Writing tips are everywhere. The challenge is, like at a giant buffet table, to take the ones that are best for you. Here are some from me, to you.
WHAT MAKES SUCCESSFUL WRITING? (I prefer “successful” to “good”)
Avoid these pitfalls:
- Prewriting (It’s only human to preface our work by setting the scene. This might work in more formal writing but doesn’t usually work in creative writing. After you’ve written your piece, go back and pay particular attention to the beginning. Consider cutting everything that precedes the action. Think: Is it more vivid this way?)
- Don’t tell, but show (This is a biggie. In all kinds of writing.)
Adjectives and adverbs (In grade school we were taught to add these. They do have a place, but less is often more. Don’t use them unless they are either surprising and fresh or they actually add to the meaning. A good test is to try the line or sentence without the adjective or adverb. Out loud. Do the extra words help or hinder?)
- Don’t be poetic, for Pete’s sake. (Being “poetic” is the kiss of death. Readers are not impressed. Stick to each fact and say it clearly. Try to show things in fresh ways. Use metaphor and simile and your five senses. And make sure it all fits your subject matter.)
- Don’t overwrite. (Don’t feel badly about doing this, though, because it’s always easier to cut the extras then to find more content. Think: What asides do I tend to use? Do I need them? What is this about? Why is it important? Then, cut everything extra. It’s hard but your work will be stronger for it.)
- Punctuation. Use it. (Just be normal with it. Capitalizing a word or putting it in italics or underlining or adding an exclamation point usually do nothing for your sentence except make you look like a rookie. You do not want to look like a rookie.)
- Formatting errors — Whether or not you’re ready to publish, you might as well set up all your documents properly. Then, when you’re ready, everything will be ready to send out for publication. Proper setup on the page makes you look professional. No matter how much writing experience you have, you want to look professional. Remember to follow directions. If the publication wants a cover letter, send a cover letter. If they want 3 to 5 pages, don’t send 6. Not following directions is a sure way to get rejected… and easy enough to avoid.
- Just use plain old Times New Roman as a font. This is for email and snail mail submissions. Yes, I know it’s boring but editors do not want to know how well you can manipulate your computer. Don’t do anything fancy. Your work needs to stand on its own.
- Put your name, address, city/state/zip, phone and email in the upper righthand corner.
- Prose: Always double space. Indent for paragraph, rather than skip lines.
- Poetry: Single space except for prose poems. Prose poems should be justified right and left so it’s obvious that they are prose poems. Don’t be too fancy with your stanza breaks and page setups, especially at first. It makes editors nervous.
- Proofread! And have your eagle-eyed friend do it, too. The quickest way to get rejected by an editor is to have a messy or mistake-ridden submission.
- If snail mailing a submission, always, always include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope.)
I believe that everyone has something important to say. Be true to yourself. Don’t try to impress. Relax and know that you are on the road to better writing. We are all on that same road. The more we do, the more confident and true our voices become.