Writing Tips

Ah, this is an easy one! What can one writer give another writer as a “tip,” something useful to apply to their chosen pursuit? (You think you chose to be a writer? Doesn’t work that way! Writing chooses you. And there’s nothing you can do about it – except to write.)

The quick question: “How can I learn to write better?”
The easy answer: Write!
A longer answer: Listen! Read! Write!

Yup – To become a better writer, you need to sit yourself down and write. Nothing else. Nothing! can help a writer get better. Well maybe two other things:

  • Listen and read. Listen to the words you hear around you, the sound of voices, the accents.
  • And read. Read a lot!

Then write, write, write, and then write some more.

Oh sure, you can learn the dictionary (reading dictionaries is a great pastime, by the way) and you can memorize grammar rules (if you’ve read Grammar For Grownups, you know there ain’t many of them). And you can read about and talk about writing…someday. However, not until the backside hits the writing chair does anything happen.

There are some guidelines that may ease other confusion. As with any profession, acquire the tools, learn the (technical) language, and practice.

TOOLS OF OUR TRADE

Grammar:
To increase the likelihood of good writing, scan a good grammar book. (Did I mention Grammar For Grownups? It’s easy to understand and might even be considered fun.) You learned all that stuff in grade school, but since you didn’t have a real use for it then, it probably went over your head. Now it will make sense. Promise.

Punctuation:
Include a review of punctuation. Remember that those dots and dashes are simply guidelines to better communicate your message to your reader. Again, the rules are few and ambiguous. Like some other resource books, your punctuation guidebook (even mine) can be challenged on many points of punctuation.

Format:
Understand the format for your writing. Standard manuscript text asks for ample margins, simple, readable font, double-spacing, and numbered pages. Understand the difference between “typing” and “typesetting.” Use the m-dash. Indent paragraphs. Use the mechanical ellipsis. Stuff like that.

LANGUAGE OF WRITING

Content:
Whatever your write, fiction or nonfiction, please please please don’t bore your readers. Not much else counts. Stay enthusiastic and excited about what you’re writing. If it bores you, what will it do to readers (if there are any at all)? If you’re writing nonfiction, make sure that the facts are straight and the information useful. Make sure quotations are accurate and names are spelled correctly. Remember the adage, “Say what you will about me, but spell my name right.”

If you’re writing fiction, the factual guidelines relax a bit, but there’s no excuse for bad grammar or bad spelling (except in dialog), lifeless language or insidious stereotypical characters. Let’s take these one at a time, backwards.

Characters:
Bring your characters to life by knowing everything about them (even stuff you’ll never use).

Language:
Use vibrant language (means full of life). Avoid double-verbing, bland verbs, unnecessary words.

Spelling:
Do NOT rely on computer spelling mechanics! How many ways can you spell most words? Andrew Jackson once commented, “It’s a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.” And he was right. Make sure the way you spell words matches your meaning.

Grammar:
You can be as wild as you want when putting words into your characters’ mouths (dialog), but use acceptable grammar for the narrative. The only way to assure the most “acceptable” is to find a good editor. Please don’t rely on Aunt Sadie or your best friend unless they are professional editors. Almost anyone can spot an out-of-place word; only a professional editor knows why it’s out of place. Since most publishers and agents today expect submitted manuscripts to be carefully edited, you can save time – and make a good impression – by having yours done right the first time.

PRACTICE

If I had to advise writers with one word it would be this: PERSISTENCE. Persist in writing – you’ll only get better. Persist in efforts to find a place for it (if that is your wish). Persist in your belief in yourself and your writing (whenever it feels as if no one else does).

©Copyright 2005 Val Dumond

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About Val Dumond

VAL DUMOND is a writer who is enamored with words and putting them together to tell stories. Trained as a journalist, she also managed an advertising agency and public relations business. She has taught writing classes for many years and now focuses on her own writing, editing for other writers, and helping writers publish their books. She owns Muddy Puddle Press, where most of her books are published. Her favorite writing theme is historical fiction: She has done what-ifs for Klondike Kate — Queen of the Yukon, and the unlucky pilot who in 1933 tried and failed to be the first to fly solo across the Pacific. She also did a what-if about the status of women at a bank where she once was overworked and underpaid. (Kate received a new love interest at the age of 70; the pilot received a second chance at his heart's desire 50 years later; and the women of the bank rebelled enough to improve their wages and place women on the Board of Directors.) See: SUGAR, SPICE, AND STONE; WHEN ROOSTERS FLY; and A LITTLE REBELLION…. But Val's grammar books are the ones that draw attention. Her latest, AMERICAN-ENGLISH—The Official Guide (written for writers), is a culmination of five other books about language she has written. This new book urges writers to develop their own writing style by creating their own Style Manual, composed of preferences among the many choices that American-English provides. In it, she uses examples of uses for the various parts of language and punctuation, sets aside a section that's full of writing tips, includes a glossary and index for easy access to language solutions.
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