Don’t Overreact to Writing Trends

Today’s hot writing advice may prove embarrassing in a few years

Don’t Overreact to Writing TrendsI still have the mimeograph handout from high school, from oh so many years ago. The title boasts “50 Substitutes for Said.”

The opening instruction says, “Both color and drama can be added to a story by using other verbs as substitutes for said.” (A poorly written sentence, by the way.) As I recall, this teacher encouraged us to never use said in our writing.

Some of the recommended alternatives for said include blustered, bantered, challenged, directed, emphasized, giggled, implored, insinuated, mimicked, philosophized, revealed, and soothed. (By the way, I keep the list for nostalgic purposes, not for reference.)

In my writing, I can’t imagine using any of these suggestions in place of said. If I did, people would laugh at me and dismiss my work.

Now the trend is to not use alternatives for said. The extreme position is to only use said, even if it’s a question. I can’t bring myself to do that. It just seems wrong to write:

“What do you mean by that?” she said.

It makes me cringe. Plus, encountering said when I expect to read asked, is a speedbump that takes me out of the scene.

Yet, some writing experts instruct writers to do just that, to only use said, even for a question.

I think this minimalist approach is an extreme view, along with being dull. I suspect this will be a short-lived writing trend that will later be dismissed as unimaginative.

Just as we now groan at writers who would write “he blustered” instead of “he said,” we will one day groan at writers who only use said. It’s lazy writing and makes for boring reading. We need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore. Click To Tweet

In the same way that we discern which editing suggestions we need to follow from our critique partners, we need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore.

As for me, I will disregard the advice to only use said.

Do You Know Your Go-To Words in Your Writing?

Authors must be aware of words they overuse and that will irritate readers

go-to wordsEvery writer has words they use a lot, too often in fact. They’re called go-to words. In my fiction writing, I use smile, nod, and sigh a lot. Too much, way too much. But I never realized this until my editor pointed it out.

I also tend to have my characters grin, whisper, and wink. Plus, I enjoy it when they gasp, squeeze, and scrunch. Yep, these are my top nine go-to words. I have a list.

I also overuse just, only, and bit. And don’t get me started on adverbs, which harkens back to bad instruction from high school. (Though it might have been common practice back then.)

Your go-to words will likely differ from mine, but maybe my list will get you started on making your own.

Yes, you should make a list of your go-to words, as well as overused phrases and the common errors you make. One of my common errors is writing all of, when I should be satisfied with all.

As I progress in writing a book, one of my editing phases is to work through my list of go-to words. One by one, I search for my overused words and fix them. In your writing, search for your overused words and fix them. Click To Tweet

Sometimes characters have to smile, so I leave them smiling. But other times their smile does nothing to advance the story, so I wipe that smile off their face, that is, I delete the word from my writing. But I prefer to find creative ways to communicate my intent. Sometimes this task is easy, and other times it provides a challenge.

One final thought about scaling back on our go-to words is that we can inadvertently create new ones. For example, to scale back on nod, I started having characters bob their heads, which is even more annoying. So in attempting to fix one problem, I caused another. Don’t do that.

This list of my go-to words only applies to my fiction writing. I need to make another list for my nonfiction work. A few that I’m aware of enough to avoid are corresponding, conversely, significant, and efficacy. But I’m sure there are more.

If you know your go-to words, great. If not, ask someone to read your work and tell you. Then find them and fix them.

Your writing will be stronger and you won’t weary your readers with repetition.

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UR Turn: Are You on Goodreads?

Goodreads is the premier social media site for book lovers

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...In past months we’ve covered Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. One social media option is especially tailored to writers: Goodreads. “Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations.” Goodreads turned ten this year. It has 55 million members, 1.5 billion books listed, and 50 million reviews. (I’ve posted 91 reviews and left 133 ratings.)

Goodreads is a great place for readers to connect and share their love for books. This also makes it ideal for the authors of those books. But don’t think of Goodreads as a place to promote books, instead view it as a place to connect with readers, and potential readers, of our books.

Right now I’m on Goodreads as a reader. If you’re on Goodreads, I’d like to connect with you. Here’s my link: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/13489480-peter-dehaan. Send me a friend request.

Also, please share your link below. Then we can all connect. Let’s be friends on Goodreads. Click To Tweet

The Number One Mistake Writers Make

Failing to stay current on writing trends hurts writers and lessens their work

The Number One Mistake Writers MakeIt seems everything I learned in school about writing was wrong. Okay, that’s an overstatement. But many of the lessons I mastered in school no longer apply or are just plain wrong.

