It’s one of those writing tips that pops up everywhere — on lists of writing advice, in quotes bequeathed to us by the masters of writing, and even from the mouths of our teachers and professors: carry a notebook at all times.
After all, you never know when a great idea will strike. It would be awful to lose an idea just because you couldn’t write it down. As long as you carry a notebook and a pen, you’ll never forget a brilliant idea.
Plus, you’ll be able to work on your writing projects whenever the opportunity arises. You might write the last line of your novel while standing in line at the grocery store!
But let’s be clear, the notebook isn’t actually necessary. Most of us have smart phones and other mobile devices that are in many ways better than pens and paper notebooks.
Let’s examine this much-loved writing tip a little closer. Just how critical is it that we tote notebooks and pens everywhere we go? Read More
Every writer has been there: staring at a blank screen, waiting for the words to arrive. But they don’t. The words just won’t come. They will, soon. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Time’s passing and the words still don’t come. Maybe they never will.
You sit there feeling frustrated and uninspired.
What’s a writer to do? Well for starters, you can use the writing tips below. Fighting writer’s block is easier than it seems. But sitting there staring at the blank page will only build tension and continue to hinder your creativity by reinforcing the blockage that you’re experiencing. The trick to combating writer’s block is to remove yourself from your writing for a short time and get that creative energy flowing again. Fifteen to thirty minutes ought to do it.
Writing Tips for Blocking Writer’s Block
In some ways, these aren’t writing tips at all, because the most important way to fight writer’s block is to move your body, which will bring on relaxation and relieve tension. Or do something that gets your mind completely off whatever you’re working on by mentally diving into something different for a while. Close your notebook and put it away, or stand up and walk away from your computer.
Here are five writing tips for non-writing activities that you can do:
- Exercise. Take your dog for a short walk, or go through some simple stretches or yoga poses. Moving the body gets blood flowing and when blood flows to the brain, you become more productive and more receptive to your inner muse.
- Chores. This is a great time to do the dishes. Fold the load of laundry that’s been sitting on the couch for a couple of days. It’s not spring cleaning, just a little daily maintenance that will get your body moving and your mind focused.
- People. We all have phone calls to make, emails to send, and letters to open. Okay, maybe there aren’t many letters to open, just bills and junk mail. But you can take this time to get in touch with friends and family. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you hang up the phone or click send and suddenly you know exactly what you want to write. Bonus Tip: get in touch with people who are writers and start sharing writing tips with each other!
- Animals. Take some time to toss around the mouse toy for your cat. How long has it been since you gave your dog a good brushing? Spending quality time with pets has been scientifically proven to have health and relaxation benefits for both you and them, and you’ll find that it does wonders for your writing as well!
- Meditate. Meditation serves many purposes. It helps us focus, clears our minds, and promotes relaxation while minimizing stress. Even a brief ten- or fifteen-minute meditation will ease the burden of writer’s block and inspiration will come to you in no time!
Good luck and let me know if any of these writing tips help you ward off writer’s block by leaving a comment!
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.
Understanding and Identifying Redundancies
Dictionary.com defines redundancy as a noun meaning “superfluous repetition or overlapping, especially of words.” Its cousin, the adjective redundant, means “characterized by verbosity or unnecessary repetition in expressing ideas” or “exceeding what is usual or natural.”
Sometimes we clutter our writing without realizing it. We do this to fulfill word counts, to give our prose rhythm and meter, or to be descriptive. Sometimes we do it because we’re using writing as a tool to discover our thoughts and ideas.
There’s nothing wrong with cluttered writing as long as we unclutter it before putting it in front of readers.
One of the easiest ways to identify redundant language is to ask whether we can remove it without losing meaning. Here is an example:
The lecture was boring and dull. It was putting Olivia to sleep.
The words “boring” and “dull” mean the same thing. We are told a third time that the lecture was a drag because it lulled Olivia to sleep. We can remove most of the first sentence without losing any details or changing its meaning:
The lecture was putting Olivia to sleep.
Redundancies can also be identified through repetition. However, repetition means using the same word or phrase more than once whereas redundancy means saying the same thing more than once. It’s a subtle but significant difference. Also, repetition and redundancy can occur together:
Charlie smiled as he approached the cheese platter. He chose brie and Gouda from the cheese platter and wished they were serving baguettes instead of crackers.
