Archives for posts with tag: fiction writer

This is the first in a series, “Don’t Do This” — posts aimed at helping you avoid bad writing habits, identify and steer clear of the pitfalls of poor writing, and become the writer-communicator that people want to follow.

It’s like a book online. Free. Bite sized, motivating, practical bits. I believe you’ll like it — because it’s all about what works, the how-to for an immediate increase in your writing effectiveness. 

This first post is an easy read, every bit worth its tad-bit-longer length. Subsequent series posts will be pointed, brief, direct — with a strong take-away to apply right then and there. So you become a sharper writer, right now.

Get every word in this first post, so that you’re in the know for what’s to come.
(It’s worth it.)

**************************************************

When we hear the words, don’t do this, we sit up and listen — because we know that something important is coming: knowledge with the palpating power to save us from heartache and pain.

Entrepreneur. CEO. Leader. Forward thinker…
Creative. Writer. Artist. Musician. Passionate expresser of life…
Above-average thinker who cares…

Because you matter — your passion, your ideas — and because you want to make a difference…this is for you.

To communicate effectively with words, the how-to skill must be in place. For no matter how much heart or passion we feel and exude — get this — without the vital how-to help that your writing needs, the heart of your communication will collapse.

Seriously. Your ideas, passions, and hopes go into cardiac arrest and threaten to die.

But they don’t have to. When it comes to effectively getting your ideas to others, there are external defibrillators (AEDs) that can save you from some heartache and pain. AEDs analyze the heart’s electrical activity and give life-saving electric shocks to the chest of a person who has collapsed from cardiac arrest. Even if your writing is in cardiac arrest (if you know it…or can admit it…or are willing to do something with it because you get it), the info here gives the life-saving shocks needed, to breathe and fully live.

Because deep down, you know that your words matter,
and because you have a message that people need
and a skill to share…

Read on.
__________________________

Fact 1: Every word you write has a purpose. You know this.

Making a list, writing an article or post, writing a book — each has a reason for its existence.

You know the adage:
* Know the target, know the direction to shoot the arrow.
(It applies here.)
* Know the purpose of your writing, and you’ll understand what kinds of words, phrases, tone, style, length of sentence (and other tools) to use.

Because purpose directs and informs everything we write. Everything.
(Really.)

Here’s the super-simple action I want you to do…
(Trust me on this one.)

Ask the questions:
Who’s going to read this, and why?
What does he or she expect?

In the entire piece.
On this particular page.
In this paragraph.
In this sentence.

And, yes, keep asking yourself the questions — while you’re smack-dab in the center of your click-press-pop-clack fingers on the keys or press-flow-move pen on the page.

(Any and every time you write.)

These questions should be soaring, swooping, circling in your brain above the target, like a mighty falcon with gleaming-sun-feather brilliance. The questions are ever present — ever casting shadows on the red-and-white circled target of your writing.

We want powerful writing — zinging and smacking into the target. So we’d better understand our writing’s purpose.
_________________________

Fact 2: Your writing has a goal: to express, to inform, or to persuade. 

Expression is just for you and me so, hey, we can put anything we want on the page. But information and persuasion, ah, now we’re in different territory. Information and persuasion are for others.

So. We’re stuck.

Because when we write for others, we have to do it their way. We have to follow the guidelines that meet the reader’s needs. If we don’t, then we end up with no one reading what we wrote. Ugh.

Hm. In order to satisfy the reader, we’d better understand the goal of each little scrap that we write.

Ask the questions:
What benefit is my reader looking for?
What does he/she want to feel and experience?
What do they want to know, to walk away with?
Am I giving the reader exactly what’s wanted?

In the entire piece.
On this particular page.
In this paragraph.
In this sentence.

We want satisfied readers — full of good feelings toward what we wrote, full of good memories and understandings that bring them back for more. So we’d better understand the goal of each little bit that we write.
_________________________

Fact 3: Engagement rules. Gone are the days of readers hanging around to read writing that doesn’t engage.

Most of us cringe at the volume of words bombarding our inbox, crowding into our web searches, bumping across our Facebook pages, and even ambling across the bottom of our television programs with the ad for the next-up program.

We’re way beyond information overload. We’re in information repel mode.

Engagement is critical.

Failure to follow the rules of engagement makes readers push away in disappointment, apathy, or even upset mode. Disappointed, apathetic, upset readers leave, let alone even begin to engage (as in, let’s click away in three seconds flat).

That simply won’t do.

