Tuesday, October 26, 2010

To Outline or Not?

I spent eight months outlining and researching the novel before I begin to write
a single word of prose. —Jeffrey Deaver

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in
the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. —Sharon O'Brien

Margaret McGaffey Fisk writes online that outlining helped drop her novel-writing time
from seven years to two months. On the other hand, mystery writer J. A. Janz doesn’t outline
her novels—she writes to find out what happens. So what’s best? Both have advantages.

Detailed outlining gives you a road map for writing. The detailed outline includes everything
you need to write the book—what happens, who it involves, when it happens, and where
the action takes place. The detailed outline might also include character studies and snippets
of dialogue.

Skeleton outlining gives you the broad strokes of plot or contents. You may not know everything
about what will happen to the characters but you do know where they start, how it ends up, and
the general movements they take to get from beginning to end. If you’re a nonfiction writer, you
might know the chapter topics—but not have a detailed outline for each chapter.

I call the third method, “flying by the seat of your pants.” In this process, you start with a few
interesting characters and a problem. Then you write your way into a story.

And here is my sage advice: no one can tell you which way is best. None are best for everyone.
But one is best for you. Do what works.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why You Need to NaNo!

The only way to learn to write is to write.
—Peggy Teeters

It’s that time of year again. National Novel Writing month (NaNoWriMo) begins November 1st. Are you ready to write like crazy?

You’re probably saying, “But I don’t write fiction!” Maybe you’re slogging your way through a bunch of grant proposals. Or you are writing a nonfiction book to promote your business. Perhaps you want to finish a short story. Use National Novel Writing Month as your framework to get more writing done.

In November 2009, 167,150 people signed up to complete a 175-page or 50,000-word novel in 30 days. 32,178 of us finished. (I crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line in only 28 days!) The NaNoWriMo website provides encouraging emails, a discussion board, and interviews with NaNoWriMo writers for participants.

Here’s my advice: sign up to participate in NaNoWriMo. The external deadline will help you write more. Create a November writing schedule that will help you write 175-pages of your project by the end of the month. Then write. Like mad.

That’s my plan for the month! I’ll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Write Better: Rewrite

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.
 —James Michener

When I read a good book, I want to quit writing. Who can compete? I’ll tell you who: the writer who rewrites the manuscript until the writing is right. It’s all in the editing, friends. Here are five random tips to improve your writing:

1. Read your work out loud. You will catch your grammatical mistakes more easily. You will notice your bad writing habits. You will also hear your writing voice. Once you hear what does not work, modify it. Then read it out loud again.

2. Limit your use of adverbs. Some authors modify every action with an adverb: she walked slowly, he ate hastily, they talked very quietly. As Twain said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you're inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it, and the writing will be just as it should be.”

3. Don’t change your verbs into nouns. For example, many writers use investigation instead of investigate or exploration instead of explore. When your characters make an investigation into the truth or begin an exploration, your readers fall asleep. But when your characters investigate and explore, readers pay attention.

4. Find the right word or phrase. Clichés bore me to tears. First drafts are invariably full of clichés. Look for these, eliminate them, and then find the best words and phrases to express your ideas. Mark Twain said it this way, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

5. Cut, cut, cut! When I write my first draft, I write more than I need to make my point. I repeat the same idea multiple times. I use extra words. I go off on tangents. When I rewrite, I eliminate the excess. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

If you read a good book, you know the writer worked at it. It’s the same thing with any well-written copy—on a Web site or in a book. Don’t give up when your first draft turns out little better than a fifth-grade essay. Put it away for a few days or weeks. Then rewrite it. You’ll be brilliant someday, too!

WANT TO USE THIS TIP IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander teaches professionals how to write faster, get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. Get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.writenowcoach.com and sign up to be a member of her Write Now! Mastermind class for professionals at http://www.writenowmastermind.com

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Want to Write Better? Shorten Your Sentences

I've always written very tightly, and there's a good reason for that. There's no point in using words that you're not going to apply. You don't use words that are not going to be employed in the narrative or context. It should consist of short, sharply focused sentences, each of which is a whole scene in itself. By that, you put the reader right in there where the story is. —Theodore Sturgeon

Have you ever read a sentence overflowing with ideas and information and constructed with so many clauses that the sentence required lots of commas and semicolons and even a parenthetical remark or two (just to get it all in), so that by the end of the sentence you forgot where the sentence began and what the writer was trying to tell you in the first place? 

I have. As a writing coach who often works with academics, I see sentences that make my 66-word creation above look stunted. You can easily improve your writing by shortening your sentences. (Not all of them—that would sound choppy.) Keep your longer sentences to 25 words or less. If you’re not sure about a sentence’s length, read it aloud. If the sentence leaves you gasping for air, shorten it. Your readers will thank you!

WANT TO USE THIS TIP IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander teaches professionals how to write more, get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. Get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine athttp://www.writenowcoach.com and sign up to be a member of her Write Now! Mastermind class for professionals at http://www.writenowmastermind.com