If You Want to Write: Writing as Art

When you write, think of painting a picture. It can be any picture you want, but think of the images that must be in the painting. For example, a beach scene.

Virginia Beach, VAIf you wanted to duplicate this picture, you would need to include the sand, ocean, and sky. You wouldn’t add clouds, the sun, an umbrella, etc. If you added those things, you may lose the tranquil setting this picture represents and change the meaning. Adding unnecessary items may distract your audience or lose them entirely.

The same is true in writing.

Adding unnecessary words, phrases, and punctuation can distract your readers or cause them to stop reading. Once that happens, conveying your message is almost impossible. Most studies agree that the average adult attention span is 8 seconds or 140 characters. Not words, characters. If that’s true, you would only read the first two sentences of this post before moving onto something else.

So, what does that mean to writers? It means we need to cut the crap.

In the chapter Art is Inspiration, Ueland discusses writing from our hearts and saying it like it is. She credits Russian writers, like Chekhov, who focus more on the truth rather than how they sound. Personally, I enjoy Russian writers for the same reason and believe that it is more effective to teach readers than sound like you have read the dictionary.

Here are a few tips to help while you write:

1. Don’t use words/phrases no one knows or ever says. Big words do not make you sound smarter or tell your reader anything about you – except maybe you’re over compensating for something. As you write ask yourself, “Would anyone ever actually say that?”

2. Only use adjectives and adverbs when needed and know how to use them. They do not improve your writing or ideas, and sometimes readers will think they are fluff.

3. Show don’t tell. Future post coming, but Ueland says, “… quietly describe what you are feeling. Don’t say your boredom was excruciating or agonizing, unless your own was, which is doubtful.”

4. Focus. Remember to only include what is necessary to convey your message. This tip applies to characters, setting, plot, words, objects, etc. You probably wouldn’t paint a mountain with a fruit bowl, so why would you add unnecessary words, details, or characters to your story? Everything should have a purpose.

Do you have any tips on editing? For more info, check out:

5 Tips on Editing Your Own Writing

Writing Succinctly

5 Tips on How to Edit Your Own Writing

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ― Stephen King, On Writing

How many writers out there think they don’t need an editor? I doubt many, which is why we have jobs. Editing is a special skill that develops with practice and time. But what do you do if you don’t have an editor or are short on time? What about if you’re submitting to an editor and worry they’ll rip it to shreds?

Here are five tips on how to edit your own work. These tips may help develop your editing skills, improve your writing, and win your editor’s heart.

1. Run spell check. There’s this nifty little tool called spell check. Use it, and add words to your dictionary as you go.

2. Read your copy aloud. I don’t mean fly through it like you’re reading something for school or an online article. Enunciate the words, pause at commas and periods – read it like you would to a four-year-old. You will see and hear how it reads, enabling you to make important changes.

3. Find the meaning. Read each paragraph or section and ask yourself, “What did that paragraph/section mean or tell me?” If you can’t answer that in one sentence, consider revising for clarity and focus.

4. Check your transitions. As you read, pay attention to how you change subjects or points. Does it seem natural? Does it bounce around? Each thought should lead into the next, and the entire piece should tie it all together. If you talk about parachuting in paragraph one, it probably won’t make sense to talk about shoes in the next.

5. Step back. Take a break, and when you come back, read it one final time. If it’s an assignment, does it address everything required? Do you enjoy reading it? How does it read as a whole? Make necessary changes, and if they are extensive, read it once more.

There’s no need to memorize grammar and punctuation rules, or agonize over every word. If you want to learn the rules, I encourage it; however, the above steps will help you find misspelled words (such as its and it’s) and hear things (such as missing words) to ensure you submit your best work.

For more writing tips, check out our Writing for Web and Tips section!

Writing for Web: 7 Headline Tips

Ah, the headline. A task that haunts all writers, especially when they are trying to write the perfect one.

Print headlines can be creative and fun because there’s often a deck to give a reader more information. For example: The Light Fantastic (print headline), The Lotus Elan turns 50 this year (deck).

But what about Web headlines?

