Tag Archives: Writers Write

Overcoming Creativity Wounds

Today’s guest post is by Grant Faulkner, executive director of Nanowrimo and author of Pep Talks for Writers.

For writers unaware, Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month, where writers around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It starts November 1. Learn more.


Somewhere deep within most of us, there is a wound. For some, it’s vile and festering; for others, it’s scarred over. It’s the type of wound that doesn’t really heal at least not through any kind of stoic disregard or even the balm of time.

I’m not talking about a flesh wound, but a psychological wound—the kind that happens when someone told you in an elementary school art class that you didn’t draw well, or when you gave a story to a friend to read in the hopes they would shower you with encouragement, but they treated the story with disregard. We put our souls, the meaning of our lives, into the things we create, whether they are large or small works, and when the world rebuffs us, or is outright hostile, the pain is such that it might as well be a flesh wound. In fact, it sometimes might be better to have a flesh wound.

To be a creator is to invite others to load their slingshots with rocks of disparagement and try to shoot you down.

I’ve been hit with many such rocks. Perhaps the most devastating rock was slung by a renowned author who I took a writing class from. My hopes were ridiculously high, of course. I wanted her to recognize my talent, to affirm my prose. I wanted her to befriend me, to open up the doors of her mind and show me the captivating way she thought. I was young, and I walked into her class as if I was a puppy dog, my tongue wagging, expecting to play. My first day of class might as well have been the opening scene of a tragic play.

When I turned in my story for her feedback, not only did she not recognize my talent, but she eviscerated my story. She might as well have used shears. “No shit!” she wrote in the margins of one page. I met with her in her office hours to ask her questions and hopefully make a connection, but she was equally cold and cutting, offering nothing that resembled constructive critique, just the pure vitriol of negativity. She said my story was boring, pretentious. She said my dialogue, which others had previously praised, was limp and lifeless.

That was the only time in my writing life when I felt truly defeated. It was the only time in my life when I was utterly unable to pick up a pen to write anything. I’d been critiqued in many a writing workshop before—relatively severely even—so I wasn’t a naive innocent. But I’d never experienced such slashing and damning comments. I’d always been resilient and determined in the face of such negativity, but this time I lay on the couch watching TV for several days afterward, my brain looping through her scissoring comments again and again.

I hope you haven’t experienced anything like this, but, unfortunately, almost every writer I’ve talked to has a similar story. When something you’ve created—something that glows so brightly with the beauty of your spirit—meets with such an ill fate, it can create the type of wound that never truly closes. You can stitch it closed, but the swelling puss within it can still break the stitches back open. It’s always vulnerable to infections, resistant to salves. Time heals . . . a little, but not necessarily entirely.

The question is how to begin again, how to recover the very meaning and joy that we found in our first stories—to recover the reason we write. It’s difficult. I still see that “No shit!” in the margin and sometimes wonder if I have anything worthwhile to impart, or if the quality of my prose allows me to impart my stories and ideas in an interesting and engaging way. I’ve wondered this even after getting a story or essay published. I wonder if somehow the editor didn’t realize what an imposter I am. I wonder this even now, as I write this book on the subject of writing of all things, a book that has a publisher, a book that has been guided by a fine editor, a book that is sold in stores. Wounds can open when least expected, and from them self-doubt riles with a snarl.

To overcome is to write your story, to believe in it.

There’s no one recipe to overcome a creativity wound, but putting a pen between your fingers and then resting it on a piece of paper is a pretty good start to finding one. Start writing. Keep writing. And the wound will fade and even fuel your work, even if it might not truly go away.

Source: janefriedman.com

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Even if it’s better than creative accountancy, creative writing still needs rules | Creative Writing 101

Subtle but important differences

With an extreme simplification, creative writing can be considered any writing in which authors make things up. It’s sort of like creative accountancy, but with three important differences.

Firstly, your chances of becoming rich with creative writing are slim at best.

Secondly, also your chances of ending up in a jail if you pursue a career in creative writing are pretty slim.

Lastly, creative writing is aimed at a public as wide and eager as possible whereas the gurus, so to speak, of creative accountancy aim at being read by as few people as possible. And the more the reading is superficial and inattentive, the better.

I know, I know. From this point of view, creative accountancy seems a lot more thrilling than creative writing. I mean, with all that money, the ever-looming risk of imprisonment, and who knows what else…

                                       Creative writing and rules. This needs not to happen

 

But the truth isn’t always immediately obvious. And in fact, creative writing offers writers and readers alike the opportunity to experience sheer pleasurewithout having to resort to any illegal substance or activity—of course, apart for those unfortunate people living in parochial parts of the world where books still get banned.

The importance of being contextual

However, creative writing doesn’t mean we can write whatever we feel like without ever having to think about rules, guidelines, and principles.

Essentially the reasons for this are twofold.

First of all, to communicate effectively, we need a web of shared knowledge about how language works in the many different contexts in which we use it. Without this frame of reference, we would be just making noises. For example:

1) Golar sodamet gu luscius

2) Javier dijo asì

3) Jack ate your apple

In (1) I just wrote a phrase with invented words. But even so, these words are not entirely casual. In fact, for example, they follow some principles about ease of pronunciation. Besides, they are arranged in a way that, at least superficially, seems to reflect the English construction of (3).

In (2) we have another perfectly formed phrase. It only happens to be in Spanish–Javier said so. This makes it apparent that the first rule about communication is about which shared language we should use. And only then about the rules we should follow within that language.

3) Here we have a phrase we can process and understand. But only to a certain extent. In fact, Jack could be a horse. ‘Your’ could refer to the reader. Or maybe to an animal. Not necessarily to a human. And so on. This is to point out how a language can never fully express meaning if its users don’t know how it relates to the world.

