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Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 24, 2013 4:34 pm

Even though I'm not doing a new lesson until sometime (still to be determined) after the holidays, I'd like to continue to make myself available for questions. As I mentioned several weeks ago, I've worn a variety of hats here at FaithWriters and in my life; one of those might lead you to think of a question you've been wanting to ask.

I'm a freelance editor.
I'm a writer--I've written extensively here and on a (now-defunct) blog or two. Had a few minor publications.
I'm a retired school teacher (high school English).
I've been a challenge judge.
I've won multiple challenges here, and have also placed in the Best of the Best a few times.
I'm an avid reader, of many genres.
I'm a grammar lover (but definitely an amateur).

Or if you'd just like to get to know me better, here's a brief autobiography. If you'd like to ask questions about any of these things, fire away. I'm 58 years old, and I have been a Christian for 53 years. I've been retired from teaching for 4 years. My husband and I have been married for 38 years, and we have two married daughters and two granddaughters. Our cat is unfriendly and ornery. I love travel, playing the piano, crossword puzzles and other word play, music, and board games. In my extended family, there are several people with various physical and mental disabilities, giving me a tender heart toward the issues that disabled people tend to encounter. I battle with periodic depression. I attend a tiny church in rural Michigan, of a holiness denomination. My faith-related passions include justice, inclusivity, and compassion.

So--fire away, and send others to this site if you can.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby Caleb Cheong » Mon Nov 25, 2013 12:10 am

Hi Jan!

It's 11:53am here so it's 'unsociable' for me to drop you this note. I've read the latest discussion with interest. Like Abraham's , I'm sure you won't abandon the Forum if there are at least 10 or more of us here in this city of learning to be a better writer.

Would you mind giving me some advice as to how to cultivate habits of being a better writer? As a complete beginner, are there habits that I can cultivate or attitudes to be inculcated?
Are there any reading lists which you would recommend?


Thank you very much!


Regards

Caleb Cheong

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby RachelM » Mon Nov 25, 2013 1:55 am

Hi Jan,

I'd also love to hear any advice you have for cultivating good writing habits. Do you recommend writing for a specific amount of time each day?

I have decided to work on writing articles with the hopes of being published in magazines or online sites. Would you recommend getting articles edited before sending them to a magazine's editor? I would likely have a couple of mistakes in my writing, even if I went over it carefully. Would that affect its chances of being published?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 25, 2013 9:11 am

Caleb Cheong wrote:Would you mind giving me some advice as to how to cultivate habits of being a better writer? As a complete beginner, are there habits that I can cultivate or attitudes to be inculcated?
Are there any reading lists which you would recommend?


RachelM wrote:I'd also love to hear any advice you have for cultivating good writing habits. Do you recommend writing for a specific amount of time each day?

I have decided to work on writing articles with the hopes of being published in magazines or online sites. Would you recommend getting articles edited before sending them to a magazine's editor? I would likely have a couple of mistakes in my writing, even if I went over it carefully. Would that affect its chances of being published?


Caleb and Rachel, I"ll answer your questions together, since they're similar.

Good writing habits--that's an interesting question. When I was teaching, one of the buzzwords we educators liked to toss around was "multiple intelligences." Whole books have been written on the subject, so I'll grossly over-simplify it here: people learn and work in different ways.

So it would be difficult for me to say that any one particular habit will work for both Caleb and Rachel (or for any other writer). What works for Caleb might drive Rachel nuts, and actually make her a worse writer. Instead, I'll suggest a few things that might work for some writers, and encourage you to try them out, and to use this list to explore other things that might work for you.

1. You already know your most productive time of day, and there are lots of variables that enter into that: family, your own body's preferences, your job, other things that need to be done. But whatever that time is, prioritize it. That will mean different things to different people.

2. Similarly, it's good to have a specific writing place. Not everyone will be able to have a "writer's retreat" separate from the rest of their lives, but find a way to place yourself in an atmosphere that's conducive to writing. Think about things like furniture, lighting, and temperature. Most important, in my opinion--minimizing distractions.

3. About distractions: some people work best when there's music playing. I'm not one of them. I'm too finely tuned in to music; if there are voices, I'm going to want to sing along, and if it's instrumental, I'm going to hum. And my little brain can't handle that kind of multitasking. But if music works for you, find the kinds of music that make you most productive. However, I don't care to work in total silence, which is just as distracting to me. A news program playing in the background is just the right level of noise--but you'll want to find the noise level that's best for you.

4. Same thing goes for food and drink. And clothing. And whether the cat gets to be in the room. And how long you can work without giving yourself a break. And balancing exercise with work. You just have to know what works for you.

5. This is the one that I recommend for EVERYONE, though. In order to be a good writer, you really have to be a good reader. I'm going to separate this into a few sub-points:

a. People who read lots and lots and lots of books have a better vocabulary, a better grasp of the world, a finer appreciation of allusion, more cultural references, and I could go on and on. Read, read, read.

b. If there's a particular genre that you hope to break into--read, read, read in that genre. You'll discover what kinds of things are being published in that genre, and any expected norms. In addition, you'll become familiar with publishers who are working with your genre.

c. Read like a writer. Analyze as you're reading; if you find a sentence that works particularly well, figure out why. If you notice that a writer has a particular quirk of writing, determine why the writer does that, and if you think it works. It will take you more time to read this way, and if you're a person who likes to devour books (because let's face it, books are wonderful), you may have to give books that particularly speak to you a second read in which you do the "critical" reading.

d. Don't read bad writing, if you can help it. And just because a book is popular, that doesn't mean the writing is good. Learn to discern good writing from bad, but if you're not sure, read reviews by professional book reviewers and pick up those books that are highly recommended.


