Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Three W's of Writing

Everyone can write. Well, actually just about everyone can put words on paper. But not everyone can be or wants to be a writer. And this is where the three “W’s”—why, what, where—fit in.

Why do you want to write? Before all else you must have a reason for writing—a purpose. If you want to become a successful writer, you’ve got to decide what drives you to write. There are loads of other professions to which you can devote your time and energy, so why chose writing?

Perhaps you love words—the sound of them, they way they’re used in sentences, the idea of creating images with them. Your love affair with words may have developed out of a love of reading. However this came about, it will be the driving force behind your writing.

Or perhaps you feel a compelling need to communicate with others. You may have strong feelings on a particular subject and wish to relay them to others. For instance, you may feel strongly about climate change or spousal abuse or any number of other trendy topics.

But why choose writing? Why not take up photography or videography? Each is a powerful communication medium in its own right. And that brings us to the next “W”—what.

What do you want to write? Whatever you decide to write begins with you. This is the subject matter not the format. If you ask yourself if you should write non-fiction books or novels, articles or short stories, plays or film scripts, you may find it hard to choose. But once you know which subject you’ll be writing about, the best format will become apparent.

What you write about depends a lot on your personal interests. Perhaps you’ve been interested in animals since your first trip to the zoo at a very early age. You may feel strongly about the plight of some creatures on the endangered list and write about them to make your readers more aware of their dire situations. Or maybe you feel in love with traveling after your first flight and want to share with your readers the wonders of the world.

Maybe you like to present challenges and puzzles to your readers through mysteries or adventure stories. Whatever you choose to write about should begin with you. And that takes us to the third and final “W”—where.

Where does writing fit into your life? Most people aren’t born to be writers. They become writers over time through a variety of circumstances.

Some realize early on that they love to write while still in elementary school. But for countless others, the need and passion to write doesn’t appear until much later in life. Perhaps it comes from the encouragement of a teacher along the way or the inspiration brought about my reading the works of a famous writer. However, if the urge to write seizes you later in life, you’ve most likely been pursuing another career path—one to which you feel equally passionate and attached.

The good thing about writing is that it can be done while you’re engaged in another career. For many, it begins as a pastime. But then the urge becomes so strong that they feel the need to break away and devote the rest of their lives to writing. Which is it going to be for you?


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to writing, practice makes perfect. The more you write, the better you’ll become.

You may have to force yourself to write every day, but by doing so. Writing will become routine. Sooner or later, you’ll be able to write about anything at a moment’s notice. Putting words on paper or in a computer will become an enjoyable process instead of a much feared drudgery.

Most beginning writers want to write, but what to write may be the problem, keeping them from doing it often.

Frankly, writing without readers—that is, writing for yourself—is pointless. And while keeping a journal may be good for keeping yourself on track, it does little for your writing skills because there’s no interaction from readers.

It’s much like talking to your self. There’s no one listening but you. And communication— whether written or spoken—is a two-way proposition. To communicate you have to have someone on the other end, either a reader or a listener.

Let’s say you’re just starting out on your writing journey. You probably have few, if any, publishing opportunities. So what can you do to practice your craft? Unlike even a decade ago, there are now lots of possibilities out there, thanks to ever-improving technology. “The world is your writing oyster,” to paraphrase an old saying, thanks to the Internet.

However, you have to be careful what you post on it. At the least, you can do daily posts on Facebook or Twitter. In the first instance, Facebook users tend not to read as much as view images. Have you noticed the increased use of “text” images—quotes created on an image to be shared? These and one-sentence tweets don’t make you a writer. No one will be able to judge your writing from such brief examples.

So that brings up blogs. These are a great way to practice your writing. Blogs are a modern, online form of the essay—a piece of writing, like this one, that express your opinion on a topic. Unfortunately, too many blogs are just frequent ramblings of people who think that telling their reader about what they ate for breakfast makes compelling reading. Blogs should be much more than that.

To be successful at blogging, you have to have a purpose. Your blog should inform or entertain and should be shorter rather than longer.  Above all, you should post installments regularly. But just because you’re writing a blog on the Internet, which too many people often view as an informal medium, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore good writing skills. Blogs are an ideal platform for you to practice them.

Another related option is to contribute to other people’s blogs. Many bloggers welcome other writers’ work, plus this also gets your name out on the Web.

Still another opportunity is writing short articles for Web sites. It’s difficult for Web developers to get lots of new content. Many are constantly seeking new work to post on their sites. Write articles on one or more subjects that interest you.

First, however, you’ll need to not only learn to research and write interesting articles but also to word them for the Internet, which is bit different than writing for print publications. These pieces must be as professionally perfect as if you were writing them for a magazine. The downside is that Web developers are notoriously cheap and often expect the world for very little pay or nothing. But at this point, you can afford to write some short pieces to again get your name out there and get some readers.

Finally, there’s self publishing via ebooks. It’s sometimes hard, even for seasoned writers, to realize that ebooks are still books, albeit in digital form. They require all the care and attention a writer should give to any book. This last opportunity may be beyond your reach if you’re just beginning.

Engaging in any of the above writing activities will make you a better writer. But you’ll no doubt have to practice to make your work perfect. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

What's the Rush?

