People ask me all the time whether I think a formal education is necessary to a successful writing career. A degree certainly helps, but no, it’s not necessary. There are master writers who did not finish high school and plenty never went to college.
I want to be clear: I fully support higher education. If you pull me aside and ask whether I think you should go to college, I’m going to say yes, of course you should! At the same time, I encounter plenty of writers (and other professionals) who are insecure because they feel they need that degree to back up their abilities. That’s just not so. If you want to write, you should write, regardless of whether you have a degree.
Keep in mind that while a degree is helpful (and you certainly learn a lot of valuable things in college), it’s neither a license to write nor a guarantee that you’ll be successful. Whether you pursue higher education or not, it is important to study the craft of writing. You can read books, join a writing group, or take a creative writing class. Read more
Proper capitalization is one of the cornerstones of good grammar, yet many people fling capital letters around carelessly.
Not every word deserves to be capitalized. It’s an honor that must be warranted, and in writing, capitalization is reserved only for special words.
Most of the grammar rules are explicit about which words should be capitalized. However, there are some cases (like title case) in which the rules are vague. Read more
You know what’s great about writing prompts? On those days when you’re feeling uninspired but you want to write, they’re there for you. On days when you want to get your writing practice in but don’t particularly feel like writing, they’re there for you. Writing prompts give you a little push to kick-start a writing session, making it easier to face the ever-dreaded blank page.
I adore poetry. When I first started writing on my own, I wrote poems. The creative freedom and elusive nature of poetry captivated me, and as a music lover, I felt that writing poetry was similar to writing songs. Plus, poetry was a great way to capture and express my thoughts and feelings.
Over the years, I’ve learned that poetry is an excellent way to enrich one’s writing. Whether you’re a copywriter, storyteller, or blogger, the skills acquired through the study and practice of poetry writing will give your work flair and personality.
But where to start? Read more
If there’s one piece of writing advice that took me years to truly understand, it’s write what you know.
When I first heard this instruction, I thought it was odd. I don’t remember where I first heard it, but I do remember thinking that as far as writing tips went, it was absurd.
What about writing from your imagination or your feelings? How do genres like science fiction and fantasy fit into the idea that you should only write what you know?
It all seemed rather limiting. Was I supposed to write about American suburbia? That’s what I knew, and it was the last thing I wanted to write about.
One of the reasons memoir doesn’t appeal to me as a writer is because I don’t want to write what I know. I don’t want to relive my life. I want to use writing to live outside of my life, to explore what I don’t know.
I decided to disregard the advice and write whatever I wanted. Read more
Today’s post is an excerpt from 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. This comes from “Chapter Eight: Tools and Resources,” and it examines a writer’s need for a place to write.
A Place to Write
“You want to be a writer, don’t know how or when? Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.” — Paul Simon
Many books I’ve read on the craft of writing say that you should start by creating a special place where you can write. It can be an entire room or just a desk in a corner. Maybe you like to write at a local café or park.
It’s not a bad idea. A dedicated writing space can be free of distractions. If you can manage an entire room (some writers set up in a closet), you can keep others out when you’re doing your work (just put a sign on the door: “writer at work, do not disturb”). You can fill your space with the tools and resources you need (pens, notebooks, laptop, reference materials, etc.) and it can be decorated with whatever inspires you. Read more
The Chicago Manual of Style is the most widely used resource for American English style, grammar, and punctuation. If you’re working on any kind of writing project and need a solid reference that provides answers for how to consistently apply style and grammar, then this is the book for you.
Often called Chicago or CMOS, the text was originally published in 1906 with just 200 pages under the lengthy, albeit descriptive title: Manual of Style: Being a compilation of the typographical rules in force at the University of Chicago Press, to which are appended specimens of type in use. Yes, that’s a mighty long title.
104 years later, in August, 2010, the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style was published with 1,040 pages. It is available in hardcover, and there’s also a handy online edition that you can pay to subscribe to.
Chicago is so widely used because it can be applied to almost any type of writing. It’s extremely flexible and offers writers options for various formats. Many smaller, niche-oriented style guides are based on the guidelines set forth in Chicago, making it the foundation for most writing styles and grammar usages found throughout America. Read more
101 Creative Writing Exercises is a collection of creative writing exercises that takes writers on a journey through different forms and genres while providing writing techniques, practical experience, and inspiration.
Each exercise teaches a specific concept, and each chapter focuses on a different subject or form of writing: journaling, storytelling, fiction, poetry, article writing, and more. Every exercise is designed to be practical. In other words, you can use these exercises to launch projects that are destined for publication.
Today, I’d like to share one of my favorite exercises from the book. This is from “Chapter Four: Speak Up,” which focuses on dialogue and scripts. The exercise is called “Body Language.” Enjoy! Read more
In fiction writing, we’re often inspired with a what-if question: What if an innocent citizen is convicted of murder? What if humanity finds itself facing total extinction? What if that rabbit hole leads to a fantastical wonderland? Fiction is driven by imagination.
Ideas for writing creative nonfiction often arise from experience and interest rather than imagination. Instead of asking a what-if question, creative nonfiction writers set out to share their experiences, knowledge, ideas, and curiosities. Read more
When I’m working on a story, I try not to think about technique too much. I focus on forging ahead without overanalyzing every step in my creative writing process.
My top priority is to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page.
However, during revisions and between projects, I often evaluate how I approached a project so that I can better understand my own creative process.
Hindsight is 20/20. I might decide that I didn’t do enough character sketches and therefore have to do more extensive rewriting. On the other hand, I might determine that I spent too much time writing down every idea and detail when I could have focused on the narrative and gotten it done more quickly. Read more
At some point in their lives, all artistic people run into creative walls. Writers lose inspiration so frequently, they have their own special term for it: writer’s block.
Luckily, writing ideas don’t have to magically appear in order for creativity to flow. There are numerous tricks that we writers can use to lure the muse out of hiding.
Writing prompts are an ideal way to ignite a writing session when you’re feeling uninspired.
Today’s writing prompts are all about music, and since pretty much everybody loves music, you should find at least one prompt among these that motivates you to write something.
Before you get started, you might want to go put a little of your favorite writing music on. You know, to set the mood. Read more
It’s not possible to improve your writing overnight, unless you hire an expert to do it for you.
People study the craft for years, decades even, and still they strive to make each piece of writing better than the last.
Sure, there might be some quick tricks and shortcuts you can pick up and apply immediately, but these only improve your writing in small increments.
If you want to become a good writer (let alone a great writer), be prepared to make a long-term commitment to the craft. Read more
I recently started relearning how to play the guitar after a rather long hiatus. It’s not like I ever learned how to play it properly in the first place — so I’m a true beginner. And at times, I find it frustrating. I just want to pick the thing up and rip out a song, but I’m constantly tripping over my own fingers, and let’s not even talk about the pain that comes from pressing your fingertips against thick metal strings, repeatedly and for extended periods of time.
Writing’s not so different from playing the guitar. Sometimes we get hung up on the technicalities of the language, and the creative flow is hindered. It’s not easy to rip out a short story when you’re worrying about whether you can end a sentence with a preposition or whether your terminal punctuation marks go inside or outside of the quotation marks. These kinds of setbacks can be painful. Read more