Writers are human, and sometimes we make mistakes. You’re probably aware of the most common mistakes in writing: comma splices, run-on sentences, mixing up homophones, and a variety of other broken grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules.
In my editing and coaching work, I’ve noticed another common mistake: redundancy. Sometimes, we use repetition effectively, but most of the time, by saying the same thing twice, we’re littering our writing with unnecessary verbiage. If we remove the excess, we can improve our writing by making it more concise. Read More
Adjectives and adverbs are modifiers. Adjectives modify nouns whereas adverbs modify verbs, other adverbs, adjectives, phrases, and clauses. In fact, an adverb can modify an entire sentence. This gives adverbs a rather large playing field; maybe that explains why they are overused. Read More
Productivity. It’s all been said and done. In fact, you could spend more time learning how to be productive than actually being productive.
For us creative types, productivity can be a fleeting thing. We experience highs (a whole month packed with inspiration) and lows (three more months fraught with the ever-annoying writer’s block).
It can be frustrating. But creative writing doesn’t have to be a fair-weather hobby. Many successful authors have harnessed creativity, reined it in, and turned it into a full-time profession. So we know it can be done.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Read More
Your short story is finished. Your poem is polished. Your personal essay has been proofread. Now you’re ready to submit your creative writing project for publication.
How do you do it? Where do you find the right publication? What materials should you send? Should you use email or snail mail? How long do you wait before following up? And what if your piece is rejected?
For many writers, the submission process is a big drag because it doesn’t involve writing, and let’s face it, most of us are in it for the writing.
But there’s more to being a writer than just writing, especially if you want your work to be read or if you want to make a living as a writer.
Tips for Submitting Your Creative Writing and Getting Published
If you approach the submission process strategically and professionally, you’ll increase the chances that your work will be accepted and published. Whether you’re submitting to agents or editors, here are some tips for submitting your work and getting published:
- Take some time to familiarize yourself with various agents, publishing houses, and publications in your genre. Send your work to the ones that are a good fit for your form, genre, and style.
- Use the library or visit a local, independent bookstore to get copies of print publications like literary journals. You can also try college bookstores. Peruse them in the aisles if you wish, but keep in mind that buying copies of these publications helps support them — and other writers.
- You’ll find submission guidelines on most agents’ and publications’ websites. Otherwise, they’ll be in the publication itself. Review the guidelines carefully as they contain instructions on how to submit your work. This is crucial because agents and publications have their own submission guidelines.
- Follow the submission guidelines to the letter. Agents and publications that are overwhelmed with submissions might toss out any that stray from the guidelines they’ve established.
- In some cases, the guidelines may refer to a style guide. If this is the case, you might need to buy a style guide and revise your work so it will be in accordance with the guidelines.
- Keep your query and cover letter succinct and professional. Same goes for a synopsis (if applicable). Don’t try any fancy antics to get agents’ or editors’ attention. They see gimmicks all the time.
- Once you’ve sent your submission, sit back and wait. Do not harass or annoy agents or editors by bombarding them with follow-ups.
- Many submission guidelines include information about how long it should take to receive a response. Once that allotment of time has passed, go ahead and send a single follow-up. Ask if they received your submission. Be professional.
- If there is no indication of how long it should take for you to receive a response, wait six weeks to three months before following up.
- If you receive an acceptance, great! If you receive a rejection, accept it graciously and get back to work. Don’t give up! If your rejection includes a critique or any helpful feedback, be grateful (most agents and editors don’t take time to provide feedback) and apply it to your future creative writing projects.
Ready, Set, Submit
Submitting your work is fun and a little bit scary. Hopefully you’ll get lucky, but remember that luck comes most frequently to those who have prepared for it with hard work. If your writing gets rejected, try again. Send the same piece to another agent or publication and keep producing fresh work.
Remember, creative writing is hard work. We writers have to wear many different hats. We must be artists, grammarians, and communicators. We have to be publicists and marketing experts. And we have to become pros at submitting our work.
Otherwise it may never end up in readers’ hands.
Do you have any tips to add? Have you submitted your creative writing to agents or publications? Do you have any strategies for getting published? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Nothing ruins a great story like weak words and poorly structured sentences.