Web headlines are all about search engines finding you and the reader not being bored or confused. Here are a few tips on how to write good Web headlines:

Keep it simple. The headline is the first thing your readers will see, so you don’t want it to be too long or boring. Think What I Did on My Summer Vacation simple.

Don’t confuse your reader. If your headline is Writing for Web: Getting Started, then make sure you are talking about how to start a blog or site. Don’t stray off subject and talk about grammar, adding photos, or great sites to read. Save those for other posts.

Use keywords. In its simplest definition, a keyword is a word or concept of great significance. Use words that will be searched and mean something. If you want the stats on a keyword, check out Google Ad Words Tool, which will tell you how many times a word is searched and how the competition is.

Think about it. Ask yourself: What would you search for? How can I find my work on search engines? What’s the subject of the post? And describe your post in one sentence. Once you have a list, you are ready to write the headline.

When you can use numbers. People love lists. They are short and oftentimes fun to read. Top 5 Best T.V. Shows in 2012 suggests a list, a popular topic, and important keywords.

Know your audience/client. Keep these people in mind as you write. You may have to tailor your writing to their style, and know if your headline is good, people will keep reading.

Remember you can have fun. Your Web headline may feel a little boring, but you can get creative in your posts and assignments.

I hope these tips help, and feel free to share some of your own!


Copy Blogger

Inbound Pro

Google AdWords

Writing for Web by Lynda Felder: Final Review

What began as an experiment and blog review became a useful tool and popular topic. My idea to review Writing for the Web: Creating Compelling Web Content Using Words, Pictures, and Sound by Lynda Felder was one of the best decisions I have made for my writing. The book enabled me to tighten my writing, understand my audience, and help other writers.

Top 5 Reasons This is a Great Book for Writers:

1. It’s easy to read. The book is well organized and broken into fast-paced chapters that focus on relevant topics.

2. It’s fun to read. The examples and word choices take a technical topic, adding sound for example, and make it interesting. The word snooty was one of my favorites because you don’t see it often, especially in technical writing books.

3. Your writing will improve. If you follow Felder’s advice and practice the provided exercises, you will see a difference.

4. You can apply the tips to all of your writing. I recommend this book to all writers and those interested in writing. Not only are there tips and instruction, there are dozens of writing ideas, which helps get you started and with writers’ block.

5. It’s small and affordable. The book is 180 pages and a perfect size, so it’s not too bulky or heavy. Comparable books in the market are usually more expensive and many do not cover all of the Web topics in this one.

My only complaints are that Felder tends to repeat topics in different chapters and not everything is covered. The basics are covered, but chapters on Search Engine Optimization, keywords, and headlines are missing.

Due to the positive feedback I received from these posts and how much I learned, I look forward to reviewing more books on writing. The next book is If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. Future post plans include more Writing for Web tips, grammar cheats, and lots of creative, fun content!

If you bought the book, let us know what you think. And we hope everyone is enjoying Lil’ Horsemen!

Read past posts on Writing for Web.

Writing for Web: 8 Tips on Criticism

Let’s be honest, no one likes criticism. No one enjoys pouring their heart and energy into something to hear that it isn’t perfect. But criticism is important.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” — Winston Churchill

This week’s discussion is about workshops and critiques (Chapter 13), and although you may wince at the idea of someone ripping your work to shreds, it’s for the greater good.

As a proofreader, I am paid to point out mistakes. I spend 80 percent of my day telling people to change things, and I can be pretty tough. Proofreaders and editors have a special skill set for finding problems and fixing them. We don’t like our work criticized either, but it’s just part of the process. Have you ever seen a proofreader find out they missed something? It’s not pretty.

How do you not let it drag out down? Here are my top 8 tips for receiving feedback – negative or positive – and how it makes you a better writer.

1. Don’t take it personally. I cannot stress how important, and often difficult, it is to do this. Your critiques and comments do not reflect you as a person, nor do they mean your readers don’t like you. It’s not about you; it’s about your story and how you present it. It stings and can make you upset, but deal with it at the right time.

