We tend to look at successful people and believe they made it overnight, and that’s not limited to how we see authors. We see wildly successful people enjoying the fruits of their labor, but what we don’t see is the labor itself — the struggles and failures they endured to get to where they are now. Read More
It’s not easy to find time to write.
Even professional writers get caught up in paperwork and marketing and have to scramble to get the actual work of writing done.
But with careful planning and better time management, we can all learn how to produce more writing.
Here are seven writing productivity tips that will help you write more, even if you have a packed schedule. Read More
“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.”
I believe this is a truth that goes beyond writing. When we surround ourselves with positive, supportive people, we in turn become more positive and supportive, fostering a nurturing environment that is conductive to achieving our fullest potential — as writers and as human beings. Read More
Each writer has a different perspective on how accurate grammar needs to be.
Some are sticklers who insist on adhering to the highest standards of the literary order. Others are comfortable taking creative liberties and believe that breaking the rules is an art unto itself and a practice that should be embraced.
Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that a writer who is dedicated to the craft will take the time and invest the energy required to master the most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But I also believe there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules — as long as you know which rules you’re breaking and why. Read More
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We can say the same thing about writing: it’s better to write badly than to write nothing at all.
Jodi Picoult offers some insight that summarizes this idea in a clear, concise manner:
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
This excerpt is from “Chapter Four: Grammar,” which explores the relationship between grammar and writing and includes tips and resources for mastering grammar. Read More
I’d like to share a few excerpts from my book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. “Chapter Three: Revision” explores the importance of revising your work and includes tips and ideas for editing and proofreading.
“The best writing is rewriting.”
– E.B. White
We use the terms first draft or rough draft when we are initially writing a piece because almost every single project is going to go through multiple drafts. But how is the drafting process tackled? And what are the benefits of multiple revisions? Read More
In the world of writing, one form stands out as different from all the rest: poetry.
Poetry is not bound by the constraints of sentence and paragraph structure, context, or even grammar.
In the magical world of poetry, you can throw all the rules out the window and create a piece of art, something that is entirely unique.
That doesn’t mean writing poetry is creatively easy. It can be much more difficult to make a poem than it is to write an essay or piece of fiction. There’s so much creative space, and without any limitations whatsoever, it can be overwhelming.
Yet poetry brings a great bounty of writerly skills and tools, and many of these will spill over into other writing forms, sprinkling them with just a little of the magic that is poetry. And while poetry might not be your favorite form of writing, reading poetry, poetry exercises, and poetry writing are fun and creative methods for improving your writing in any other form or genre.
Improving Your Writing
What is it about poetry that makes your writing better?
While other creative writing forms may use vivid imagery to create pictures in the reader’s mind, no other form comes close to what can be achieved with imagery in poetry writing.
Most writing forms attempt to explain something — a scene, a situation, an idea, a set of instructions, an experience. Poetry doesn’t bother to explain. It shows. It paints a picture and pulls you into it.
In a poetry workshop, you will hear this over and over: show, don’t tell. When you master the art of showing readers an idea through imagery, you can easily apply the concept to your other writing, creating work that comes alive in a reader’s mind.
Language, Word Choice, and Vocabulary
A poet’s vocabulary is paramount. Of course, language is essential to all types of writing, but in poetry, words must be selected carefully in order to generate a visceral response from the reader. In fiction, readers connect emotionally with characters and their plights. We get to know the characters, understand them, and we come to relate to them or even think of them as friends (or enemies).
Characters rarely appear in poetry, so instead of using the emotional connection forged between people, a writer must grab the reader’s heart by appealing to their senses, using words and images that make readers feel. This is achieved by learning how to use language that evokes emotions without telling readers what they should be feeling.
The meaning of each word in a poem must be weighed carefully. Connotations can mean the difference between a poem with depth and a poem that feels flat.
Finally, every single word must be necessary to the poem. Therefore, poetry teaches writers how to be economical with language.
A poet must be constantly aware of meter and rhythm. Poems and song lyrics are often compared, confused, and intermingled, and with good reason. Both poetry and music must pay attention to cadence and melody.
Think about how you feel when you hear a particular piece of music. You tap your feet, shake your hips, bang your head. Our bodies respond physically to music.