We’ve all been there. You’re working through your first draft or perhaps making your way through revisions. The scene plays out in your mind like a movie. But when you try to put it into words, it just doesn’t flow right.
In literature, language is what makes a piece of writing tick. The plot, the characters, they move through time and space on their own accord, but the words you use to tell their story give it rhythm and clarity.
Today’s writing tips tackle issues with word choice and sentence structure. Choosing the right words to describe what’s happening in a piece of writing can be challenging. A writer might spend an hour looking for a word that accurately captures the sentiment that he or she is trying to convey.
Sentence structure is even more critical. A weak word is like a missed beat, but a weak sentence is discord. It confuses readers, pulls them out of the story, and breaks the flow of the narrative.
Imagining a scene and then putting it into words can be a smooth ride. Sometimes the words and sentences arrive fully formed and ready for press. Other times, the language is jumbled or flimsy. When dealing with word choice and sentence structure, it’s often best to simply go with the flow. Write what comes to mind, and then go back and clean it up during revisions. Some writers prefer to get the language as clear as possible during the first pass, and that’s okay too.
But just because a word doesn’t sound right or a sentence reads clumsily, that doesn’t mean it’s a throwaway. There are plenty of habits you can develop and techniques that you can apply to make your words resonate clearly and effectively.
These writing tips deal with word choice and sentence structure. Some offer positive writing habits that you can develop and incorporate into your own writing process; others are quick solutions that you can use when you’re writing or rewriting.
Build your vocabulary: Nothing makes a sentence sing like words that are precise and vivid. Expand your arsenal by building your vocabulary. Read a lot and look up words you don’t know. Peruse the dictionary. Sign up for a “word of the day” newsletter. Keep a log of vocabulary words and spend a minute or two each day adding to it and studying your new words. One of the best ways to master language and vocabulary is through poetry exercises.
Avoid repetition: Nothing deflates a piece of writing like the same descriptive word unnecessarily used over and over. She had a pretty smile. She wore a pretty dress. She lived in a pretty house. This kind of repetition robs a story of its imagery, making it flat and two-dimensional.
Use a thesaurus: A thesaurus will help you avoid unnecessary repetition. Many writers avoid thesauri, thinking that reliance on one constitutes some writerly weakness. But your job is not to be a dictionary or word bank, it’s knowing how to find the perfect words.
Read drafts aloud to check the rhythm and flow: Reading aloud is great for catching mistakes and typos, but it can also help you with flow and rhythm. Take it a step further and record yourself reading an excerpt aloud. Does it flow naturally? If you keep tripping over your own sentences, there may be a problem with rhythm. Try alternating sentence lengths, breaking long sentences into shorter sentences, and joining sentences together to fix the flow.
Pay attention to word choice: Why refer to something as a “loud noise” when you can call it a roar, din, or commotion? The more specific you are in your writing, the more easily the reader will be able to visualize the story. Choose words that are as precise, specific, and detailed as possible.
Simplify: Run-on sentences and short sentences strung together with commas and conjunctions create a lot of dust and noise in a piece of writing. In most cases, simple, straightforward language helps bring the action of a story to center stage. Use the simple subject-verb-object sentence structure to keep the text flowing and to prevent readers from getting confused.
Avoid filler words: I’ve gone back to this article several times since I first read it and have already passed it along to several writers I work with. In short, don’t tell the reader what the character is thinking, wondering, or feeling unless it’s essential to the narrative. Let the story’s action take its course and move the story forward.
Brush up on grammar: Nothing will clean up your writing more than using good, old-fashioned grammar. Pick up a grammar or style guide (a good starter guide is the Elements of Style) and spend some time mastering the rules. Yes, rules are made to be broken, but make sure you have a good reason when you break the rules and make sure doing so doesn’t impede the readability of your work.
Did you find these writing tips helpful? Do you have any tips or ideas to add? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
I’m a pretty organized person. Over the years, I have spent countless hours reorganizing everything from the kitchen cupboards to my clothes-packed closet. Now, I’m turning all that organizing into a set of writing tips that you can use to get organized too.
People look at me strangely whenever I offer to help reorganize their closets or garages, but it’s a process I enjoy. When you organize your stuff and your space, your mind feels calmer and more organized. You can think more clearly, and that feels good.