Constraints who don’t constrain

The second reason we need guidelines and principles, and sometimes even rules, is that even if at times rules can be perceived as unwarranted constraints, they nonetheless spur creativity.

Just think of the way poetry works. Of how poets, who often follow strict rules of composition, manage nonetheless to come up with splendid poems all the time.

At first blush this seems idiosyncratic. But it’s perfectly natural. It’s like with training. If our body never has to face any kind of stress, it gets weaker and less healthy, not the other way around. This happens because even if too much stress can be dangerous, a moderate amount of it is essential to keep us in shape.

And principles and rules represent exactly the literary equivalent of a healthy dose of stress.

In fact, they can certainly be tiresome at times. But they exist for a reason. To help us make sense. And say what we really have to say.

This doesn’t mean rules have to be always observed fanatically. On the contrary, there are times rules must be broken. But we must know them perfectly if we want to know when they are no longer helping us, when they prevent us from saying exactly what we have on your mind.

Some rules are easy to follow. Others are difficult even to understand. Others still seem arbitrary. But if we invest time in learning them adequately, the payoff will be huge.

I mean, our daily word quota isn’t necessarily going to increase, but gradually we’ll acquire the ability to spot all those a passages where rules need to be followed instead of broken out of sheer ignorance. We’ll also get better at spotting those few passages where rules actually are a hindrance.

Source: peterrey.com

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Should Beginning Writers Imitate the Greats?

Learning often begins with imitation or copying. As babies, we learn facial expressions and gestures by mimicking adults. Children learn to write their letters by copying them from workbooks. And can you imagine a musician learning their craft without first leaning to play other musicians’ songs?

But we rarely explore the question of whether writers should copy the work of great authors as a learning exercise.

Imitation Learning vs. Derivative Works

In the world of fine art and entertainment, imitation is sometimes viewed as flattery, but mostly it’s criticized for its lack of originality. Works that appear to be based in part or in full on other works are called derivative works. Some derivative works are celebrated — for example, writing a variation of an old fairy tale or writing a modernized version of an ancient text. Each work should be judged individually and on its own merit, and opinions will vary.

However, today we’re not talking about the writing that we publish for the world to see. We’re exploring the idea of using imitation strictly for the purpose of study, practice, and learning.

Using Imitation as a Learning Tool

When I was a kid, I often wrote down the lyrics to my favorite songs. I would play the song, pausing and rewinding it every few seconds to figure out the lyrics. Sometimes, I’d write my own lyrics to the tune. I believe this formed the foundation of learning musicality in writing, which I later applied to my poetry. As a young poet, I discovered Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” While I didn’t set out to imitate this amazing poem, I did set out to write a poem that was inspired by it (and somewhat modeled on it). All these years later, I suspect that if I shared that old poem of mine (which was titled “Woman One”), any knowledgeable poet would know that I’d read Maya’s work and was influenced by her.

All of these exercises helped shape my writing skills. When you copy the words that someone else has written, you study them more closely than you would by merely reading them. But notice that none of these exercises resulted in published works. It was a form of study and practice.

Who hasn’t buried themselves in a novel, only to put it down and find the voice of the narrative continuing inside their own mind? Copying a text can have the same effect, but it works faster. It’s a useful way to learn how different authors structure sentences or make word choices.

When I was in a college literature course, we took a test that required us to identify authors’ voices. We were given short excerpts from various authors’ works. We weren’t expected to memorize these authors’ repertoires, but we were expected to absorb their voice (style). A good way to do that is to copy passages from the authors’ writings. The act of typing (or handwriting) their texts helps us absorb it much faster and more thoroughly.

But that’s not all we can learn from imitation. Let’s say you’re a beginning writer with a favorite story. You don’t want to emulate the story or the author, but you want to gain a better understanding of how this author constructs language or how they developed such a distinct voice. Studying the work might not be enough. As an exercise, you might attempt to write a few pages of your own original text in the author’s voice. This would also be a useful exercise for developing voices and distinct dialogue for each of your characters. You could seek out writers and speakers whose style matches the voice you want for a character. Spend some time transcribing or copying the source material, and then practice writing your character’s dialogue in that person’s voice

The Necessity of Learning

There are many ways that authors borrow, build upon, and steal other writers’ ideas. There’s really nothing new under the sun — only old ideas remixed and rehashed into works that feel fresh and invigorating.

But however we gather our ideas or develop our craft, learning is a necessity. We must do the work to develop the skills we need to achieve our goals. For writers, that means studying language, mastering vocabulary, and learning structure and form. Not all writers need to learn through imitation. Each of us has a different learning style, but for those who would benefit from imitation as an exercise, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for skill-building.

Have you ever used imitation to develop your knowledge or skills? What did you imitate and why? Did it work for you? Share your thoughts about imitation as a learning tool for writers by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Un-dead Darlings

Please welcome guest Barbara Linn Probst to WU today! Barbara is a writer, teacher, researcher, and clinician living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. She holds a PhD in clinical social work and is a dedicated amateur pianist. She is also the author of When the Labels Don’t Fit–a groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box children. To learn more about Barbara and her work, please visit her website: http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/

Un-dead Darlings

Kill those darlings.

We all know the cliché (actually, it was Faulkner, not Stephen King, who coined the phrase) and, accepting its wisdom, do our best to kill those beloveds no matter how much it hurts. Sentences, paragraphs, whole scenes – deleted, leaving a cleaner and stronger narrative.

Deleted from the story, but not from our laptops or minds. Many of us (okay, me, but I bet I’m not the only one) squirrel them away, hoping we’ll be able to squeeze them into a future manuscript.

Of course, that rarely works. Unless, by some amazing chance, a grandfather scene exactly like the one I just deleted is precisely what the new book needs, the darlings need to stay in their coffins.

However, there are other possibilities for this excised material if we abandon the idea of keeping our darlings intact as chunks of prose and consider, instead, what they indicate, arise from, and serve.