Through poetry writing comes a natural ability to marry musicality with language. When this musicality is brought to other forms of writing, readers feel it in their bones and muscles. They will have a physical reaction.
The Practice and Study of Poetry Results in Better Writing
Writing is about connecting with readers. And poetry writing helps you develop skills for connecting with readers mentally (language), emotionally (images), and physically (rhythm). Many young and new writers are impatient with poetry. They were forced to read archaic poems in school and came away with a bad taste for poetry. But poetry is like music; there’s something for everyone. Look around a little and you’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you.
If you’re interested in exploring poetry and using it to improve your writing, start by checking out these accessible resources:
- Poem of the Day (podcast): Packed with classic and contemporary poems, each piece is only a minute or two in length. Save the ones you like and listen to them over and over again. Tip: you can subscribe via iTunes.
- IndieFeed: Performance Poetry (podcast): Today’s poets are cutting the edge with poetry that speaks to the 21st century. From humor to heartbreak, these poets write out loud. Most pieces are under ten minutes, and the podcast updates a few times each week.
- Poetry Foundation: Once you whet your appetite, dig in and find out what’s going on in the world of poetry. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to the craft of poetry and includes lots of great poems, poets, and other poetry related resources.
Improving your writing through the practice and study of poetry forces you to whip out your magnifying glass and look at your writing up close. Whether you apply poetic concepts to fiction, blogging, or article writing, your engagement with poetry will help you produce better writing.
If your writing is good today, it can be great tomorrow.
Have you ever dabbled in poetry and noticed how it affected your fiction or creative nonfiction? Have you tried improving your writing through poetry? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Today’s post is an excerpt from 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. This is from “Chapter Two: Writing.” Enjoy!
“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
– William Faulkner
Ideally, you’ll write every day.
Writers who come to the craft out of passion never have a problem with this. They write every day because they need to write every day. Writing is not a habit, an effort, or an obligation; it’s a necessity.
Other writers struggle with developing a daily writing routine. They start manuscripts, launch blogs, purchase pretty diaries, and swear they’re going to make daily entries. Months later, frustrated and fed up, they give up.
Routines don’t work for everyone, but they do work for most people. Almost all the writers I know say they have to write every day. If they miss a day, they end up missing two days, then three, four, and pretty soon they haven’t written in several weeks.
A scant few writers can produce good work by binge writing. They don’t write at all for a few months, and then they crank out a novel in a few weeks. But this is the exception rather than the rule.
So, are you the exception or are you the rule? The only way to find out is to experiment.
I’m a huge advocate for writers trying different things. Go ahead and try writing only when you’re inspired. Over the course of a month, how much did you write? How about in the span of a year? Did you write a whole novel? A page? Nothing? If you’re productive working this way, stick with it.
When weeks have passed and you haven’t written a single word, when unfinished projects are littering your desk and clogging up your computer’s hard drive, you can give up entirely and take out a lifetime lease on a cubicle in a drab, gray office. Or you can step back, admit that you have a problem, and make some changes.
These days, we’re all crunched for time. You’d think technology would give us more time for leisure and personal pursuits, but it seems to have the opposite effect. The world just keeps getting busier and busier.
What you’ll find is that if you write only when you feel like it, you won’t write very often. The world is full of distractions—phone calls, emails, television, video games, social media…The list goes on and on.
We’ve already established that the best way to improve your writing is to practice. You can improve your writing by writing occasionally, but the improvements won’t be significant and it will take decades for you to become an expert. What you need to do, even if you just try it for a month to prove to yourself there’s a better way, is to make writing part of your daily routine.
The single best way to develop a routine, to make something a habit, is to do it every day. Okay, you don’t have to write every day, but you should get in a good twenty-minute writing session at least five or six days a week—I would say that’s the absolute minimum. If you can write for a full hour, all the better. Remember, this is time spent writing—not reading, editing, or brainstorming. It’s your writing time.
I once had a music teacher who said it’s better to practice for fifteen minutes every day than to practice for two hours three times a week. I think the same is true for writing. Even if you dedicate only a few minutes to writing every day, it will become an ingrained habit. Writing will become an integral part of your life.
Think of it this way: if you exercise for five hours every Saturday, you end up sore. By the following Saturday, your muscles have weakened again, so you have to start all over. On the other hand, if you exercise for forty-five minutes a day, five days a week, you’ll build up your muscles. The soreness will subside and you will get stronger and leaner. And overall, you’ve actually put less time in.