We see Charlie approaching the cheese platter. When he selects brie and Gouda, it’s implied that he selected them from the cheese platter (because we just saw him approaching it), so it’s unnecessary for the narrative to say that he chose them “from the cheese platter.” The narrative is redundant because it’s not necessary to mention the cheese platter twice:
Charlie smiled as he approached the hors d’ouvres table. He chose brie and Gouda from the cheese platter and wished they were serving baguettes instead of crackers.
Some redundancies are difficult to spot, especially in cases where the exact same word or phrase isn’t used:
Donna realized she was hungry. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast,” she said. “Want to grab a pizza?”
When Donna says she hasn’t eaten since breakfast and suggests grabbing a pizza, the reader will conclude that she’s hungry, so the narrative doesn’t need to tell the reader that Donna is hungry in the previous sentence. When information is revealed through dialogue, it doesn’t need to be stated in the narrative as well:
“I haven’t eaten since breakfast,” Donna said. “Want to grab a pizza?”
As you can see, it’s pretty clear that Donna is hungry without the narrative explicitly saying so.
In addition to broad redundancies, there are a host of redundant phrases that pop up in writing. For example, it’s redundant to say “let’s collaborate together” because collaboration is, by definition, done together. Here’s a list of 50 redundant phrases to avoid in writing. Read through the list and see if you can find a few phrases you didn’t realize were redundant.
Eliminating Redundancies to Improve Your Writing
Try this for practice: choose a recently finished piece and review it, looking for redundancies. Highlight them, then make another copy of the piece, editing the redundancies out. If you catch an average of one redundancy per page (or more), then plan on dedicating one proofreading pass to eliminate redundancies as one of your editing and proofreading steps. After a few passes, you’ll start to catch redundancies in the drafting phase, and eventually you’ll break the habit and improve your writing.
Are redundancies one of your bad writing habits? Have you ever caught a glaring redundancy in a piece of your writing? Do you think you might have missed a few redundancies?
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.
Succeeding in the arts takes a tremendous amount of drive, ambition, and dedication. It’s not the kind of job you have to show up for every day or risk being fired. Nobody cares if you get your work done except you.
Creative Writing Tips for More Output
Here are seven creative writing tips to help you be more creative more often. Try them all and see which ones work for you.
1. Show up for work: Set a time every day, show up, and get your creative writing done. It could be an hour a day (two hours on weekends!) or fifteen minutes. It can be first thing in the morning or right after dinner. The point is to make a schedule and stick with it. This will not only lead to more output, it will also lead to better writing.
2. Give yourself a quota: Can you produce twenty pages a week? Ten? Five? Some of us work better when we count words rather than minutes. If that sounds like you, then forget about time allotments. Show up for work every day, but focus on your output rather than on your time card.
3. Reward yourself: If you manage to show up every day or fulfill your quota, then by all means, give yourself a pat on the back. Whether it’s a trip to the masseuse or a book you’ve been dying to read, reward your own positive behavior with special treats that keep you motivated week after week.
4. Punish yourself: I’m not a big fan of negative reinforcement. It might curb bad behavior, but it does so for all the wrong reasons. Keep punishments light. Didn’t meet your goals? I don’t think you should cancel your vacation, but maybe you can skip dessert. Or choose a punishment that promotes your goals. Read a textbook about creative writing or peruse a few articles on good grammar.
5. Hold yourself accountable: If you’re having a hard time meeting your creative writing goals, then set up an accountability system. Take a creative writing class or workshop, join a writing group, hire a writing coach, or partner with a fellow writer and establish weekly check-ins. For some reason, when someone else is holding us accountable, we perform better.
6. Use productivity tools: There are unlimited tools at your disposal to help you stay productive, and all of them can be used with your creative writing projects. Put deadlines on your calendar. Hang a whiteboard and track your progress. Keep a journal of your writing sessions. Recording your goals and accomplishments can be extremely motivating.
7. Stay passionate: Do things that keep your creative writing passions burning. Listen to music that inspires you to write. Watch movies and read books that tell stories that motivate you to tell a story of your own. Dance, sing, and make sure you’ve always got your notebook or journal with you, because you never know when your next great (or unusual) writing ideas will strike.
It’s All on You
Creative writing doesn’t just happen. You make it happen. Born without drive? Foster determination. Uninspired? Learn some new creativity techniques. Can’t think of anything interesting to write about? Write about your life, your friends and family, your problems, your best moments and your worst. Get a book of creative writing exercises and get busy. And remember, only you can prevent your dreams from coming true.
Do you have any special techniques you use to keep your creative writing projects alive? Add your tips by leaving a comment.
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.
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!