Two Hints That Your Writing Is Done

I’m not sure if this is a malady common to all writers or the fact that I’m a recovering perfectionist, but I am never completely satisfied with what I have written.

Regardless of how clever my sentence constructions, profound my insights, or delightful my vocabulary selections, there is always that nagging inner voice whispering that it could be better. Of course, sometimes it is not so subtle a nudge, but a vociferous scream, proclaiming, “This is junk!”

Aah, isn’t writing grand?

Given this internal struggle, it’s a wonder I ever complete anything. Yet, I do. The trick is knowing when to stop revising. Towards this end, I have two guidelines that signal my work is done:

  1. When successive wordsmithing only results in something different but not better.
  2. When the edit I made today, merely reverses the edit I made yesterday.

When one of these two conditions occur, I know further tweaking is fruitless. It is then time to post the blog, publish the piece, or submit the article. Any additional delay is merely procrastination.

However, there have also been times when, pressed by a deadline or resulting from boredom, I stop too soon, before meeting one of these requirements.

Though it is damaging to stop too soon, it is equally detrimental to never end.

One of the learned skills in the art of writing is to know when to stop.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What I’m Looking For in a Critique Group

Writing is a solitary effort, a task pursued in private. Yet the result is public.

Bridging that gap, between originator and audience, sits the critique group. A properly functioning assemblage will help members distinguish between their junk and their jewels, serving to keep the drivel under wraps, while propelling the exceptional to greater heights.

While I comprehend the immense value of being in a writing community, alas, I am not. Although some groups function well in cyberspace, my desire is for a gathering that meets face-to-face. Perhaps because most of my day job is done at a distance, I don’t want yet another task that must be accomplished in absentia. My desire for presence dictates a group of local writers, the existence of whom I am yet to identify.

Here’s what I wish my critique group to be:

  • We all need to be active writers; no wanna-be, gonna-do wordsmiths need apply.
  • We need to be at a comparable level, though those more advanced in the craft will be a welcome bonus.
  • We will meet on a regular basis, monthly seems ideal.
  • Each will submit a sample of his or her work in advance.
  • Each will review all submissions, ready to provide feedback at the meeting.
  • Honesty is the expectation, but presented tactfully. Our mantra will be to speak the truth in love.
  • False praise will be prohibited, while ruthless disparagement will be verboten.
  • The intent is to help each member improve their work, but not do it for them.

Is this a realistic expectation or an idealism never to be realized? Look for future updates here. Until then, write well.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Read About Writing to Improve as a Writer

Another helpful resource for writers is magazines, specifically magazines about writing.

What you can expect from a writer’s magazine includes tips on writing, writing contests, writing exercises, writing samples and critiques, and interviews with authors, agents, and publishers. While not every article will be of interest to everyone, every issue will have at least one thing that is helpful and worthwhile.

One such publication is Writer’s Digest, to which I subscribe and greatly enjoy. From time to time, I also peruse Columbia Journalism Review.

Many writers associations and groups also produce worthy magazines and newsletters. For example, American Christian Writers, of which I am a member, produces two newsletters: Christian Communicator and Advanced Christian Writer. Both are simple in appearance, but valuable in content.

I’m sure there are many other magazines to consider, but that is what I have stumbled onto so far.

Whether you pick up of these or seek out other options, reading magazines that cover the art of writing is an excellent way to help you refine your craft.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Experiencing a Writing Conference

Last year, I attended two writing conferences. I went with no clear goal in mind, merely trying to absorb what I could and learn as much as possible. Although I was a squirming novice attendee, I did gain much. This year I will return to those two conferences, this time with a careful plan to make the most out of them.

The first writing conference had no published authors in attendance; the second one had several — which was a bit intimidating. As someone without a book deal, I was in the majority, but we were a silent majority. The verbal minority had all published books.

At the first conference I was dismayed to learn that only three percent of writers make their living by writing full time; the rest need a “day” job to pay the bills. At the second conference I was further dismayed to meet a published author who has cranked out nine books in five years — he, too, needs a day job. By the way, he is not an obscure author either. I had heard of him and two of his books prior to the conference.