Everyone today seems to be in a rush to do everything. And that includes writers. The trend over the last several years seems to be to write a book, namely a novel, in just 30 days. While that may not be impossible, is it good for the book or the writer? The answer is probably not.

Books like Write Your Novel in a Month and 90 Days to Your Novel from Writer’s Digest Books say something about the world we live in.

Many beginning writers look at a book as their ticket to fame. Sure, a few fine writers have achieved fame from their books but only because they were really good writers in the first place who thought out their books carefully.

This all began in 1999 with National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, an annual Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during November of each year. It challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel from November 1st until the deadline at 11:59 P.M. on November 30th. Supposedly, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to get people writing, who might not otherwise do so, and keep them motivated throughout the process.

To ensure this, the project tries to make writing seem like a fun, community activity.  And while it can be fun, writing, itself is a solitary activity. The Web site does provides participants with tips for combating writer's block, lists of local places where writers participating in the project meet, and an online support through forums.

NaNoWriMo focuses on completion instead of perfection. It emphasizes the length of a book rather than the quality, encouraging writers to finish their first draft so that it can later be edited by the author.  Encouraging creativity worldwide, the project began with  21 participants and now boasts a participation of over 200,000 – writing a total of over 2.8 billion words. That’s a lot of words, but do they mean anything.  Of the thousands of participants completing thousands of novels or parts of novels, only 100 have been published by traditional book publishers. Even taking into consideration others which have been self-published, that’s still not a great percentage for the number of would-be writers involved.

While finishing a novel in 30 days may seem like an achievement, it’s no more one than running in one of those 10K races for some charity. NaNoWriMo is essentially a race against time. And while it’s intentions are admirable, too many wannabee writers have begun to think that they should rush to get their novel done in a certain amount of time.  This is probably because they lack the long-term motivation to see a book to its completion. And in many cases, their writing skills aren’t up to writing a project of a book’s magnitude.

What many beginning writers fail to see is that what they write is a very rough draft that will need hours and hours of work to get it to the polished, published stage. The best novels and non-fiction books out there takes months, sometimes years, to write. They take careful planning and, in the case of novels, plotting. “Off and running” just won’t do.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Reading and Writing Go Hand in Hand

Reading is an important part of writing. But you’d be surprised just how many beginning writers aren’t avid readers. A recent study states that 23 percent of Americans want to be writers, but the percentage of them who actually read regularly is pitifully poor.

Reading and writing go hand in hand. To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. The more you read, the better writer you’ll become. This is a pretty bold statement, but it’s true. Exposure to good writing is imperative. Reading just anything won’t do. You have to read well-written articles, stories, and books before you can understand how to write them well.

Most people read to be informed and/or entertained. As a writer, you have to read for technique and, yes, ideas. The broader your reading—the more different kinds of writing you read—the more of each you’ll absorb and the more ideas you’ll have for your own work.

Begin by making it a daily habit. Work the reading of articles in newspapers, magazines, and journals (either online or in print) into your daily routine. With the proliferation of electronic tablets and e-readers, it’s easy to catch up on what interests you while you’re on your coffee break or while eating lunch.

Consider cross-platform programs like Evernote. With its free version, you can save articles or other writing from the Internet to read when you have time. And you can make notes on what you read if reading from a laptop or tablet.  Of course, you can always take along a paperback book to read while having lunch in a nearby park or even while sitting at the picnic table outside your office building where you work.               

The wider your reading, the better. But make sure what you’re reading lies within your fields of interest. That’s not saying you shouldn’t read something new and different once in while.  But if you stick to what interests you, you’ll be more likely to enjoy what you’re reading because you have some interest in the subject matter. Perhaps you’re interested in anything having to do with the Arctic or Antarctic. You might read articles, short stories, non-fiction books and novels about either location----all within you realm of interest.

You may be interested in reading various genres of writing—science fiction, mysteries, detective stories, westerns, etc. But if you don’t enjoy a particular genre, reading it for whatever reason won’t make you like it any more. In fact, it may totally turn you off to it because you see reading it as a self-assignment of sorts.

Also, be sure to stick to writing that has been professionally edited or at least written by a professional, such as this blog. Not all blogs fall into this category, however. Some are just ramblings of everyday people with something to say on a particular subject. And while they’re useful for gleaning information, the writing in them isn’t always up to par.

You can also read or re-read works of literature. But watch out. The older a piece of writing is, the more its style will be dated. And you want to read writing from the last 50-70 years—the period that includes modern writers like Ernest Hemingway, John Updike, Tom Wolfe, Ann Rice, and Truman Capote.

Remember, you’re writing in the 21st Century, so the technique and style you need to absorb should be of your contemporaries. But that doesn’t mean you can’t glean ideas from famous works. Try to figure out how the writer developed his or her idea for a story or book. Was it relevant at the time? Was it related to current events? Is it still relevant or could it be relevant again in a new form?

And while no idea should be done again in exactly the same way, you could put your own spin to an old classic. Take “Romeo and Juliet,” for example. This story of star-crossed lovers has been done over hundreds of times, each as intriguing as the last.

In the process of reading, learn to recognize bad writing. Then steer clear of it, both in your reading and your own writing.