Don’t write “on the nose.” Writing doesn’t have to be direct. You don’t have to make it easy for your reader to understand what is happening. Instead, use allusion: make a suggestion or a hint of your meaning. Let your reader think.
The only thing you need to do with your nose is blow it if you have a cold.
We all know that feeling. You’ve been slaving over a story. You’re twitchy with caffeine. Your family hasn’t heard from you for hours, or even days.
But then you finish!
If you’re like most writers, you’re thrilled. You’ve just poured your heart and soul into this and you want some sweet affirmation after all your hard work.
So as you share your work, you ask a seemingly innocent question: “Is it good?”
This question may seem harmless enough. But this is a dangerous question, and if you want to become a better storyteller and write stories that actually ARE good, you need to stop asking if your work is “good” and pursue a much different route.
Have you ever used a word for years — like, maybe during your thesis defense or in a high-profile report for work — then realized one day that you had it totally wrong? That big word you thought was making you look so erudite was, in fact, working against you. Turns out, coif is not the same as coiffure, and you never even realized it.
No one is immune from this, neither journalists nor poets, essayists nor novelists. The problem often stems from our natural inclination as writers to grab hold of an exciting new word and just run with it. Not only do we end up using words just plain wrong, our enthusiasm leads to overuse as well.
By slowing down just a little bit, recognizing common pitfalls, and inserting some deliberate practice into your vocabulary usage, you can turn this trend around.
The epigraph is simply a well-chosen quotation, set at the beginning of a text. Epigraphs can open essays, books, chapters of a book, or even each story in a book—any writing, really, which suggests its theme.
They can, however, do so much more.
After a short primer, just to get us on the same page with a working understanding of the epigraph, and a little confessional angst, you will have a couple of practice challenges to engage your new friends.
The next few months I’ve dedicated to finishing the book I’ve been working on for nearly two years. Inspired by Joe’s latest post, I’ve made the commitment to revise the second draft of my book.
I believe, though, the second draft is the hardest. Actually, it’s the worst. All the content of your book is sitting right in front of you like a huge slab of marble mined from your imagination, and you’re expected to take the formless hunk and turn it into Michelangelo’s David.
In finishing the second draft of three books and as I’m embarking on finishing this next one this fall, I’ve compiled these tips for the both of us. Here’s all I know about book editing and surviving the second draft.
We avoided it as long as we could, but it was bound to come up sooner or later. Today, we’re covering the apparent mother of all grammatical quandaries: who vs. whom. What’s the difference between these two tricky pronouns?
In the short time that I’ve been a writer, I’ve learned a valuable secret that we writers don’t discuss often: a writer is only as good as his or her editors.
Receiving feedback and accepting criticism and edits isn’t easy. No one likes being told what they are doing wrong, especially when the thing being criticized is something we’ve poured our heart and soul into it. When I first started writing, I hated getting edits. Now I pursue edits and editors with vigor.
A little over ten years ago, I had almost a decade of English teaching experience, a couple years paid freelance writing work, several creative writing university courses under my belt, and a few small publications in poetry and nonfiction. A friend’s mom, Mae, had written a query letter for her second novel. She asked me to read it and give her some writing feedback. What could go wrong?
When Mae asked, I had not attempted to write an entire novel or a query letter. I had read thousands of novels and a few letters, but I had not studied the structure and requirements of each. I assumed writing was writing. Surely with a degree in English and a little experience, I was qualified to give good feedback?
This weekend in Denver is apparently supposed to be b-e-a-utiful. Weather reports are calling for temperatures in the 60s and 70s, and it’s going to be a great weekend to spend outside in the park. The only problem with this is that I’ll be in Philadelphia during this amazing weather spot. It will not be in the 60s and 70s in Philly. It will be in the 40s. That’s further than I’d like to be from those glorious spring temperatures.
As attention spans grow shorter, there is an increased demand for shorter stories.
I’ve noticed recently a lot of contests and submissions calling for stories under 3000 words. Writing a story this short is different than writing a novel or even a 10,000-word story. We need to get into the story, make a connection with the reader, and then wrap it up without wasting any time. It can feel strange for those of us used to writing larger pieces.
When you’re writing a very short story, editing is crucial.
You start out carefully. Each glass is conscientiously wrapped in six pages of newspaper. Each collectible is cushioned and boxed as if interred, and each box Sharpied with item, location, and name. Then a few days into this, something strange happens: you realize it doesn’t matter.
To put it another way, when you’re running out of time, you no longer have the luxury of faffing around. That’s when you really get down to business.
A while back I attended a novel-writing workshop. Each week we read thirty pages from two students and spoke about them in depth during class, offering helpful feedback and criticism of their writing. After the second or third week, it became customary to ask whoever had been up for a critique “are you OK?” after class. Sometimes I saw tears. I myself felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I still had to do and my classmates’ brutal honesty.
We all know workshops and editing are crucial to the writing process. Writing criticism is essential. But man, that feedback can be hard to hear. Here five survival tips.
You have finished writing the first draft of your story, a version of your whole story from beginning to end. Now it is time to edit, to revise your words to make your story clear and compelling, so the reader will continue reading after the first sentence.
Editing your story might feel like an impossible task, but when you have a strategy to use, you can be confident you can edit your own story and improve your writing.
Whatever you do, do not skip the important step of editing your first draft. According to David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, “Revision is all there is.”
By the end of this post you will be using an excel spreadsheet.
Don’t make that face—I know you’re a writer and not a data analyst. Or if you are a data analyst—I understand that you’re on this blog to get away from you day job. I get it. But guess what? At the suggestion of Randy Ingermason—the creator of the Snowflake Method— I listed all of the scenes in my novel in a nice little Google spreadsheet. It changed my novel-writing life, and doing the same will change yours too.
Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers. When I read his essays last year, I came across a bit of revising gold in a 1906 essay titled “William Dean Howells.” Most of the essay praises Howells’s prose in general, but the final paragraphs address what Twain calls “stage directions.”
In a play, stage directions are only visible to the audience through the movement and actor’s inflection during the performance. In a novel, we rely on description to set scenes, give context, and deepen characterization. When done well, stage directions don’t distract from the character or action.
When done poorly, however, Twain has something to say about them.
When you’ve finished a book, you feel like a hero. The work may have some warts, but it’s yours, and it’s done! The next step is to test it out on some readers and see how well the book works. This is called Beta Testing (or just “beta-ing”) your book.
Reader feedback can teach you a lot, but it can also be hard to filter the signal from the noise. The key is learning how to process that feedback so you can make productive edits. Today I’ll teach you how I learned to do this.