Do you know what the common thing about all creative people is? They’re all different. That’s the difficulty with trying to teach someone writing. The way I do it may not work for you. Have you even been told you don’t write the right way? There are rules for grammar, punctuation, and organization. Those are the agreed upon road signs that let the reader know where they’re going. But, how you write is as individual as you are.
However, certain sayings get repeated as if they were truth rather than tools for getting the job done. For instance, some people prefer a 13-ounce hammer and others prefer a 16-ounce hammer, but both will hang a picture. I hope discussing a few of these tools will free you up to accomplish your goals, your way.
Show, don’t tell
This is helpful. I’ve even discussed it before, but then again, it’s mostly for fiction writers. Perhaps you’re a great technical writer, or a how-to book writer. The bulk of those types of writing are “told”. You may still need the ability to illustrate with an analogy or story, but you can learn to weave a few of those in.
The Underlying point: Draw the reader to your writing and keep them reading.
Don’t edit as you go
I also hear “don’t edit anything”. Make a mess, and clean it up later. After several drafts, you finally have copy ready for your editor. Sometimes I do write as fast as my fingers can type– sometimes I don’t. It depends on my mood, and the type of writing I’m doing. Sometimes writing and polishing it as I go along helps me clarify my thoughts.
After all, those squiggly MS Word lines demand attention. Don’t they? Sometimes I do turn them off,* but I prefer to leave them on and see mistakes as I go along. Often fixing a jumbled sentence right then (that the grammar-check kindly pointed out) helps me with my structure later in the piece.
When I’m in this frame of mind, it would slow me down more to know that I’ve made several mistakes and not taken care of them. As long as you end with clean finished copy, do what works for you.
- *Make those red and green lines disappear! In MS Word 2010: Go to “File.” Select “Options” and then “Proofing.” Clear the check-box next to “Check Spelling as you type.” Then clear the check box “Mark grammar errors as you type.” Bingo! It will still auto-correct some words.
The Underlying Point: Get started. Refine it until it’s finished.
Write every day
Some insist you can’t be successful without writing every day. While I write most days, I do take a day off. There are successful writers who don’t write daily. In another post, I discussed the book Time to Write. In the book, hundreds of writers discuss how they find time to write. A legitimate style discussed was the blitz writer who blocks out certain times during the week and writes actively during those times. Some only wrote on the weekends. If that’s what works for you, that’s great.
The Underlying Point: Be consistent.
I like some things out and close at hand when I’m working. I’m visual. I want to “see” what I’m looking for without having to hunt for it. I’ve gotten better over the years. I’ll put most of it up when I’m done. For certain folks, being overly organized stifles creativity. For some, planning every minute gets them moving; for others, it is so restricting they can’t get started.
The Underlying Point: Find out what kind of organization works for you.
Read every day
Some writers say read educationally every day. This doesn’t always work for me. I like to have blocks of time to read. I’d rather wait until I have time enough to sit and read several chapters and comprehend what I’m reading. I read often, but I don’t always do it every day.
The Underlying Point: You will improve your writing by reading.
You also hear “start with the small markets”. Get several credits then wait a couple of years before you try for those bigger markets. I’m all for learning the ropes, but if you have an idea you think is perfect for a larger market, go for it. Trying a variety of different-sized markets will help you get over your fears quicker. Don’t quit too soon because you get a few rejections.
The Underlying Point: Know your market and learn your strengths.
Write what you know
It is true, you will write more passionately and easily about things you know about or have experienced. But, you’ll reach a point where you’ve written everything you know. The best writers are curious. I think the addition to that rule should be, “Always strive to know more than you do at any given moment.” Never stop learning.
The Underlying Point: Understand the topic thoroughly before you write about it.
Some people hate silence. Having grown up in a home with five kids and two adults, sometimes utter silence seems strange to me now. Most of the time I relish it; other times I want a radio or other white noise in the background. Occasionally, I turn on a program which makes my computer keyboard sound like an old-fashioned typewriter because I like that sound.
The Underlying Point: Do what it takes to focus on your writing.
Work on one thing at time
I do believe you can only focus on one project in any one moment. But some folks like to have two or three projects going at the same time. When they get stuck, instead of throwing their work across the room, they work on something else for a while. After a break, they feel challenged to come back and finish the first item.
The Underlying Point: Finish what you start.
Don’t be afraid to challenge how something is “best” done if you have a different way that produces good results. So, which do you prefer: the 13-ounce hammer or the 16-ounce? I give you permission to swing away. It’s true that there are some things that can only be done one correct way. Thankfully, writing is not one of them. Isn’t that freeing?
Have you ever felt like your hands were tied when someone told you that your way was wrong? Leave a comment below.