A good way to do that is by adjusting the lens and zooming in or out. Zooming in means identifying small bits of language that can be extracted from their context. An image, a descriptive detail, a noun or verb that captures a particular sensation – that may be all that’s worth saving from the passage.

In stockpiling these usable phrases, it’s important to note their referents so you’re clear about how they might be used later. Does a phrase denote arrogance, the experience of unexpected emotional softening, a sense of foreboding? Later, you might be searching for a way to convey that very quality, and you’ll have a private dictionary to turn to. Retaining the meaning, along with the words, also helps to check the tendency to insert a phrase where it doesn’t really belong, simply because you can’t stand not to use it somewhere – the hallmark of a soon-to-be-dead-again darling.

Zooming out, in contrast, means stepping back from the specifics of what you’ve written to its source. What was that grandfather scene really about? Was it remorse at having taken someone for granted, nostalgia for a sense of safety that’s no longer possible? Perhaps it was the yearning to be someone’s favorite again, or the memory of a child’s frustration in not understanding an older person’s allusions. What was the feeling at the scene’s core, and why did it matter to my character? What purpose did I think it would serve in the story?

These sensations, intentions, aversions, and desires are only accessible when you zoom out and view the passage from a wider perspective, letting the trees blur so you can see the forest – that is, ignoring the words so you can perceive their source.

You may not need to retain the specific words and sentences. Often, in fact, it’s best not to – since they can influence, limit, and obstruct your vision – but their source can become a wellspring for fresh material. By letting go of the verbal formulation and connecting, instead, with the origin of the deleted material, you’re free to discover new possibilities.

To give an example:

In my earlier now-abandoned novel, the adult daughter of the protagonist was writing a master’s thesis on Georgia O’Keeffe.  The “reason” I had her doing that (ouch) was so I could sneak in a backstory scene in which the protagonist came upon O’Keeffe’s Black Iris and had a profoundly transformative experience. The adult daughter’s thesis served no real purpose in the story, however, nor did the museum scene. They were, appropriately, killed off.

Yet there was something about the O’Keeffe painting that stayed with me – something it implied and evoked that I needed to express. It noodled around in that murky in-between part of the brain where creativity often occurs and then burst into life unexpectedly a year later, providing the genesis for the (much better) novel I’m currently working on. Without that now-dead darling, the new novel wouldn’t exist.

Zooming in and zooming out are inverse processes. In the first, context is discarded, freeing the words from their moorings; the focus is narrow, precise. In the second, words themselves are discarded, freeing the intention that gave rise to them; the focus is wide, diffuse, not yet confined to a specific manifestation. In neither case is the “darling” preserved intact, in the hope of shoe-horning it into a new slot. We’ve all tried that, and it doesn’t work.

We need not adopt either strategy, of course. Darlings can stay dead. But that would be a shame, since they often contain much that’s of value. That’s why we love them.

Do you, like me, have a file of deleted material?

What life might the material still contain if you approach it in a fresh way?

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Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Genres–Zombie Apocalypse

The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post every day except Sundays during the month of April on a thematic topic. This year, my second year with A to Z, I’ll cover writing genres.

Definition

Zombie Apocalypse: in which the widespread rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization

Tipsa to z

  1. The literary subtext of a zombie apocalypse is usually that civilization is inherently fragile in the face of truly unprecedented threats and that most individuals cannot be relied upon to support the greater good if the personal cost becomes too high.
  2. For a zombie event to be apocalyptic, it needs to involve a large number of undead, shambling around, or, if you’re into the more modern zombies, running.
  3. Being undead must be spreading throughout the population or it’s not apocalyptic.
  4. Initial contacts with zombies must be extremely traumatic, causing shock, panic, disbelief and possibly denial, and hampering survivors’ ability to deal with hostile encounters.
  5. The response of authorities to the threat must be slower than its rate of growth, giving the zombie plague time to expand beyond containment.
  6. The society must collapse as zombies take full control while small groups of the living must fight for their survival.
  7. Zombiism must not only spread throughout a population but throughout the geography. It can’t be contained in a single area.
  8. The stories usually follow a single group of survivors, caught up in the sudden rush of the crisis.
  9. The narrative generally progresses from the onset of the zombie plague, then initial attempts to seek the aid of authorities, the failure of those authorities, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters’ subsequent attempts to survive on their own.
  10. Such stories are often squarely focused on the way their characters react to such an extreme catastrophe, and how their personalities are changed by the stress, often acting on more primal motivations (fear, self-preservation) than they would display in normal life.

Popular Books

  1. Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
  2. Dawn of the Dead by by George A. Romero
  3. Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  4. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
  5. The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse by Stephen Jones
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  7. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  8. World War Z by Max Brooks
  9. The Z Word (Apocalypse Babes) by Bella Street
  10. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Click for complete list of  2018 A to Z genres

By Jacqui Murray
Source: worddreams.wordpress.com

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The Winning Edge That Moves Any Writer to Center Stage

Are you a writer who yearns for a shot at the big time?

Do you dream of being in the spotlight – adored by a crowd of raving fans?

Are you looking for that one magic bullet that will make these dreams come true?

Friend, you’ve come to the right place.

But My Dream Seems So Out of Reach

It’s not an impossible dream. After all, aren’t others doing what you want to do?

So how did they start doing it? Does fortune favor the few and overlook the rest of us?

A friend gave me Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way for Christmas. Since I’m a writer, I got lots of books for Christmas. A few weeks ago, I started reading it and this quote leaped off the page, grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go.

All too often, it is audacity and not talent that moves an artist to center stage.

Think about that for a minute.

Let that sink in deeply.

Audacity.

That’s the secret sauce!

I often wondered how someone like Bruce Springsteen became so popular. I mean, his voice is not the greatest by far. It does have emotion infused into it, though. And the things he sings about are things many people resonate with.

