I once signed up for a trial of grammarly.com. It’s a most impressive grammar checker.
The problem was that it was too sophisticated for me. It flagged many things to check, but I lacked the needed background to comprehend the issues. Many of their suggestions were beyond me. However, I recently took a fresh look at it, and it seems they’ve made it easier to use.
Regardless, the built-in grammar checker in Microsoft Word is a great place to start. Though this still requires the writer to decide which suggestions to accept and which ones to reject, it’s easier to manage. While this won’t catch everything, it covers the basics.
In my experience as a publication editor, most of the submissions I receive could benefit from doing this basic grammar check in Word before they submitted their work. It seems many people have turned off this option (I once did), and some don’t bother to run spell-check either. Don’t make that mistake.
As you consider when to write, it is also critical to consider the issue of where to write. Not only does this depend on your circumstances, but also on your personality.
While writing is often a solitary process, some prefer to do so in the company of others. They may opt to write amid the activity of family life. There where is the kitchen table or even the living room with the TV blaring?
Where to Write
Still, others view the local coffee shop as their office of choice, making a morning commute, ordering their preferred java concoction, and remaining for several hours as they pound out their prose on a laptop computer. I’ve heard of entire books being written in these settings. In these cases, while composing remains a singular effort, it is happily and effectively done in the presence of others.
The majority, I suspect, require quiet in order to write rightly. The presence of others serves only to stymie their creative flow and production efficacy. They need a place to write with minimal distractions and no interruptions.
While some enjoy background music, others prefer absolute silence. For all these folks, a dedicated space—preferably a private room—is a necessity. If others are present during writing time, they need to not interrupt and to respect the privacy of the writing sanctuary.
In making these determinations, sometimes the question of where needs to be ascertained before the when. For example, writing at a coffee house is incompatible with middle-of-the-night inspiration.
As for me, I prefer to write in solitude; coffee shops, the kitchen table, and the living room are out. It took a while to find the right spot, but I ended up taking over a spare bedroom, sufficiently isolated from the rest of the house. While not quite spartan in its furnishings, it definitely has a minimalist feel to it. There is no phone or means for music, the clock is not readily visible, and the lone wall decoration declares “writer at work.” It is my writing refuge.
In developing as a writer, it is critical to write every day—or at least almost every day. We need to discover when to write.
The first step is to determine the best time for you to write. If writing is important, then give it the best part of your day; make it a priority. Don’t give it your leftover time or squeeze it in between lessor activities.
Schedule time to write; consider it as a job. Even if you aren’t writing to generate income, you need to treat it as seriously as your vocation or you will fail to develop as a writer.
Only you can determine the best time for you to write—and it may require some experimenting. Some people like to arise early to write, while others prefer midday after their worldly distractions have been sufficiently dispatched. Other writers like to wrap their day tapping out their words on a keyboard and some even opt for the middle of the night—be it as a regular occurrence or a response to insomnia.
Look at your life, your schedule, and your responsibilities. Then pick a time to devote to the craft of writing. It may not be easy, but good things seldom are. And it may require some trial and error to hone in on the ideal time for you.
For me, in determining when to write, I found that early morning is best for me, often getting up around 5 am and working for an hour or two, but sometimes longer. Then I segue into my day and begin my day job. I’ve even found myself writing in the middle of the night, but not too often. Middays I am too distracted and evenings I am too tired to produce anything worthwhile.
But for now, begin to write every day. That’s the first step to becoming a successful writer.
For the most part, I do write every day, but I vary my labors, rotating between projects. I would never spend seven days in a row working on the same thing; that would become boring and the results would be unacceptable.
Failing to stay current on writing trends hurts writers and lessens their work
It 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 of 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 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.
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.
6) Always use complete sentences: Sometimes an incomplete sentence more effectively communicates than a complete one. Do 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.Save
Though using a pattern to inform our books’ structure has merit, it may lead us to a troublesome end
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 than reading 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.
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.
Sharing writing tips with other writers helps the whole writing community
I spend a lot of time learning about writing. I read blogs, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, scrutinize magazines, and study books. Though I will never finish growing as a writer, I have learned so much. In fact, everything I know about writing came from one of these five sources.
In considering it all, the one thing that helped me the most was the simple adage to write every day.
This advice to write every day, however, isn’t absolute, it’s a principle to write regularly. It means to have a schedule and stick with it. It reminds us to write on the days we don’t feel like it or have other things we’d rather do.
It was a big stretch for me just to move to five days a week, which later became six, and eventually seven. Now I’m working on scaling back to six days so I can have one day off each week from writing. It’s a hard adjustment for me to make. I’m still not there.
Yet the principle to write every day has made the difference for me and my writing.
Please share it with other readers in the comment section below.
Some writers discover as they write while others plan their journey before they start
In writing, as in life, people tend to follow two modes: pantsing and plotting.
On one side are the pantsers, those who write by the seat of their pants. I prefer the label of “discovery writers.” They don’t know where their words will take them. Writing reveals an adventure as they watch their plot unfold, learn about their characters, and sometimes paint themselves into a corner with no way out.
In contrast, stand the plotters who map out their writing journey before they write one word. But I don’t like that name because it sounds too much like a plodder. I prefer the alternate labels of outliners or planners. These folks know their story arc, strategize the various scenes (or at least chapters), define their characters, and have the end in sight before they type their first word. (NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, allows writers to do this sort of preplanning, though actual writing may not begin before November 1.)
While each side of the debate holds firm opinions, neither is the method that will work for everyone. Each writer must determine which style works best for him or herself; there is no one right answer.
