Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers

Posted in Blog on January 5th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 140 Comments

Grammar policeman points out errors in your writingby Linda Formichelli

The other day I received this email in response to a marketing message I sent out to my subscription list:

Basic grammar forbids the use of double negatives, “…using the wrong
set of skills for the wrong job”. An authority on writing must master
the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.

(I so wanted to let this guy know that “the wrong skills for the wrong job” is hardly a double negative, and that some of the greatest writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? But I took my own advice and hit Delete.)

And here’s a small excerpt of a 400-word comment I got a few months ago pointing out two typos in a post:

This the very first article of yours that I have read and I already have an image of you built in my mind. A harried, hair all over the place woman who rushes around to get her work done! Not very flattering, is it.

I DO NOT think that of you, but I could and all because of two little mistakes in your writing! A person’s writing is a reflection of them, is it not? Given that you are teaching writers how to make a living from this wonderful craft, is it not prudent to be as perfect in your advise as possible?

I know other professional writers get all kinds of emails pointing out their typos and grammatical errors.

So what’s the problem? People need to know when they’re wrong so they can improve, so why not be the one to let them know — right?

Wrong. Here’s why you should retire your Grammar Police badge forever.

1. Grammar Police aren’t perfect

Did you notice the mistakes in these two Grammar Police messages I received? In the first one, he put the period outside of the quote marks. (And I know he’s American, so he has no excuse.) In the second, he wrote “advise” for “advice.” (And there were many more mistakes in the rest of the 400 words he posted.

People in glass houses and all that.

If you want to criticize someone else’s writing, you better make damn sure yours is absolutely perfect. And who wants that kind of stress?

2. Grammar Police waste time

The time and energy you spend policing other people’s grammar is better spent elsewhere — like, say, writing.

I just had to look up the guy who unsubscribed from my Morning Motivations emails because of a perceived double negative, and discovered that he has a book on Amazon. A book with a flabby three-star average rating (out of five stars). And reviews calling the book “boring.”

With all the time he spent getting PO’d about my grammar, writing and sending me an email, and unsubscribing from my list, he could have improved his own writing by reading a writing blog, reading chapter of a book on the writing craft, or editing some of his own work.

I guarantee you will never see, say, Stephen King shooting off an email to a writer admonishing her for a typo. He’s too busy, you know, writing bestsellers.

3. Grammar Police have bad attitudes

I love it when people write to me and say, “You may not have noticed this, but I wanted to let you know you have a misspelled word in the title of your post.” That is constructive criticism and that writer doesn’t earn the moniker “Grammar Police.”

I think the term “Grammar Police” refers specifically to people who berate you for your grammar errors — all out of proportion to the severity of said errors. Those who tell you your writing won’t be taken seriously with typos, or who paint a picture of you as a frazzled writer who can’t cope with life.

If that’s the attitude you display to other writers, you’re going to have a hard time networking and making friends in the writing community. And we all know how important contacts are in this industry, right?

4. Grammar Police have trouble writing

People who are sticklers for grammar and who blow up over typos tend to be perfectionists who never get their writing out to the world because they’re too concerned with making it perfect — which it will never be.

When you see a writer who is über prolific, you’ll find that they make the occasional error. That’s because they don’t get hung up on getting it perfect — they get hung up on getting it done.

Also, show me someone who gets hyper about grammar and I’ll show you someone whose writing is probably stilted, businesslike, and boring. I mean, “An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously”? Snooooze.

Good writers know how and when to bend — and break — the rules. For example, sometimes purposely breaking a grammar rule adds emphasis, or makes a piece of writing more conversational and reader-friendly.

Okay — time to hang up your Grammar Police uniform for good, and instead spend your time writing, writing, writing.

Ever had a run in with the Grammar Police? Let us know what happened in the comments below.

Linda Formichelli has written for over 130 magazines, is the co-author of The Renegade Writer and blogs about writing at The Renegade Writer. Her new book is Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race and Step Into a Career You’ll Love (Carol’s link there. Appreciate your support!).

Why I Won’t Say Whether Your Writing Is Any Good

Posted in Blog on November 26th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 52 Comments

Writing coach won't critique your workHave you wondered if your writing is good enough to earn a living from?

Many writers have emailed me asking this question. They’d like my evaluation of whether they’ve got what it takes.

They want to know what books they should read about the craft of writing, or what classes they should take. Sometimes I have a suggestion or two there.

But when writers ask me, “Could you read this article and tell me if my writing is any good?” I never give them feedback on their writing.

There are four reasons why:

1. Writing is so, so subjective

One reader’s masterpiece is another’s staggering bore. It’s lyrical poetry to one, puerile fishwrap to another. My opinion would be just that — one person’s opinion. I’m not the Oracle of Truth here. It wouldn’t really change anything.

2. Standards for writing success vary

There are a ton of mediocre writers earning a living (if you don’t believe me, go to your local Chamber of Commerce and read the brochures), so if you’re not brilliant it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t make a career from writing.

