressions and “trendy” language too, unless the professor indicates this college paper can accommodate it. Elevate tone, elevate content, and elevate end results.

Using First Person and Direct Address

Academic writing typically calls for some amount of objectivity, where first-person announcements like “I feel” or “I contend” aren’t the best options. After all, it is your essay, so isn’t the “In my opinion” construct a given? Take a step back. Distance yourself from the “speaker” platform by using “the author” in place of first person; just don’t get too carried away so that you end up sounding like a stuffed shirt!

And direct address (writing “you this, you that”) is just one more common mistake—and it’s particularly dangerous. Plug in “one” to keep from putting words into a reader’s mouth and to avoid making the reader feel targeted.

Misusing Basic Punctuation

One major pitfall for most writers, especially in college paper writing where authors are spread thin and in a rush, is punctuation. Being comma-happy means your prose is interruptive and stilted; not having an independent clause on either side of a semi-colon confuses a reader. Slow down and edit carefully. In fact, keep a style guide on hand: make use of writing resources available in the library and via online platforms, because every writer needs instant access to the rules and regs regarding grammar, punctuation, and usage.

Writing a Strong Hook Sentence: Start with a Knock-Out

hook-sentence

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens in his “A Tale of Two Cities.” This sentence, with its riddle-like structure that both challenges and enthralls the reader, is often used to define the hook sentence concept. As the name implies, a hook sentence “hooks” the reader from the get-go and keeps him actively engaged with the words on the page. Getting the reader’s attention early on in your essay is paramount to keeping his attention going so that he’ll actually want to read the rest of your work. The good news is that you don’t need Dickensian aspirations to come up with a killer hook sentence for a simple essay. Let’s look at how you can sell your reader on what your essay has to offer.

Identify the Audience for Your Paper

If you’re writing an essay, you likely are writing to please one person only – your instructor, teacher, or professor. In this case, your audience is clearly defined, and the hook sentence that you write for this type of essay may be completely different from the hook you might come up with if you were writing an essay to share in the school paper with your friends. The audience determines the message that you portray in your hook sentence; it should speak directly to the audience, and the audience should be able to easily relate to what you say on its own level.

Figure Out What Matters to Your Audience

It can also help to determine what matters to your audience. Your professor is looking for specific information; likely this means that you should demonstrate knowledge of the subject being discussed. The professor may also be looking for mastery of APA or MLA style elements. By contrast, if you’re writing an opinion piece for the newspaper, then write with an eye to appealing to like-minded readers with whom you share a common concern.

Effective Hook Sentences

There is no formula for creating a hook sentence, so let your creativity and a few proven strategies guide you. Consider these examples:

  • Give advice. “If you want to have friends, you have to be a friend first.”
  • Provide an anecdote. Use a short or unbelievable factoid or story about an incident or person to get the reader’s attention. “Mariah Carey lives in an apartment worth millions of dollars, but her sister is homeless.”
  • Make a bold statement. “Before long, doctors will be able to print new kidneys using 3D printing systems.”
  • State a contradiction. “Donald Trump claims he can balance the national budget, but he’s filed bankruptcy several times.”
  • Define something as your hook. “Agoraphobics are people who do not go out of their homes for extended periods of time; some haven’t been shopping in years.”
  • Present the reader with a dilemma. “Enforcing immigration laws keeps terrorists out of the country, but it also breaks up families and destroys lives.”
  • Go for a quote. “We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know” – W. H. Auden.
  • Open with humor. “I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
  • Ask the reader a rhetorical question. “What does it really mean to be bored?”
  • Share a statistic or factoid. “As many as 80 percent of students report cramming for finals the night before.”
  • Share a personal tidbit. “When I was growing up, there was no Internet, so kids looked up information in encyclopedias.”

Ultimately, the hook sentence you choose should be one that sparks interest and that is directly relatable to what you plan to write and the style you choose for your essay. A good hook can make or break your essay, so put a little elbow grease into crafting yours to make your essay shine.

7 Exercises to Improve Your Ability to Write Creatively

cliche

Writers, in general, are a pretty creative bunch. But, since there’s no such thing as being too creative, anyone could benefit from some imagination-boosting exercises.

Whether you’re in a creative slump, and it happens to everyone now and then, or you just want to expand your resources as a writer, there are lots of ways for you to open up your creative channels.

Here are some methods to help inspire you:

1) Make a list of 20 topics

Sometimes your greatest creative block will be coming up with new ideas. So, sit down and make a list of 20 different writing ideas. Of this list of 20, at least one should be workable. Start developing it. A great habit for you to develop would be to keep a list somewhere of story ideas. If you do this, you’ll end up with an incredible cache of topics to use when your inspiration runs dry.

2) Re-write

Take an old story or idea you’ve written and rework it. Make sure it’s not something you’re currently working on. If you’re too close to it, you’ll have trouble seeing it from a new perspective. As you rework it, take a completely different view. If you told a story about a family from the perspective of one of the children, try telling it from the perspective of the mother or from an omniscient perspective. This is an exercise in creating flexibility in your writing. You may go back to the piece from the original perspective, but with new insights about the other characters. Sometimes telling the story you don’t want to tell can help you tell the story you do want to tell.