Beyond all that, he had the audacity to believe he would make it big one day.

Why You’re Not Audacious

You might be saying to yourself, “That’s a great idea. I love it. But how do I do it? How can I be audacious? Where do I start? And how do I know if I’m being audacious or just stupid?”

Excellent question.

First, let’s see what’s holding you back.

You don’t know what to do.

When something goes wrong with my car, I’m like a traveler without a map. I have my suspicions as to what the problem is, but until I get in there and fix it, I really don’t know.

Since I’m not mechanically inclined, it’s less expensive to let someone who knows what they’re doing fix it.

That doesn’t mean I can’t learn how the car works.

You know what to do, but you aren’t doing it.

You know if you want to live a healthy life, you need to exercise. But since you don’t like running or lifting weights, you don’t do anything.

You know that if you want to get the word out about your work, you’ve got to write on popular blogs. But you’re afraid they won’t say yes, so you hold back. You could take courses which teach you exactly how to get attention for your work or become a better writer, like Bryan’s Writer’s Toolbox, but then what excuse would we have?

We can plan forever to take the world by storm, but until we do something about it, the world will remain unchanged.

You don’t do enough of what you need to do.

I understand this challenge. I work a full-time job that keeps me away from home as much as 75 hours a week. I write every day but I can’t always finish what I start in the same day. That’s discouraging, so I look at it as building something bigger rather than an all-or-nothing must-do task.

Getting attention is a huge task. It can seem like eating an elephant the way a snake eats a rat. You want to swallow it whole but there is no way in the universe your jaws will open that wide.

After you read this post, you’ll know 7 powerful strategies that will radically multiply your effectiveness as an audacious writer.

Ready to dive in?

Act as if your crazy ideas are possible.

The world of imagination has no limits.

I spent a lot of time with my imagination growing up. I could kill evil wizards with only my human powers. I could enter the deepest caves and find all the biggest treasures in  the universe, despite the efforts of a million enemies I had to fight along the way. I could rescue the most beautiful girl I could imagine and she’d be forever grateful.

The real world wasn’t quite so exciting.

But what if it was?

What if you could vividly imagine yourself winning the big award, getting the national byline, and writing this year’s breakout bestseller?

If you’ll take 30 minutes every day to think deeply about this, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Your mind is a lot like a director making a blockbuster movie. Much of what you can see there is possible in reality. The more detail you can see, feel, and experience, the more likely you’ll be able to make it real where it matters.

Maybe your ideas aren’t that crazy after all.

Talk about your ideas with people you trust.

When my wife and I were dating, we talked for an hour and a half about what our wedding would look like.

We were just doing it for fun. We had only been dating for three months. And honestly, it was too early to tell if we’d really go through with it.

But ten minutes turned into twenty, and then an hour. We talked about how the church would look, what her dress would look like, and how many groomsmen and bridesmaids we’d have. We even picked who we would ask to sing and what songs they would sing.

9 months later, we got married. And every detail matched what we talked about.

Find a friend you can trust and share your dreams. Go in deep about how it will all work, what you want to accomplish, and what problems you’ll face – and overcome. Leave no detail unspoken about.

I guarantee this technique will make your dream come true. Any dream.

Do ten times more than you think you should.

Love to write?

Post every day if you can. At least fill your journal with words every morning and every night.

Share your blog post on social media ten times this month.

Make ten pitches to the biggest blogs in your niche.

Come up with ten ideas for blog posts, books, or courses.

Write ten minutes  longer than you planned to tonight.

When you do more of  what you know you should, great things can happen. People will pay attention. Your books will sell. And you’ll be a far better writer by doing more of it.

Focus more on audacity than talent.

Talent will come by doing.

Growth comes by being audacious.

Go ahead and take that risk that thrills you, scares you, and makes you wake up at night with a cold sweat. Chase that big idea that can change people’s lives for the better. Dare to say what needs to be said – and accept the consequences.

Some may criticize you for it. Every strong stand brings out the haters. Don’t worry too much about it.

Others will cheer.

That’s who you’re writing for – the people who want and need to hear your message. This is your calling. If you don’t follow it, those people will miss out forever.

Can you live with that?

I hope not.

Shout out your truth – and do it proudly.

Be willing to fail until you succeed.

Am I saying you should just act crazy and not worry about the outcome?

Not exactly.

What I am saying is you should show the world the real you. Not the fake you that hides her genius or tones it down for fear of looking like a braggart. Not the fake you that you parade in front of others so they’ll leave you alone. Show us your authentic self – full of passion, ready to love others, and with a world of value to offer.

That you.

Show us the person you are when you’re hanging out with friends and throw off your inhibitions. Tell us your best stories, your most powerful lessons, and your deepest insights.

If you fail being yourself, so what? Learn from it. Refine your message a bit. Chances are you just haven’t found your ideal audience yet.

Keep on trucking.  You’re here for a reason. Don’t rest until you find it.

Then you’ll succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

Treat other artists as peers.

Are you afraid to approach someone who’s had more success than you?

Don’t be.

You’ll find many of them are surprised at the level of success they’ve attained. Some will gladly share what they know with you if you ask.

The key to getting any successful person to talk with you is to approach them as a peer. Your talent has value, so act like it. You’re not a pauper asking for crumbs under the king’s table. Be bold and make your request quickly, confidently, and with full assurance that you’ve got a decent shot at getting a yes.

Maybe you will!

Trust your calling.

I’ve said this again and again. You have a reason for being here.

Maybe you don’t feel like you do.

That’s because you haven’t discovered it yet. No human being is a waste. Sure, we can make bad choices and waste our humanity, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

You’ve got something valuable to share. Somebody needs what you have to give.

Don’t withhold your gift just because it’s not for everybody.