I’ve spent a lot of time organizing all my writing projects and have developed a few good methods for keeping things in order.
Basically, all of my writing exists in two formats: print and digital. Years ago, I kept hard copies of everything and tried many methods from file folders to binders.
As I tried each organizational method, I would figure out what worked well and what didn’t work. Now, most of my work is stored digitally, but I do still keep some old hard copies stashed away.
Since I put so much thought into how I organized my own projects, I thought I’d share my organizational writing tips so you can learn from all my hard work.
Writing Tips for Organizing Printed Material
After trying many different strategies for organizing hard copies, I realized that binders are the way to go. Why?
- You can purchase thick 3-5″ binders and cram in as much as possible.
- Organizing is easy with tabbed dividers.
- The pages go in and out easily by opening the rings.
- Clear-cover binders can be customized with fancy spine and cover inserts.
- There are a host of binder accessories available, from bags that hold pens and pencils to folders that you can clip in for holding pages that aren’t hole-punched.
Eventually, more and more of what I’d written was in the digital format. The material in my binders became dated and being environmentally conscious, I started opting to do regular electronic backups over the antiquated print method.
Writing Tips for Organizing Electronic Files
I’ve struggled with how to organize my electronic writing folder. For some reason, printed materials are easier to group and label. By using subfolders, I’ve been able to create navigable directories that make it easy to find anything and everything I’ve written.
Here are the sub-directories I’ve created in my “Writing” folder:
- Notes and Ideas: Notes on the craft of writing and random ideas that don’t fit anywhere else.
- Templates and worksheets: Blank character sketches or world-building worksheets as well as story-writing guides, like the Hero’s Journey.
- Completed Works: Pieces that are ready to be sent out or published.
- In Progress: anything that is not polished, with the following sub-folders:
- Journals and Freewrites: pretty self-explanatory.
- Feedback: feedback and critiques that I have given and received.
- Submissions: copies of work that I’ve submitted along with a spreadsheet for tracking submissions.
- Research for Writing Projects: information that I’ve found online and have saved because I think it might come in handy someday for one of my projects. Now that I use Evernote to clip material from the web, this folder has become an archive.
I reorganize this whole mess about once a year. I just went through it a couple of weeks ago and did a little clean-up, and I found that this system works well for keeping files where I can find them quickly and easily.
Tell me, how do you keep your writing files organized? Share your organizational writing tips in the comments!
Journal writing is something I’ve done on and off since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to keep a reading journal, but usually I inhale books, leaving little time between chapters to jot down my thoughts and reactions.
And by the time I finish reading, it’s often the wee hours of the night and time to fall asleep, which means I’m far too exhausted to post entries in a reading journal.
Next thing I know, I’m on to the next book without a minute to spare.
But lately I’ve been trying to capture my reading experiences by writing down notes about what I’ve read, and I find it incredibly helpful.
The Benefits of a Reading Journal
Keeping a reading journal:
- Increases retention
- Pushes you to contemplate the material you’ve read and study it as a writer while broadening your understanding of the material
- Provides a time and space for writing practice
Most writers already practice regular journal writing. There’s no reason you can’t start including your reading entries there, or if you like to keep things neatly separated, start a separate reading journal. Use a Word document, launch a blog, crack open a notebook. The important thing is that you record your thoughts and your reactions or observations about what you’ve read.
Creative Writing Ideas and Journal Writing
A reading journal can also help you grow as a writer, because you can note what works and what doesn’t. Which scenes in the novel were compelling? What character traits made you fall in love with the protagonist or loathe the villain?
You can keep notes about all your reading, not just books and novels. Jot down your thoughts after reading a magazine article, news story, or blog post. If you really want to get all-inclusive, you can even include music lyrics, movies, and TV shows. All of these are sources of inspiration.
Even if you don’t want to start a whole new reading journal, try writing down your reaction to whatever you read over the weekend. Look for writing techniques, such as plot twists and brain teasers, and make notes on the writer’s style and voice. See if knowing that you’re going to make notes changes the way you read something, and see if those notes benefit your own writing.
Do you keep a reading journal? Is there another genre of journal writing that you prefer? Share your experiences by leaving a comment.
Today’s post is an excerpt from 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. Enjoy!
“And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before—and thus was the Empire forged.”