Ask the questions:
Where are the repetitive words to axe and toss down the hill?
How can I change up words, to make the writing concise, pointed, powerful?
What am I doing in my writing that repels the reader?

In the entire piece.
On this particular page.
In this paragraph.
In this sentence.

We want readers to stay. So we’d better understand the rules of engagement for writing. (This series is all about helping you identify exactly what you’re doing…so stay with me.)
_______________________________

Fact 4: Rules of engagement are blood red critical. Writing lives or dies on the rules of engagement.

But we have a serious problem. We don’t know what we don’t know. (Ignorance is not bliss. It’s deadly.)

No lie: I believe that most bad writing is for lack of knowledge. Cluelessness. Not intentional, mind you — it’s simply the I-just-never-learned-this-stuff ignorance.

And without knowing it’s even happening, you’re sending the reader away apathetic or screaming.

Oy.

At the turn of the New Year, ask questions:
Am I keeping myself back by simply living in a closed-door mentality, a self-focus?
Am I willing to open myself up to learning?
Am I humble enough to listen?
Am I willing to be thirsty for understanding, so that I can move forward?

It’s time:
Get better at the craft of written communication.
Don’t mess up due to ignorance.

<<Make what you write matter.>>

Have nothing stand in the way of your clear, vibrating, resonating, connecting communication.

Be willing. Willing to cultivate an open, listening, seeking heart. Willing to listen. Willing to absorb.

Willing to work.

Next time, we’ll get practical. We’ll talk about how not to end your piece. (How to give your reader something to hold onto, a smooth stone in the hand — a promise. It’s good.)

See you then.
(I can’t wait.)

* Thup
coffeeDec26-14

Organization is not a dirty word. Some creatives think that to be organized, you have to put aside creativity. Not so, Joe. Creativity can thrive in the feng shui of an organized laptop home page, a table top, and room.

Most of us push aside organization to get to the “important stuff,” while the reality is, a bit of organization can mega multiply our “important stuff.”

(First-hand experience speaking, here. And I bet you know it, too.)

Before diving in, take two minutes to organize. Just two. Two minutes adds up fast … as do the results.

(Try it.)

* Thup
CoffeeNov28-14
PS. This is my workspace this morning,
after two minutes of organization.
Feels good, if I do say so, myself.
PPS. How about your space? (I dare you to try it.)
PPPS. Then be free to create and explore fresh ideas today.
* Thup

Hey, there.

Part 2 of my series of guest posts for James Prescott in the UK is up and running.  There’s been a lot of buzz about it, so I thought you might like to go here and check it out:

“Ten Life Messes with Potential to Improve your Life.”

(Let me know what you think.)

Raising my mug to you —
* Thup

coffeeOct26-14

Retreat. The word brings up mental images and feelings.

You know, all words bring up mental images and feelings. Because words carry history. Whatever happened to us in the past influences how we interpret words in the present. (Our personal experiences surround words, giving them meaning.)

(Words are not benign.)

Negative connotations can hang on the word, retreat:
To retreat is to give in, move back, and raise the white flag.
Attacked, we fall back in a clashing rush, the sound of steel on steel still ringing in the air, wounds raw.

Positive connotations can also bob and buoy around the word, retreat:
To retreat is to regroup, protect, build up, enhance, and nourish.
Proactively moving in a good direction, we pull back and purposefully enhance our life.

In your craft [[and life]], a retreat can be exactly what you need. 

A day away.
Time in quiet thought. Designed. Focused.

Two thoughts:
1. Regular retreats (verbs) happen as a normal response to the intricacies of life. They’re involuntary, in response to bad stuff….retreats to stop the attack and care for the bloody [emotional] [personal] [relational] [business] [organizational] [pick one] wound.
2. Purposeful retreats (nouns) happen as a choice. Voluntary. Planned. Retreats as places, to proactively get direction, stay focused, and move forward.

Both are a part of living. Simply because of who we are (and what we want to do), the second kind might be good to put in the calendar today.

* Thup
coffeeOct19-14

In fiction, to truncate time is to jump — or skip over — time in the story.

Authors truncate time because we readers don’t need to know every single minute in the character’s life.

Or every single hour. Or every single day. What the heck, we can skip whole months and years, if we want to, and the story goes on.

For example…

* The wet ropes kept slipping, so it took him about five minutes to wrap them around the ship’s metal bars…
* Within five hours, we’d broken down the sprawling camp and packed the two jeeps full…
* The next morning, even after the sun rose, it was still dark as the rain continued
* After five days of driving the reluctant horses across the dusty plains, we rested…
* It took five weeks for the party of twelve to cross the range…

(Okay, you might not get away with five weeks… but if you’re writing/reading a War-and-Peace-type-of-story-thingy, hey, it might happen.)