Write from your heart. Be vulnerable. Connect your story with someone else’s by sharing it. Your calling is your responsibility, your obligation to those you’re made to serve.

So serve it up with joy and reckless abandon. The right people will find you at the right time.

I guarantee it.

Now Go Be Audacious

What will you do this week that you know you should but still fills you with fear?

Pick one of these strategies and commit to do it all week. Ask a friend to hold you accountable. Become a better writer, audacious and unstoppable.

Share your commitment in the comments if you dare. We’d love to hear your story and cheer you on!

By Frank McKinley
Source: positivewriter.com

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How to Write in a Conversational Style That Will Connect with Your Readers

The other day, I was checking my email when I came across a suspicious looking message. It began with the line, “Dear Sir/Madam”.

The first paragraph read,

Please pardon me if I intrude into your privacy, and may I humbly solicit your confidence in this transaction. I came to know about you in my private search for a reliable and reputable foreigner to handle this confidential transaction.

Wow, that writing sounds like something straight out of a Dickens novel. I quickly clicked delete, suspecting that this was a phishing scam.

You’ve probably received emails like this too. And maybe you’ve also chuckled at their standoffish, overly formal tone. It seems to be a trademark of these types of spam emails.

However, not too long ago, no one would have laughed at that style of writing. It’s the style most people would have used if they wanted to come across as polite and professional.

In fact, your English teacher probably taught you a similar academic style when you were in school. Flowery language. Long paragraphs. Precise grammar. No contractions.

And then came the Internet. Over time, everyone from bloggers to big corporations realized that a conversational style of writing is a much more powerful way to engage and connect with your audience.

Formal writing hides your personality and can make your audience doubt your sincerity. It sometimes comes across as pretentious and is also plain difficult to read.

If you want to connect with your readers and get them to trust you, talk to them as you would to a good friend.

Kurt Vonnegut once observed,

The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child…I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.

The good news is that writing in a conversational style can be a lot of fun. The bad news is that sometimes it can be difficult to unlearn the style you were taught in school.

That’s why in today’s post I’m sharing with you my 8-step checklist to conversational writing.

It’s the same checklist I use to make sure my writing sounds like I’m having a conversation with a friend at the local coffee shop, not like I’m delivering a college lecture or trying to scam my readers out of their life savings.

You can use this checklist when you’re writing a blog post, an email, copy for your website, or, really, anytime you want your writing to resonate with your readers.

The 8-Step Checklist to Writing Conversationally

1. Write to a single reader

The first step to making your writing sound more conversational is to imagine you are writing to a single reader, a close friend, not to a crowd of people.

Compare, for example, the difference between these two sentences:

  1. “For those of you who are interested, you can learn more details here.”
  2. “If you’re interested in learning more, you can get all of the details here.”

It’s only a subtle change, but the second sentence sounds much more personal and friendly than the first one.

I learned this tip from John Steinbeck who advised,

I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

And, yes, that means to never open an email with the words “Dear Sir/Madam”. 😉

Bonus tip:  Think really hard about who your audience is. What are their hopes and fears? What do they struggle with? What kind of jokes or cultural references would make them laugh? After all, you’d probably talk differently if you were having a friendly conversation with a group of retirees at a resort than with a group of young startup founders at a conference.

2. Use the words “You”, “We”, and “I”

Since you’re addressing your reader as an individual, you should use the personal pronoun “you” as much as possible and also refer to yourself as “I”.

Usually, it’s obvious where you can use these personal pronouns. But sometimes it’s a little more difficult to spot.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you wrote a sentence like this, “Often people find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

You could make this statement more compelling by bringing the reader right into the sentence: “Often you might find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

Words like “might” or “probably” can help you qualify the statement so you don’t come across as preachy or lecturing.

In fact, depending on the context of the paragraph, you might want to include yourself along with the reader in the sentence: “Sometimes we might find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

This makes you sound even more like a friend to your reader.

3. Eliminate passive sentences

Passive sentences are one of those tell-tale signs of academic and technical writing. If your high school grammar is a little rusty, you can read a quick review of passive sentences here.

Essentially, in a passive sentence, the subject receives the action rather than performing it.

For example, politicians and business executives like to use the passive voice when they want to avoid claiming responsibility for a mistake. They might write, “Mistakes were made.”

It’s a neat little trick because this sentence avoids taking responsibility by failing to tell us who made the mistakes.

Note that you can’t fix a passive sentence by tacking the subject onto the end. “Mistakes were made by all of us” is still passive.

So how to fix it?

Just write, “We all made mistakes.” Now the sentence is active.

If you have a WordPress blog, I highly recommend installing the Yoast SEO plugin. It will point out your passive sentences when you write your posts. If you’re not writing on a WordPress blog, you can use the Hemingway App.

4. Use as many contractions as you can

If you’ve ever wondered what English would sound like if we talked without contractions, check out the film adaptation of True Grit starring Jeff Bridges (Amazon affiliate link). The movie is set in the Old West, and most of the time the characters avoid using contractions when they speak.

It sounds unusual to say the very least. Just imagine if you tried to go a whole day without using a contraction when you spoke. Yup, it would probably be quite difficult.

So if we want our writing to sound like everyday speech and not as if we’re stuck in the Old West, we should use words like “you’re” and “I’m”.

Even if you’re already using contractions in your writing, it’s a good exercise to run through your article one more time to see if there are any more you can add.

5. Engage your readers with rhetorical questions

Imagine you’re talking with a friend. You probably look for cues that they’re listening to what you’re saying. Maybe they nod their head or murmur an approving “mmhmmm”. You might even try to get an immediate response from them by asking a question like, “Don’t you agree?”

When used correctly, questions are a fantastic way to draw your readers into your writing too.

