Posts Tagged 'writing tools'

Five Things That Turn Readers Off

It’s no secret that successful writers enjoy a plethora of reading fans. Readers buy books. Readers tell others about their favorite authors. Readers are critical if your book is going to succeed in the marketplace.

So, what are some things that turn readers off? Here’s a quick list.

  • Cliches. Cliches are worn, tired out phrases that add nothing to the writing. Examples: Better safe than sorry. Dead as a doornail. Familiarity breeds contempt. Use it or lose it. Well, you get the idea.
  • Jargon. Everyone uses jargon (especially in the work or special interest areas of life) because it promotes special meaning to a select group and offers shortened definition. But jargon belongs more in the spoken than the written word, and you never know who in the masses will read what you write, so avoid jargon in writing.
  • Footnotes. I teach at a Twin Cities’ university and require footnotes  in research papers, but most writing that gets read isn’t academic. Use footnotes to acknowledge sources you haven’t acknowledged in the body of your work or to provide supplementary material that doesn’t fit in well with the text. Otherwise, avoid them when you can.
  • Intrusion. One of the biggest mistakes authors make is author intrusion. I’ve found this mostly in the fiction I’ve edited, but it occurs in nonfiction as well. The author creates all the characters and knows which one is thinking what and when, so intrudes by giving one character’s thoughts in one paragraph and another characther’s in the next. Since no one can know what another person is thinking (here’s where understanding point of view is critical), it becomes author intrusion when you get inside a character and you’re not writing from that character’s point of view.
  • Gimmicks. Gimmicks are things that take away from content and draw attention to themselves. Examples are ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, overuse of exclamation points !!!!, and uSING letters in an unUSual way to highlight a point such as singing or singing about us or singing about the United States (see how it doesn’t work?).

If you’re a writer, you’re probably a reader as well and may agree these five things are turn-offs. Use this list and your readers will thank you.

Happy writing!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Measure Your Writing Progress

Writing is both a science and an art–science in that good writers research their topics and experiment with words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, and art in that good writers draw on their creativity to produce a piece unlike any other that reflects the artist’s view of life.

One of the things many writers aren’t very good at is measuring their writing progress.

I spoke with one author last week who said, “I’ve been pushing this book uphill for two years, and I’m ready to publish it.” The comment reminded me of Sisyphus, the Greek mythology king who repeatedly rolled a boulder uphill, then watched it roll down again. This goes on through eternity.

If you’re working on your manuscript and never seem to get anywhere, it’s time you begin measuring your writing progress and break the cycle of fruitless hours pushing your book uphill and watching it roll back down.

Be aware that progress comes in increments and not all increments are the same size nor accomplish equal work.

Have you ever bought a new car and you think your new car is unique, but as soon as you begin driving it you see dozens of cars just like it on the road? What happened is you increased your awareness and started seeing that particular color or model of car you previously overlooked .

So it is with progress. Once you increase your awareness of what to look for, you’ll start seeing your progress more than before.

Here are some progress indicators.

  • Check the clock when you start and stop writing for the session. Measure your time spent on writing, on research, on editing, on anything you’re doing to advance the writing of your book.
  • Check the word count when you start and and stop writing for the session. Subtract the beginning number of words from the ending number of words and you’ll quickly see how many words you added to your book that session. By the way, if you’ve been editing in that session, you’ll probably find you have fewer words at the end of the session and that’s progress too! Give yourself credit for tightening up your writing.
  • Check your attitude. If you’re dreading writing, maybe you need to rethink your project. Maybe you aren’t writing the book you want to write at all. Maybe you’re writing the book someone’s told you to write, but you’re not jazzed about it. Books are in print a long time. If you’re not writing a book you want your name on for the ages, don’t feel pressured into doing it. Write the book you want to write instead–then measure your progress on that one.
  • Check on your willingness to let others read your work-in-progress. If you’re not willing to share what you’re writing, one of two things is probably going on. (1) You’re not happy with your writing, or (2) you’re afraid of a negative experience–someone will either steal your writing or criticize it. If you’re not happy with your writing, take a step back and try to objectively figure out why. If you’re afraid of a negative experience, you may decide to concentrate your writing efforts on journaling or other personal writing no one will see.
  • Check yesterday’s writing before starting today’s. If what you wrote yesterday looks good, holds your attention, and makes you want to get started writing today’s stuff, you can take comfort knowing you’ve got something good going. That will energize you to get into today’s writing session.

Pick at least one of the indicators and measure your writing progress. It works.

