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!

What Are You Reading?

In last week’s post, I pointed out the value and importance of reading in order to become a better writer.

The question then becomes, What should I read?

  • First, read in your genre. If you are writing young adult fiction, then you need to be reading young adult fiction. To write for a market that you are not reading is foolish and shortsighted; it will also likely lead to failure.
  • Next, read to inform your writing. Just as research is needed for non-fiction work, so too “research” is warranted for fiction writing. Don’t be that writer that places an object, event, or person in the wrong time, place, or situation. Informed writers avoid these traps.
  • Read outside your genre. My focus has been on non-fiction for a long time. Too long. All of the books I read are of a similar tone to what I write (biblical post-modern spiritualism is the best description I have found thus far). Frankly, I grew bored with my non-fiction reading list and even bestselling, frequently recommended books produced a resigned yawn. I needed a break. Did I stop reading? No, I took a side trip to juvenile fiction. The result has been new insights into writing and an idea for a series of fiction books. (This is in addition to the 20+ non-fiction ideas marinating in my mind.)
  • Lastly, read for fun — or perhaps this should be the place to start!

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!

Are You Reading?

A piece of writing advice that shocked me was to spend as much time reading as writing.

That’s ridiculous. If I do that, the little time I have to write will be cut in half.

Not counting my day job, I can only carve out a couple hours a day to write, so cutting that in half in order to read more seemed counterproductive. However, after a bit of thought, I figured out a way to read more without cutting into my writing. The answer was quite simply to watch less TV.

I do my writing in the morning. When evening rolls around, I am usually too tired to write well, so I watch TV. However, I am not too tired to read. So, reading has become a regular part of my evening routine.

Although I seldom read for a couple of hours each night — which is the requisite amount if I am to read as much as I write — I am reading almost every evening. This has several benefits:

  • My time is used more productively and constructively.
  • I am exposed to ideas and thoughts that can better form and influence my own work.
  • I experience different styles and techniques, which I can follow (or avoid) in becoming better.
  • As a bonus, I am able to chip away at that stack of books awaiting my attention.

The advice to read as much as you write may be hyperbole, but the point is that just as you need to write every day, you should also read every day.

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!

Why I Back Up My Writing

Early in my career, I worked as a tech writer. I knew the importance of making copies of my work, so I would faithfully make a backup each Friday as I wrapped up the workweek. One Friday was particularly hectic and in a rush to begin my weekend, I postponed making my backup, planning to do it first thing Monday morning. That was my first mistake.

My second error is that I left my computer running. Over the weekend, a power spike corrupted the files. As a result, I lost over 40 hours of carefully crafted writing; I needed to revert to my backup that was now over a week old.

Although dismayed at my shortsightedness, I immediately begin reconstructing the lost work. Fortunately, the second pass went much quicker than the first iteration; I was able to recompose everything by midday Wednesday. As a bonus, I think the second version was superior to the first.

Having experienced firsthand the importance of frequently backing up my work, I became fastidious in doing so; it is a practice that continues to this day. Not only do I make backups on a network drive, but I also use an automatic off-site backup service. And for writers who feel they can’t afford the $40 or so annual fee for such a service, they should at least sign up for a free Gmail account and email themselves a copy of their writing each time they finish working.

Some people still aren’t following this advice. Periodically, I hear of aspiring writers who lose their entire book when their hard drive crashes.

Please make sure I never hear your name mentioned in such a devastating story.

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 Benefits of Ghostwriting

A concept not fully realized by the reading public is the idea of “ghostwriting,” sometimes called work-for-hire. Ghostwriting is when other people pay you to write for them, which they then legally claim and market as their own work – and you can’t.

Ghostwriting is more widespread than most people realize. At some publishers, I’ve heard that ghostwriters produce up to 70 percent of the nonfiction books they publish.

I once ideally thought that hiring a ghostwriter was unethical and disingenuous. It seemed no different than commissioning an artist to create a painting — and then signing your name on it. In essence, using a ghostwriter feels like misleading readers and taking advantage of the writer. To address this, I think ghostwriters should receive some credit for their work.