First, don’t go overboard when you use them or your reader might feel like they’ve been hauled into an interrogation. Second, try to avoid lazy, open-ended questions. For example, if you’re writing a recipe post and ask, “Who likes spaghetti and meatballs?”, your reader can sarcastically answer, “I don’t.”

Instead, ask rhetorical questions that have an obvious ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Here’s an example: “Wouldn’t you love it if you got home after a long day at work and there was a warm, home-cooked meal waiting for you?”

One of my favorite ways to turn a sentence into a question is to just add “right?” onto the end. For example: “No one likes waiting in line for hours at the DMV, right?”

6. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short

Long blocks of text are intimidating to read, especially if you’re reading on a mobile device. I try to write paragraphs that are no more than three to four sentences long.

And, hey, that’s usually the way we talk too. Ever heard someone who just talks and talks, never letting you get a word in edgewise, and never taking a breath? It’s exhausting listening to a person like that.

Look through your writing to see if there are any long-winded sentences that you can shorten or divide into two sentences. Are there any long paragraphs that you can separate into multiple paragraphs?

In conversational writing, it’s okay to break grammar rules occasionally. Sometimes sentence fragments can give your writing an added punch.

7. Choose your words carefully

As an extension of tip #6, try to make your sentences as simple and clear as possible by carefully choosing your words.

For example, instead of padding your sentences with extra words like “by examination of the following situations we see that…” you could just write, “The following situations show…”

In his Six Rules for Writing, George Orwell observes,

Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out…Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Additionally, depending on your audience, you can use popular slang to make your writing sound “on fleek”. Yeah, you do need to be careful with that one. It might make your readers roll their eyes.

Remember that the goal is to mimic your voice, not a random teenager’s. Think about what phrases or slang expressions you use when talking with friends or that your audience uses.

Bonus Tip: You can use the Yoast SEO pluginthe Hemingway App, or Readable.io to check your writing’s readability score. A readability score tells you roughly what level of education someone would need in order to read your piece of text easily. A lower level will be more conversational compared to a higher level that would be understood only by graduate students.

Read my post here for more tips: How to Edit Your Writing: An Effective 7-Step Process

8. Become a storyteller

When we talk with our friends, we share stories about our personal lives. Even something as mundane as missing a subway connection can become a story that makes us laugh together.

Sharing personal stories in our writing helps us connect with our readers and show them there’s a human behind the screen. In the digital age, human connections are more valued than ever. That’s why sites like Humans of New York are so popular.

When you use stories in your own writing, make sure that you hone in on a theme that elevates your story from being just about you. A universal and uplifting theme will make it relevant to your readers as well. Show them how the story can apply to their own lives.

I’ve written more about how to tell powerful stories here: 8 Tips from The Memoir Project That Will Make You a Powerful Storyteller

And I recently wrote this post about how you can use stories to illustrate complex and abstract concepts in your writing: The Two Magic Words That Will Strengthen Your Writing

The Takeaway: Inject Personality Into Your Writing

The novelist Elmore Leonard once noted,

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

That’s a good rule of thumb to follow as you edit your article to try to make it sound more conversational. I recommend reading it out loud since you’ll quickly be able to see if there are any sentences that sound unnatural and stilted.

Are you using words that you’d never use if you were talking to your friends? Are there any places where you can include a bit of humor or a story? A funny gif?

Or maybe you can drop some pop cultural references?

For example, all of your friends might know you stayed up late watching the Olympics last week  — why not let your readers know that too? (Well, actually, the men’s curling gold medal match was on way too late even for this night owl, and I had to DVR it to watch the next day. 😉 ).

The bottom line: have fun with it, let your personality shine through, and try to sound like your readers’ best friend.

By
Source: nicolebianchi.com

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How to Stay Motivated When You’re Not Making Progress

Writer’s block is real. Every writer, at one point or another, has experienced this debilitating inability to make any real progress in his or her work.

Note: This is a guest post by Jordan Conrad, he’s the founder and publisher of WritingExplained.org. With free articles on English usage and basic grammar, Writing Explained is an essential resource for editors, freelancers, and authors alike. Connect with Jordan on Twitter at @Writing_Class.

Like a 17th century galleon in the equatorial doldrums, we endure a bout of creative stillness, when productivity starves to death in a windless mental seascape where nothing is visible on any horizon.

Well, maybe that’s a little melodramatic. Nevertheless, a lack of progress can be discouraging for anyone, and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain the motivation needed to complete a long project.

If you’re not feeling motivated, it’s not a reflection of your abilities as a writer. Creativity can seem to ebb and flow according to its own schedule, and we all have to find a way to cope with the slow periods in anticipation of the next big spark.

What to Do When Progress Eludes You

Let’s take a look at a few ways to deal with writer’s block. Whenever I feel less than inspired, I start here.

I hope you can use these same strategies to stay motivated in your own writing when it seems as if you aren’t making any progress.

Strategies for Staying Motivated

Take it one day at a time.

Try to write every day, even if it’s only a small amount. It doesn’t have to be your best work—you can always go back and revise it later.

Sometimes it only takes one tiny, unexpected breakthrough to get back on track. These breakthroughs will come much easier if you’re actively writing.

Remember that progress is a relative term.

You don’t have to write an entire book in a single day. Progress can be measured in small amounts.

Even if you only write a few words or sentences, you are still making progress. Those are sentences that you hadn’t written at the beginning of the day, so even if it’s only a little bit, you’re that much closer to being finished.

Set manageable goals.

Too often, writers get bogged down by word counts and page numbers. If you wanted to be at 3,000 words and you’re only at 750, those last 2,250 probably aren’t all going to come at once.

Likewise, the page number indicator at the bottom of your word processor window can sometimes do more harm than good. If your page count is far behind where you expected, it might be better not to look at it—or to find a way to turn it off.