However, I don’t think my teachers were in error over their instruction. Instead, the conventions changed.

Unfortunately, too many writers assume they work within a set of incontrovertible writing rules. And they are offended when told otherwise.

1) Two spaces to end a sentence: I’ve witnessed the transition from using two spaces to one to end a sentence. It happened over the past ten to fifteen years. This rule harkens back to the typewriter. Now we use computers, or should, and one space rules. Only someone out of touch would space-space anymore. And if they do, their writing skill is judged as less than.

2) Five spaces to start a paragraph: I hesitate to include this obsolete rule, but a couple years ago the submission requirements said I must start each paragraph with five spaces. I couldn’t believe it. The five-space rule goes back to the days of manual typewriters and before the invention of the tab key. Yes, I have seen such beasts, but they were already antiques when I was a teen.

3) Don’t start sentences with a conjunction: In school we’d get marked down if we failed to follow this rule, but ten years ago a college professor gave me permission to begin a sentence with a conjunction. And sometimes it feels like the right thing to do.

4) Don’t end a sentence with a preposition: This was another rule drilled into me, which some people claim was never a rule in the first place. Rewriting those preposition-ending sentences resulted in some of the most awkward sounding constructs. Yet, I still see writers do just that. Now writers are told to keep their paragraphs short. Click To Tweet

5) You must have at least three sentences per paragraph: I remember being taught that a paragraph should have five to eight sentences. The minimum was three: opening sentence, one sentence for the body of the paragraph, and the concluding sentence. Now writers are told to keep their paragraphs short.

One sentence, or even one word, is acceptable.

Okay.

6) Always use complete sentences: Sometimes an incomplete sentence more effectively communicates than a complete one. You think?

7) Use semicolons to connect two closely connected sentences: When I learned this neat trick, I used it a lot; maybe I used it too much. Now my revered semicolon is fallen out of favor, and I understand some editors prohibit it; that’s so sad.

8) Add color to your writing by inserting adjectives and adverbs: Yes, my teachers encouraged me to beef up my writing with the frequent use of adverbs and adjectives. Nowadays we call this purple prose, and there’s no place for it anymore.

9) Don’t use said for a dialogue tag: “It’s boring and unimaginative to always write said after a bit of dialogue,” my teacher said. Then she passed out a sheet of creative alternatives. “Use these instead,” she interjected. Now the trend is back to using said, even though it’s repetitive.

10) Do not use contractions: I never figured out why we’d have contractions if we couldn’t use them. But my teachers prohibited them, even for dialogue. Once I avoided using a contraction to add emphasis to a sentence, but my editor said I sounded stilted.

There’s more, but these ten will get you started.

The point is that writing evolves as does most everything and if we’re to stay at the top of our writing game, we better evolve, too.

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Is the Snowflake Method of Writing a Novel Right For You?

A writing methodology that works for everyone who is neither 100 percent outliner nor organic writer

Is the Snowflake Method of Writing a Novel Right For You?I heard several people mention Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method For Designing a Novel. Eventually I became curious enough to check out his post on the subject. Though the snowflake fractal intrigued me, the 10 Steps he advances left me disappointed. Not another writing model to follow.

I dismissed the Snowflake Method for a couple of years until I had to read Andy’s book for a class. To my delight, I enjoyed reading “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.”

Imbedded within a clever story that held my interest, Randy smartly outlines his ten steps, along with responding to the inevitable critics in his story who try to argue against each of his suggestions.

Billed as an alternate solution that fits between outlining and writing organically, the Snowflake Method is a writing tool most everyone can use. Few people, it seems are 100 percent outliners or 100 percent organic writers. The Snowflake Method of writing a book is not too hard, not too soft, but just right. The Snowflake Method of writing a book is not too hard, not too soft, but just right. Click To Tweet

Though a quick and enjoyable read, at the end I was still not convinced the Snowflake Method was right for me. Then Randy turned me into a convert. He said, “If only a few parts work for you, then use those and be happy.

What a relief. I narrowed his list of ten down to five, and I am happy.

Thank you Randy Ingermanson.

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Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?

Though using a pattern to inform our books’ structure has merit, it may lead us to a troublesome end

Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?There are multiple guides we can follow to properly structure the books we write. Perhaps the most common is the three-act structure, but there are many others as well.