Your writing practices are not unlike your diet and exercise habits. You’ll get the best results if you start slow and develop a regular routine.
This doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every day. Sure, you may be working on a novel, but you can take breaks to write poetry or essays. If you don’t have a project in the works, then do some writing exercises. I have found blogging to be an excellent way to ensure that I write consistently, especially between projects.
Today I’d like to share a sneak peek at my forthcoming book, 10 Core Practices for Better Writing, which will be available in early July.
The book explores 10 essential habits that every writer can adopt to become a master of the craft of writing.
Today’s post features several excerpts from the first chapter, which covers the first and most important practice: reading. If you want to write better, then you need to read more.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.
Simple as that.” – Stephen King
To write well, there are only two things you absolutely must do: read and write. Everything else will flow from these two activities, which are essentially yin and yang. Without each other, reading and writing cannot exist. They rely on one another. They are two parts of a greater whole.
Writing is a complex and complicated skill. While basic writing skills can be taught, it’s impossible to teach the art of fine writing. It is possible to learn, but this learning is only fully achieved through reading.
The human brain is like a sponge. We soak up everything we observe and experience throughout our lives, and each thing we are exposed to becomes part of the very fiber of our beings. What we read is no exception.
You may not be able to recite all the Mother Goose nursery rhymes you read as a child, but they’re still somewhere in that head of yours. When a little voice whispers Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, there’s a good chance you’ll recall Jack jumped over a candlestick. You absorbed that nursery rhyme many years ago, and it remains with you, always.
If you want to write well, you must read well, and you must read widely. Through reading you will gain knowledge and you will find inspiration. As you read more, you will learn to read with a writer’s eye. Even grammar sinks in when you read. If you’re worried about memorizing all the rules of grammar, then just read books written by adept writers. Eventually, it all will become part of your mental makeup.
A well-read writer has a better handle on vocabulary, understands the nuances of language, and recognizes the difference between poor and quality writing.
A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music or a filmmaker who doesn’t watch films. It is impossible to do good work without experiencing the good work that has been done.
All the grammar guides, writing tips, and books on writing will not make you a better writer if you never read. Reading is just as crucial as actually writing, if not more so, and the work you produce will only be as good as the work you read.
“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.” – William Faulkner
We are like mirrors. We reflect back into the world all that we have taken in. If you mostly read textbooks, your writing will be dry and informative. If you read torrid romance novels, your prose will tend toward lusty descriptions. Read the classics and your work will sound mature. Read poetry and your work will be fluid and musical.
It’s important to read technically adept writing so you don’t pick up bad grammar habits but what about voice and style, word choice and sentence structure? What about story and organization? How does what we read influence the more subtle aspects of our writing?
If you know exactly what kind of writer you want to be, you’re in luck. Your best bet is to read a lot within your favorite genre. Find authors that resonate with your sensibility and read all their books.
At the same time, you don’t want to rope yourself off from experiencing a wide range of styles. You might like high literature and want to pen the next Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction. You should read the classics, of course, but don’t completely avoid the bestsellers. There’s a mentality among some writers that you should only read that which you want to write. It’s hogwash. Reading outside your chosen area of specialty will diversify and expand your skills, and you’ll be equipped to bring new techniques and methods into your craft. If you so choose, you’ll even be able to walk, or perhaps cross, genre lines.
If you want to be a science fiction writer, then by all means, stock your shelves with loads of sci-fi. Buy out the science fiction section in your local bookstore. But don’t seal yourself in a box, otherwise your work will become trite. If you’re too immersed in genre, your writing will feel formulaic and not in a good way. You’ll end up playing by all the genre rules (and this is a key reason why much genre work is ignored by academics and literary elite—it’s too focused on catering to its genre and not focused enough on good storytelling). For example, do we need another epic fantasy with names that nobody can pronounce and that are oddly strewn with apostrophes? No, I don’t think we do.
So yes, you should concentrate on your genre, but don’t cut yourself off from the rest of literature. You should read a few books outside your genre each year and make sure you toss in some of those classics for good measure.
How much do you read? What are you reading now and what have you read recently? How does reading affect your writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!