Happy writing!

What Gets You Started Writing?

Last night I attended a writers guild and the speaker challenged audience members to take a look at what gets them started writing.

Some write sporadically, which means they only write when the muse moves them.

Some write religiously, which means they either write at a specific time of day or they write a specific amount of time a day (such as 30 minutes).

Some have writing rituals like setting up their writing area in a specific configuration, turning on a specific type of music, etc.

Writers often want to write, but don’t.

Why not? They enjoy writing too much! Some even get lost in their writing as time escapes them. They look up from their writing and discover they’ve lost hours they could have been doing something else like cutting grass, cleaning house, etc. Then they feel guilty for doing what they want to do instead of what they ought to do.

Put away the guilt. Figure out what gets you started writing and create those starting triggers so you get your pen to paper or finger to keyboard. No one can write what you write. Stop denying yourself and your readers and share your writing. If you don’t, it won’t happen.

Happy writing!

Hook Your Reader Right Away

Too often authors lose readers in the first paragraph or two. Why? The author ignores the rule that your first few words are the most important words you write in any given piece.

Just as you have 20 to 30 seconds to make a good first impression when you meet someone, you have about that much time to impress (or hook) your reader. If you fail to hook your reader right away, you risk your beautiful writing, creative descriptions, moving plots, and thought-provoking ideas never getting read, let alone recommended to others.

Review your writing and get rid of trite openings. Here are some examples to delete immediately from your writing toolbox.

  • My purpose in writing…
  • At this point in time…
  • The subject of my article/paper/report…
  • Needless to say…
  • After giving much thought to…
  • Eventually we must all…
  • I confess…

Now that you’ve purged the trite and boring openers from your writing, what tools should you use to hook your reader?

  • Create a short summary of what you’re writing about, why you find the topic important, and how you intend to accomplish your purpose in writing the piece. Think of the summary as a sample tasting of the bigger dish. Don’t give away too much, just whet the reader’s appetite.
  • Begin with a story. People love to be entertained and stories do that. Just make sure you keep the story relevant to the subject matter–no gratuitous stories that don’t apply.
  • Use description to show (rather than tell) your reader about your topic. You can describe a character or real person, a setting or scene, a feeling or intuition, etc. The more you intrigue the reader, the better the chance the reader will continue reading.

Review books and periodicals to see how effectively (or not) the authors/writers hook  their readers. Figure out what works for your writing style and project. More people than ever are writing. You’ll want to rise above the crowd by hooking your reader right away, delivering engaging writing, and creating a buzz about you and your work.

And it all  starts with the first few words your reader reads.

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!

Writers Need Organization

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been doing some spring cleaning both at home and here in the office that I began to think about being organized. And, as often happens with me, whatever I’m thinking about soon translates into a writing application.

One of the best things writers experience is great ideas. Now, that doesn’t mean all the ideas come at once or come when it’s convenient. It just means ideas come and if we don’t write them down on something, we lose them. Most of the time if we try to get them back, we can’t. We’ve all had good ideas, lost them, and been frustrated because they were too good to discard, yet that’s exactly what happened.

Whether you capture your ideas on scraps of paper or jot them in your journal or notebook, you’ll want to retrieve them in the future, so you need some sort of organization.

I suggest my students create an idea box and slip those scraps of paper with great ideas on them into the box. Keeping notebooks handy works too. Of course, putting your idea reminders in an accordion file you get at the office supply store also works.

At some point, you may want to categorize your ideas in computer files so you can access them when you’re writing.

Consider creating folders for:

  • Descriptions (files could be places, nature, people, etc.)
  • Dialogue (files could be phrases, dialect, retorts, etc.)
  • Characters (files could be heroes, villans, children, men, women, etc.)
  • Occupations (files could be any occupation you’ve researched)
  • Places (files could be cities, small towns, rural, foreign,  etc.)
  • Research (files could be by topic or resource, including contact information, URLs, etc.)
  • Words (files could be words that are problematic for you or favorite words or jargon, etc.)
  • Quotes (files could be by topic or by person quoted–be sure to note credit information in case you need to get permission to use the quote)
  • Plot (files could be by genre–mystery, romance, horror, sci-fi, thriller, etc.)
  • Humor (files could be your personal observations, jokes, punch lines, etc.)

You get the idea.

My point is Don’t Discard Your Ideas–Save Them for Future Use! But you can’t use what you can’t find. That’s why you need organization. Find a system that works for you and that you will actually use. If you’re a writer, you need organization.

Happy writing!