The Author’s Responsibility

Today’s tip is brought to you by Rachelle Gardner’s blog. She is a literary agent that writes a blog to help writers traverse the publishing world. It’s interesting stuff.

The blog entry I’m talking about today is about the importance of mastering the craft of writing.

To summarize the entry, she believes that publishers are starting to spend less and less time on pre-publication editing, and so producing a quality manuscript will be increasingly left to the writer. In other words, it’s more important than ever for you to learn the writing rules and use them (and at times, break them) well. If not, readers will be less likely to read your work or recommend them to their friends. This goes for those who are traditionally published as well as those who self-publish.

I believe that the biggest mistake many new and aspiring writers make is not spending enough time revising. The first draft is not the end of it. You have to go back and revise and revise and revise to make sure your writing shines.

I suppose that is why you are visiting the tips on this page, but I don’t think this is enough for most people. If you can take a writing class, take it. Look in your city; perhaps you can take a free class at the community center (I did that once). In fact, I took writing classes in college, online, and at a community center. Do what it takes to keep learning.

According to this agent, it may be increasingly your responsibility to make sure your work is the best it can be.

Do you have a question about the way the publishing community is changing? Do you like or hate those changes?

Looking in the Mirror

Today’s tip comes courtesy of an article I read the other day, Notes from an Editor. Read the article. It details the sort of things editors wish authors would look for before submitting manuscripts.

Today I’ll focus on the part that says, “Refrain from having the main character look in a mirror, a reflective object, or anything else of the sort.” I’ve done it before; it’s an easy way to get a character’s description without moving out of POV. However, as the article says, it’s trite.

But there are other ways to get across a description. One of my favorite mechanisms is having the character compare himself to someone else.

For example,

Marjorie hated Chloe. That cheerleader couldn’t seem to do anything wrong. Everyone loved Chloe . . . from her clothes straight from Paris to her blonde hair styled with curls.

Marjorie’s straight, flat, mousy brown hair paled in comparison. And her clothes . . . hand-me-downs–dirty, stained hand-me-downs. There was no way she could ever compete.

(I’d fix it up better, but you get the point)

So what about you? Do you have a description device that other writers can use? Or do you have a pet peeve that other writers should avoid?

Thesaurus Love

This tip comes from my experience in completing the rewrites for my upcoming book. I’ve written tips on word choice before, and that fact returned to me full force, particularly this week.

It is so important to keep away from passive verbs and “crutch” words–that is, those words that you tend to use all the time. “Gaze” is one of my crutches. Also my characters tend to sigh and groan a lot.

Instead you should use active verbs and find different ways of displaying emotion. For example, “He was running to catch up to the girl” is not very powerful or effective. “He ran to catch up to the girl” is better, but “He raced after the girl” is much better, though I’m sure there are much better sentences to use. Other words can also be used to describe something about both the character and the situation without adding useless adjectives or adverbs.

And in my example crutch word, gaze can be replaced by study, survey, glance, glare, or other words depending on the situation.

So how do you find all these wonderful words? A thesaurus. I have rediscovered the love of my thesaurus. And I’m not talking about the one that comes with your word processor, though that is a good start. I have found that my old, torn up thesaurus is vastly superior despite being so old (although, my copy of MS Word is also old).

I also mean a real thesaurus not a dictionary/thesaurus. The one I use I got free for signing up for something or other . . . I don’t remember; it was years ago. But it is worth it to find a good one. And I don’t think it has to be in book form. Someone told me about thesaurus.com, but I’ve never used it. I suppose what is needed is a thesaurus that is thorough.

It’s just one of those tools you should invest in if you are planning on taking writing seriously. It doesn’t have to be a big investment, and you may be able to find it free online. But take the time to find one.

Solution to Writer’s Block?

From what I hear, writer’s block is a horrible condition. When a writer has it, he cannot write.

Beyond that, I can’t say what writer’s block is like because I’ve never experienced it–at least I don’t think I have. Judging by the reactions I’ve seen, it’s a safe guess that if I don’t know if I’ve experienced it, I probably haven’t.

I say this not to brag, but because I think I know why I’ve never experienced it, and I want to share.

To me, creativity/imagination is like a muscle–if you don’t use it, it will atrophy–that is, whither away. Now, I suppose this is the reason why many professionals say that writers write everyday. They want to keep that muscle sharp, and practice makes perfect. If you don’t write, you can lose it. So, writers write everyday–whether in a journal or on a blog or working on a story . . .

I think that’s where the trouble lies.

You see, if creativity/imagination is like a muscle, you have to rest it. You can’t work on your biceps everyday or else you’ll hurt yourself. In fact, if you have to take a day off when you workout so that your muscles can heal and build themselves up.