2. Encourage yourself and others. Give yourself a pep talk now and then. This will help you focus on the good aspects of your writing and reignite excitement. Give others the same treatment. For every bad comment, try to find a good one.

3. Choose wisely. Keep in mind what you get depends on who you give it to. Your mom may be more forgiving and kind than your best friend. Your best friend may not be as honest as a coworker or colleague. If you know someone is tough, be prepared.

4. Ask for specifics. When you want someone else to read your work, give them a list of things to look for while reading. You can also give them a rating scale or anonymous survey that only you see. Doing so will keep you organized and help the reviewer stay focused.

5. Own it. Admit your problems and mistakes, and fix them (see number 1). Also, if you tell your reviewer/editor to “rip it apart”, you better mean it. I have butchered dozens of papers and manuscripts and will always do so. A little secret: I do the same to my own.

6. Discuss, don’t argue. No one likes to fight, so discuss problems and questions calmly and rationally. Don’t get defensive (again see number 1), and hear the person out. Once you have time to take it all in, then make your decision about the changes.

7. Take a break. Once you receive changes and feedback, take a break for a few days. Don’t immediately jump in and start changing everything. You may not always agree with the changes, and the final decision is always yours.

8. Walk away. Once you have gone through the process, made your changes, and read the project in its entirety, it’s done. Now is the time to post it or submit it, and don’t look back. You’ll know when it’s time, and you will finally have closure.

Feedback and criticism are tough, but you are not alone. Everyone receives it all the time. The most important thing to remember is it is in your best interest to at least listen and seriously consider the reviewers’ points. They want to help you, and you picked them for a reason.

Cartoon Raven with red pen and paper

We’d like to hear from you! Have you ever received feedback that upset you? What did you do?

Writing for Web: Take a Break

It’ll still be there tomorrow.

I say this a dozen times a week to myself, co-workers, and friends when I see us running ourselves into the ground for work. Unlike most people, I love to work. However, you have to know when to shut the computer down, leave the office or house, and go have a life.

This week’s chapter discusses the revision process and includes a very important step: taking a break.

It’s very easy to let work consume us, especially if we’re excited about the project or obsessed with deadlines. When you’re writing, you have to know when to take a break or put the first draft down for a few days. Felder recommends these tips, and I added my secrets, too:

  • Watch a movie, good or bad. Sometimes a bad movie is just as good because you can tear it apart or make fun of it. Slasher movies are great for this. Reruns of your favorite shows are an option as well because they can make you laugh, cry, or reignite excitement.
  • Soak in a bubble bath. Relaxation can do wonders for your mind and body.
  • Pick a hobby. Hobbies are great for releasing stress and taking your mind off of your project. A good workout has the same effect and keeps you healthy.
  • Call or hang out with friends, but don’t talk about your writing. Just enjoy good company and maybe a drink.
  • Immerse yourself in nature. Stop for a moment and literally smell the roses, watch the sunset or moon, and wish upon a shooting star.

How do you decide what changes need to be made?

Once you are refreshed and ready, it’s time to rewrite. Felder’s tips for changing your perspective are very helpful, and I was surprised by her ideas. For the full list, check out Chapter 13.

  • Zoom in or out of your document. This either forces you to focus on one scene or the big picture.
  • Print a hard copy and read the entire thing from beginning to end. You don’t have to do this in one sitting; treat it like a magazine or book. Look for plot holes, confusing sections, and flow.
  • Read it aloud. You will hear how it sounds and decide if it drags or doesn’t make sense. I do this with every manuscript I read, and I recommend every author do this on their own before every giving it to an editor. Especially the dialogue.
  • Let someone else read it. Most of us do not like criticism, but if you are going to put your stuff out there, get used to it. Take the feedback gracefully, keep your negative attitude to yourself, and take suggestions seriously. The person who reads it is only trying to make it better.

This was one of my favorite chapters because it covered things that are as important as all the technical writing stuff. You must take care of yourself before you can do anything else. Stepping away for an allotted time will not only make your work better, it makes you better.

What do you do to take a break from work or writing? Share your tips!

Need a two-minute break, check out tough-guy Dean from Supernatural.