Writing Tools and Information

Three Mistakes.

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Whether we admit it or not, we all make mistakes. This article by Kyle Massa on the ProWriting Aid website will help you correctly use some of the most commonly misused words. Full disclosure – I’m guilty of number two on this list, but now I know better.

https://prowritingaid.com/art/722/3-commonly-misused-words-(and-how-to-use-them-correctly).aspx?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=misused

 

Process: Improving Through Editing

Improvement comes from practice & process. And when I think process, I focus more on editing rather than the writing itself. A clear process has helped me make consistent strides in my writing skills.

  • Write first, then edit. I don't combine them or I'll run in place.
  • Use spell check, but don't completely rely on it as a defense for errors. I have to recognize the difference between "pubic" and "public."
  • Step away. I see screw-ups clearer if I let a piece "breathe" and then come back to proofread.
  • Change viewing formats. For me, reading things on paper helps me catch more mistakes than on screen.
  • Change locations. I often take the format change concept further by printing a piece and then reading it elsewhere. If it's a nice day, I print my work and edit it while outside. It may seem quirky but a location change can make a difference.
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  • Read aloud and change anything that sounds like gibberish. If I have to repeat something a few times to comprehend it, I usually tweak it to add clarity.
  • Read all the way through. I consider things as a unit before I make sweeping changes. I also note where I repeat myself, then consider sprinkling in synonyms rather than overusing key words or phrases.
  • Macro edit. I first consider the larger picture. Is there fluff that needs to be removed? Is key info missing? Does the piece flow? I try to get the big stuff right, then dive into the details. Otherwise, I’ll waste time carefully editing things that I’ll later cut.
  • Micro edit. Once I'm broadly happy, it’s time to trim. People tend to use more words than necessary. So I pretend each word costs a dollar and I want to save money. I analyze the relevance of every sentence and each word. And I tweak sentences so they're using active voice whenever possible.
  • Reread. Sometimes I accidentally edit in mistakes or delete key information. So I print again, move to another location and read aloud. Then I do all the steps again until I think it's polished.
  • Spell check again - just in case. There are a lot of moving pieces when writing & editing. It would be foolish to believe these changes happen without a single misspelling.

I think real improvement can be found through stronger editing...and maybe that overall concept can work for you.

Process: Things I Write About

People, when they discover I’m a writer, often ask what I write about. I used to roll my eyes and explain how writers use everything as material. But I was thinking recently about the subject matter of various poems & stories either published or underway and what themes are at work.

  • grief
  • social issues
  • discontented relationships
  • insomnia
  • entertainment and pop culture
  • racial identity
  • the blues
  • transgression
  • danger
  • urban legends
  • inclement weather
  • political unrest
  • fighting
  • sports and exercise
  • b-movies
  • illness
  • alcohol
  • making ends meet
  • marriage & domesticity
  • politics
  • love poems
  • abandoned buildings
  • the apocalypse
  • the Midwest
  • hip hop

Some subjects are barely projects, or unfinished stories that are underway but stalled out, and a couple things are just one or two poems into what I envision will be a longer series. I've also been thinking about the difference of approach when it comes to compilation (mixtape) books and project books and how the latter seems to be driven by intent from the start and the former slowly take shape during the process. But I suppose that's a blog entry for another day.

6 Literary Road Trips Across America You Can Actually Take

There are few things more quintessentially American than a road trip. The sheer size of the country, an abundance of connected highways, diverse regions and incredible landscapes of our national parks make a cross-country road trip the ultimate bucket-list experience. Discovery is ingrained in our culture. Recognizing that many Americans are descendants of immigrants who left their home countries, John Steinbeck wrote, “Every American hungers to move.”

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Naturally, it makes sense that so many of us yearn for the open road. One might even say it’s symbolic: the vehicle being the visual representation of freedom, a drivers license the ticket and the route the destination. Road trips go far deeper than simply a travel experience, which is why literary lions like Tom Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, and John Steinbeck documented their adventures by car in the form of novels. 

Inspired by some of the most popular travels in American literature. CarRentals created this guide to literary road trips. Only, instead of living these adventures through the pages of a book, they re-created the author’s routes to give us a list of road trips you can actually take.

https://www.carrentals.com/blog/your-guide-to-literary-road-trips-across-america-infographic/

 

Writing a Killer Essay Conclusion.

Crafting conclusions to essays can be challenging. It takes skill to end on a good note and drive your points home one last time. It’s the final chance to impress and give readers understanding as to why your essay matters. The style of the conclusion that's most effective will vary depending on the tone and point of view of your essay. However, there are some key points that apply no matter what style of essay you're crafting.

A good essay conclusion restates, not rewrites your thesis from the introduction. It usually consists of three sentences minimum. And it concludes thoughts without presenting new ideas.

