Stephen King once said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
It’s obvious that one must write in order to be a writer. But many writers forgo reading, especially in the modern era of electronic entertainment where video games, movies, and streaming TV shows are so readily available.
I find that when I go long stretches without reading, my writing suffers. Mostly, I become less motivated, but something else happens: my mind stops thinking in words; instead, it starts thinking in pictures.
In his quote, Mr. King talks about being a writer. But what if you’re not a writer yet? What if you’re still learning the craft? What if you’re wondering how to develop writing skills? Do reading and writing still top of the list of activities you should be doing? Read more
As an editor and writing coach, I often receive requests from people who are seeking writing help. Some are seeking professional services; they want someone to edit a book they’ve written or coach them through the process of writing a book. Other times, I get questions about writing that range from simple to complicated. One person might send me a sentence and ask if it’s grammatically correct; another will ask what they should do to become a rich and famous author.
We all need a little help every now and then, and there’s nothing wrong with asking questions or seeking advice. But to get the right kind of writing help, it makes sense to start by understanding what kind of help you need. Read more
Today’s post is an excerpt from 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. This is from “Chapter Two: Writing,” and it’s for people who are wondering how to become a writer.
First, Give Yourself Permission to Write
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach
I admire people who are fearless. When they want to do something, they do it. They don’t worry, plan, wonder, analyze, or seek permission. They simply do what they want to do.
But most of us are more cautious. We’ve experienced failure. We don’t like taking risks. We’ve seen amateurs trying to pass themselves off as professionals. We’ve had our writing critiqued and the feedback wasn’t good. We set the bar high — nothing short of a potential bestseller is worth writing. Read more
Young and aspiring writers often contact me to ask what they need to do to become professional authors. The simplest answer is to read and write as much as possible. But I like to place special emphasis on the importance of getting plenty of writing practice.
In the early days of self-publishing, we saw heaps of books published by writers who hadn’t yet put in the practice required to produce work that was of professional quality. Some of them admitted they were publishing first drafts without even bothering to reread what they’d written, let alone polish it, and that’s the mark of an amateur. 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
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
You know that feeling you get when you read a novel and become completely lost in it? You can’t put it down, so you lose track of time. When you finally finish, you wish it would just keep going.
Isn’t that the kind of story you want to write?
Over the past year, I’ve read only a few books that I couldn’t put down. Unfortunately, several of the books I started to read didn’t keep my interest past the first few chapters. There was a time when I forced myself to finish every book I started, no matter how boring it was. But I don’t have time for that anymore. My book pile is big and my reading list is long, so if I’m not compelled by the time the second act gets underway, I move on and find something more intriguing.
As a reader, I’m on a perpetual quest for better stories. What does that mean for writers? Read more
Have you ever read a sentence and wondered what it was trying to say? Ever gotten hung up on a word that felt out of place because the meaning of the word didn’t fit the context? When was the last time you spotted a word that was unnecessarily repeated throughout a page, chapter, or book?
There are two sides to any piece of writing. The first is the message, idea, or story. The other side is the craft of stringing words together into sentences and using sentences to build paragraphs. Adept writing flows smoothy and makes sense. Readers shouldn’t have to stop and dissect sentences or get hung up on words that are repetitive or confusing.
Which is why word choice is such an important skill for any writer to possess. Read more
By now, most of you have heard of the 10,000-hour rule, which was made famous in the book Outliers. The rule states that in order to become an expert at something, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice.
In other words, a master writer has already spent 10,000 hours writing.
Working at it for 40 hours per week, it would take 250 weeks (or almost five years) to become an expert. If you can only spend half that time, or 20 hours per week, on your craft, it would take ten years to master. For people with busy lives and responsibilities (like full-time jobs and families to care for), it could take a couple of decades to master the craft of writing.
And why shouldn’t it? After all, an expert is someone who has put in the time to become proficient. And while some writers are born with talent, which gives them an advantage (maybe they only need 8,000 hours of practice to become an expert), even the most talented among us must practice writing in order to become true wizards of word craft. Read more
Today’s post is an edited excerpt from the introduction to 10 Core Practices for Better Writing, a book that aims to impart best practices in the craft of writing.