You can’t finish an entire project in one sitting, so set small goals for yourself. You’ll get a confidence boost when you achieve them, and that little boost can keep you motivated to reach your next goal.

Try writing 500 words instead of 5,000, or a single page instead of ten.

Try working on something else for a while.

This works best if you, like many writers (including this author), always have multiple projects running at the same time.

Stuck on one project? There are probably five or ten more that could use your attention. Pick one you’re excited about and work on that one for a while. That should get your creative juices flowing again, and you might be able to transfer that excitement back over to the one that has you at a standstill.

The new project doesn’t even have to be in the same medium. Are you also a photographer, a musician, or a maker in addition to being a writer? Take a break from writing and shoot some portraits, or learn a new song, or 3D print something.

Take a break and do something fun.

Your brain is like a muscle—if you strain it for too long, you will use up your cognitive resources. It’s important to take breaks every so often to give your mind a chance to recharge and rebalance.

Try doing something you enjoy, even if it’s not productive. If you enjoy video games, devote half an hour to one of your favorites to reward yourself.

Breaks can quickly become distractions, though, so set strict time limits and stick to them.

You can combine this technique with setting manageable goals to build a contingent reward system that will keep you motivated. Alternate periods of productivity with enjoyable activities, so that you make progress without wearing yourself out. Like a carrot on a stick, contingent rewards can help you boost your productivity without burning out and getting discouraged.

End Note

There are times in every writer’s life where progress seems to come only in short fits and spurts, and projects come grinding to an unexpected halt. This is part of the natural creative cycle for many writers, and it’s usually just a matter of time before the juices start flowing again.

Still, a lack of progress is never enjoyable, and there are strategies you can use to stay motivated when your work isn’t going how you planned.

The above are all strategies I use personally, but there are many more out there. Don’t be discouraged if progress eludes you—if you’re patient for long enough and keep these tips in mind, it’s only a matter of time before you’re up and writing again.

By Bryan Hutchinson
Source: positivewriter.com

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Grammar Rules: Fewer vs. Less

It’s a battle between words: fewer vs. less. Are they interchangeable? Do these words have different meanings? How can we use them correctly?

Many people don’t realize that these two words do not share the same meaning and therefore cannot be used interchangeably. As a result, both fewer and less are often used incorrectly.

The difference in meaning may be subtle, but it’s significant and remarkably easy to remember. Let’s see what Dictionary.com has to say about these two words:

fewer: adjective 1. of a smaller number: fewer words and more action.

less: adjective 1. smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much: less money; less speed.

The grammar rules are clear; let me break them down for you.

Fewer vs. Less? Which is Correct?

Fewer and less respectively refer to a number of items or an amount of something. The easiest way to remember which of these adjectives to use in a given situation is this:

Fewer should be used when the items in question can be counted:

He has fewer books than his best friend has.

Less is used when the amount of something cannot be counted:

He has less interest in reading than his best friend has.

Note that books can be counted item by item. However, interest is not a thing that can be counted, although we can discuss how much of it someone has.

The basic difference here is countability. Use fewer for countable nouns like individuals, cars, and pens. Use less for uncountable nouns such as love, time, and respect.

Do note, however, that there are some sticky spots to watch out for when determining whether you should use fewer or less. For example, you might need less paper but you will need fewer sheets of paper. You have fewer pennies but less money. You want fewer chocolate bars but less candy.

Fewer or Less

Now you know how to tell the difference between fewer vs. less.

Do you have questions about correctly using fewer or less or any other word
pairs? Maybe you have something to add to this linguistic look at tricky adjectives. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and let’s discuss.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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36 Tips for Writing Just About Anything

There’s a lot more to writing than typing words.

Writing well takes years of study, practice, and experience. It requires diligence, attention to detail, and dedication to the craft. Each project has a unique set of requirements and different types of writing have different rules.

For example, when we’re writing fiction, we have one set of concerns (character, plot, and setting, to name a few), and when we’re writing poetry, we have en entirely different set of issues to deal with.

Writing becomes natural with practice, but there are countless elements to deal with in any given project.

Tips for Writing

Here are thirty-six tips for writing just about anything. You can use this as a checklist when you start a new writing project and refer back to it whenever you get stuck. However, keep in mind that these tips don’t address the specifics of fiction, poetry, or nonfiction; they’re general tips for writing anything rather than specific tips for form and genre.