At the conference, he taught a class on memoir writing (teaching, incidentally is his day job). A few of my book ideas fall in that genre and he helped me clarify my objectives and develop a better vision. I was also fortunate to have a 15 minute personal consultation with him, where we discussed a specific book idea. He was most supportive.

At writers’ conferences there are always a plethora of books to buy. Each speaker will plug at least a couple. Knowing my proclivity to buy books faster than I can read them, I limit myself to one book per conference. This time I bought one of his memoirs. At our consultation, I asked him to sign it. He simply wrote, “Thank you for buying my book.”

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Six Reasons to Attend a Writing Conference

Writing conferences are a great place for writers, whether accomplished in their craft or just starting out. At a writing conference, there are many outcomes that can be reasonably expected. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Networking: Conferences provide ample time to interact with other attendees, presenters, and the hosts. This can result in forging friendships, discovering new opportunities, and processing what you have learned with others.
  2. Meeting Agents: There are usually agents or publishers at conferences. Within the confines of decorum and common sense, there may be an opportunity to pitch your book idea. Most publishers no longer work directly with writers; instead, they use agents as a filter. I met one writer who had been to five conferences that year strictly to find an agent.
  3. Attending Lectures: A plethora of presentations will be offered. These are given by accomplished professionals (published authors, agents, professors, editors, and publishers). Often sessions are concurrent, so strategically map out your plan to make the most of what is provided.
  4. Buying Resources: Seemingly everyone will plug books and other resources; most will conveniently be available for purchase at the conference. Without a bit of restraint, it is all too easy to buy more resources then you will ever use; so buy wisely.
  5. One-on-one Consultations: Most of the speakers are available for a 15-minute consultation. These are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis – and many fill up quickly. This may be your most valuable time at the conference, so make the most of it. I recommend scoping this out in advance and determining who you want to meet; sign up as soon as it is permitted.

Encouragement: Conferences can lift up the discouraged or struggling writer. This is coupled with providing a healthy dose of industry realism. Although this can be discouraging, in the end it will be helpful, saving writers from unwise decisions or wasting time on implausible efforts.

Last year I attended my first writing conference, which I had seen advertised in a magazine. At that conference, another one was plugged, which I also attended. Both were within reasonable driving distance, both were worthwhile, and both will see me again this year. I will share more about them in my next post.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Resources for Writers

Although writing is largely a solitary endeavor, it is not wise to go it alone. It is critical to not work in a vacuum and to tap into many of the resources available to writers.

In the past I shared the importance of reading as a tool to help form and better inform your craft as a writer.

Another resource is blogs. Of course, I am biased towards this one (thank you for reading it), but there are many others to consider. I have gravitated towards some agent blogs. Not only do I pick up writing tips and insights (from both the bloggers and the commenters), but I am also learning about the business of writing. This will be of paramount importance on as I move forward in my career. The agent blogs that I regularly read are:

Next is podcasts. Here are the ones I’m currently following: Writing Excuses and The Creative Penn,.

Not surprisingly, there are books about writing. I highly recommend The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White. This book has long been my key resource to help me be a better writer. (While I will never fully master the intricacies of grammar, I will keep pressing forward.) There are many other highly recommended books, but I only mention what I have actually read.

In other posts, I round out the discussion on writer resources by addressing conferences, critique groups, and magazines.

Until then, write on!

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

How to Avoid the Poison of Procrastination

Procrastination is a serious problem for writers and when taken to excess, it can be fatal to the craft. Procrastination can manifest itself in many different ways, but the result is the same: writing is deferred.

When it is time to write:

  • Does the sink of dirty dishes or unmowed lawn suddenly seem more important?
  • Is there an inescapable call to check email, your favorite blog, or Facebook?
  • Do you convince yourself that you’re not in the right frame of mind?
  • Do you notice the accumulation of dust on your computer and have a sudden urge to deal with it?
  • Is the lack of an idea or inspiration enough to defer action?
  • Do you “ease” into it by playing solitaire or watching the game first?
  • Do you put if off because you have writer’s block or want to wait until you are inspired?

These are all forms of procrastination. In your writing career, you have likely experienced one or more of them. Perhaps one is your current nemesis. (Are you reading this blog when you should be writing?)

