Have you ever wanted to write something that had your name listed as the author – but didn’t know how to begin? Or do you guard what you write in a journal for your own enjoyment? Established authors are often eager to share writing tips to anyone who wants to sharpen their composition muscles.
Shanna Mallon, a successful blogger and author of Written Together: A Story of Beginnings, in the Kitchen and Beyond, shares tips from eight writing masters to strengthen your writing skills:
1. When you do something, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If there’s one thing that separates good writers from great writers, it’s passion,” insists Shanna. “When you care about what you’re saying, your audience can tell. So, write with passion.”
I write passionately about topics that interest me and areas with which I have experience. I love to write about things that inspire me – like goal-setting strategies, collaboration, and inclusion. I love to write about my teaching experiences in the classroom. I am currently working on two novels for teens. I would not attempt to write about carburetors, neurosurgery, or aerodynamics.
2. Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. – Ray Bradbury
Shanna explains, “The more you practice, the better you become.” Produce quality content. Although she suggests “refine as you go,” I write first and edit later. Editing while writing can create a roadblock that can seriously stall the completion process.
3. Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov
“Work to reveal information rather than tell it,” Shanna advises. “Let your readers figure things out for themselves.” Provide details that make readers hungry for more.
When I teach creative writing workshops, I share my favorite writing tip: Use strong verbs.
Bad Example: The large and angry manager in the navy blue suit with grey pinstripes and silver hair spoke very loudly to the little man in the corner.
Good Example: An angry manager roared at the little man.
4. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. – George Orwell
Avoid clichés. Shanna adds, “Common, overused phrases make your writing feel stale and boring, so look for new ways to describe ideas.” Clichés are void of personal experience. Use your own words because they are original.
I once taught a communication arts lesson about similes and metaphors to my seventh grade students at an urban middle school. Their creative use of language was inspiring:
* He was as angry as an assassin’s bullet.
* Her heart was as empty as an abandoned apartment.
* Poisonous ideas bubbled in their heads like witches’ brew in a caldron.
(I share some of their personal stories in Voices in the City School.)
5. I try to leave out the parts that people skip. – Elmore Leonard
Once upon a time, a writer showed his manuscript to his publisher. The publisher repeatedly shouted, “I don’t know where you’re going with this!” The writer insisted, “Just wait until you get to Chapter 3.” The publisher returned the draft to the writer and said, “I’ll take a look at it after you cut out Chapters 1 and 2.”
I launched the writing process for my personal goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide, with a table of contents. I used the table of contents as a guide to create a dream-it-plan-it-do-it process that showed readers how to transform an idea into an action plan with attainable goals. Although there were big differences between the first draft of the table of contents and the final product, it served as a helpful outline throughout the writing process.
Ask someone you trust and who has knowledge about good writing to critique your work. Invite them to be ruthless. Be willing to receive critical feedback and make changes to your writing. Make the courageous cuts your work needs to strengthen the power of its content.
6. No matter how wonderful a sentence is, if it doesn’t add new and useful information, it should be removed. – Kurt Vonnegut
It’s easy as writers to become attached to our own creative use of words. Shanna explains, “If you want your writing to be powerful, you must eliminate anything — even things you like — if it doesn’t carry its own weight.” Try to write without editing as you compose your first draft. You waste valuable time when you write, then correct, and edit again while you try to write. When you’re ready to edit, be prepared to cut the clutter (see suggestions in #5).
Sometimes it is a good idea to walk away from your draft — particularly if you experience writer’s block. Time and space away from your draft offers opportunities to see unnecessary content and correct mistakes.
7. Don’t be intimidated by the vastness of your audience. Imagine you are writing to a single reader. I have found it helps to pick out one real person I know and write to that person. – John Steinbeck
Consider your target audience as you write. For example, think about one particular person who needs to hear your unique message and write to that person. Shanna states, “Writers can get caught up trying to please the masses.” She adds, “You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try.”
Many people believe they have a powerful story to tell. Remember the purpose of telling your story is not to focus attention upon your experiences. The purpose of your story is to help your audience discover their own story in your experience. Use these tips from Craft a Story People Want to Hear to deliver a strong message with which your readers can identify.
8. I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice and then going away and doing the exact opposite. – G.K. Chesterton
Conway Twitty once sang, “Listen to advice, but follow your heart.” I offered readers opportunities to critique my work and provide feedback on several occasions. Many of them shared positive reviews that are included at the beginning of my book.
At readers’ requests, I am creating a book study leaders’ edition of my book. Someone who thought the goal-setting strategies in the book may be helpful to others suggested that I should add sample pages from Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide as free downloads on my website. I am eternally grateful for the criticism and helpful suggestions I receive from readers.
Although advice may or may not shape what you write and how you write it, your work and your voice is distinctively yours. “Don’t ever let trying to follow someone else’s path stop you from forging your own,” insists Shanna. “You have a unique voice and that’s the best thing you can offer your audience.”
Many authors (and potential authors) may share your areas of interest and appeal to your particular audience, but none of them share your experiences, passions, ideas, inspirations, or gifts. Nor do they possess your unique talents.
It does not matter whether you choose to write poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction – what matters is that you commit to writing. French poet, Charles Baudelaire, wrote, “Always be a poet, even in prose.” Choose words that have meaning and power. Choose words that sound like your authentic voice.
It’s time to put your pen to paper (or your fingertips to your computer).
Your audience is waiting.
What are your favorite writing tips?
Are you ready to write – but struggle with writer’s block? Try these tips and Transform Writer’s Block into Awesomeness.
If you want to share your story, it must include more than your experience. Use these tips and discover How to Be a Good Storyteller.
Life’s challenges often point the way to stories that inspire others. I share my experiences when I had to change the direction of my life in Holding Fire.
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Transform your dream into action!Dreams to Action Trailblazer's Guide