There’s enough to make me dizzy, so I won’t start to list them. Besides, this post isn’t to promote these various models as much as to share my concern about them.

For example, I know that when watching a movie, I should expect a plot twist about three fourths of the way into the show. The incident may be trivial, could have been telegraphed too much earlier in the movie, or come as an unexpected shock, but one thing is certain: I know that something is about to happen, so I brace for it.

Because I expect this plot twist to pop up, it seldom delights me. I know that this annoyance is just one more hurdle for the protagonist to jump over before I can enjoy the ending—and I better enjoy the ending.

This happens in books too, but because I’ve watched more movies then read books, I’m more tuned in to it with movies.

While I think it’s important we know about these writing devices and be able to apply them when needed, I worry about slavishly following them.

Why is that?

Computers.

Computers and artificial intelligence.It won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Click To Tweet

Even now computers can write. And it won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Just enter a couple of characters, a story arc, a conflict, and a few other key parameters. Press enter, and a finished story emerges, following an established writing model.

This technology will one day make most writers obsolete. And I think it will happen much sooner than most people expect.

What computers and AI software will have trouble emulating, however, is the truly creative writers who don’t follow the writing models that the computer programs follow. These writers—and I plan to be one of them—will still be in demand, because computers will struggle to produce a truly creative book that transcends its writing-model programming.

UR Turn: Other Social Media Platforms for Writers

With no shortage of social media platforms to consider, several may warrant attention

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...So far we’ve talked about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

But there are hundreds of other social media platforms to consider. While some platforms are obscure, others garner much more attention.

Though some of these social media outposts are worthy of consideration, my varying degrees of involvement on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest already take up too much of my time. So, I’ll not add a fifth to the mix.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Perhaps another social media platform works for you better or more effectively connects with your audience. Then maybe you should be there in place of one of the above options.What other social media platforms do you use? Click To Tweet

What other social media platforms do you use? What do you like about them?

Please include a link to your pages so others can find you there.

What to Do When You Can’t Do It All

The list of advice for writers is long, seemingly more than is humanly possible to accomplish

What to Do When You Can’t Do It AllAdvice for writers is never is short supply. Just when we regularly carve out time to write, another requirement piles on our plate and then a third and a fourth. Before long we grow overwhelmed and want to give up.

I struggled for years to find time to write on a regular basis. Just as that skill began to solidify, someone dropped a bomb on my writing world. That missive said, “You need to read as much as you write.”

Yeah, right.

Now I have to take not enough time and cut it in two.

The next bomb, the most devastating of them all, demanded I build a platform. More requirements soon piled high on my list of impossible tasks.

Here are the main ones:

Write: As a writer, we need to write every day. Or at least we must write on a regular basis. For some people that means only a few minutes a day or maybe a couple times a week.

If we claim the title of writer and aren’t writing, something’s wrong. Writing is the first requirement of being a writer.

Read: To write well, we need to be informed. This means, we must read. We need to read in our genre and outside our genre. Through reading we see what works and what doesn’t. We discover the techniques we like and the ones we don’t.

By reading widely, we cultivate our voice, develop our style, and feed our muse. Reading fuels our writing. But while the goal of spending as much time reading as writing makes for a compelling quip, it makes for better rhetoric than reality.

Still, as writers, we must read.

Build a Platform: I’ll never forget the day an agent turned me down, not because of my writing or my ideas or my ability, but over the lack of a platform. Ouch. That hurt.

It seems writing and reading were not enough. I needed to build and then grow a platform, too. How much time should I invest in platform building? One piece of advice was as much time as I spend writing.

If you’re good at math, you’re seeing the rub: 50 percent of my time writing, 50 percent reading, and 50 percent on platform. If that seems impossible, it is.

The next question is when should we start building our platform. Unfortunately, if we’re asking that question, we’re already behind.

Study: While writing is a good practice to help us improve, we improve faster if we study about writing. That doesn’t mean going back to college or enrolling in a MFA program, but it does mean taking intentional steps to improve. For me that includes reading books and magazines about writing, listening to podcasts, and taking relevant online classes. These things take time.

Network: Next we must network. We need to know other writers. We need to meet agents, editors, and publishers. It’s good to have these contacts before we need them.

Market: Last is marketing. While this mostly takes place as our book nears publication, we must also market ourselves beforehand. We need a professional writer website, an active presence on some social media platforms, and the accoutrements of being a writer, such as a headshot, business cards, an author bio, and so forth. Writers need to juggle an impossible set of expectations. Click To Tweet

Does all this seem overwhelming? It is? Does it seem impossible to give everything its due? It is.