Depending on the type of writing work you want to do and how much you want to make, even pedestrian skills might cut it. I know writers who earn $10,000 a year who’re thrilled with that.

3. I don’t want to kill your dreams

If your writing truly is awful, I don’t see why I should have to be the one to tell you that. I don’t enjoy being the bearer of bad news.

And — see #1 — I could be wrong, and then I would really feel horrible about telling you not to pursue writing. Or I’d feel stupid, especially if you win a Pulitzer 10 years from now or have a blockbuster novel. It’s a lose-lose scenario, from my point of view.

4. The fact that you’re asking is a red flag

Here’s the biggest problem with going around asking random people to critique your writing. If you’re doing that, it means you don’t believe you’re a good writer.

To do this for a living, you have to know you’ve got talent. Not from any outside feedback, but from deep in your soul.

If you don’t feel that writing is the talent you were meant to share with the world, my telling you your writing is brilliant won’t help. You won’t believe me.

On the other hand, if you do know you’re good, you shouldn’t need to hear it from me.

If you’re worried you aren’t a good writer, you probably need to improve. You should dedicate yourself to writing a lot and building your skills, or find another line of work.

Who should critique your writing

I’m not saying you should never ask for feedback on your writing. Far from it.

But asking a random blogger you know isn’t the best way to get input that’s truly useful.

For that, you want editors. Professional editors. Ideally, editors you are working with on an assignment.

They thought you were good enough to write for them, so you have a common understanding there. And from that understanding, you can seek to get even better.

I learned everything I know about writing by doing two things: writing tons and constantly peppering my editors with questions. When I got my first regular freelance publication clients, I would haunt the editors’ offices and ask things like:

I notice you changed my lede from X to Y in this story. Why?

You cut out my paragraph three. I thought it had really important points. Why’d you do that?

I loved this word that I used but I saw you eliminated it. Why?

Can you help me cut this 5,000-word draft down to 3,000 words?

As you’ll recall, I was kind of an idiot newbie writer, so I just kept asking. A good editor will help you improve your writing.

Even a bad editor can help. I had one editor I thought was awful, but he pushed me super-hard and helped me understand the mechanics of how to write a compelling article like never before.

Editors see a lot of writers’ work and usually have been at their gigs a long time. They look at writing in an analytical way, all day long. Drink up their knowledge.

How to become a great writer

There is one more reason why I turn away writing-critique requests.

It’s that your writing is evolving, every day. Maybe you had a bad day when you wrote the piece you’re handing me. Maybe you’ll write like mad the next six months and you’ll improve tremendously.

A piece of writing is a snapshot in time. If you’re passionate about writing, you will constantly strive to get better. Who doesn’t wince when they look at things they wrote long ago?

There is no golden moment when you achieve writing excellence and then you magically maintain that level from there on out. Think of all the writers whose second novel flamed out.

There is only trying to improve.

Recently one writer wrote me:

“How long did it take you to perfect your writing skills? Six months? A year? Five years?

“Any feedback, information, or advice would be greatly appreciated!”-Yvette

My answer: “Still working on it.”

So here’s my feedback on your writing: If you know in your heart you have writing talent, and you’re committed to working to polish that skill, my bet is you’re going to do fine.

Who do you get feedback from on your writing? Leave a comment and let us know.

4 Fun Article Writing Tips — From a Stand-Up Comedian

Posted in Blog on November 21st, 2013 by Editor – 6 Comments

Write like a stand-up comedianBy Michael Devaney

Want your next freelance article to pass muster? Imagine a stand-up comedian reading it onstage.

Would the funnyman reading your words fire up the crowd? Or would they politely smile and remain quiet?

You can use this article writing technique even if there’s nothing laughable in your piece. Good writing is lively, crisp, and flows logically. This is true even when the subject is highly technical or complicated.

Leave the thick, plodding stuff to academic journals … they do it better than you anyway!

Stand-up comedians, like writers, have very different styles, but the format for winning over a crowd is always the same.

The best comedians make well-rehearsed routines seem random and spontaneous. Those who try to wing it usually bomb.

Likewise, when you write an article, sticking to a proven formula is the surest way to benefit your reader. Your attention to detail also increases the likelihood that peoplewill remember your writing.

So what is the format for writing an article like a stand-up comedian would?

Craft a killer headline

The headline is ultra-important. It’s the first thing in the article your reader sees.

They make a quick decision whether to read further or skip. The lead follows the headline and must further draw your reader in.

Comedians know this instinctively, so when transitioning to a new topic, they’ll often begin with a shocking statement (Louis C.K.) or a question (Bill Cosby: “Why is there air?”).

After the opening statement, they have to follow-up with enough laughs to keep the audience interested.

Pick up the pace

An article should hit the ground running. Whether it entertains or informs, you owe it to your reader to proceed quickly; their time is valuable.

