Have you ever seen the movie Throw Momma From the Train? It’s a classic 80s comedy about the hilarious misadventures of a writing instructor (Billy Crystal) and one of his students (Danny Devito). When the film opens, Billy Crystal’s character is suffering from an extreme case of writer’s block. In fact, he can’t complete the first sentence of his next novel: The night was…
The character’s search for the perfect word to finish the sentence persists throughout the film (as a sub-plot): The night was hot. The night was hot and wet. The night was humid. The night was cold. The night was foggy. The night was dry.
Of course in the real world, we can solve such problems by using a thesaurus, but in the movie, this quest for the perfect word provokes a lot of frustration from the character (and laughs from the audience). Read more
Writing description is a necessary skill for most writers. Whether we’re writing an essay or a story, we usually reach a point where we need to describe something by explaining what it looks like or how it works.
But many writers find description challenging to write, and many readers find it boring to read. Before the advent of photographs and film, description was essential. A person in the American Midwest who had never seen a tropical island would need a detailed description in order to visualize it. Nowadays, thanks to technology and modern media, most of us know what a tropical island looks like — no description required. Read more
As a writer, it’s only natural that I pay attention to the mechanics of my craft, which is why I’m always on the lookout for new and useful writing resources.
Back in 2007, when I discovered the Grammar Girl podcast, my interest in grammar piqued, and I started writing more consciously than ever before. Sure, I still break the rules of grammar now and then. That’s what creative writing is all about, right?
But if you don’t know the rules, then you shouldn’t break them — otherwise your writing will come off as amateurish. Good news: Grammar Girl has a few resources that will fine tune your grammar skills quickly and easily while rounding out your own collection of writing resources. Read more
Writers are always looking for new ideas. Sometimes we look so far and wide for inspiration that we’re oblivious to what’s right in front of us.
They say, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” In life, we are presented with many choices, but family is not one of them. It’s pretty much luck of the draw.
That’s why family provides excellent inspiration for writing. Read more
My little niece used to love to sit with a grown-up book spread across her lap, reading a story out loud — except she couldn’t read yet. She was making it all up — pretending.
During play, she invented new words. One time we were playing with some toys, and I asked one of their names. Without missing a beat, she made up the name Hoken. Hoken sounds to me like a great name for a character in a science fiction or fantasy story.
Play and pretend can lead to some innovative writing ideas, whether you’re looking for a simple concept for starting a new writing project or trying to break through a block in a project that you’re already working on. Read more
Your writing leaves an impression. Readers will come away from your work feeling informed, entertained, inspired, even moved.
Or will they?
When I was in high school and during my early college days, I wrote papers and turned them in without giving them so much as a second glance — no revisions or rewriting and no proofreading and editing. My papers often came back marked up, and the markings almost always pointed out grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules that I already knew – but because I hadn’t bothered to edit my work, I’d accidentally broken the rules and turned in an unpolished piece of writing that was peppered with typos.
Writing and editing are essential steps in any project, but too often, we skimp on editing and end up with unpolished prose. Read more
There’s a lot of confusion about that and which. These two words are often used interchangeably, even though they’re not necessarily interchangeable.
Historically, that and which may have carried the same meaning, and some English dialects may allow for that and which to be swapped without affecting the meaning of a sentence.
However, in American English, the grammar rules offer a distinct difference between the two words. By the time you’re done reading this post, you’ll fully understand the difference between that and which, and you’ll be able to use both words correctly. Read more
Writers share something in common with actors; they need to be able to understand people who are outside their own personal experience. When we write a character who is vastly different from us, we do what actors do, which is step inside the mind and body of someone else.
Not all writers do this. If you write essays, blogs, or memoirs, getting into other people’s heads is not a necessary skill. But if you write fiction, it’s essential. It’s also a common practice in poetry, especially in poetry that strives to be compassionate, socially aware, or empathetic.
It’s also not a bad life skill. Fostering empathy gives you a broader understanding of the world and the people in it and can be immensely helpful in mitigating conflict and bridging cultures.
Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write a poem from a perspective other than your own. Read more
Believe it or not, there are a few writing tips that we writers can steal from athletes, strategies that show us how to stay in shape and on top of our game.
Athletes work hard even when they’re off the field. They spend hours practicing with their teams. They run miles around the track when nobody else is around. They swim the laps, dunk the balls, and sweep their rackets. They do all this so that when it’s time to play, they’ll steal the show and take home the trophy.
We all went to elementary school, where we learned our ABCs and how to diagram a sentence. In high school, we read the classics and wrote the essays. Now we’ve been let loose on the field. We pen articles, publish blogs, peck away at novels, and compose poetry.
So, how do we stay in shape when we’re not dribbling all over the court? Read more
Almost every writer on the planet wants to write a book.
Some have finished a manuscript and others are already published, but many more dream, talk, and think about completing a full draft and seeing their name on a book cover.
Some already have a book in the works while others have several half-finished drafts floating around. Some can’t even get started. They have too many ideas to choose from, or they are waiting for the right idea.
You could spend your whole life waiting. Read more