3) Read

Follow William Faulkner’s advice: “Read, read, read. Read everything- trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…” The more you read, the more you’ll be exposed to different writer’s voices and styles. You’ll get a sense for their mastery and their weaknesses. Don’t just read for pleasure. Read to examine different techniques such as transitions, character-building, suspense and dialogue. Then challenge yourself to use those techniques in your own work.

4) Try hand-writing

Martin Amis “I always do my draft in long hand because even the ink is part of the flow.” If you’re used to typing, take yourself out of your comfort zone. Buy a notebook and a pen or pencil and start writing in it. Hand-writing means you have to slow down your thoughts a little, as you can’t write as fast as you type. There’s also no erasing, so if you’re constantly self-editing by erasing your work, hand-writing may be a great way for you to tie up your inner editor and unleash your creative voice.

5) Use your pain

J.P. Donleavy “Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.” Everyone has had to face struggle in life. And struggle often makes for the best literature. Recount a moment or experience that was difficult for you. You could turn it into a poem, a story or an essay.

6) Free-write

Free-writing is all about release. If you need to unleash your creativity, try sitting down for 10-15 minutes and write without pausing, correcting or planning. Just write whatever comes to mind without any interruptions of the conscious mind. After you’re finished, go back and read what you wrote. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pick out an interesting concept or theme from your free-write and work it into a piece.

7) Switch genres

Creativity is the result of a flexible mind. If you write only essays or only short stories or only poetry, why not try something different? Choose another genre and see what comes up. It may feel strange and awkward, but by pushing yourself to do something different, you may discover a new source of creative thought. Try it.

Try one or all of these exercises to stimulate your mind’s creativity. It just may help you write better, more imaginative work. Good luck and happy writing!

Prewriting Techniques for Your Essay

prewriting

There are different prewriting techniques to help you structure your research before begin to write an essay. Prewriting techniques will make your topic clear and prevent you from getting stuck. Obviously, your professor is expecting to see a well-organized paper, which presents a story or a branch of interesting facts. Prewriting techniques and exercises will help you develop your argument and determine the course of draft.

Creating an outline

An outline will help you structure your essay in the way your audience can understand and follow it easily. You can make it informal: just put down your thesis statement, briefly describe what to begin with, in the introduction, move to the body of your paper and describe what every paragraph will discuss, and finally include what you want to say in the conclusion.
Sometimes professors ask their students to develop a detailed outline with headings and subheadings to show the bonds between facts and ideas in the essay. This one might look as follows:

Introduction

  • Attention grabber
  • Include an interesting fact or statistical data to grab your reader’s attention.

  • Brief background
  • Write a couple of sentences to describe the history of topic/issue.

  • Thesis statement
  • End it with a strong thesis statement which embodies the main argument of the paper.

Body paragraphs

  • Topic sentence
  • Every paragraph should contain a claim that shows what you are going to discuss in it.

  • Supporting argument
  • Explain the claim and don’t forget to support it with quotations from reliable sources.

  • Analysis
  • Explain how your argument supports the claim and essay’s thesis statement.

Conclusion

  • Restate your thesis statement.
  • Offer a solution for a problem if it is possible.
  • What are your ideas about the future analysis of the issue?
  • If your paper requires you to write about specific areas of the topic, include more detailed information about them in your body paragraphs.

Prewriting exercises

  • Question-asking

  • This exercise will help you to determine where to start with your writing. It requires you to write down a list of questions that are relevant to your topic. If something seems to be unclear about the topic, formulate legitimate questions and try to answer them when you begin to read background materials. This will help you clear up the air and get a lot of thoughts and ideas to start with. Also, think about the potential questions your audience may have and force yourself to find the answers. By means of these answers, you will get the general concept for your essay.

  • Brainstorming

  • Give yourself fifteen minutes and write down as many ideas and questions about the topic as you can. For example: What is the most interesting thing about this topic? What can my audience and I learn from this? What are the benefits of learning more about it? Most often these ideas are the main points of the topic.

  • Mindmapping

  • Take a piece of paper and a draw a circle in the center of it and write the subject of your essay in that circle. Below write down the main points you are going to discuss and circle each of them, too. Think of other ideas relevant to the main points, write them down below and connect them with lines. Repeat this process until you run out of ideas. This will help you identify the main points for your paper and discover how they are linked to each other.

  • Freewriting

  • Start with summarizing your topic in one sentence. Then write everything that comes to your mind about without censoring your ideas. Forget about grammar and punctuation, just let your ideas flow. Don’t pressure yourself to make it perfect and just don’t stop writing. If you give it a chance, it might work as a powerful creative tool and take your ideas somewhere extremely productive and unexpected.

Outlining and other prewriting exercises will help you to keep focused on every aspect of your research. It becomes particularly effective at times when you need to go back and clarify all important points not to miss something. Use these planning tips and you will never get lost in your drafting and 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.