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One standard structure I've used is to Restate, Review, Connect, and Combine (I remember it as R-R-C-C):

Sentence #1: RESTATE the thesis by making the same point with other words.

Sentences #2-4: REVIEW supporting ideas; summarize how they prove the thesis.

Sentence #5: CONNECT back to the essay's main premise and relate your closing statement to an opening thought; make it relatable to impress a reader and give them something to contemplate.

Lastly, COMBINE these sentences into a conclusion. Eliminate redundancy. Add a transition word or phrase to make it clear you're concluding. Just try to be more inventive than the standard "In conclusion..." or "In closing..."

There are pitfalls to avoid. Resist the temptation to write any new information; focus on summarizing the thesis and statements. Try not to share personal thoughts unless it's a first-person opinion piece. Don’t attempt to restate every detail - that's what the body paragraphs are for. And finally, don't use boring, mundane words. Choose concise but vivid language instead.

To end an essay in a strong manner, consider its type and audience. A conclusion is your last chance to impress readers. R-R-C-C can be effective, but don't be afraid to take a more creative approach if it presents itself...just avoid the pitfalls I mentioned.

Broken Lines.

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If there is one thing that reflects a poet’s style, it is their usage (or non-usage) of line breaks. It may seem like a small factor, but line breaks can greatly influence the effectiveness and meaning of a poem. Which is why I found this discussion of line breaks over at Frontier Poetry thought-provoking. It discusses the three types of breaks and what goes into crafting a line of poetry. It is an interesting read.

https://www.frontierpoetry.com/2018/04/19/poetry-terms-the-three-lines/

To insult or not to insult...

Happy Shakespeare Day! In celebration of the 402nd anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, Invaluable created a Shakespearean insult generator. The tool rounds up over 70 of Shakespeare’s top insults from his most famous works, like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Whether you wish to insult a friend, colleague, or your greatest enemy, we’ve got you covered. What better way is there to celebrate Shakespeare than to use his insults when you need them? Below are six sample insults that I liked (click the right edge to see the next image):

Check out the generator for yourself at this link: https://www.invaluable.com/blog/shakespearean-insults/.

Finding Places to Submit Your Work

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So let’s say you’ve been diligent in writing every day. Now you have a huge pile of poems, stories, and essays that you’re ready to show the world. But how do you take your creative works from your hard drive and get them onto the pages of a literary journal?

One place to start is by reading Nausheen Eusuf’s “Where to Submit Your Work” on the Submittable blog. It provides an awesome list of places where you can find journals to submit all your brilliant stuff. Good luck in finding homes for your literary darlings!

https://blog.submittable.com/2018/04/where-to-submit-your-work/

What are some tips for writing articles or blog posts quickly?

Save the introduction for last. This tactic helps. I don’t write the intro until the rest of the article or blog post is finished. By doing this, I push right into the info readers want, and I don’t waste words on a long intro that’s often expendable anyway.

Focus on what readers want. If a piece is supposed to provide “5 ways to do X”, the bulk of the text must be about those 5 ways. Don’t spend too long on your intro or explanations. Drill down on what readers need, and don’t give too much extraneous info.

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Formulate an outline. It doesn’t need to be extensive. Often I create a quick-and-dirty one such as:

  • Introduction
  • What Is X?
  • 5 Methods (list each solution)
  • Conclusion

Research to find support for the meat of your article or blog post, and then list those sources in the outline before you start writing. It will help you write faster by linking the sources to the point they are supporting.

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, which presents a great opportunity to infuse your poetry writing and reading activities with new energy. In case any of you might be wanting to do that, I present the following sources for poetic inspiration:

National Poetry Month Homepage: https://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/home

2018 Poetic Asides PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2018-april-pad-challenge-guidelines

30 Days, 30 Poems Challenge: https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2018/03/17/30-days-30-poems-challenge-national-poetry-month/

10 New Poetry Collections to Read During National Poetry Month: https://lithub.com/10-new-poetry-collections-to-read-during-national-poetry-month/

NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month): http://www.napowrimo.net/

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/issues_in_depth/30PoetryIdeas.html

Poetry Super Highway Prompt-A-Day for National Poetry Month: http://poetrysuperhighway.com/psh/ (check the tab for "special projects" and then "a poetry writing prompt a day" to locate the prompts and other info)

Good luck and positive vibes as you celebrate National Poetry Month!

Writing the Perfect Blog Post.

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If you’ve ever struggled with establishing a strong methodology for creating content on your blog, then you should check out this awesome post from Jeff Goins’ blog called “4 Essential Elements to Writing a Great Blog Post.”

Goins contends that by establishing a little bit of structure in your blog writing process, you will become more creative within the constraints and be easily able to produce great articles and ideas for your blog, Check it out.

https://goinswriter.com/great-blog-post/?inf_contact_key=a694018da6be3a2bfe50ab0764726b362c9514135db615b95b291840f52c2b73

Writing Cover Letters.