While I am quick to villainize those who hire ghostwriters without acknowledging the ghostwriter’s role in the finished product, I am not critical of ghostwriters – after all, I am one.Ghostwriting can be a great way to earn a living, but be fully aware of the ramifications. Click To Tweet

For the writer, ghostwriting is:

  • a great way to make money (if you are a good and quick writer)
  • ideal if all you want to do is write
  • a way to avoid having to build a platform, publicly promote your books, and market your work (which many authors call the dark side of writing)

If it fits you, ghostwriting is a great gig. Just go into it fully aware of the advantages and disadvantages.

However, ghostwriting is not good if you want to see your name in print, receive recognition for what you’ve written, or if you have any sort of an ego. If this describes you, than ghostwriting will be the slow death of your writer’s soul.

A final reminder to those who hire ghostwriters: I implore you to give credit, in some way, to your ghostwriter as your partner in the finished product. It is the right thing to do: for you, them, and your readers.

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 Often Should You Write?

An earlier post was titled “Write Every Day.” This advice was a bit hyperbolic. It was designed to garner attention and encourage aspiring writers to pursue writing diligently and take the craft seriously. Even so, it is far from an absolute law or inflexible rule.

The points are:

  1. write regularly
  2. write when you don’t feel like it

For some that may dictate writing every day. For others it may mean establishing a schedule that works for them.

When I began exercising, I elected to do so seven days a week. It wasn’t long before exercising became a drudgery that I could scarcely endure. Wisely, I decided to take one day off a week, pursuing my discipline for six days and resting the seventh. (You might assume that Sunday was chosen to be my day off, but it was not. I skip Saturday, as that is a day when I am generally more active anyway and apt to give myself a workout through physical labors.)

The same applies to writing. It might be unwise and counterproductive to push yourself to write every day, sans breaks. You might be further ahead to regularly schedule a day off.

While some writers do report writing every day, only taking a break at the completion of a project, others take one day off a week or only work weekdays. Others, with many demands on their lives, can only write on the weekends.

The point is to figure out what is reasonable for you, what works for you, and what is sustainable. Then make a schedule – and stick to it. If you don’t, you will likely never meet 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!

How Do You Write?

Depending on one’s perspective, the “how” part of writing is either self-evident or an endless mystery. I offer a few initial thoughts on the topic of “how to write.”

First is tools.

  • Nowadays, most writers use a computer when writing. It is practical, allows for easy edits, and produces digital output for saving, sharing, or submitting.
  • Some writers, who long ago honed their craft using a typewriter, persist in doing so today.
  • Still others write longhand, either in a special notebook or tablet or alternately on any accessible piece of paper. Some prefer to use a pen; others, a pencil.

Second is mode. That may sound funny, but here is what I mean:

  • Some carefully construct a sentence in their mind, marinating it and mulling it over until it is perfect. Then they write it. It is done.
  • Others write whatever comes to mind as quickly as possible; it is a “stream of consciousness,” a random free-flow of ideas and words. Editing and fine-tuning will happen later.
  • These are extreme examples, but most writers gravitate towards one or the other. The point is to do what seems natural and works – not what someone else does or says.

Third is process. Here are some examples:

  • Some sit in front of a blank computer screen (or sheet of paper) until they know what to write. If you’ve ever read (or wrote) a piece that starts out, “As I sit down to write…” you know what I mean.
  • Others contemplate ideas and concepts as they go about their daily life. The topic gels in their mind and when they begin to write, they are good to go.
  • Still others await inspiration. Once it hits, they begin writing immediately. Often they will intentionally engage in a mindless activity such as going for a walk or washing the dishes to spur inspiration.

(For me, my tool is a computer; my mode is to edit as I write; and my process is to mull over ideas first and then to write. This is my typical approach. However, at one time or another, I have used each item mentioned.)

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!