While a dogged self-discipline to preserver is one sure prescription to procrastination, it may be helpful to explore the underlying impetus:

  • Do you have a lack of self-confidence in your ability to write?
  • Are you bored with your subject or assignment?
  • Do you fear the rejection of your work once it is complete?
  • Are you not fully committed to be a writer? (For example, is it more fun to say you are a writer, then to actually write?)
  • Also, know that a common side-effect of perfectionism is procrastination

Whatever the distraction or the cause, know that to be a writer, you must write — even if you don’t feel like it.

Don’t delay, do it today!

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What are Your Goals as a Writer?

Writing, as with most worthwhile things in life, benefits from a bit of occasional introspection.

Succinctly queried, what are your goals as a writer?

After all, without goals, how will you prod yourself to write and by what measure will your evaluate progress?

Here are some common motivations of writers:

  • To pen something I can share with family and friends.
  • To compose an “heirloom” piece that can be passed on to future generations.
  • To provide a creative outlet for myself.
  • To organize the plethora of thoughts swirling around in my brain.
  • To pursue an enjoyable and worthwhile hobby.
  • To become a published author.
  • To bask in literary acclaim, become popular, and be respected by society.
  • To make lots of money and live a life of ease.

With the exception of the last two items (which are unrealistic and improbable), the rest are worthy and legitimate pursuits. Most are also reflections of my personal ruminations on the subject. However, my overarching purpose in writing is to publish books that will help and encourage others.

Once an overall vision for writing is established, then specific goals need to be developed towards that end. Here are some of my writing goals:

  • To complete my dissertation.
  • To complete the first draft of a biography I am writing.
  • To redo and update my author website.
  • To begin building my platform as a writer.
  • To find an agent who will help me develop my career as a writer and find a publisher for my books.

What are your goals as a writer?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

The Threat of Academic Ghostwriting

Last month I shared my perspective on ghostwriting. I urged caution for those who hire ghostwriters (give your ghostwriters credit) and understanding of those who are ghostwriters (because I do ghostwriting).

Then, I read “The Cheating Epidemic” in the May Reader’s Digest, which addressed academic ghostwriting. The article chronicles a prolific writer who earned a decent income cranking out papers, academic proposals, and even dissertations for hire. His dubious work helped both lazy students and unqualified students receive grades and credentials that they didn’t earn or deserve.

I am quick to condemn this type of ghostwriter. Their work goes beyond tricking the public with an incorrect byline. In addition to being immoral, I characterize academic ghostwriting as fraudulent and likely illegal.

After all, would you seek the help of a doctor, lawyer, or member of the clergy who had paid someone else to earn their degree for them? I think not. Yet, with academic ghostwriting, you will never know.

For academic ghostwriting, there is never a situation where it is acceptable.

[Although I am appalled by academic ghostwriting, I am not shocked. When educators tell students there are no moral absolutes, they implicitly grant permission for their charges to pay others to do their schoolwork for them.]

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Six Tips for Proofing Your Work

Proofing your own work is hard for most people. After all, you know what you intended to say, so that is what you tend to see when you proofread your writing. Proofing is a huge challenge for me, as you have likely seen in past posts.

I am much more likely to catch errors when I let my work sit for a day or two. With the distance of time, I am less likely to see what I intended to say and actually see what I really wrote. But this is not a guaranteed solution either. Plus, waiting is a luxury not afforded when blogging.

Another proofing technique is to read your work aloud. Yes, it is a bit strange at first, but reading it aloud does help you catch errors. A side benefit is this also aids in catching awkward sentence structure and poorly crafted wording.

A third method is to read it backwards. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but some people swear by this technique.

Also, I tend to proof better from a printout versus working directly on my computer. (Interestingly, when proofing on my computer, it makes a difference if I adjust the font type or size. I guess the change of perspective helps.)

But the best way is to have someone else proofread my work!

Regardless of how skilled or lacking you are at proofreading, be sure to spell check your final version. I am shocked at how often I receive submissions with errors that spell check would have caught. That is inexcusable.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Discussing the art of writing and the business of publishing

%d bloggers like this: