Tuesday Tip

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tip#1It’s Tuesday again–time for another tip. I’m going to apologize, because I started writing this today, which is a big mistake, but also a great learning experience. Many of my Tuesday tips actually come from writing them.

Long story short, I had been working on a draft for two days; however, there was no way I was going to get it polished in time to be a Tuesday tip (Wednesday perhaps, but that isn’t the name of this post). So I had to think of a new topic last minute, which got me thinking. How many of you post the same day you write the draft? How many of you like to put a full night’s sleep between you and your draft before posting so you can go back and look at it with a fresh mind?

I’m taking my own advice today by creating this post using a 5 step method that I normally utilize. Although I recommend taking two to three days to write a post (one day to research and outline, one to finish the draft, and the next to edit and revise), this method will allow you to write a well-structured post in a couple of days or in a last-minute pinch.

Step 1 Outline

It’s important to outline. If you don’t know what needs to be said and when, putting your draft together might look something like this:

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  1. choose a subject
    1. something you are passionate about.
    2. something you know a lot about
    3. something you’ve recently talked about with other people
    4. a current trend
  2. decide tone and style
    1. formal/informal
    2. serious, playful, professional, etc
    3. consider audience
    4. consider prior post
    5. consider your topic
  3. research
    1. what you don’t know
    2. what others have said on the topic
    3. sources (keep a list and links)

This last part can take an hour or more, which is why I suggest researching and outlining the first day, and drafting the next.

Step 2 Create the structure

This is where you take those bare bones and put them together to form a skeleton. Create your headings and subheadings. This will help you keep your thoughts organized when you go to write. For instance, let’s say you were writing a post about auto insurance for beginners. Your structural outline might look like this:

  1. Introduction
  2. Why you need auto insurance
  3. Coverages
    1. liability
      1. property damage
      2. bodily injury
    2. comprehensive and collision
      1. deductibles
      2. exclusions
    3. uninsured underinsured
    4. medical
    5. towing and rental reimbursement
  4. How to save money on auto insurance
    1. discounts
    2. compare rates
    3. combine policies
    4. safe driving
  5. Conclusion

Step 3 Write

Just write off-the cuff. I do recommend writing in order. Start with your introduction. Try to hook your reader as well as clearly state what you will be writing about. Fill in the headings and subheadings. Because there’s already an outline, it’s like filling in the blanks of a multiple choice quiz. Lastly, write your conclusion. Re-emphasizes main points and tie it back to your introduction. This is also a great place to call your readers to action, even if it is just to encourage them to comment and share.

Do not edit as you write. Your writing will be more natural and sound less robotic or contrived if you just write what you think as you think. Write quickly, fast enough to keep up wth your thoughts. What you write may be rough, nonsensical, even off topic, but just get the words down. Get all your thoughts out. Trust me, some of them will be good.

Step 4 Edit

You’ve spent all that time prepping, and now it’s time for surgery. Go back and tweak, chop, hack, burn, add and remove words until you are left with something that gets your message across. You are looking for the same things you would if you were editing your novel or a research paper.

  1. sentence flow
  2. redundancies
  3. spelling and grammar errors
  4. readability
  5. structure
  6. relevancy (make sure everything contributes to the big picture)

Step 5 The final touches

This is like adding jewelry and accessories to your wardrobe.

  1. choose images (it’s google time!)
  2. assign a  category
  3. don’t forget tags
  4. create links if you need them

Now you are ready to click publish. Don’t forget to share your post on twitter, Facebook, and other writing platforms that you have. Hopefully you found this helpful, and you don’t find yourself in a bind like I did. Follow the 5-step method and you’ll have a perfectly polished post by the day you need to publish it.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1We all have our own personal strengths and weaknesses as writers. For instance, my sister is a dialogue guru. Her characters all sound unique, the dialogue sounds natural, and she uses dialogue tags successfully. Believe it or not, my sister and I don’t share talents. My dialogue is not only stilted and sometimes forced, but my characters often go pages without talking to each other. It’s safe to say, this Tuesday’s tip is not going to be about how to write good dialogue–not until I master it anyway.

