Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#6)

6. We mimic the best.

I can't say this enough: Imitate the writers you admire. Would-be basketball heroes copy the moves of the players they admire.

For example, when I was 15 years old I first read William Saroyan's The Human Comedy. I didn't know much about writing, but I knew I wanted to write and that I wanted to write with his warmth. Saroyan's writing gave me permission to express my heart on paper. That's one kind of imitation.

The other is to copy their words. When you read something that makes you pause and say, "I wish I had written that," copy the words. File them. Read them occasionally. As you copy and ponder the prose, you're absorbing their style.

Don't just copy best-selling writers. I can think of several top-grossing writers. It's not their mastery of the craft that makes them sell, but it's their plots or the material they cover.

I started with two writers I like, and neither of them was in my field. That didn't matter and may have been a positive factor. I couldn't steal or copy their prose, but I could learn syntax and phrasing that equaled theirs.

I find superior writers; 
I imitate them so that I can become better than they are.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#5)

5. We Grow Professionally.

Learn—and keep learning—the craft. We strive to become the best writers we’re capable of becoming.

Growing professionally means an unrelenting search for excellence. We're never satisfied. We smile when we've constructed a good paragraph and say to ourselves, I'll continue to improve.

Here's something else we can do for ourselves: Connect with other writers, those who will help us push ourselves. We don't want to connect just to get someone to stay at us until we finish an article or book. I urge writers to covenant with another to push you to make your manuscript the best writing you can do at this stage of your development.

Professionals are never pleased with their writing 
because they know they can improve.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#4)

4. We Read. A Lot. Often. Constantly.

As serious writers, we read, and we do so in a variety of areas, always seeking to know more about writing and about our world. We read in our genre, but we also read outside our field.

Too often I meet want-to-be writers who don't read—people who don't like to read—and yet they feel they must write. That doesn't make sense to me. Someone said it's like hating horses while raising herds of them, and lecturing around the country on how to love your horse. It's not only hypocritical; it won't work.

Professional writers don't like to read---they're compulsive and must read. They snatch minutes whenever possible to fill their eyes and minds with words and new thoughts.

Words are our tools and we examine their meanings. We feel them and we learn to distinguish between when to use small or littletinyminiscule, or minute. We read and pick up nuances of meaning, marvel at the expressive efforts of others, or groan at the lack of skill in our own manuscripts.

We absorb techniques and ideas when we read, mostly unconsciously. We find ourselves absorbed and challenged by writers who are better than we are. And there are always writers who are superior.

We read for pleasure but even then we read to learn and to grow. Every article or book we read becomes a teacher. As we read, we ask questions. Why did she start the story there? What does that word mean? Why did he use the subjunctive mood?


Professional writers are compulsive readers.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#3)

3. We Rewrite.

The best writing is rewriting. That means not being easily satisfied and sensing we can make our prose better.

To rewrite means to change our writing so that it becomes sharper and more coherent. That's what moves writers into the professional level.

When we rewrite we rethink what we've written. We admit that some words feel exactly right and we leave them. We delete sentences that don't flow or we add words for clarity.

I say it this way: I write subjectively; I edit objectively. That means that on my first draft I let words flow without censoring or interrupting. Once I finish I go back and objectively correct what I've written.

Effective rewriting is a skill we learn gradually
by going through the process hundreds of times.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Secrets of Professional Writers (#2)

2. We Write, Write, and Write Some More.

Would-be-writers often ask whether they should write every day. Instead of answering, here's my question: Why wouldn't we yearn to write every day? We may not do it every day of the year, but we do it as often and as faithfully as possible. And we form the writing habit.

I began my writing career with the commitment to write at least 15 minutes every day. At the time, that was all the time I could comfortably squeeze. (Within six months, I was writing an hour a day.)

If our goal is to be a great hitter, we swing at the baseball every day; opera singers sing every day; writers write every day. Every day and every chance. Nothing else betters our writing than working at it faithfully.

If we write on a regular basis, we’ll probably improve our writing. Not everyone improves, because some won’t learn.

We write at noon or nighttime, in the bedroom and the boardroom, on Saturdays and stolen moments.

But we write. We write faithfully.

We write fast, write slow, but we write.

You want to be a writer, don't you? Then write. If you want to write well and sell much, write much.

If you are a writer or want to be a writer, 
three things you do regularly:
Write, write, and write.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#1)

1. We Don’t Bore Our Readers.

We can't bore readers. Instead, they stop reading. Perhaps that sounds obvious, but too many writers are fascinated with their topic—usually their own lives—and assume everyone else cares. If we write as a form of therapy (and that's valid), and recognize what we're doing, we don't try to push the rest of the world to read our struggles.

Some writers assume readers are eager to grasp every word they write. The opposite is true: We have to persuade people to read us and assure them that the time they spend with us will be rewarding.

We do that at the start of our manuscripts. What promises do we make in our titles? In our first sentence? Opening paragraph?

When we forget readers, we invite them to close the book. Whether we're entertaining or teaching, people read because of their perceived needs. We write to meet those needs.

Because we find it interesting, or we think our life is newsworthy, it's easy to assume everyone cares. It's better to assume no one cares about what we write. Our task is to give readers reasons to care—early in the article or book—and keep them interested because we relate to their lives.

If we put the needs of readers first, 
we earn the right to be read.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 3 of 3)

"If I could just find the right publisher/editor/agent."

In 1997, I taught at the Greater Colorado Christian Writers Conference. One man had a lengthy manuscript and asked me to look at it. I thought he had a few good ideas but nothing particularly original. It wasn't different from anything I'd read many times.

I told him, but he didn't listen.

"If I could just find the right editor, I know my book will sell." Those were his final words.

Afterward I walked toward the dining room and a woman came up to me and said she saw me looking at the man's manuscript. Before I could comment, she said, "He comes every year with the same book. He hasn't changed a word. He's convinced that if he keeps trying he'll find the right publisher."

Since then I've met several others like him. Their attitude says they don't want to grow, don't want to work hard to improve the manuscript, and they're satisfied with what they've written. They're usually the ones who cry about publishing being a closed group and "common people like me" can't get inside. It doesn't seem to occur to them that good writing opens many doors.

To find the right publisher, become the right writer.