Weaving a story into the lead will help the reader connect the dots. You can also summarize the article in the subheading.

A stand-up comedian, likewise, cuts the fat and includes only the relevant information in their act. They work details into the routine as needed, which also serve as brief stopping points for jokes.

Set your tone

You set your article’s tone in the first paragraph. It must remain consistent for the sake of the reader.

An article that’s begins as an objective, behind-the-scenes piece should not morph into a screaming editorial.

Similarly, anyone hoping to win big at the next open-mic night will probably not mix their ventriloquist act with burlesque.

Don’t miss the point

Your article should make it easy to recognize the “big idea.” And the main point should match the headline.

Comedians working the stage structure their routine so that it rises to a crescendo. Then they deliver the biggest punchline. It’s what a captive audience will remember most.

This punchline is the main point of the stand-up comedian’s act.

Kill with your closing

Your article should close with a neat summary or a call to action. The ending should be obvious and not leave the reader hanging.

A stand-up comedian does not end his act quietly. He may not save the best joke for last, but his close is certain. The audience always knows when it’s over.

If you work these five tips into all of your articles, you’ll kill it every time.

What are your go-to tips for writing articles? Share them in the comments below.

Michael Devaney blogs at Very Simple Thoughts. If forced to choose between writing well and making people laugh, he’d probably choose the latter.

How Writers Can Stop Procrastinating Forever

Posted in Blog on November 12th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 95 Comments

do it - procrastination conceptHave you been trying to get serious about writing, but can’t seem to develop a regular writing habit?

Do you find you keep putting off writing in favor of something else — snacking, chatting on Facebook, reorganizing your closets…pretty much anything except sitting your butt in the chair and grinding out the paragraphs?

“I manage to do everything except the actual writing!” one would-be writer emailed me recently. “Can you help?”

Another writer recently related that she quit her job to become a freelance writer about two years ago, and then never wrote a word. Ever. Until her money ran out and she had to go back and get a day job again.

Yet another commented on Facebook:

I need motivation-Facebook comment

When writers don’t write

So here’s the thing about being a writer who doesn’t write. And who is looking to the outside world for a way to acquire the burning drive to do so.

I can’t help you with that.

You might tell yourself or your spouse or your writer friends, “Well, I’m procrastinating about writing right now.”

But really, you’re not.

Let me explain what I mean.

The truth about procrastination

The reality is, you are never procrastinating.

I know! It feels like you are. But you’re not.

What all human beings really do, in their every waking moment, is make choices.

Every minute of every day, you are making decisions about what you will do, based on what matters most to you.

You are not procrastinating. You are deciding.

Today, or this month or this year, you may be deciding not to write anything.

Yes, maybe today you really were dying to write but you had to take the kids to soccer. Maybe this week the relatives were in town.

But over the course of a month, a year, a decade, you ultimately make time for the things you want to do.

And you don’t make time for the things you don’t.

Be aware of your choices

Often, we make these choices on how to use our time a bit unconsciously. We become creatures of habit. “Yes, I never miss an episode of [your favorite TV show here].”

If that’s you, then it’s time to bring these choices up to the level of your consciousness and start thinking about how you spend your time. Keep a time-use diary for a few weeks if you need to.

It may help you confront a basic reality of life: We all make time for whatever really matters to us.

It’s been said that you don’t become a writer or aspire to be a writer…you either are a writer, or you aren’t.

You are one of those people who is scribbling song lyrics in the margins of their grocery lists, or lying awake at night composing poems in your head, or pitching editors dozens of article ideas. Or you are someone who doesn’t feel that drive to get words down and put them out in the world.

“I’m dying to become a published author!” you say. But contrary to what the greeting cards tell you, it’s not the thought that counts — it’s the action.

If you’re never making time to write, it’s because deep down, you don’t really want to write.

Or at least, you don’t want to write bad enough to face your demons, overcome your laziness, and sit. down. and. do. it. On a regular basis.

That may be harsh, and tough to confront. But that’s the reality.

Stop putting it off…

Runners get out every day and run. Writers make regular time to write, because it’s impossible to go on living without getting those ideas out of your head. And because we know it’s another muscle that has to be exercised a lot to get working well.

The corollary, I’d say, is if you are a freelance writer who never can find time to market your writing, you don’t really want to do this for a living.

Maybe you want to dabble with your memoir or your fiction or write a personal-journal type blog, but you don’t have the drive to make writing your source of reliable income.

The next time you find yourself wanting to complain that you are putting off writing (or marketing), remember that it’s not procrastination. It’s a deliberate choice.

Stop waiting for the kids to leave home or the move cross-country or to feel better-rested or whatever it is you blame for why you’re not writing now.

Be a writer, not a waiter

There will never be a better time to write. For all you know, you may not have another day of life to live beyond today.

If it matters, you’ll make time to write.

Because you are doing exactly what you really want to do with your life.

How do you fight procrastination? Leave a comment and share your tips.