Saturday, March 26, 2016

Write Stronger

To be a strong writer, you not only have to be disciplined but also have an awareness of what you’re putting on the page. There are rules for effective writing, and you can save yourself a lot of grief if you take the time follow them. Remember, the creativity comes in what you write about and how you handle it, rather than ignoring the rules of English usage and good writing.
While these rules won’t necessarily make you a great writer, they can make you a good one. They can turn a mediocre article or story into a memorable one. And they’re great for revising your work.

USE ACTIVE VOICE. The difference between adequate writing and good writing is the use of  active voice. Make sure the subject of your sentences comes before the action, not after it. 

    Passive: The painting was restored by the artist.
    Active:    The artist restored the painting.

KEEP RELATED WORDS TOGETHER. While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many writers ignore the relationship of one word to another. Most people have a natural instinct for the placement of adjectives. You wouldn’t say, “He drove a red shiny sports car.” Instead, you’d say, “He drove a shiny red sports car.” The same principle should be applied to sentences you write.

    Not this: The archaeologist discovered the artifact at the dig in the corner.
    But this: The archaeologist discovered the artifact in the corner of the dig.

VARY YOUR SENTENCE STRUCTURE. Using nothing but noun-verb declarative sentences makes for dull reading. Break up the monotony by writing sentences that begin with dependent clauses. And don’t be afraid to use short sentences for emphasis and throw a question in once in a while.

    Because it’s so large, the climate of Brazil comprises a wide range of climatic conditions. Brazil dazzles the visitor. Did you know that you can go horseback riding in the Pantanal, kayaking in the flooded forests in the Amazon, and surfing off the palm-fringed beaches in Rio?

NEVER USE TWO WORDS WHEN ONE WILL DO. In writing, less is more. Usually one vivid word will do the same job as two weaker ones as in the case of two adjectives.

    Not this: Donald stared at the slimy, slithering mass of snakes.
    But this: Donald stared at the writhing mass of snakes.

Another incidence occurs when you use an adverb with a weak verb. Often you can substitute a stronger verb for a verb/adverb combination.

    Not this: Sean ran quickly down the street.
    But this: Sean raced down the street.

AVOID WORD REPETITION.  Readers tire seeing the same words over and over in the same sentence or paragraph. This leads them to believe that they’ve been reading the same text over again. The exception is when you repeat a word for emphasis. Use pronouns and synonyms to add variety to your sentences.

    Not this: The cigar store Indian, used to represent a tobacconist, was in the likeness of a Native American. Cigar store Indians were three-dimensional wooden sculptures several feet tall. Today, collectors of advertising memorabilia covet cigar store Indians.

   But this: The cigar store Indian, used to represent a tobacconist, was in the likeness of a Native American. They stood were three-dimensional and stood several feet tall. Today, collectors of advertising memorabilia covet them.

LISTEN TO THE RHYTHM OF THE WORDS. The best writing has a rhythm to it, just like music. Hemingway knew this and sometimes spent hours searching for a word that fit into the rhythm of what he wanted to write.

    The hills across the valley lay long and white, like a line of white elephants.
USE PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION. Parallel construction allows you to write in an interesting way by aligning your verb tenses and uniting phrases with a common construction.

    Not this: The big bear bared his teeth and then, raising his claws, he started licking his chops.
    But this: The big bear bared his teeth, raised his claws, and licked his chops.

REPLACE ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS WITH VIVID NOUNS AND ACTIVE VERBS. Cultivate the use of strong verbs and concrete nouns. They are the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal.

    Not this: The flames came up behind him.
    But this: The flames shot up behind him.

WRITE CINEMATICALY. When you write, think visually. Language holds endless possibilities for a creative approach to expressing an idea. Use a long shot for an overview of the scene, then move in closer for the details. Be sure to make the movement from one shot to another smooth and logical.

   Charlie heard loud noises coming from the street. He moved over to the window of his apartment and looked out at the streetlights. There, down below him, a woman struggled as a man tried to take her purse.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Editors—You Can’t Make a Living Without Them

Editors—you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. The truth is you can’t make a living without them. When you work with a good one, you’ll know it. And when you work with a bad one, you’ll wish you hadn’t.

If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, you’ve probably dealt with editors who neglect to respond to your queries, are vague about what they want, make you do incessant re-writes, and then, of course, there are those who take forever to pay—or don’t pay at all.

It’s possible to have a successful freelance writing career if you know how to handle editors. Most beginning and a lot of other writers take the submissive role in the editor/writer relationship. That’s you’re first mistake.

Remember, you’re in business for yourself. You’re a business owner and as such have the right to negotiate terms. Don’t let your editors walk all over you. Sure, you’re desperate to get published and ultimately to get paid, but becoming a puppy with a ring through your nose or even worse an editor’s slave won’t get you anywhere.

Let’s start at the beginning. You researched the market, came up with a timely, compelling idea, and sent a great query. Weeks pass, and you still haven’t heard from the editor. Now what do you do?

Editors are notoriously busy people, but many of them don’t know how to communicate with their writers in a businesslike manner. This is where you have to take control of the situation. Follow up your initial query with a brief Email in which you’ve included your original pitch and ask if the editor is interested in the idea. In fact, you should have asked that question in your first query. Let the editor know that if you don’t hear from him or her in, say, two weeks, you’ll pitch your idea to other markets. Don’t sound threatening, but instead act like a professional. This type of response also shows that you’re serious about your business. But if you don’t hear anything in a reasonable amount of time, pitch the idea to another publication.

Once you get an assignment, has the editor given you detailed instructions or did he or she offer only vague suggestions. First, make sure you lay out exactly what you’re planning to do in your article query. If the editor agrees to what you’ve proposed, you’re all set. However, many writers leave the details up to the editor. If the editor gives only vague directions, you’re stuck. There’s nothing worse than researching and writing an article only to have an editor reject it because it isn’t what he or she wanted. And how were you to know? You’re not a mind reader.

When you get your assignment, make sure the editor gives you the following information:
    1. Exactly what you’re to cover in your article.
    2. The number and type of sources if you haven’t already noted this in your
    3. How many words your article should be?
    4. The due date—this is usually two weeks before the editor really needs
        the article.

If you’re dealing with a vague editor, you may want to write your own assignment letter, then ask the editor to confirm the details. This will also help you to avoid multiple revision requests.

And what do you do with an editor who consistently pays late or not at all? You wrote the assigned article and sent it in on time. You answered a few follow-up questions from your editor and submitted backup material for fact checking if necessary. You’ve completed your part of the deal, so where’s your payment?

To fully understand how this might happen, you have to understand the payment process. Just about every publication has an editorial side and a business side. While the editor commands the editorial side, the business manager and/or the accounts receivable department commands the business side. It’s the editor’s job to send your invoice or a work order to the accounts receivable department in order for them to cut you a check for your article.

Some publications have large staffs, but at others a few people do all the work. The smallest staff may consist of three or four people while larger publications have hundreds of people working for them. Both can be problematic when it comes to getting paid on time.

It’s your job to stay on top of your accounts. At first, you probably don’t care when you get paid because you have a day job to pay the bills. But once you quit your regular job and start your own business, you’ll need the money to come in regularly to keep your cash flow in line.

Make sure you send a complete invoice along with your article. This should include the date sent, title of your article, pay rate, publication date if known, due date, projected payment date and your contact information. Be sure to ask when the publication pays writers when you first get the assignment. There should be no guessing or assuming when it comes to money.

If I don’t get paid, send Email reminders to the publication’s accounts receivable department with the attached invoice to save the staff the time of looking through old messages or piles of paperwork for the original. If you still get no response, send a hard copy by regular mail. And if that doesn’t work, send it again by registered mail.

Remember, you are the one who has to take charge of business dealings with your editors—or at least meet them halfway. Don’t let your editors run the show completely. It’s just not good business.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Writing Articles That Get Published

Non-fiction writing is meant to be published. It’s not something that you create to please yourself or your friends. It’s writing that you share with a number of readers, perhaps thousands. Unlike short fiction, which often gets stashed in a drawer incomplete, articles should go straight from your computer to either a print publication or online.

The neat thing about articles is that you can write and publish them even if you’re not planning to write for a living but just want to promote a product or service of yours or your company.

If you’re not writing articles yet, even if you write fiction, here are three reasons you should consider it:
  •  They’re an easy way to gain credibility in your subject field.
  •  They can drive quality traffic to your Web site or sales page.
  •  You can get paid to write them. 
So what’s the secret that all non-fiction writers use to guarantee that their articles get published? You don’t have to have a genie in a bottle granting three wishes to succeed. All you need do is follow these simple steps to prepare yourself before you begin to write.

Choose the right type of article for the purpose.
All articles can be classified in one of these types: advice, how-to, profile, and review. Each has a specific purpose and must be written differently to correspond to its intended purpose. 

Know the direction of your article.
Before you begin, you need to know the direction your article will take. Once you know that, you need to ensure that every word you write supports that direction.

Define the specific thought, feeling, or action you want to stimulate in your readers.
Just like advertising people do when writing good direct-response copy, you want to think about the purpose of your article. Do you want your readers to feel inspired? Visit a Web site or purchase a product? Become more informed on a subject?

Note how your article will help your readers.
This step is similar to defining the benefits of the product or service you’re selling in a sales letter. It’s critical, because along with helping you write the article, the list of benefits will reveal if it’s worthwhile for you to write it. Make a list of the benefits your article will provide your readers. Some people say you should have at least six, but you don’t need to include that many if the ones you do include are strong.

Include useful instruction on your topic.
Identify some type of instruction you can give your readers. Just like with a sales letter, you want to engage them. Everyone likes to learn something new. Useful instruction ensures that that will happen.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every article you write needs to be a “how-to.” The instruction could just be as simple as explaining how a marketing process works or providing examples of what others do when faced with a similar situation.

Identify how your readers will identify with your article.

It’s important that your readers identify with what you’ve written. Have they been in similar situations? What have you told them that will help them next time? As much as you want to engage your readers, you also want them to identify themselves as people who will benefit from the advice or instructions given in your article.

Answer the questions your readers will ask themselves.
As interactive as Facebook and other social media sites are, readers may find it hard to seek you out to get answers to questions that may arise as they read your article. To help make sure that you include answers to some of the frequently asked questions in your article, you should make a list of them to use as a guide before you begin writing.

The next time you sit down to write an article, create a worksheet for it and fill in the details before you begin writing. Not only will this help you to write your article faster, it will also guarantee that the content will be directed to your readers—and that’s what makes an article publishable.