So, we have a bunch of writers who are writing everyday and not giving their creativity a chance to rest. Eventually, that will catch up to them. Writer’s block may be your creativity/imagination crying out for a break. Just like a workaholic will break down one day, your imagination may break down also.

The solution? I think that every writer should write 6 days a week instead of 7. Just take a day off. No matter what, do not pick up the pen or turn on the computer to write. Watch a movie or draw or do something inspiring, but don’t write notes, blog, or anything else. Give your mind a day to rest, and I believe you’ll be more productive overall.

That is what I do. I don’t write on Saturdays. I may think of a story or try to work on a plot in my mind, but my pen does not go to paper nor my fingers to the computer. I turn off my writer’s mind and let it rest.

Now, you may say. But I’m inspired or I have to write this or I won’t get it done. Yes, you will.

Think about it. Will you get more done if you take one day off a week but are more productive overall or if you work yourself into the ground and are blocked for two months in a row?

I can’t say for sure if that’s the reason I’ve never had writer’s block, but it’s the only thing I can think of. Besides, I once tried writing everyday, and you know what happened? By the second week, I could feel my imagination/creativity getting tired. I actually felt it!

So why not try it out for a month and see if you feel a difference? If you have writer’s block, stop trying to force yourself out of it. Simply let you mind rest and try to exercise other forms of creativity. Do something inspiring or draw or something. Every once in a while, pick up a pen and do some freewriting. It may just be that your mind is crying out for a break. So give it what it wants.

Those are my thoughts. Let me know yours.

Run-on Sentences

Last time, we discussed a sentence. Now, we will discuss what a run-on sentence is. A run-on sentence is basically two sentences that are connected incorrectly. Many times run-on sentences are connected by a comma.

For example,

Papa John’s is having a sale, we should get some pizza.

This sentence should be separated into two sentences.

For example,

Papa John’s is having a sale. We should get some pizza.

Other times, a conjunction or proper punctuation can be used to combine two sentences.

For example,

Run-on sentences are not proper grammar, and we should avoid them. (correct)
Run-on sentences are not proper grammer; we should avoid them. (correct)
Run-on sentences are not proper grammer, we should avoid them. (incorrect)

The second sentence is combined by a semicolon which is proper grammar. However, it is important not to use the semicolon incorrectly either. A good grammar handbook will help you decide when is the appropriate time to use this punctuation.

Now, it is also important to watch out for those sentences that go on and on and don’t say anything or, worse yet, sentences that are so long that you have forgotten what the sentence was saying in the first place. Like that one.

Such a sentence would probably be better broken into two.

If you want to learn more about run-on sentences, look on google. You should be able to find several sites to help you with the topic.

What is a Sentence

I have/host a writing club on deviantart.com called Writers in Progress (http://writers-in-progress.deviantart.com), and it came to my attention that several people have trouble with run-on sentences. So I decided to offer a tip to try and tackle the problem.

I started with what a sentence is . . . after all, how can you know what a run-on sentence is if you don’t know what a proper sentence looks like?

If you already know this stuff, read it anyway. It’s always nice to review.

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What is a Sentence?
Sentences are the building block of a story. Without sentences, how could we write? Therefore, it is important that we learn what a sentence is and how it is put together.

Basically, a sentence is a set of words that expresses a complete thought. In the English language, a sentence has both a subject and a predicate. The subject is usually the noun plus any modifiers (ie adjectives, articles, etc.), and the predicate is usually the verb plus any modifiers (adverbs, complements, direct objects, etc.). If the sentence does not have one or the other, it is not a sentence. It is a fragment. If a sentence has a noun and a verb but does not express a complete thought, it is not a sentence. It is a fragment.

Look at the following.

Jenny brushed her hair. — sentence.
Jenny brushed. — sentence.
Brushed. — fragment.
In order for the girl to see the brook. — fragment.
In order for the girl to see the brook, she had to lean forward. –sentence.
She had to lean forward. — sentence.
Are you going to the prom? –sentence.
Go clean your room! — sentence.
Do your homework!–sentence.
Did my homework.– fragment.

Now, the last three may confuse you. Why are the first two (of the last three) sentences, and the last one a fragment? Where is the subject? Well, those two are imperative sentences. The subject is an “understood you.” In other words, when someone is giving a command, instead of saying, “You, do you homework,” they drop the “you” and just say “Do your homework.” In the last sentence, there is no command. Just a lonely fragment.

While fragments should generally be avoided in formal writing, in fiction writing, they can be a good tool. I often use fragments to convey a point. Even in an essay it can drive home a point. Do you see the fragment in the previous paragraph?

There are many different types of sentences and sentence structures, but I don’t want to get into that now. You can see more about sentences types by reading this article.

That’s it for now. Next week, I plan to tackle run-on sentences . . . God willing.