To get short stories or poems published, a good cover letter is important. It’s the first part of your submittal that an editor sees, and therefore can make the difference between a great first impression or getting lost in the slush pile.

As an editor at 2 Elizabeths, Elise Holland has seen countless cover letters - some good, while others could use improvement. Check out Elise’s guide on how to develop a simple, yet effective cover letter here.

https://2elizabeths.com/2017/10/how-to-write-a-cover-letter-advice-from-a-lit-mag-editor/

Revision.

Writing is a process that goes through many stages. Revision is the catalyst that helps it progress from stage to stage. It’s not just changing a few words, adding a sentence here or there, or deleting material that’s unnecessary. Revision is a chance for a writer to actually re-vision a piece…in other words, to see a piece with new eyes and visualize it in a different way, all with the hope of seeing improvement.

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Seven Questions.

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There’s a short list of questions I ask myself when I’m writing and editing, whether it’s poetry, fiction, essay, or other. These questions help guide me towards clarity.

  • What is it that I’m really trying to say?

  • What words will express my thoughts without ambiguity?

  • What analogy, metaphor, or simile might make this concept clearer?

  • Are the images vivid & fresh enough to have an impact with readers?

  • Can I say all of this more concisely?

  • Am I using big fancy words just to use them?

  • Have I said anything that’s offensive? If so, can I eliminate it or soften it and still get my point across.


It’s not a perfect list, but I believe maintaining the habit of going through these questions improves each piece of my writing.

Motivation & Writing

My motivation comes from acknowledging my writing has value, making a commitment to write, and making sure I find time to do it. This has culminated in me building good habits that help me write consistently, whether I feel a surge of inspiration or not.

It’s easy to blab about writing you’re going to do someday. I’m guilty of talking about a novel I claim I want to write, but doesn’t exist even in outline form. But if you’re always yapping about writing and never actually doing it, then your goals will never get accomplished. You must sit down and write consistently to build a habit.

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Some experts say you need to write daily. That’s a good idea and one that makes it harder to forget to write, but it isn’t easy. Other habits can also work. Choose to write every other day, on a half day on a weekend, for thirty minutes of weekday nights after everyone else is in bed, or as part of a lunch break at work.

It’s not about following someone else’s concept of when and how much you should write. It’s more about building a routine that works for you and keeps you writing consistently. Once you build this habit, writing gets easier, and you’ll fall into a productive mode more quickly and easily – which is a beautiful thing.

At times motivation arrives with fanfare and magical forces guide my pen or keystrokes. But those times are fleeting and rare. If I waited around for that blessed inspiration, I’d never produce new material or content. My advice is to develop an ongoing habit as a substitute for an emotional flurry, then take advantage of your uber-motivated moments when they do happen. Developing a consistent routine is a practical form of motivation that pays dividends.

Try Try Again?

Check out this very informative Q&A between Terrapin Books publisher Diane Lockward and author Karen Paul Holmes on resubmitting a previously rejected poetry-book manuscript.

Since I have several manuscripts written but no book deal yet, I struggle with the question of whether I should bother sending a book that’s been retooled back to the same publisher. This Q&A hit home and gave me some great insight on this subject.

http://dianelockward.blogspot.com/2018/01/to-resubmit-or-not-to-resubmit-that-is_97.html

Is Writer’s Block a Warning Sign?

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I sometimes discover having writer’s block is a caveat that I need to fix some other aspect of my life.

Writer’s block is horrible and unproductive. We all hate it and bitch about it. But part of it could just be that your mind or spirit is in a really bad place at a certain point in life. If you’re in a shitty mental state because of money problems or relationship issues or day-job drama, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into writing or creative endeavors. You have to fix bigger things than your writing and then go back into it with the passion it deserves.

What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge?

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Mine is unclear thinking. Clarity clears a straight path between A and Z. The story, poem, or essay feels consistent and clear. When it seems like one train of thought, and not a mash-up of parts done at different times and moods, a finished work feels cohesive. Some obtain cohesion via many rounds of editing.

Unclear thinking makes messes. Unclear thinking yields awkward, ineffective, meandering trails of ideas that abandon readers in the woods, lost and confused, or in the desert, thirsty and begging for water. These messes are hard to tidy up and are sometimes unfixable.

I need help and hacks to achieve clarity of thought. Sometimes I make mental maps, outlines, index cards, cover walls with post-it notes, or keep journals for specific writing projects with pages of character, setting, and plot developments.

But whatever you do, however you do it, I believe that structure needs to be there to avoid the scourge of unclear thinking in your writing.

So what’s your biggest writing challenge? How do you overcome that obstacle?