Reading time: Less than 5 minutes
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and entertaining pieces for writers.
The days are getting longer in the Northern hemisphere and I’m usually surprised by how quickly it happens. One evening I’m reading a book at 8 pm and it’s dark outside; the next evening, it seems to be light at exactly the same time. I don’t know enough math to be able to explain this circumstance, but I found a good explanation in Forbes.
Meanwhile, let me stick to one of the tasks I can do a lot better than math – identifying 10 posts that will help you become a more skillful writer.
Get better at entering writing contests
If you’re the type of writer who enjoys entering contests, here’s a blog post for you! Appearing on the Fiction University Blog (@Janice_Hardy), this piece by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall), gives simple and practical tips for how to increase your odds of winning. The tips might sound too easy, but trust me, they aren’t. (I’ve been a contest judge myself and always found it remarkable to see how few people follow the rules.)
Here are Hall’s tips.
- Submit your story early
- Stick to the word count
- Don’t tell the judges why you deserve to win
- Follow the format
- Focus on the theme, don’t just mention it
- Interpret the theme in an unusual way
Follow the 70-20-10 rule
If you want to improve your writing, understand that quantity is more important than quality. In numbers this is expressed as follows: 70 percent of your work will be mediocre; 20 percent will suck; 10 percent will be remarkable. This more-is-better philosophy is the theme of a recent post in Inc. by Jessica Stillman, (@EntryLevelRebel).
“How do you put this principle to work in your own life?” Stillman asks in the post. “First, remember that the best way to get better at something isn’t to worry and study, it’s to do it, even if you completely suck at it at first.” I like that she mentions Jonathan Mann (although she misnames him Jonathan Reed), a songwriter I’ve written about in both my blog and my book. Mann’s intense commitment to writing a song a day — he’s been at it since 2009 — has resulted in his songs being played on the TED stage, by Steve Jobs at a press conference and on the Rachel Maddow show.
Many thanks to Melissa Weber for sharing the link with me.
Learn how to copy others
I like to consider myself a copycat. I have learned many of my writing skills from the simple act of copying others.
And guess what? I was inadvertently imitating the style of musician Paul Simon (@PaulSimonMusic). In a fabulous 4-minute clip from the Dick Cavett show, posted on the blog of Austen Kleon, (@austinkleon), you can learn how Simon’s idea for “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” came from Bach, melded with a bit of Gospel music. Watch this clip! It’s fascinating.
Stop killing your darlings
Like many writing coaches, I have regularly advised writers to kill their darlings. In other words, I’ve suggested they delete the phrases nearest and dearest to their hearts. Why? Because, to me, they have lost all perspective and these phrases just don’t seem to work.
Novelist R.W. Kwon, offers a different opinion in a recent post on the Catapult website,(@CatapultStory). Here, in part, is what she says:
“I want any novel I write to be full of darlings. If possible, all darlings. I don’t want any published novel of mine to include a single line that bores me, that hasn’t been shaped, pressed, and attentively loved into the most truthful, living version of itself.”
Don’t dislike your writing, like Douglas Adams did
A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that I’ve never read. (Maybe I’ll correct that deficiency this summer.) But, of course, I’m familiar with the work of Douglas Adams. What I didn’t know was that he despised writing.
In a recent post by arts correspondent Mark Brown (markbrown14), on the Guardian website, we learn that a trove of letters and other documents by Adams reveal his true feelings about writing. Here, for example, is some of what he said:
“Today I am monumentally fed up with the idea of writing. I haven’t actually written anything for two days, and that makes me fed up as well…Arthur Dent is a burk. He does not interest me. Ford Prefect is a burk. He does not interest me. Zaphod Beeblebrox is a burk. He does not interest me. Marvin is a burk. He does not interest me. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a burk. It does not interest me.”
My thanks to Tina Chiu for forwarding this link to me.
Learn how to write with the voice of a child
When beloved children’s book author Beverly Cleary died on March 25/21, at the age of 104, I recalled having listened to an audio book recording of Ramona the Pest, in the car with my children when they were young. (It was exceptionally narrated by actress Stockard Channing, who offers just as much appeal for adult listeners.)
Recently, I enjoyed a thoughtful analysis by Nathan Branford, (@NathanBransford), explaining why Cleary was so successful.
Here are the three reasons he cites:
- The young protagonist is thoroughly in charge
- Cleary empathizes without moralizing
- The narrative voice stays childlike
As Bransford puts it: “After my years working in publishing, I’m also amazed that Beverly Cleary broke one of the now-almost-ironclad convictions in children’s publishing that kids only want to read about characters who are as old or older than them. Cleary had me enraptured by a kindergartner’s antics when I was an 8- or 9-year-old reader.”
Do a better job of naming your characters
Are you a fiction writer who struggles to name your characters? Check out some terrific advice from writer Anne R. Allen (@annerallen).
Here’s a quick look at her 10 tips:
- Always Google your characters’ names
- Choose names that fit the character
- Choose names that begin with different letters
- Avoid generic or over-used names
- Be creative but make names pronounceable
- Name only featured players, not walk-ons
- Don’t change names mid-story
- Choose names to fit the setting, period and age group
- Try a character name generator
- Don’t fake foreign or antique names
Learn the information you need in order to change
Do you want to learn how to be more productive? Work with others more effectively? Or, perhaps, develop a writing habit?
The secret, according to a recent post on the Farnham Street blog, (@farnamstreet), is to get adequate feedback. As the post puts it: “Having direct feedback on the results of your specific actions can reinforce positive changes, help you develop habits, and inspire you to take further action. Feedback also helps you set goals for what you can reasonably accomplish.”
Gain encouragement from the plight of Jane Austen
Did you know there was a time when Jane Austen couldn’t write? In a recent post on the Lit Hub website, (@lithub), the writers describe Austen’s time in the city of Bath, a kind of exile imposed by her parents. Even though she was unable to write, however, the images, characters and settings she absorbed informed her later work.
As the post puts it: “It may seem hard to imagine Austen, the woman to whom writing came so naturally, neglecting her pen, but all those distractions, the worry and uncertainty of her years in Bath, are part of what made her later works so successful. Tucked into the pages of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and the rest, are glimpses of this time when she could not write.”
I recently read the non-fiction book Breath by James Nestor, (@MrJamesNestor), and it has me re-evaluating many of my previous conclusions about breathing. A recent post on the Psychology Today website (@PsychToday) by writer and psychologist Constantin Lukin, echoes many of the points made by the book.
The most interesting one to me is the value of increasing tolerance for carbon dioxide. Although CO2 is a waste gas, it’s necessary for circulating oxygen in our bodies. And without enough tolerance for it, many of us become over-breathers. I especially like the way the author of this article points out that breathing exercises are usually tried “half-heartedly in moments of acute stress.” Instead, he suggests, we need to make breathing exercises a regular part of our lives.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week discussed how to develop an effective writing ritual. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
What are the best blog posts you’ve read in the last month? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!