— Douglas Adams
Everyone knows the old saying: rules were made to be broken. But some people love rules, live by them, and wouldn’t dream of breaking them. For these folks, good grammar means strict adherence to every rule, no matter how archaic or minute.
That’s too bad.
Don’t get me wrong. Rules are good. They keep us organized, consistent, and civilized. If there were no rules, we’d all be living in a perpetual state of anarchy.
Learning the Rules
In the world of language, rules help us understand each other. After all, language is merely a series of sounds that are organized according to a set of rules. Without rules, language would just be a bunch of noise.
The rules of grammar are designed to help us communicate clearly, both in our speech and in our writing. When proper grammar is absent, writing is sloppy, inconsistent, and difficult to read. To put it bluntly, we need grammar in order to make sense.
When a writer hasn’t bothered to learn the rules of grammar, it shows. The prose doesn’t flow smoothly or naturally, punctuation marks are strewn about haphazardly, and there’s no sense of clarity. Sentences are jumbled, words are misused, and paragraphs are disorganized. It’s a mess. The work is lazy and sloppy. Nobody wants to read it.
Failing to learn the rules of grammar leads to bad writing.
But some writers stubbornly refuse to bother with grammar, and they’re full of excuses: writing should be an art, the rules don’t make sense, and who made up these rules anyway? But these are all just excuses, poor rationale for avoiding the work that is involved in learning grammar and applying it.
Grammar is not easy to learn, let alone master. Writers, editors, and proofreaders must make a lifelong commitment to learning the rules and determining when the rules should be broken.
Breaking the Rules
Writers who are dedicated to their craft will invest the energy required to master their most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules—as long as you know which ones you’re breaking and why.
There’s a difference between breaking the rules to make the writing more effective and breaking the rules because you don’t know what they are.
When we break the rules of grammar, one of two things happens. Either the writing improves or it suffers. Writers who break the rules because they don’t know them are more likely to produce shoddy work. But when writers take the time to truly learn the rules, breaking them becomes an option, a technique that a writer can employ to add flair, color, and meaning to the text.
Sometimes sticking to the rules doesn’t make sense. This is especially true when we’re writing dialogue. People don’t speak in a manner that translates easily into proper grammar. So if our dialogue is written according to the rules of grammar, it can sound unnatural.
Additionally, many grammar rules were established a long time ago. Language is constantly evolving. If a particular rule makes the writing sound old-fashioned or outdated, then discarding the rule is probably the best option.
Learn the rules as thoroughly as you can and then decide how to apply them on a case-by-case basis, depending on the audience and context.
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). He does eventually find the ideal word, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out which word he ends up with and where he gets it.
The Right Word
Billy Crystal’s search for the perfect word in Throw Momma from the Train is one of my favorite film representations of what it means to be a writer. Finding the right word can breathe life into an otherwise lifeless sentence. When we choose words carefully, our writing is clearer and more meaningful.
Of all the tools and techniques that we writers use, none are as critical as our raw materials, our basic building blocks: words. A riveting story will fall flat on its face if readers can’t make sense of it. A thought-provoking essay will be handily dismissed if the language doesn’t clearly communicate the writer’s ideas and intentions. And poetry, which especially emphasizes word choice, is intolerant of lazy writing and poor word choices.
I believe the two greatest goals in word choice are to be clear and concise. Certainly, there are people who pride themselves on reading a convoluted passage dozens of times in order to understand it. However, if a piece needs to be read multiple times for basic comprehension, the writer has grossly failed at his or her primary responsibility, which is to communicate.
Having said that, precision is also an important considerations. Does the word you’ve chosen convey your intent accurately? Could it be misinterpreted? What connotations does it carry?
How to Make the Best Possible Word Choices
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools and techniques you can use to make the best possible word choices. Here are some simple writing tips to help make your writing clear and coherent:
- Dictionary: Make sure each word means what you need it to mean. If you’re not 100% sure about a word’s meaning, look it up in the dictionary. Watch out for homophones!
- Accuracy: Every word should convey your meaning accurately. Precision leads to greater clarity, so use the most precise words available. There’s no such color as dull black. It’s charcoal.
- Connotation: Connotation goes hand-in-hand with accuracy and precision. Be aware of each word’s deeper meaning. For example, when people are cheap, the connotation implies that they are stingy, but people who are economical have smart spending habits.