Eleven Writing Exercises to Sharpen Your Writing

Like physical exercises, which are beneficial for your body, writing exercises are beneficial for developing your skill as a writer. While exercise is seldom pleasant, it is a wise and worthy pursuit. Here are some exercises to consider in developing your craft as a wordsmith:

  1. Revise something you wrote to hit a specific word count. This could be to expand it or condense it. Both are helpful skills to have. Editors appreciate it when you can hit a target length.
  2. Completely rewrite something without referring to the original. Then compare the two. Note what is the same, what is different, and what is better. Now merge the two into a third — and hopefully superior version.
  3. Taking a 1,200-word article or essay that you wrote, condense it into a 600-word version. Then revise it to a 300-word blog post. Finally, turn it into a 140-character tweet.
  4. Do the reverse, taking someone else’s tweet, expanding on the concept (don’t plagiarize) to make a blog post. Then expand it further to become an article, essay, or short story.
  5. Write a short story using only one-syllable words (or any other creative restriction you can concoct).
  6. Write a 26-sentence story where each sentence starts with a successive letter of the alphabet, A through Z.
  7. Subscribe to A Word A Day. Each weekday they will email you a unique or interesting word. Use that word in conversation or writing that day.
  8. Rewrite something you wrote, adding alliteration to the text.
  9. Write metered poetry, song lyrics, or haiku. All of these force writers to fit cogent ideas into a certain rhythm or number of syllables.
  10. Often writing magazines will suggest a writing exercise. These add variation to your writing workouts. Some also have contests. Even if you’re not ready to submit your work, it is great practice.
  11. Come up with an interesting or catchy title — now write to that title. The same can be done writing to reach a predetermined, pithy conclusion.

Personally, I have done most of these at one time or another. What I find most helpful are those that affect word count, helping me to be more concise or more inclusive in what I write. I’m also a big fan of alliteration, but need to guard against going overboard with it.

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!

Five Ideas of What to Write

Hopefully, you’ve given some thought as when is the best time to write, as well as where is the best place to write. Even if these decisions are works in progress, needing to be fine-tuned, you need to move on.

Now we get to the question of what to write. Although, it may seem a nonsensical query; for some, especially those just starting out, it is not. Here are some ideas:

  • If you have a project, you need to be working on it. This is an obvious answer — if you have a project.
  • Work on a potential project, something that could turn into a project. That is, work on an article or a book that you could sell in the future. Write a query letter or proposal for this project.

However, if you’re just starting out, you likely need to develop and hone your writing skills before seriously embarking on a project. So, here are some more ideas:

  • Blogging is a great way to release creative ideas and develop a writing style. (I don’t put Facebook in this category, though I do know some who compose intriguing and well-written posts. I do not recommend journaling or keeping a diary as worthy writing exercises either; they are too informal, introspective, and narcissist — however, they may provide useful fodder for a future memoir.)
  • Write book or movie reviews. Work on developing a reviewer style and on being concise, fair, and helpful. Avoid the mistake of many professional reviewers — being unnecessarily critical or writing a review merely to call attention to your skill as a writer.
  • Writing exercises are other worthy considerations. “Exercising” will get you in the habit of writing and provide opportunities to develop your skills. Here are some ideas for writing exercises.

(I am currently working on a project — my dissertation — which is also a potential project, a future book.  I usually blog one day a week and also write reviews — mostly book reviews — which I hope to soon post on my Website.)

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!

Welcome to Byline by Peter DeHaan

Byline is a blog about writing. The purpose is to write about writing, to share what I know about the craft and what I am still learning.

I have been writing for 30 years in conjunction with my various vocations, so in one sense I am a seasoned writer, with hundreds of published articles to my credit — and more than a dozen websites. I have also been blogging for three years, with hundreds of posts. One of my blogs is The Musings of Peter DeHaan, a blog “sharing a slice of life.”

On the other hand, I have only recently become interested in writing books. So in this sense, I am a newbie, learning the ropes of writing longer works. I have not published a book and, in fact, I am yet to write one — though I am overflowing with ideas. (I have written two theses and am working on a second dissertation — but do they count?)

A noteworthy item is that I’ve spent the last nine years as a magazine publisher, so I get the chance to read a lot of articles and press releases. Some of the submissions are good, most are okay, and occasionally a few are just plan awful.

That’s who I am and what this blog will cover. If you are a writer, or interested in writing, I hope that Byline will help you with your journey — it will help me on mine.

We will start our exciting journey with a series of posts of “Writing Tips.”

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

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