How to Write Well
Write What You Know
Children are innocent and write only what they know. Even when as young as this they can be good writers. Some even get their works published. It's all about passion, honesty, observation and focus..
Everybody who is literate can put words to paper and many will get published in some form. somewhere. But what does it take to write for a living? How do you overcome the barriers such as writer's block, finding the right tools, expressing yourself in a way others can understand and having the confidence to allow someone else to read it?
The even bigger question to hit writers tends to be knowing what to write about. The short answer to that puzzle is what would you put in a letter to a friend or relative? You would write about your experiences. Focus on things happening around you, for instance, and how you appraise certain situations. In other words, write about what you know.
What Good Writers Know
There are rules for good writing. Whether you are writing a true account of something or even a fictional story you can only do it based on what you know. Sure, you can research a topic and then put ideas to paper but it still relates to how you have appraised that knowledge and how you want others to understand it.
Journalists, for instance, write constantly about everyday events. How they interpret an incident and what they want the public to know about a situation is pretty much up to them. They find the 'angle' that will appeal but there may be several ways they can do this. That's why when you get the news from different media outlets it can be very different because of the way it is presented.
Emphasis on certain parts of an event can change the perspective one has of it. Some aspects may be hyped up while others are trimmed down. But a good journalist goes for the sensational because that is what sells. A very good journalist researches it as well. That is they find out the background of the people, place, law enforcement agents, the general situation, court related findings of similar circumstances, and so on.
But what are you writing for? Who is your audience? For therein hangs the tale.
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Carry a Pad or Have a Photographic Memory
If You Write From Life Make It Accurate
Not everyone writes like a journalist and not everyone is disciplined in how they do it. That's why there are guidelines to follow. What are you going to talk about? This should be addressed in the opening paragraphs. If its an incident you have witnessed then how good is your memory?
The first rule of journalism is to carry a pad and record your impressions before they fade or become distorted by new evidence or the opinions of others. Most good writers sleep with a pad beside their bed and jot down thoughts that come to them throughout the night. Personally that is too cumbersome for me but when I have a good idea I work on it, usually to the detriment of a good night's sleep, and rise early to put it into practice.
That's why this lens is being written now. Last night it came to me to teach all I know about writing and marketing your work. That does not mean that I am a journalist as such but I have done a journalism course and have a university degree based on assignments, essays and a thesis, which is like a mini book based on extensive research and detective work. I hold a double honors degree in archaeology/anthropology with linguistics and philosophy thrown in.
Successful writers usually have some form of formal education with many having a degree in something or other. That is where the discipline comes in, which is especially helpful if writing a non fiction book. There is a structure and shape to the material that mainly comes from this type of research while pulling history apart to get between the lines is a must.
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Every writer needs knowledge and will research through academic books to discover information on what's needed to enhance their story. Renting campus books will save you a heap of time and money. You get free shipping both ways on books that are less than half retail prices. You can also keep the book and pay the difference.
What's Your Angle?
Who is your audience?
If you are writing a true story then you write from the heart so that it flows out as you follow it in your mind from woe to go. The structure is the scene you set and how the drama unfolds within it.
That principle is true also for fiction. You choose your characters and plot a story based on a scene you imagine and then you make it work out. You introduce the characters one by one, give details of who they are, their background and all the time be building worthwhile personalities and characteristics to fit such an individual.
Charles Dickens did this with people from his own life. He worked in a factory from an early age and met many characters there that he transformed into amazing and exciting personalities in his books. He also visited a prison while someone related to him served their time. It all made for rich background information for his stories.
One of America's greatest writers was Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) who spent time in his youth working on a river boat on the Mississippi River. His name was taken from the soundings of the depth of the river, which was 'mark twain'. Herein lies another rule for good writing, You must have presentation appeal. People will go for an interesting name or title rather than the contents if it is good enough. Success or failure can hang on that very thing.
You do not need a great education to be able to do all this as many have become successful writers by simply writing about what they know, and often in the simplest of terms. Aside from being about the tale they told they expressed themselves in the local jargon. In other words they wrote as they spoke and that is another rule for good work.
Writing teachers will tell you to address your audience as though they are sitting opposite you in a room. Use your normal voice and provide the same type of detail.
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Writers have a chance to build up a library of material from which to draw ideas, learn about techniques authors used in their work, how publishers select books, and so on. No struggling author can afford to buy books retail when they can so easily secure them this way. Aside from these things you get good books to read at your leisure. Titles are published on web site.
Cameras are a great way to record information as well. Carry one with you and use it to photograph people, incidents you witness, scenes, moods and so on. When you want to include details in your work you have it in front of you.
Never Give Up
Once you start keep the wheels turning
Writing a book is no easy task. It can take years, even a lifetime. It's a lot like creating a scene on a canvas and painting in the details. Some artists can create the scene first and then put in the characters, others do it the other way round. The end result is the big picture and the test of success is whether or not it is plausible and able to attract attention.
Many potential authors give up and make excuses why they cannot go on. Some make out it is because they don't have a command of the language. Grammar is one of those ogres that crop up to spoil anyone's flow of words. But this can also be overcome easily enough. The main thing is to let the flow progress.
Get the thoughts down and clean them up by editing the work after the story is written. No author can write that well first go without some editing taking place at the end. This piece is being edited throughout the process of writing it. You will probably have several starts, stops and heartaches along the way.
My books are non fiction and based on research but the structure is the same no matter what you are writing. The first thing is the plan. Get the headings down. What are the main points? What is the story about? Do you have a theme and or a title for the work?
Decide on the points and which ones can be made into chapters, if you are writing a book. My first book was a thesis and I chose 5 chapters each of major importance to the debate. Each was given an appropriate title that was elaborated on. With material in support such as citations, pictures, and so on it came together rather well. Next each section became a story within itself but relevant to theme and the overall picture.
Of course this may not be the way you want to do it and you might have a better plan. Don't be put off by anyone if you can develop your own style and progress.
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Every one will turn you off writing if you listen to them. They will say things like "you'll never make any money at it." or "Why don't you get a real job?" Artists of all types face the same criticism as many expect that unless others pay you for labor whatever else you do is not worthwhile. There might only be one who will champion you and he or she is worth gold. That one might just be YOU!
Write To Keep it Simple
Write so that a child can read it - although they may not understand it
Readers don't like to be confused by fancy jargon, colored print (unless it serves a purpose), waffle or deviations. If you are reading a good story would you suddenly put it down and pick up another document and read that before continuing on? You might have to do that to clarify the meaning of a word or to get extra information about a point being made but generally that type of thing will turn your reader off.
The best thing is to write for a twelve to fourteen year old brain. That is because most adults cannot perceive big words, difficult paragraphs, complex thoughts and so on. You are not dealing with university graduates as your audience, although some will probably read it. It will comprise people from all walks of life whose standard of education varies considerably. Don't cut out the less informed for the sake of what you consider good prose. It can backfire.
You should also be mindful of the non English speakers, if you write in that language, who may use your work to improve their understanding of it. That means explanations. This is trick that writers use when they introduce big words or new terms. They will give an explanation immediately following. Let's say you write "John had no choice but to jump ship."
Unless you know what that means to a non English speaker it may mean he jumped around the ship or jumped onto the ship or whatever. What you should say is "John had no choice but to jump ship, that is he fled into the countryside" or ". . . . he took off into town." there are lots of other ways of telling the audience what you mean by the phrase and that's where your creativity comes in.
The best way to understand good writing is to read works by good writers. One of the best was Earnest Hemingway. He is often referenced in journalism courses because of the brevity of his points. His sentences are short, direct and to the point. Did you get the message from that last sentence you read? Read it again and my bet is that it sinks into your head easier than probably anything else you have so far read. His books were written in this style.
Journalists are faced with getting major points across in a minimum number of words. Look at media headlines and study television newscasts to see this in effect. Go to a book shop and look at the titles and see which ones draw you in. How many words do authors use? This is all relevant to your writing.
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New Releases and previews of upcoming releases are available. Whatever genre you care for from sci-fiction to involved mysteries, from silent to sports and westerns its all here. See how the stories work in film to get an idea about your material. Will it work, what more do you have to give it, how do you introdcue the characters, and so on,. Take notes while watching.
Children's books are a great resource for ideas on good writing. While you may not be targeting the very young they will teach you how to describe characters and how their habitats and environment play out in the story.
Read Before You Write
Study the Professionals First
Among my favorite authors is John Steinbeck because he wrote from life. He used characters he could associate with, as did people like Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters and, of course, Jane Austen. Read their works and study the way they introduce the characters if you are writing fiction.
Their stories are gripping, moody, emotional, fast reading and detailed. You don't know that you are being 'set up' as it were by picturing scenes in your mind into which actors are arriving and departing. What you experience is a series of details and facts that help you piece the evidence together so that the story rings true and you change the 2 dimensional words on paper into the 3 dimensional life event through your own experiences.
The day is wet - or - the rain fell constantly and pelted hard against the windows as I worked in the gray dampness of the room. Which is better? It depends on the context. If you are setting the scene for a story you can elaborate the atmosphere and bring into focus the noise, smells, temperature, even the clamminess of a situation in order to create drama. if on the other hand you were writing this say: "The car skidded out of control, the day was wet, the water lay on the road and there was no grip for the tires . . ."
A good writer incorporates everything so that the reader can picture the scene as if watching it live on a stage or in a movie.
If, on the other hand, you are describing how to market a product you don't use that kind of descriptive information. Now you focus on the marketability of the item/ Who will buy it? Where will they shop? How good is the price? and so on.
That is where copyrighting differs from journalism. People may hire you as a copywriter and pay you to write articles to sell their products or for publication under their name. That is one way you can earn money by writing. It is called a 'ghost writer'.
They will give you the subject and away you go. In that case waffling your way through it will be disastrous. You have to be to the point, hard hitting and driving the reader towards a sale by creating an interest in a certain product or web site, as an example. You probably will need to research the topic in order to make the article accurate and credible.
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How To Choose a Topic
Let Your Brain Decide
My suggestion on that score is simple. Ideas pop into your head from time to time that may have a bearing on something you want to write about and these should be jotted down. Great resources are articles or blogs for commercial copy and the news and what's currently in the media for good stories..
Blogs that focus on a government decision affects people in general while something happening around the corner will affect the lives of neighbors more than the community. Listening to radio newscasts or nightly news reports on TV is not enough. You have to listen to the in depth reports and watch documentaries on them to get good stories.
Observe the characters in it and their role in what is going on. Record their names and important points about them. Don't rely on videos or tapes to capture the story so you can go back to it later as chances are you won't. In that event the opportunity to express your take on the issue is lost. By the time you get back to it, if ever, the matter is now history and not topical.
If you don't see the importance of that last sentence then don't write. If you are trusting your memory to regurgitate the issues you are failing.
Don't let your brain work for nothing. Creativity is an event in which one part of it associates with the other, that of memory. But the latter is full of other things and there is little room there to retain good suggestions from the creative side. Stay alert and write it down.
Pay Attention to Grammar, Spelling and Timing
A good read is also a good flow
The first thing to know about an author is that he or she is a wordsmith. That means that the writing has to be legible and meaningful. If you are employing an editor then obvious mistakes will be corrected during the process. But it helps if you can control this aspect of your work, especially if you are writing articles, blogs, web sites or e-books. Also professional editors cost money.
Every writer should have a good dictionary and thesaurus on hand as essential tools of the trade. if you are not sure what something means or you can't find the appropriate words to use then they will come in handy. Syntax is another important issue. How you compose your sentences will have a bearing on the overall picture you create.
No one wants to start reading something only to be faced with poor grammar, spelling mistakes or other things. This will instantly turn readers off. These days grammar and spelling are taking a back seat to other aspects of writing which will, in the end, bring a writer down. Good works last forever and one of my favorite writers in this regard is Mark Twain. Like the others his works are timeless and he was a master of moods.
Typos are different and most people make allowances for them but other things no way. I mention timing because like a play the action is in your mind. If you put things in the wrong order or expect your audience to guess something you have left out or will attend to later you will lose them.
But if you feel you are totally hopeless at that aspect of the exercise there are tools to help you. This is a new one that came across my path just a few days ago. You might give it a try because if you want to write to make money then a small outlay for such a worthwhile assistant is justified. Otherwise do a writing course at the local technical college or a journalism course. You can do the latter by correspondence in most places but the cost is high.
The bottom line to good writing is to record your impressions before they fade. How many times do you try to remember the details of an incident that happened a week ago, even a day ago, an hour ago and your memory is already fuzzy. Put it to the test.
Try to recall in detail the color of your neighbors eyes with whom you were speaking earlier in the day. How tall is she/he and what was the color of the shoes, pants, top worn. There is also a car next door that you see every day. What is the number on the number plate? The last time you saw it was it clean or dirty? You can see from this how good your photographic memory really is.
Still images from Dreamstime - click here
Tips and Advice
These videos offer tips and advice on writing
This was meant for people to talk about their writing but it turned into a comment box, which was not the intention. So I have put it here beneath the other comment box so that it is not out of place. Thank you one and all for your lovely comments. They are so much appreciated and I would love to see more lenses from you.
© 2009 norma-holt