Somehow as writers we need to juggle these expectations. We need to prioritize and squeeze things in and make sacrifices.

A few weeks ago, I ended the day with the irrational assessment that I can actually balance all these things. My satisfaction lasted for all but one day. I usually reach this place a couple times a year, which means for the other 364 days of the year, I’m pulling my hair, screaming, and crying that I just can’t do it.

And you know what. I can’t, no one can.

But as we try to negotiate this list of impossible requirements, there’s one thing we must never forget.

We must write. Everything else is secondary.

What well-intended distractions get in the way of your writing?

Are You Okay as a Writer?

It’s hard not to compare ourselves with other writers and dangerous when we do

Are You Okay as a Writer?As a teenager I remember reading the book I’m Okay—You’re Okay by Thomas Harris. As I recall, the book explained that we consider ourselves in one of two ways, either as being okay or as not being okay. Conversely, we judge others the same way, either as okay or not okay.

Combined, these two dichotomies result in four distinct perspectives of how we view and interact with others:

  1. I’m okay—you’re okay.
  2. I’m okay—you’re not
  3. I’m not okay—you’re okay.
  4. I’m not okay—you’re not

The first view is healthy, and the other three are not, with the book explaining what to do.

I fear a lot of writers struggle with the third scenario. They compare themselves to other writers—the popular, visible ones—and wrongly conclude everyone else is doing better than they are. By comparison they fall short, often way short.

I get this. I struggle with this from time to time. Perhaps you do, too.

We hear of writers who receive lucrative book deals with huge advances, ones we hoped for ourselves. We see authors who make some prestigious best sellers’ list or win a coveted award—sometimes on their first book—which we dream of for ourselves. Others have their books made into movies, which we yearn to experience. Then there are the indie authors who make six and even seven figures annually just on book sales, an outcome we secretly covet.

Then we feel small. Even our best accomplishment seems insignificant in comparison. Then that writer voice inside us says “They’re okay, but I’m not. They’re a success and I’m a failure.”Writers compare themselves to others and wrongly conclude everyone else is better. Click To Tweet

We need to stop that. It’s not healthy to our wellbeing, and it’s not helpful to our writing.

Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we need to compare ourselves to us. Ask two questions:

First, did I do the best I could with what I just wrote? If so, then be proud over our accomplishment.

The second question is, how could I do better? Pick one area, and set about to get better. Then our future self can look back at our present self with the firm knowledge over having improved. That’s success. Then we can say, “I’m okay.”

My hope for you is that you can truly say, “I’m okay—you’re okay.”

What steps do you take to avoid making unhealthy comparisons?

How Do You Find Time to Write?

Writers struggle finding time to write, but the solution is simple

How Do You Find Time to Write?I commonly hear writers complain that they don’t have time to write. Some say “no time” and others say “not enough time.” Time, it seems, stands as the enemy of writing.

Yet the fact remains that everyone has twenty-four hours in their day. From the busiest person to the least active, we each have twenty-four hours to use—one way or another. Some of this time goes for eating and sleeping. And if you work, that takes up about a quarter of the week (forty out of 168 hours). But the rest of our hours are discretionary.

Yes, some of our discretionary time goes to extremely important things. Caring for children, paying bills, and grocery shopping come to mind. Yet even with these essentials, we exercise a degree of control over when we do them and how much time we spend.

If we intend to write, we need to make it happen. We must carve out time if we expect writing to occur. This requires sacrifice.

What will you give up so you can write? Writing is a priority for me. I make sacrifices so I have time to write. Click To Tweet

I suspect everyone can scale back on watching TV and the social media time suck. We might socialize less, not be so worried about work around the house, or eliminate non-essential tasks.

Depending on where you are in your life and the scope of your responsibilities, you may only be able to free up a little bit of time for writing or maybe you can find more.

The worst thing, however, is to put your writing on hold. I can guarantee you that if you’re too busy to write now, you’ll be too busy to write next week, next month, and next year. And don’t put writing off until retirement. I hear retirees become even busier, which is one reason I don’t plan on retiring.

I am a writer. Writing is a priority. I make sacrifices so that I have time to write. I do this every day, every week, every month, every year. And as I do, my word count grows.

Finding time to write is simple. Implementation is hard. We make sacrifices and give up other things so we can write.

When do you write? What sacrifices have you had to make?

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