Truncating time is tricky.
You have to pick and choose the place of your time loss with thought. You have to choose your amount time loss with care.
(It has to make sense.)

In our personal lives, though, truncating time doesn’t make sense.

We have to go through things, good and bad.
We can’t skip the hard parts (even though we’d like to).

(Oh, how we’d like to.)

Pain happens.
Rejection.
Loss.
Death.

And it never comes at a time that’s convenient.

Instead of truncating the time, we go through it.
Minute by minute.
Hour by hour.
Day by day.
Week by week.
Month by month.
Until the bad has passed, and we are okay again, in a new now.

Yes.
We do get through.
The pain gets to be less.
We do find a new path, a new way.
(And it’s good.)

But in the middle, we wish for truncated time.

Think about those around you.
I bet you can be there for someone who wishes for truncated time.

And if you’re in the middle this,
of time you wish could be skipped,
reach upward and outward.
Find a way to give love. Because love, on any level, heals.
And healing takes time.

* Thup
coffeeJul7-14

At its base, art is about the complexity of life.

For example.
Sometimes, we as people are just not enough. We miss the mark of someone’s expectations. Always. At some point.
It’s the way it goes.

And when we’re not enough for someone.
They may ignore us.
They may turn on us.
(They may do both.)
Oh, people. So human. So flawed. So completely uugh sometimes.
(All of us.)

A few may extend grace. But that’s rare.
(unfortunately. so unfortunately. rare.)

Writers, in your story, your hero has to get to the place where he or she is not enough. He doesn’t meet expectations. He gives up.

In other words.
Nothing works.
Nothing matters.
(A moment of death.)

It’s the hero’s decisions at that point that make your story run its fingertip along the sand of humanity.

Story is complicated.
(So is life.)

Artists draw or paint it.
Photographers capture it.
Dancers express it.
Writers write it.

Perhaps that’s the way we, as a people, can deal.
As in understanding.
As in catharsis.
As in simply being human.
Through art. Creativity. Expression.

Humanity.

* Thup
coffeeJune21-14

Yes, I believe in success formulas.
They’re everywhere.
For just about everything.
(In work, life, and love.)

Okay. So if you want to be a successful writer (or creative artist),
read through to the end of this post.

Because writing has success formulas, too.
For instance…

* Look at Blake Snyder‘s Beat Sheet. Following Snyder’s formula, movies surge through the box office to pulse in our veins. We remember the movies: their meaning, their message, and how they made us feel.

* Look at Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and The Hero’s Journey. Following Campbell’s formulas, books surge through bestseller lists and into our cognitive and emotional pathways. We remember the journey, the challenges, and the characters like they’re our friends.

* And I believe that we’re hardwired for story –
hardwired to receive epiphanies, challenges, and emotional catharsis through story. Time after time, story captures and changes us.

You may not like formula, but it’s there.
And it works.

I sat in the movie theater two nights ago enveloped in The Edge of Tomorrowbreathing Blake Snyder’s beats, ticking them off one by one. And I loved it. The formula worked — the beats of story lined up perfectly. The opening image…the setup…the theme stated…the catalyst….right up to the mirrored closing shot. To me, the movie met all my expectations, and then some.

Expectations.
The operative word.
We go about life with expectations.
Some good, some bad.

Regardless, we like to have our expectations met.
The fulfillment of expectations brings certainty.

Tony Robbins names certainty (predictability) as one of our Six Human Needs. When we expect something, and it happens, we feel good.

As artists, we have to meet expectations…while also bringing freshness to the formula. We all know The Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day with a twist. Yep. Same concept. Same premise. Same players. Different setting and scenarios. How did the writers get away with it? They made the twist twisty enough.

(By the way, Robbins also says that we need uncertainty. Hence the need for the twist.)

The Formula vs. The Twist
How much do we stick to the formula? How much do we deviate from the formula (how much of a twist is too much)? I believe balance is learned, then practiced — to learn the skills of the formula, and then to know how much to push the artistry into difference, beyond the receiver’s expectations. It’s something we have to try out.

So.
Learn the formulas. Use the formulas.
Then, yeah, just get creating and see where it goes.
(Writers, WRITE.)
Push the formula. Then push it a little more.