  1. Start with a plan. To reach a destination, you must know where you’re going. We can freewrite in our journals and jot down ideas on scraps of paper, but bigger projects will go more smoothly if there’s a plan in place.
  2. Be prepared. What do you need in order to complete this project? Set up a space and schedule time to work on the project. Gather any supplies, materials, and resources you’ll need.
  3. Eliminate distractions. It’s impossible to write if you’re interrupted or distracted every few minutes. Turn off your phone, close your browser, and let others know you’re working.
  4. Know your audience. This is one of the most common tips for writing, and while it’s not mandatory, it means less revising once you’ve completed your first draft. Are you turning in this piece to an instructor? Submitting it to a magazine? Self-publishing? Who will read it?
  5. Be familiar with your genre. Sci-fi fans don’t want to read a book written by someone who’s never read any sci-fi books. If you don’t know your genre, you can’t possibly know your audience. Besides, if you don’t read a particular genre, why would you want to write it?
  6. Choose a style guide. There’s one style guide for journalism, one for medical writing, and another for everything else. If you’re submitting this project to a target publication or an agent (or if you’re self-publishing it), make sure you know which style guide you should follow.
  7. Brainstorm and outline. Nothing ruins a good writing session like realizing you have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish. Take a few minutes to jot down all ideas related to the project, and then spend some time drawing up an outline. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but it will come in handy as a kind of road map.
  8. Conduct credible research. Most writing projects require some research. Whether you need the population of a city or the distance to another planet, check your facts and make sure your logic lines up. Also, make sure your sources are credible.
  9. Take breaks and stay healthy. If you’re writing for long periods, take a ten-minute break every hour. If you’re working on a long-term project, make sure you stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise. It might take time away from your writing, but it will also make your writing better.
  10. Don’t procrastinate, and reward yourself when you reach goals. Writing requires a tremendous amount of discipline. It’s easy to procrastinate if there isn’t a boss hovering over your shoulder and pointing at the clock. Establish milestones for your project and reward yourself whenever you reach one.
  11. Stay inspired. Passion ebbs and flows, and so do ideas. But you can keep yourself motivated by figuring out what inspires you and regularly imbibing in it. Maybe books on the craft of writing keep you excited about your project. Reading or watching movies in your genre might help you stay motivated and inspired.
  12. Think about voice. In writing, voice is the tone of a piece — the author’s unique style. A children’s book shouldn’t sound like it was written by a college professor, and an academic essay shouldn’t sound like it was written by a child. Is your narrative dry, witty, humorous, self-depreciating, or cocky?
  13. Complete a rough draft. While you’re drafting, turn off your inner editor and don’t scrutinize every word or sentence. Let the ideas flow and let the scenes and ideas move forward. You can fix it up later.
  14. Keep it simple: Use clear, concise writing. For some audiences, you might ignore this rule, but keep in mind that the simpler and more accessible your writing is, the more people it will be able to reach.
  15. Use the active voice. Passive voice sounds old-fashioned and outdated. Apply the subject + verb + object construction to your sentences so they are clear and direct.
  16. Use vivid language. Avoid boring, meaningless words (like nice and very) and opt instead for words with pizazz. For example, don’t write very good. Write excellent.
  17. Know when to show and when to tell. The most important parts of a story should be shown. Don’t tell the reader the character was tired if her exhaustion is critical to the plot; show her yawning.
  18. Choose the best possible words. Vivid language helps readers visualize the narrative. You should also choose the most precise, accurate words possible. Don’t say dark red if you mean burgandy.
  19. Let it sit. Once you complete a draft (and after every revision), let your project sit for a while. Short pieces can sit for a few hours. Longer pieces (like a book) may need to sit for a few weeks. Then you can revise with fresh eyes.
  20. Read what you’ve written. Before you revise, save a copy of your original draft and read through the whole thing once. If it’s a book-length manuscript, take notes about major changes that you need to make.
  21. Chop it up. You may need to move large portions of text around. The opening scene might work better at the end. Your thesis statement could be misplaced somewhere in the middle of your paper. Use cut-and-paste with total abandon. Tip: open TextEdit or NotePad in the background and use it to store large chunks of text that you need to move around.
  22. Delete the excess. You may need to delete entire scenes if they are not relevant to the plot. In fact, you may need to delete some of your favorite sentences and paragraphs. Get rid of anything that isn’t essential to the project’s thesis, objective, or plot.
  23. Insert. You may find gaping holes in your draft. Be prepared to add new sentences, paragraphs, even entire chapters.
  24. Rewrite. Depending on how messy your first draft is, you may need to do multiple rewrites. A lot of writers get worn out by this process, but remember — your writing improves with each revision. So dig in and keep rewriting until it feels right.
  25. Edit. Once you have the main structure and concept down, you can edit for detail. This is where you make your sentences clear and concise. Look for grammatical errors, awkward wording, and vague phrasing.
  26. Eliminate unnecessary words. If you can delete a word without affecting the meaning of a sentence, then delete it. Often, articles (a, an, the) can be deleted as can pronouns.
  27. Get rid of the clichés. Better yet, don’t use them in the first place. However, when you’re editing, do your best to weed them out.
  28. Look it up! If you’re not sure about a word’s meaning or spelling, look it up. If you’re not sure whether you’ve structured a sentence correctly or used proper punctuation, look it up. Do not rewrite to get around the rules. Just learn them.
  29. Review the transitions. Each paragraph focuses on a different idea, but each paragraph should also flow naturally from the paragraph that precedes it.
  30. Check for repetition. There’s good repetition and bad repetition. Using the same word or phrase over and over, unnecessarily, is bad. Repeating themes, symbols, and images can be powerful.
  31. Make sure the sentence structures are varied. Sentences should vary in length and structure. Don’t start every sentence with “I” (a common mistake that young and new writers make). Follow long sentences with shorter ones.
  32. Read for flow. After editing, read it again. Does everything make sense? Does the entire thing flow naturally and smoothly? If not, go back and edit some more.
  33. Format your document. Formatting can be done at the beginning or toward the end. I usually format at the beginning, except when writing a long project, like a book, in which case, I wait till the end. Tip: don’t just learn how to format documents; instead, become a master of formatting. For example, if you use Word, learn how to use the Styles feature. You should know how to set spacing, indentations, font face and size, how to align text, and apply bold and italics.
  34. Proofread. No matter how strong your writing skills are, typos will slip past you. When you proofread, you’re looking for basic mistakes and typographical errors. Recommendation: proofread each piece until you can’t find any typos at all.
  35. Get a second opinion. Even though you proofread until you couldn’t find any typos, there are probably a few lingering around. There’s a scientific reason for this, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you get someone else to check your work. If necessary, hire a professional.
  36. Final polish. Ideally, you’ll read through it one last time (after letting it sit again) and you’ll find it squeaky clean. This means it’s done and ready to be served.

And that’s not all…

This list might seem overwhelming, but it covers only the basics. If you’re writing fiction, there is a whole other set of things you need to do. If you’re writing for business or academia, there are additional rules to follow. Remember, there are many considerations for each form and style of writing. That’s why knowing your form and genre is so important.

But these tips for writing are a good start. Not only will they help you write, they’ll help you write well.

Do you have any tips for writing to add to this list? Share any tips that writers can use by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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