Posts Tagged 'clarity'

Read What You Write

I read mysteries for relaxation. Even though mysteries are generally written to formula, depending on whether it’s a cozy, police procedural, hard-boiled, or whatever, I still like to see if I can figure out whodunnit.

Last week I was reading a mystery about two elderly sisters found dead and on page 2, the author named one sister as the older, but on page 4, the other sister was older. HUH? I re-read and re-read because I couldn’t believe my eyes. Yep, there it was. A simple error that ruined the author’s credibility regarding details (which is rather important in a mystery).

So what’s my point? You are the author of your book and the responsibility for the words (including errors) is yours. Granted, you need an editor because you know what you intended to say and an editor will help you determine if the words actually do. However, your name–not the editor’s–appears on the cover of your book, so your reader holds you–not the editor–accountable for the book’s contents.

Writing books takes weeks, months, or even years. It’s easy to forget details you’ve written over time. But your reader reads your book in hours or days, so everything is fresh in your reader’s mind.

Many successful authors write to a schedule, and the first thing each one does is go back and read what he or she wrote the previous writing session in order to pick up in the right spot and have the right focus.

I’m an advocate of writers groups to help you with your writing too. Writers groups can point out inconsistencies such as the one I found in that mystery.

When we were publishing books, I required all manuscripts be edited by a book editor because a good book editor will challenge the author in areas that aren’t clear or that are inconsistent.

But the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy in your book is you, so read what you write.

Happy writing!

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Abbreviate Abbreviations in Your Writing

We live in a world of instant gratification, instant success, instant food, just about instant everything. We have the attention span of gerbils as we flip through channels on our televisions or move away from web sites that don’t load fast enough.

And this trend shows up in our writing in the form of abbreviations. Department becomes Dept. Management becomes Mgmt.  Each example eliminates some of the word’s vowels.

I knw th wrld cn ndrstnd ths.

I’m sure you get the idea of my previous sentence and there isn’t one vowel in it (except the opening “I”). But getting the idea isn’t what you want when you write. You want to be understood.

Text messaging is another example of how we’ve come to rely on abbreviations in our writing.

Book writing, however, differs from other writing because books immortalize authors. Add that we’re writing in a living language and you only have to read one or two Olde English books to see how language evolves. We don’t need to complicate the reader’s experience by adding too many abbreviations.

ACRONYMS

Having said that, it’s also tedious to read the spelled out names of commonly recognized acronyms. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers is well-known as MADD. So when writing about MADD, include the spelled out name the first time you use the acronym, then use the acronym thereafter. Example: She looked up MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) on the Internet. She was amazed at how much information there was about MADD.

Another issue for writers is whether to use “a” or “an” with an acronym. How we pronounce the first word of the acronym determines which we use, not whether the first letter is a consonant or vowel. For example, the consonant “n” sounds like a vowel, so we use “an.” Example: Insert an en-dash between numbers such as 2010-2011.

STATES and COMPASS POINTS

Everyone knows to abbreviate states with the two-letter abbreviation (AK, AR, ND, NY, etc.), but we don’t always know when to abbreviate compass points. Abbreviate compass points that follow street names, but not those that precede street names. Example: He lived at 210 Tulip Street NW. He lived at 210 Northwest Tulip Street.

TITLES

Abbreviate social titles such as Ms. or Mr. or Mrs.

Abbreviate other titles only when they precede a person’s name. Example: Rev. Billy Graham.

DATES

Abbreviate dates (Jun 2, 2011) only in informal writing. When writing your book (which is formal writing), spell out June 2, 2011.

Remember that your book will reflect on you for a long time. Be sure you write to be understood. Abbreviations are a good tool, but can be confusing. Avoid overusing them.

Happy writing!

Write What Readers Want to Read

One of the questions I ask in my workshops is “Who do you write for? Yourself? The publisher? The reader?” Many authors make the mistake of writing for self or for the publisher. While writing for both are important, they are not as important as writing for the reader.

Look into the archives of your literary experience and you may recall a play by Shakespeare, one of the world’s most popular writers, called “As You Like It.” The title reveals why Shakespeare’s work is read and enjoyed hundreds of years after his passing. He understood what his audience liked and wanted and he gave it to them.

He wrote about things people could relate to, were curious about, and he wrote in everyday words people used and understood instead of trying to impress them with his high vocabulary.

One of Expert Publishing’s most successful authors is a colon cancer survivor. She writes about her medical experience, but more importantly, she writes about her new daily routine, the impact of her diagnosis on her relationships with her family members, her embarrassing as well as her triumphant moments dealing with her new life. She understands readers want to know more than the medical statistics, more  than the company line regarding what to tell new cancer patients, more than all the good that can come from adversity. Her first book sold thousands of copies and had multiple printings because she understands how important the reader is and honors that in her writing.  She’s now working on her fourth book, and she still keeps writing with the reader in mind.

What are you writing about? No matter what it is, you’re writing to a reader. Visualize that reader. Ask yourself, “What would the reader want to know?” Then answer the question to the best of your ability. That doesn’t mean you get bogged down in purple prose that makes the eyes glaze over. It means your writing relates to your reader on a level of two human beings communicating.

When you write, you are sending a message to your reader, but you’re not getting feedback the way you do when you’re communicating face to face with another person. Your job is to provide the reader sufficient information so he/she doesn’t have to fill in the blanks, especially since they can’t ask you for clarity.

I’m not suggesting you’ll become another Shakespeare, but I know you’ll create a fan base if you write what readers want to read.

Happy writing!

 

Use Anecdotes in Your Writing

Anecdotes are little stories or incidents that solidify specific points you’re making. Readers like anecdotes.

Since Expert Publishing publishes business, self-help, and inspiration books, our authors share their expertise and content and that’s valuable to readers. Sometimes, however, it’s important to break up the heavier content with stories that illustrate what the content means. Anecdotes do that. Win your readers over by offering stories that illustrate your concepts in an entertaining way.

You can use characters, dialogue, setting, or other devices in your anecdotes. People love stories and you’ll endear yourself to your reader if you use them appropriately.

So what do I mean by appropriately? One anecdote per point is sufficient.

The old saying goes that an expert uses one story to make one point. A wanna-be expert uses many stories to make the same point.

As important as stories are, too many ruin the writing. Think of stories as salt. Salt can work well to flavor food, but if you use too much, the food is no longer fit for consumption.You want your readers to consume your content.

How real do your anecdotes have to be? Are fictionalized anecdotes okay? I encourage you to use real stories, real examples, to prove or illustrate your point. Real offers more credibility than fabricated does.

As you write your book, be sure to include anecdotes. Your reader will appreciate the bits of entertainment tossed into the content.

Happy writing!

There’s More Than One Way to Organize Your Manuscript

Most of us learned to outline using the model below:

I. Topic

A. Sub topic

1. More detail

i. More detail

ii. More detail

2. Detail

i. More detail

II. Topic

A. Sub topic

B. Sub topic

1. Detail

If you think in a linear fashion, this can work for you, but if you don’t, you probably use another system such as Tony Buzan’s mind mapping that involves placing the main idea in the center of your page, then having  topics radiate from that center point as you think of them. Then, as you look at your map, other ideas come and you fill in. You may want to watch this video to get an idea of how mind mapping works.

My point is most of us don’t think the way we were taught to organize our thoughts (formal outline form). In fact, since we’re creative beings and writing our interpretations of what we observe in life and through research, it’s possible that given the same information, two of us would organize it differently.

Thus, you’ll want to give yourself permission to test various ways to organize your manuscript. You may want to start with a list of ideas you want to get across to your reader. You may make a list of points or stories you want to include. You may make a list of logical order for your ideas/concepts/points/stories.

Sometimes we choose to organize things chronologically, and that works when you’re writing about a series of events.

Sometimes we’re taking a side on an issue, making an argument for or against something. In that case, presenting our most powerful or persuasive idea first works well.

Sometimes we write to simply entertain. If that’s what you’re doing, don’t front-end load your manuscript with the good stuff. Instead, sprinkle it around so you bring your reader on the roller coaster ride with you (sometimes uplifting and other times more sedate or sometimes suspenseful and other times a more even keel).

Keep your reader in mind. Keep your purpose for writing your book in mind. Test arrangement of ideas and concepts and settle on the one that makes sense to you, satisfies your purpose, and keeps the reader’s needs in mind.

Happy writing!

Write Positively Most of the Time

It’s been said we hear “no” more than “yes” in our formative years. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to think negatively. But, if you want people to respond well to your writing, you’ll want to consider writing positively most of the time.

People respond to what they read, and it’s your job as an author to offer the right clues to help your reader get the intent of your writing.

Consider the  golfer facing a water hazard on the right who thinks I’m not going to hit the water. I’m not going to hit the water. And immediately swings the club and drives the ball straight into the water. Think (see/imagine) water, hit water. So it is with your reader.

If you write, “There was no noise coming from the house,” your reader will hear noise coming from the house. If you write, “The house stood silent,” your reader will relate to the silence.

The first example in the paragraph above involves writing negatively (no noise), while the second example is positive (silent) or at least neutral.

When you write about what happened and who was involved, you’re giving the reader information. When you give that information negatively, your reader feels it negatively.

Here are some more examples of how you can change negative writing to positive.

  • The door was not closed. VERSUS The door was open.
  • Sue’s effort to win the lottery was not successful. VERSUS Sue’s effort to win the lottery failed.
  • Her neighbors were not sober at the barbeque. VERSUS Her neighbors were drunk at the barbeque.

Is it ever okay to write negatively? Absolutely, yes! For example, it’s better to write, “Our son isn’t home,” than it is to write, “Our son is out” if you want to emphasize the son is not home.

As author, you get to decide what images or feelings you offer your reader. Writing something positively is a better choice most of the time, but it depends on what you want your reader to see or feel.

Happy writing!

Editor and Writer–A Challenging Alliance

Writers primarily write because they have something to say. There are those who suggest writers have an agenda, while others suggest writers simply need to express themselves, and they chose words as their vehicle.

Editors primarily edit because they want to make sure that what the writer says is clear to the reader. There are those who suggest editors are frustrated writers, while others suggest editors lack creativity and originality.

Being both a published writer in periodicals and books, as well as an editor for writers of articles and books, I appreciate the challenging alliance between author and editor.

As a writer, it’s hard to have someone critique and/or correct your creative work. As an editor, it’s hard to restrain yourself from inflicting your own preferences that may change the writer’s voice, or at least intent,  in writing the work.

Authors understand the subject.

Editors understand the reader.

A good editor also understands the author must write in his/her own voice, which means the editor should not change the voice. Instead, the editor’s goal should be to show the writer why the writing isn’t clear, then potentially offer some suggestions (if possible) in ways to improve.

A good writer knows there’s more than one way to get an idea across, and just because the writer (who knows the subject well) thinks something is clearly communicated, doesn’t mean that it is.  A good editor will communicate directly with the writer about suggested changes and explain why the changes are needed.

At times the exchange may appear battle-like, but in reality when an editor and a writer create an alliance, in spite of how challenging that may be, the real winner is the reader.

If you’re an author, consider your editor’s suggestions and question the editor about why a suggestion is made if you don’t understand or like the suggestion.

If you’re an editor, consider your writer’s knowledge of the topic may be the very thing that’s making it hard for the writer to bring it to a level the reader can understand. Let the writer know what changes you’re suggesting and why.

The end result is an improved book that says what the writer intended to say–and says it clearly enough that the reader will think the writer is a genius. Remember that readers buy writers they like. A good editor will help you become just that and that’s worth the challenge of the alliance.

Happy writing!