Oh. And here’s an Aside Life Application (of course)
(You know me — loving life application):

Life truths (formulas) make for our lifestory’s success.
(Covey’s Law of the Farm is a formula to pay attention to.)
(Maxwell has Seven Laws.)
(Blanchard says we need to get to higher levels of interaction.)
(Goldsmith says our formulas work to a point, but we need to be careful to not let our formulas be our downfall.)
(And on and on. There’s no shortage of life truths and formulas.)

Ignore the life formulas, and you get way off track. Yeah. Bad.
So. Really. Get to the good. Get going, get learning. There are a lot of formulas ready for us, waiting for us.
Let’s. Use. Them.

They will save you (and me) from a lot of wrong thinking, hurtful actions, and pain that could have been avoided.

And. As we write today
(or draw today)
(or paint today)
(or take that photograph today)
(or whatever-create today),
may we know the formulas and use them.
(May the formulas be with you.)

Balance between formula (certainty) and twist (uncertainty) creates the best result.

* Thup
coffee white

PS. Here’s a list of Leadership Gurus with a lot of great formulas.
PPS. Okay, let’s not forget Zig Ziglar. Read or listen to him, and you’ll find success formulas growing all over the place.
PPPS. And, oh yes, Nick Vujicic‘s life truths. POWERFUL. Watch this.

Ever heard of “coffee snobs”?
(If you are one, you’re grinning. Uh-huh. Yup.)

Definition, please…
A coffee snob is someone who doesn’t just know and love good coffee; the snob knows and loves the best coffee — and doesn’t accept anything less.

We’ve studied coffee, tasted all kinds of coffees, and become spoiled on quality coffee.

By definition, a snob believes that his or her tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people. And for coffee lovers, it’s not belief; it’s truth. (*Caution: Coffee Snob Crossing. ha.)

So for those of us who adore coffee, “just any old coffee” will NOT do.

““““““““““““““`

Coffee snobs are the ones who drive across town
to get a cup of coffee at the “good” coffee place —
because no other coffee will do.

Coffee snobs not only know the difference between Sumatra, Guatemalan, and French Roast
(can there be anything more different?) —
we talk Indonesian, Yemen, and South American, too.

We use words like “espresso shots pulled,”
“berry, wine, and chocolate notes,” and
“intense, lime-like acidity.”
(And we get really excited about “single origin expresso.”)

And if someone offers us offee from McDonalds — oy!
Off with their heads!
(That’s not coffee. Get real.
It’s water with coffee-ish flavoring splashed in. duh.)

““““““““““““““““““““““““

Who, me? (Yes, you.)
Snobs exist everywhere. It’s too bad the word has a horrid connotation, because we’re really nice people (most of the time).

Now hang with me here, because there’s a point to this.
(You know me. There’s always a point.)

Snobs exist in all activities. Within all phases of activities.

For instance, 
there are pen snobs, too.
I know. I am one.
(Oh, yes. We can be many snobs all rolled into one.
Wow. That conjures up weirdness.)

Yesterday, when working together with a fabulous young author and her work, I couldn’t find the right pen. All had to stop, until I found it. All was not right with the world — until the correct pen rested between my fingers.

You see, particularly for those of us who adore writing, “just any old pen” will NOT do.

We have to have the pen that feels good in the hand.
With the perfect weight.
And the perfect tip.
And the most perfect movement across the paper.
(I know…there’s no such thing as most perfect. The words simply felt right. See. There I go. I’m being a snob about word choice and rhythm, too.)

A good pen allows you to engage when you write. Really write.

Hear me again: Snobs are everywhere.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For those of us who adore painting,
“just any old brush” will NOT do.
Right?

And for those of us who create photographs as an art form,
“just any old camera” will NOT do.
Right?

And for those of us who play an instrument,
“just any old instrument” will NOT do.
Right?
(Don’t get me started on this one.)

There’s a message here.
When it comes to creativity and artistry,  each of us has preferences. But they’re not just preferences. They’re personal, comfortable habits of creativity that allow us to do our best.

We learn what works for us, and we refine the process over time. By using the best equipment, the best processes, and even the best coffee and pens, we slide into our creative sweet spot — getting to the artistry faster and with more excellence because we turned a creative preference into a habit that increased our artistry and productivity.

(That’s a mouthful. But a true mouthful, at that.)

What’s your sweet spot?
What tools, tricks, and processes help you to create at your highest levels of performance?
(Have you been attentive enough to know what helps you to create at a faster rate, in the zone with the brain, body, and soul working together at optimum speed and skill?)