My point is we all have weaknesses–areas that are holding us back from mastering the art of writing. My tip this Tuesday is to practice what you aren’t good at. It may be you need some practice showing instead of telling, or using active voice instead of passive. You might need to practice writing dialogue, like me. Maybe you aren’t good at describing settings, action scenes, or sex scenes.

Identify your areas of weakness

For some of you, this will be easy. How honest are you with yourself? Let’s be honest, as writers we either think our writing is gold or crap. If you aren’t sure, have someone else read a sample of your writing to locate areas where you need a little polishing.

Research

Find resources that will help you master your flaws. After all, you’d never try to make a car repair or try a new hairstyle without looking up a YouTube tutorial, right?

  • Go to the library. You know, that place that has books. Does anyone go to the library anymore? I’ve found dozens of writing resource guides at mine. I also owe them money. Curse you, late fees!
  • Hire or talk to an editor. Editors can help you resolve grammar, syntax, and content issues.
  • Enlist some help from beta readers. Chances are, if you have a flaw in your writing, your beta readers (not family or friends) were the ones who called you out on it. You can ask them for advice on how to resolve your writing issues.
  • Talk to other writers. Find someone who excels in the area you flop. For instance, my sister forgets to describe scenery. I help her by letting her know, as a reader, what I want to have described.
  • Lastly, never underestimate the power of Google.

Practice

The dreaded P word. We all just want to magically be good at something, don’t we? Well, we can’t be. I’d love to just pick up a violin and start playing, but I’m going to have to practice . . . and purchase a violin and hire an instructor. Off topic. Anyway, say you are practicing writing dialogue, you can draw a comic of your characters and put their dialogue in word bubbles. No artistic skills necessary–just draw stick figures. If you’re practicing writing descriptions, start by writing a description of your bedroom, your office at work, or your cat.

How often should you practice? This is entirely up to you. I recommend a few hours or a day each week–whatever you have time for. Take a few hours to locate a new weakness and polish it until it becomes a skill.

You’ll never get good at something if you don’t do something about it. I could go on tirelessly about my forced, practically non-existant dialogue, or I can find ways to improve it.

Risque Research

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google-searches-scotlandYou know you’ve done enough research for your novel when your browsing history would make your mother blush, raise the hackles of your spouse, and earn you a knock on the door from the DHS or FBI.

Personally my browsing history makes it look like I’m part of a cult or stashing a body or performing strange sexual rituals.

If you’re an author, you’ve had to research some crazy stuff, I guarantee it. Your search results might include answers to questions such as: What does human flesh taste like? Can you eat condoms? How to kill people with a pencil. These are not my actual searches. I can only imagine a novel that required all three of those questions to be answered . . . could be a good read, not one to take to bed, though.

I write fantasy, which does not mean I get to just make stuff up. Fantasy is an exciting genre, but sometimes you have to research some pretty boring topics like animals that live in mountains, plants that grow in shade, how people kept track of time in the middle ages, and how to start a fire without a match (the latter led me to an interesting video on how to start a fire with doritos).

Now for the more interesting search topics. I’ve researched how to poison arrows, blood rituals, how to ride a horse (I’ve only ridden once), how far Tasmanian devils can smell blood (don’t ask), and how to hunt and skin a deer. I’m a Pescatarian, so the latter is something I will never do, but I guess that knowledge could come in handy . . . never.

From the tedious, to the titillating, I want to hear from you. What is the strangest thing you’ve had to research? Oh, and in case you were wondering . . . the best place to find where to hide a body is on page two of Google.

Writing Tools for 2014

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I meant to post this at the start of the new year, but if you’re like me, the weather and tax season has put you behind schedule. For those of you who made writing resolutions, here are some tools that will help you stay on track. Most are free or very low cost because, let’s face it, they don’t call writers starving artist for nothing.

