Five Time-Saving Tips for the Beginning Writer
A Tried and True Checklist For Transitioning into a Published Author
I have published enough of my writing to call myself a professional writer; that is, I have been paid for various works. However, I have probably spent twice the cost of my part-time earnings attending workshops, conferences, writing groups and university classes to learn a few tried and true tips that have served me well in a very competitive market. If you are serious about a writing career, or simply want to write for fun, these tips might just make your journey a bit more navigable.
Less is More. Whether you are writing a novel, a short story, or an essay, all writers tend to want to explain too much. For example, instead of writing I started to sweat cut it down to I sweat. Seems simple, right? You’d be surprised how many of those filler words sneak into your stories and dilute profound meaning. My formula for finding and deleting dead words is to limit my paragraphs to 100 words. After I have written my piece, I go through and weed out the extra verbiage from each paragraph. Once you see how clean your writing becomes, you can add and subtract necessary words much easier until your piece is completed to your satisfaction. Trust me, editors and publishers will reward you for it. (By the way, I also enjoy writing 100-word flash fiction stories because there isn’t room for even one extra word.)
Edit for Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling. Many writers are masters at telling a great story, but have never been grammarians. The mechanics of writing are exact and tend to stifle creativity, but I can guarantee that no reputable publication will even consider a strong story if it is submitted with glaring English (or any other language) rule violations. I cringe when I hear adults mismanage the English language, but it is even more apparent when reading the written word.
A few of my pet peeves serve as examples. I have ran is used all too commonly and incorrectly in every day speech. The correct tense is I have run. Learn your proper Past Perfect Tenses, even if you have to hire a professional editor. I have also heard many adults use the incorrect word supposebly for the correct word supposedly. Again, hire someone. If you don’t want your work to end up in the circular file before it’s even considered, edit, edit, edit.
Kick Your Passive Voice to the Curb! A member of one of my writing groups once asked me to do a quick-edit. His piece was littered with the passive voice to the point of making me want to scream! Instead of writing the wooden fence, he wrote the fence made of wood. The passive voice implies that something was done to that fence by some other force. No, it is just a wooden fence. The salient point is not who made it. Other common examples of the passive voice: the man full of anger; the girl made of sugar and spice and everything nice. You get the point.
Bury Your Dead Adjectives! When I began to write seriously in college, I would ask my mother to read my work. My first lesson in humility began with her declaration, “Get rid of all those dead adjectives!” I protested with the argument that flowery adjectives give prose its poetry. Wrong. Worthless adjectives water down the impact of any glimmer of good writing. Meaningless adjectives are what distinguish the amateurs from the pros.
The word beautiful is a solid case in point. First, it is a dead word because what is beautiful to me may be hideous to someone else. Often, beginning writers will write something like the beautiful princess awoke from her slumber. Can you picture her in your mind? I thought not. A better technique might be to describe the princess as you want your reader to see her. The petite, dark-haired princess appeared to be in deep slumber as evidenced by her fluttering, long black eyelashes. At least this is a writer’s attempt to give the reader a more specific view of his or her princess. Other dead adjectives are pretty, nice, sweet, cute, ugly, weird, mean and ad infinitum. Paint a vibrant picture for your reader by describing actions, don’t insult their intelligence with unnecessary clichés.
Read Your Work Out Loud Before Submitting. This one simple exercise has saved me from submitting work that was obviously not ready for prime time. The process of reading silently uses a different part of the brain from reading out loud. By reading my work out loud, I have caught all of the errors of the aforementioned tips. When I read my work silently, my brain doesn’t catch my passive voice, my dead adjectives or my grammatical errors. As soon as I hear these errors, I feel my body recoil, which signals my mind to focus in on the problem. Try it. It truly is a visceral experience.
One last kernel of advice: Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you trust your story, the hard work will flow naturally from your unique wellspring of creativity. I once heard Ray Bradbury speak before his death in 2012 at the age of 91. He basically said, “Write from a place of love because that is your true voice.”