“When I’m writing, I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.” — Anne Sexton
Words. They have the power to captivate the imagination, impart knowledge, express feelings, and share ideas. They are magical, and they are powerful.
A writer makes things out of words: sentences and paragraphs, essays and articles, books, poems, stories, and scripts. We use writing to create, communicate, share, and express ourselves. We use it to connect with people.
Writing is one of the most useful skills a person can possess. Think about how stories, speeches, films, and books have impacted society and culture, how they have shaped people’s thoughts and beliefs, and you’ll get an inkling of just how influential writing can be. Read more
There’s more to writing than pushing a pen across a piece of paper, and there’s more to being a writer than having written.
These days, everyone’s a writer. We write emails, text messages, and lists. A free blog is just a few clicks away. Self-publishing has drawn tens of thousands of dreamers who have scrawled stories and uploaded them to the web for all to read.
Everyone’s a writer, including you.
But how do you differentiate yourself? How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your words and ideas resonate with a reading audience? Read more
Thanks to “Weird Al” Yankovic, we writers now have our very own anthem. It’s called “Word Crimes.” Check it out:
“Word Crimes” covers a host of writerly pet peeves. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, there’s a LOST reference (I happen to be a geek for the show Lost).
Is the Song Politically Incorrect?
The song “Word Crimes” was barraged with criticism from the moment of its release. Here are some of the criticisms it received:
- It’s mean spirited in ridiculing people who don’t know proper English.
- It’s nit-picking minor violations (for example, use of whom is on the way out).
- Some of the “word crimes” are not incorrect; they are colloquialisms or signs of a changing language.
- Blatant name-calling and humiliation: folks who commit word crimes are said to have been “raised in a sewer,” are called morons, and are invited to “get out of the gene pool.”
- Use of the word spastic also got some heavy criticism; apparently in British English, spastic is an offensive term for the disabled. But here in America, it means that somebody is hyperactive, obnoxious, and maybe a little bit nerdy. (Is anyone here NOT a little nerdy?)
While the criticism is warranted, it’s important to note that the piece is parody and satire. Much of Weird Al’s work is satirical. And satire is meant to poke fun and in some cases, offend. In 1929, Jonathan Swift wrote what has become a classic satirical piece called “A Modest Proposal,” which likened the English’s treatment of the Irish to eating their babies. Let me repeat that: eating their babies.
Satire provokes thought and dialogue by offending and making fun. And based on the criticism that “Word Crimes” has received, I’d say Weird Al has done his job. And in a most appropriate twist of irony, “Word Crimes” is also a parody of the song “Blurred Lines,” which was not a satirical song or a parody but was called “the most offensive song of the decade.”
Writing Forward’s Policy on Satire and Free Speech
Writing Forward advocates for free speech and opposes censorship (specifically, I oppose censorship by the government and through intimidation or acts of violence but support the rights of private parties to control content on their platforms). I believe that freedom of speech is a human right and is essential to all artists, including writers. People should be able to express themselves freely. But in doing so, they need to understand that they are opening themselves and their ideas up to criticism.
Conversely, people have the right to be offended. Considering the state of affairs in the world today, taking offense over a song that ridicules people who are bad at grammar is nit-picky itself, but if that’s what offends someone, then so be it.
As writers, it’s important for us to understand the tradition of satire as a way to make a statement and of using offensive ideas as a way to provoke dialogue and criticism. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your personal preference), satire, along with shock and controversy, is becoming increasingly important as a tool for getting the public to engage in conversations about important issues.
Regardless of how you feel about “Word Crimes” or the song it was parodied from, I do hope you’ll agree that free speech is indeed a human right as is the right to be offended. We all have to live on this planet together and banning ideas and non-violent expressions of thought and emotion is a detriment to the future of humanity as is telling other people how they should feel.
What Do You Think?
Do you like the song and video for “Word Crimes?” Did you find it offensive? How do you feel about free speech and censorship? Have you committed any word crimes lately? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and may your writing be free of word crimes.
As for me, I really enjoy the song and the video for “Word Crimes.” We’re talking about language, and to anyone who’s up in arms over this song, I would say lighten up. We’re talking about words and grammar. The song makes this stuff fun and funny. If you really want to see something offensive, go back and study the song it was parodied on.