If you’re unsure which you are, look at how you live life for clues. Do you plan things out or wing it? The answer likely reveals your preferred writing mode. Though you can test out the opposite method, don’t let someone talk you into trying to be what you are not.
My default is to plan in detail, both for life and for writing. (I am, however, more open to detours when I write.) For trips, I make lists, verify details, do research, make maps, note addresses, and phone numbers, make reservations, pack carefully, and set timetables. Planning calms me; it provides the structure I need to enjoy my vacation. Encountering the unexpected is unpleasant.
Yet within this framework, I allow for flexibility to relish the journey and explore as I go. Some of my most enjoyable memories are within those moments of discovery. Yet without my planning, I would have never been confronted by those spontaneous, serendipitous delights.
Others are the opposite. They would forgo a vacation if they had to prepare for it as much as I.
So it is with pantsers and plotters. Know which one you are, and learn when you can deviate. This will provide you with the most enjoyable writing experience and the most satisfying results.
8 tips to staying physically fit while spending hours at the keyboard
I’m not a medical doctor, and I don’t play one on TV. But I have compiled a list of what it takes to be a healthy writer. Some I’ve learned through research, others through experience and a couple by common sense.
The main thing is that as writers we need to not only care for our minds but also our bodies:
Rest Your Wrists: Many years ago I did a stint as a tech writer, going from typing sporadically throughout the day to keyboarding for forty hours a week. Soon my wrists grew tender, and I lost much of my grip. In lieu of carpal tunnel surgery, my doctor prescribed wrist exercises and avoiding typing on the weekends. That got me through it. Now, at the first hint of discomfort, I relax my wrists for a bit and resume the exercises. Some hardcore writers have added dictation into their mix to spare their wrists and reduce their need to type.
Comfort Your Back: My back used to bother me from time to time, so I invest in a quality chair, one fully adjustable and with lumbar support. It only takes a few minutes sitting in a bad chair to bring about discomfort. (I also use an inversion table for a few minutes every day, which I think is essential for me.)
Many people advocate a standing desk (and even a walking desk). But my back bothers me after just a few minutes of standing, so I can’t consider that. As a result, I have no problem spending a couple of hundred dollars on a quality chair.
Two related issues are monitor placement and desk height. Sometimes raising or lowering the level of either one helps a great deal.
Guard Your Eyes: Staring at a computer screen for eight to ten hours a day causes fatigue. Proper lighting is key. I’ve tried indirect lighting without success, so adequate direct lighting is essential. Also important is monitor placement to eliminate glare.
Take Frequent Breaks: I take a break about once an hour, while some advocate writing for no more than thirty-minute stretches. My break maybe a trip to the bathroom, a meal, or a walk to the library. Or it could be as simple as a walk around my chair or some quick stretches. The point is to not log long writing sessions without breaks.
Relax Your Shoulders: Years ago I hurt my shoulder as I pushed myself to paint our house during a weeklong vacation. The damage became permanent and some level of pain is always present. Using a mouse exacerbates this situation, so I am presently learning to mouse with my left hand (the muscle memory has been a bear to overcome).
Also during intense writing sessions both of my shoulders can tighten up. I do exercises to relax.
Stay Hydrated: As with anything drink plenty of water. I don’t do coffee or tea and soft drinks are out. Water is my go-to beverage.
Sleep Well: Being well-rested is vital. It’s also an ongoing struggle for me, but not for a lack of trying. As an alternative, I sometimes take a power nap to help keep my mind focused and add energy for the rest of the day.
Exercise Daily: I have a moderate exercise routine that I do each day. It serves as one of my morning breaks.
Writers need to guard against making unhealthy comparisons to other authors
As writers we read the work of others, we look at their books, and we notice their successes. Though this happens in any profession, writing is a more public endeavor, so making comparisons is harder to avoid. Yet we should strive to sidestep assessing our work in the light of others.
Two dangers lurk when we make comparisons. Too often we look at another writer and deem ourselves as less than. Occasionally we do the opposite and puff ourselves up. Both are unhealthy conclusions, but let’s focus on the first one because most writers struggle with it. I call it writer envy. Here are four prescriptions to overcome it.
1) There is Only One You: Though our writing isn’t like (fill in the name of any famous author), remember that no one writes as we do. No one can write like you as good as you can. Just as Stephen King is the best at writing like Stephen King, you are the best at writing like you, and I am the best at writing like me. There is no other.
2) Strive to Improve: Have the mindset that every writer can grow as a wordsmith. That goes for the beginner as well as the mega-bestseller, and it goes for you and for me. As long as we pursue steady development, our writing today will be better than our writing from yesterday, and our writing tomorrow will be better than our writing today. That puts things in perspective and reduces the urge to compare.
3) Don’t Copy: One reason to read widely is to learn how to improve, but we never want to imitate other authors. Though copying another writer flatters him or her, it does nothing to enhance our writing ability (remember tip #1).
4) Help Others: There are always people we can help. Usually, they are a step or two behind us, but they can also be at our level or even a couple of steps ahead. That’s why I have this blog and post something, that is hopefully helpful, every week. I also occasionally give presentations on writing. I used to worry when a more advanced writer would listen in. But I eventually realized they have an attitude for continuous learning (refer to #2) and hope to pick up something from my words. I hope so, too. As a benefit, teaching something is the best way to learn it, so by helping others, we help ourselves.
Writer envy can overwhelm us or we can choose to improve despite what we see others doing. May we all be writers who move forward without so much as a glance at our fellow writers.