Now--Caleb asked about reading lists. I recommend a grammar guide or style manual, for handy reference. Your questions about comma usage or whether to use "effect" or "affect" can be answered online, too--but some of the advice you'll find online is contradictory and from dubious sources. If you'd rather do your self-editing online, find a site that you trust, and know your sources.

I'd also recommend that you read books about writing by writers you admire. "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott was such a book for me, or "The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard.

Finally, Rachel asked about editing. I definitely recommend that you have your work edited before you submit it for publication. A polished work will be far more likely to be considered. Although magazines and publishing houses have their own editors and will certainly do more tweaking of your piece once they've accepted it, it'll never get to that point if they decline to give it a look because of multiple errors. If you have a writing friend who is very knowledgeable about these things, you might have her do the edit for you--but I really don't recommend this. A professional edit is really what you need.

I hope I've covered your questions. It would have been easier, I know, to just give a very specific list of habits guaranteed to make you a better writer, but that just doesn't exist--God made us all so wonderfully different, and we just have to work out for ourselves what works best for us.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 25, 2013 12:07 pm

I'm going to add another writing habit that'll apply to all writers:

6. Keep writing.

Write through writer's block, even if all you're writing is shopping lists and notes to your spouse. If you have a smart phone, get a writing app like "Brainstormer" that will give you random writing prompts. Look around you and write a description of your room. Write, write, write.

I also sometimes recommend writing out of your comfort zone. All those suggestions about furniture, temperature, distractions in my first reply? Shake yourself out of writer's block by changing one or more of those. Write with pencil on paper rather than at your computer. Go to the mall and sit on a bench...and write. Turn the thermostat down 10 degrees...and write. Fast for a day...and write.

Also...

7. Keep something with you at all times on which you can write notes. Some people like to write notes on their devices, some on a notebook with a pen or pencil. Whatever works for you--but don't miss out on the opportunity to jot down a stray idea or observation.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby Mike Newman » Mon Nov 25, 2013 12:28 pm

King's On Writing deserves all the acclaim it has received as well. Although more helpful to the pantsers out there than to the planners.

Mike

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 25, 2013 12:57 pm

Mike Newman wrote:King's On Writing deserves all the acclaim it has received as well. Although more helpful to the pantsers out there than to the planners.

Mike


Thanks, Mike!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby RachelM » Mon Nov 25, 2013 2:28 pm

Great advice, Jan! I really appreciate your how you pointed out that we all learn in different ways. I really want to learn to write well, and I can see myself taking some writing advice too far that doesn't work for me and ending up frustrated.

Thank you also for your recommendation to get professional editing for my articles. I'm sure that suggestion will save me a lot of time, and the objective perspective will help me to grow as a writer.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby Caleb Cheong » Tue Nov 26, 2013 1:42 am

Hi Jan!

Thank you very much for your valuable advice and tips! I've leaned a lot.We appreciate you.



Regards

Caleb

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby glorybee » Sun Dec 01, 2013 9:48 pm

Now that the long Thanksgiving weekend is over and I have time to answer questions, I'm giving this thread a bit of a bump.

Anyone else have a question for me? Want to play "Stump the Editor?" Bring it on!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby lish1936 » Sat Dec 07, 2013 10:51 am

Jan, this is an after the fact question, because the article has already been submitted. So for the next time...

When you're addressing the reader as in Cherished one must you also capitalize "one?"

Ex. Cherished one, God has not abandonned you...

You mentioned a long Thanksgiving week-end. Mine was a long Thanksgiving week, and Christmas will be happily just as long. But I will be tuning in.

Thanks,

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby glorybee » Sat Dec 07, 2013 11:29 am

Lillian, except for "I," pronouns are not capitalized. I wouldn't have capitalized "cherished" either--except that you put it at the beginning of the sentence. But if the sentence was something like this:

Believe me, cherished one--God has not abandoned you.

...then both words of the phrase would be lower case.

Even though the person is being addressed, and the phrase "cherished one" stands in for a name--no capitalization.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby lish1936 » Sat Dec 07, 2013 1:04 pm

Jan wrote:Even though the person is being addressed, and the phrase "cherished one" stands in for a name--no capitalization.

Therein was the source of my dilemma. You hit it right on the head. I instinctively wrote it correctly, but still had reservations.

:thankssign

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I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby potterswheelministry » Sat Dec 07, 2013 5:33 pm

Hi Jan,
I'm still fairly new to FW and am enjoying it so much! So thankful to have found the site! Just wanted to let you know I really appreciated your tips on becoming a better writer. They were all great tips and for me another good one is to write about what I feel strongly about! From the heart....as the saying goes.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to taking part in your lessons after the holidays...and Happy holidays to you and yours...May God richly bless all your endeavors in this coming new year and always!

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Re: Be a Better Writer--WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION?

Postby RachelM » Sat Dec 07, 2013 6:11 pm

Hi Jan,

I have a question related to the greeting. Shouldn't it be: "Hi, Jan," because I'm directly addressing you? It looks very stuffy though.

Another question: I am writing an entry for the writing challenge this week and the piece that came to me is a non-fiction article. All the challenge entries that I've read so far seem to be fictional stories or personal experience stories. Is a non-fiction teaching article an acceptable entry?

Thank you for your time!

Rachel
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