- Necessity: Is every word and every sentence absolutely necessary? In my editing work, it’s not unusual for me to cut 50 or more words from a 1000-word piece. If a word (or phrase) isn’t essential, delete it.
- Aesthetics: Sometimes there are several different words that will do the job. Other times, there are a variety of ways you can arrange words or sentences. In cases like these, the decision may come down to musicality. Be considerate of how each word sounds.
- Clarity: Clarity is the ultimate goal of communication. If the writing is unclear, communication will be unsuccessful. Make sure your intent is obvious. Don’t be vague, and don’t hesitate to rewrite portions of text that lack clarity. Rework it until it makes sense.
- Simplicity: They say less is more, and it’s true. Don’t use a five-syllable word when there’s a perfectly good two-syllable word that will convey the same meaning. Don’t spend paragraphs or pages describing something that could be expressed in a few sentences. Keep it simple!
- Jargon: I love Star Trek, but I have no idea what most of the techno-babble means. However, it’s necessary to the story, otherwise characters would be saying things like, “That thing that makes our starship go is broken.” Beware: sometimes jargon is used ineffectively and causes confusion for the reader. Use it wisely and with caution (and make sure it’s necessary).
- Loaded language: Language is considered loaded when it’s designed to evoke a particular emotional response from the audience through manipulation. It usually involves twisting the truth and is a favorite practice among politicians, pundits, and charlatans. If you have to rely on manipulation to make a point, maybe your point is not worth making.
- Specificity: Vague, obscure writing is meaningless. The trick is to strike the right balance between being specific and providing too much detail. For example, you might give a character a star-shaped birthmark below her right ear. That’s specific. However, long fingernails on a woman are so common, the detail may be too general and therefore meaningless.
- Be natural: Language is most clear when it sounds natural. If readers have to trip over their tongues to get through a paragraph, your text is in trouble. A great way to make sure the prose flows naturally is to read it aloud.
- Thesaurus: Use a thesaurus to find the best possible word choices for every sentence you write. If a word sounds wrong, feels wrong, or doesn’t have the exact meaning that you intend, find a replacement in the thesaurus. If you can’t find one, then some rewriting may be in order.
Every Word Matters
How much effort do you put into choosing the right words for your writing? Have you ever spent days, weeks, even months, in search of the perfect word? Do you often consult with the thesaurus? Share your word-choice adventures by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
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?
Writing Tips for Good Fitness
Most writing tips address creativity and productivity, but these tips are all about staying fit. After all, fitness isn’t just for athletes. All professionals need to keep their skills toned and eyes on the ball.
- Work out: As a writer, you need to give your language center a good workout every now and then. Read a book or brush up on the rules of grammar. Challenge yourself with a crossword puzzle or a game of Scrabble.
- Gather your equipment: Find good, solid resources that you can use to stay on top of your game. Find a blog or a book, a podcast or a video series. Look for resources and sources of inspiration that will help you build up your weaknesses and maximize your strengths as a writer.
- Do your exercises: If you want to write but don’t know what to write about, then try some writing exercises or prompts. These are also ideal for building your skills and toning underused muscles. In other words, if you’re a fiction writer, do some poetry exercises. If you’re a poet, try some storytelling prompts.
- Show up for practice: Write every day. If you don’t write as part of your job, then set aside ten to twenty minutes for daily writing practice in your journal. Even if you can’t work on your larger projects, you should still write something, anything, every day.
- Game plan: Don’t haphazardly write whenever the fancy strikes you. Think about what you want to write, then develop a game plan: a five- or ten-year strategy to achieve your writing career goals.
- Eyes on the ball: Once you’ve set your goals, revisit them annually, monthly, or better yet, weekly.
- Win the match: Every time you reach a milestone, reward yourself with a trophy. Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. Was that your 100th rejection? Treat yourself to an ice cream cone. Did you just land your first byline? Get a massage. Book deal? Take a vacation.
Those of you who have been visiting Writing Forward for a while know that I am a big advocate for working hard and trying to continuously grow as a writer. The sooner you start working your writer’s muscles, the sooner you’ll be in tip-top shape and on top of your game. Why not start now?
Do you have any writing tips to share? Leave a comment!