Let’s start with tools to help you research, plan, and outline. My number one planning tool is Evernote. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Evernote by now. For those of you who haven’t, please let me be the tenth person to recommend it. There are many servers out there for writers to store their ideas, outlines, and research, but this one is free and very user friendly. You can access your notes everywhere, even on your phone by downloading the free app.

I used to save all of my notes on a flashdrive, my desktop, or on random pieces of paper. I was always worried I might lose or break my flashdrive, my motherboard would fry, or I might lose my scrap pieces of paper (or not be able to read what I wrote on them). With Evernote, your notes are safe because they are stored on a server. Unlike the random pieces of paper and multiple notepad method utilized by many writers, it is easy to locate documents and notes in Evernote, especially when you use tags to categorize them. I mainly use this site for outlining and to collaborate all of my notes and ideas. When everything is in one place, everything falls into place.

I’m not an app expert, but I found a few for free that i’m trying out. The first one is A Novel Idea. It’s a free app that helps you outline, plan your characters, scenes, and record ideas. Document your setting, theme, tone, POV, plot, and so forth all on one app. Yes, you can do the same thing on a piece of paper or in a notebook, but I like it because I can plan my novel anytime, even at work. It looks like I’m sending a text, but I’m actually writing a character sketch or planning a scene. For what it’s worth, it cost nothing and it’s very easy to use. Give it a try.

Another app I downloaded is the IEW Writing Tools app, created by the Institute for Excellence in Writing to help writers improve their writing. I put this app in the outline category, but it is also a helpful writing and editing app because it gives advice on how to start sentences, what to avoid in your writing, etc. There are charts and list to help you organize your writing. The list are very helpful. There’s a preposition list, transitional word list, and even a list for synonyms for “Said.” It’s like carrying an abridged writing guide in your phone.

Now for some tools to help you while you write. My favorite writing aid of all time is the Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. Hopefully you’ve heard of this tool. It is exactly what it says: a thesaurus for emotions. Whatever your characters can feel, the thesaurus has the definition, physical signals, internal sensations, and mental responses to appropriately describe it. With this book, no longer will your characters shiver when they should tense, or cry when they should cringe.

Sometimes we need a little help getting in the writing mood. There is a website for that. OmmWriter is a website dedicated to enhancing the writing experience. You choose the font, background color, and keystroke sounds to create the perfect writing environment. When you are done you can save your writing as a textfile or PDF. OmmWriter isn’t expensive either. Instead of a monthly fee, they except a monitary gift. I believe the minimum is four dollars. For writers who love ambience, this is the perfect site for you.

For those of you who write traditionally, while I don’t have a notebook of choice, I do suggest a certain type of pen. I know in a previous post I stated all pens are the same, but I stand corrected. The perfect writing pen is more than a pen. For instance I have a ballpoint pen with an LED light and a touch screen stylus. This comes in handy when I need to jot a note in Evernote, or highlight a section from the Emotion Thesaurus, because the stylus works so much better than my finger. With a multi-functional pen, you may spend more time playing with it than writing, but I find the versatility more helpful than distracting. And you know, that light comes in handy when you drop candy or your flashdrive on the floor (or to flash in the eyes of kitties trying to lay on your laptop or chew your mouse chord).

Pandora is not technically a writing tool, (not on the official website anyway) but anyone who has read the NaNoWrimo forums or talked to a writer who uses music as their muse knows Pandora is a necessity. You choose a station and Pandora will select music to match your taste. It’s free, or for ad-free listening, you can purchase it for roughly $40 a year. I’m tempted to go this route because nothing interrupts the writing flow like a commercial about a man looking for his ATM. Aside from the commercials, the only drawback is that you can only skip so many songs before the licensing agreement steps in to stop you. Other than that, I think it’s a great tool to create the “write” mood.

I am very open to suggestions or comments on my selections or any helpful tools you use that I have not listed. What are some of the best programs, servers, etc that you used in 2013? What do you plan on using this year?