Snobbery, if you will, in the form of your own special process —
where you tap into the creative —
where creativity takes hold of you and thrusts you into the ring —
where you flash the fists and fight and win —
emerging victorious, arm held high — and the winner is! —
held high by the audience, collective individuals experiencing your work, as the crowd roars —
Yes, this kind of snobbery benefits everyone involved.

(Application Button, please…)
Okay. Bottom Line.
Find the physical and mental tools that take you to creativity’s center.

Don’t let the tool become the focus, though. Fuse with the tools, to become the opponent who’s fully in the mental and physical game, to create at the highest pace and performance.

We’re all entering the ring to win,
right?

Find what pulls you to excellence, even in the small things.
Like the right pen. And a good cup of coffee.

* Thup
coffeeMay29-14
* This post is dedicated to my husband, who kindly offered me a coffee from McDonalds and got more of an answer to the why not? than he anticipated. No matter how nicely it’s explained, it just sounds…snobbish. *sigh

I’m in the middle of an editing project, and editing is popcorning all over my brain cells. So if you’re serious about editing your written work well, then this one’s for you.

Here we go.

editor graphic
And editing takes form in three ways:
Details.
Content.
And rhythm & sound.

If you want to be a fabulous self editor, then you’ll need to know all three.


1. Details…
Just about anyone who knows punctuation and grammar well can edit for details.
A period here, a comma there. No, a semicolon does not work there. Yes, in this case, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. No, you can’t put the words not only in your sentence without but also. The style guide says so, and we follow the rules.

So many people believe that they know the rules. They even charge money for “professional editing” but, in reality, don’t know what they’re doing.

Yeah, this is a pet peeve of mine.

I’m currently editing work that another “editor” did already, and I’m horrified — because the details that this person missed are details that I teach middle schoolers. I’m setting my own record for how many times I cringe in one sitting. GAH.

Please. Do yourself a favor that lasts for years to come. Learn the rules. They’re finite.

And please. If you don’t know the rules really well, then don’t call yourself an editor. Polish your ability, first. Then take on the job.


2. Content…

Editing for content is much harder than editing for details. It’s harder to take a run-on sentence and make it concise. It’s even harder to realize when something’s missing and ask the author to add details.

In order to write well, you have to know what I call reader questions.

Reader questions are those questions that pop into the reader’s mind — the next-step info that the reader naturally wants to know, from sentence to sentence.

If I said, “I had a fabulous day,” your reader question is, “Yeah? What made it so fabulous?” So the next sentence that I write needs to answer the question and tell you what made it fabulous.

Basic.

If I said, “We went to the beach,” you might want to know, “What beach? How long were you there? What kind of things did you do?” Each of these questions is valid — and each one comes in rapid-fire response.

The good writer answers these questions linearly, in the order that they pop into the reader’s mind. (Yes, writers have to be mind-readers.)

Most authors and writers (of all kinds) miss info. They skip important stuff. Since the idea is clear in your own mind, you think that the readers get it, too.

But they don’t.

Editing for content is knowing reader questions, identifying what’s missing, seeing what’s out of order, and identifying what’s too much info (the infamous rabbit trails).

The best editors can take text, assess content needs right away, and understand what parts of the puzzle need to be arranged, removed, and added.

3. Rhythm & Sound…
Editing for rhythm and sound is, I believe, the hardest editing of all. Poets, I think you know more about editing for rhythm and sound than anyone.

It’s all about what you feel and hear.

Words:
* The word choice matters. (A new “flavor” of a word might be stronger.)
* The sounds of words matter. (One word’s assonance, consonance, or percussiveness might sound better, next to another.)
* The lengths of words matter. (One word might feel better, next to another, because it stops the sound with a /p/ or moves the reader forward with an /m/.)

Sentences:
* Sentence lengths matter. (Short, medium-length, or long — each sentence has a feel to it.)
* Sentence sound matters. (Sentences are like music. Really.)

Paragraphs:
* The way that sentences are arranged in the paragraph matter. (The combination of sentence lengths can increase, decrease, or keep steady the reader’s momentum.)

The best editors focus on rhythm and sound. And if you want to be a great self-editor, then focusing on rhythm and sound will make it happen for you.

Read John Gardner‘s works. He’s brilliant with these kinds of things.

So.
Writer.
Become an editor in all three ways, for your own work —
in details, content, and rhythm & sound.

It matters.
(And I want you to be successful.)

* Thup

CoffeeApr27-14

What’s the value of connection?
links
Professionally,
it can be the difference between
yes or no.
Getting to the end or standing still.
Making it or not.

Personally,
it can be the difference between
isolation and truly living.

* Thup
coffeeApr22-14

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