This past weekend marked the release of what could be the biggest blockbuster movie of the summer, Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Now, you may not be Michael Bay (if you are Michael Bay, call me, I have an idea for another amazing movie franchise) and you may not make millions of dollars, but there are two things that you can do to transform your writing this week.
A few weeks back I extolled the benefits of reading as they related to improving as a writer. I firmly believe that other than writing itself, reading can be one of the most beneficial practices for those who want to write. Not only does it help you see what works, but it can also drive your creativity. How many times have you been reading a story and been intrigued by a character to the point of thinking “I wonder what would happen to that character if they lived today (or 100 years ago/from now)?” Instead of wondering, use that as a muse, sit down and write that story. Write “Hamlet in High School” or “Harry Potter in Space.” Use the imagination that you have and think of something completely different from the place the character currently lives in.
You can also take a minor character from the story, one that you want to know more about, and write their story. If the book you’re reading is in first person, write a pivotal scene from the perspective of another character. Maybe they remember the action differently or heard slightly different dialog based on their preconceived notions about what was going on.
Use your reading to explore your writing as much as you can.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but in order to change the way you write, you actually need to be sitting down, typing on your computer or putting pen to paper.
You cannot change the way you ride a bike or drive a car by sitting on the couch watching re-runs of M*A*S*H and the same goes for writing. In order to improve your craft, you actually need to do it.
So, as we get into this week, set aside some time to sit down and write. Take your laptop to the library so you won’t be disturbed. Find a story that inspires you and use one of the prompts above to help you get started. The only requirement is to write something, ANYTHING!
Share what works for you in the comments below.
As a writer, one of the essential pieces of your job is to read. By continuously reading and taking in new information, you can use what you read to improve your writing style. When you see something that you like in someone else’s writing, you can borrow that and implement it in your own.
As you read work by other authors, you will often see things that come up again and again. They use the same word or phrase in a particular setting or they like to use flowery metaphors. These things are all fine, depending on the type of writing you (or the author) is doing.
What can be useful for you as a writer is being able to spot these tendencies in other’s writing and then use that experience to spot your own tendencies. Maybe you always tend to switch tenses as you write. Knowing that as you write can help you spot those errors, and save you time from having to edit them out later on in your writing process.
Finding Your Voice
I wrote about this a few months back but it’s worth mentioning again here. It’s especially important to read lots of books if you are having trouble finding your voice. Go to your local library and browse through 3-4 different sections. Pick out some books in a genre that you have NEVER read before! Scary thought? Of course it is. But facing that fear is part of what is holding you back right now.
Get out of your comfort zone and look at what authors sound like in their writing. Take some time to actually read a few passages out loud so you can hear how the words sound. You may find something you want to borrow for your own writing. You may also find some things that you absolutely hate…which brings me to my last point.
Finding Out What NOT To Do
Sometimes knowing what not to do is just as important than knowing what you should do. Your friend gave you directions to his house and can’t remember the exact street to turn on, but you do remember that he specifically said not to turn until after you cross the railroad tracks. That certainly helps when you’re trying to find the right street.
In your reading, there will come a time when you come across a passage or a chapter and say to yourself, “why would anyone write like this?” Take note of that because that it your inner editor telling you how not to write.
As writers we sometimes get bogged down in the writing itself. However, it is important to be able to step back and “research” by reading a good book.
Let me know what you think. Do you have a great book that you’ve read recently that has helped your writing in some way? Leave a note in the comment section.
Perhaps it’s the English nerd in me, but this is one of my biggest pet peeves in terms of misuse of the English language. So many people speak the phrase “I could care less” in the wrong context, assuming it is correct because that is how they have heard it used in the past. But let’s take a closer look at this statement.
Most of the time, people should be stating “I couldn’t care less.” They use the phrase above to indicate that the degree to which they care is so small, that it could not possibly be any less, which is to say that they don’t care at all.
Let’s briefly look at this in math terms. Assume for a moment that you are a sports nut and the last thing that you care about in the world is reading a book. On a scale of 0 to 100, your level of caring about sports is around a 95 while your level of caring about reading a book is an absolute 0.
If you’re reading this and realizing that you’ve been using this phrase incorrectly until now, I forgive you. Go ahead and forgive yourself too. Part of fixing the problem is admitting that you have one in the first place.
But please make sure you DO fix it. I couldn’t care MORE about you doing this. (See what I did there?) Every time you hear yourself start to say “I could care less,” think about my example above and make sure that’s what you mean. If it’s accurate, go for it. But if you really mean that you can’t care any less, then say that instead. Share your new found insight with your friends and once they see it, they’ll think you’re a genius…or maybe just an English nerd.
Regardless of what you’re writing, always pay attention to your tone. Your graduate school thesis is a much different piece of writing than the short story you wrote in third grade about the bunny that lost his way and the tone of each piece of writing should reflect the audience for which it is intended. Finding that voice can sometimes be difficult but when you do, your writing will become much more effective and engaging to your readers.
As you begin to write, make sure you are keeping your audience in mind. The more you do this at the beginning of your project, the easier it will be down the road to make sure your tone remains consistent. If you feel like getting into the numbers of it, take a few minutes to review my post a few weeks back about Writing in Plain English. Regardless of your comfort level with numbers and analytics, this handy tool can help give you a rough idea how understandable your writing is for your intended audience.
One more test that may work even better to judge the tone of your writing is to find someone in your target audience (and whose judgment you can trust) and simply give them the piece to read. They should be able to clearly understand the writing but also not feel like they are reading well below their comprehension level.
Find the perfect voice and tone for your writing and stick with it. As long as you maintain your consistency, people will begin to trust what you have to say.
I have been working for the last few weeks trying to get the word out about Best Word Forward and I came across something that astounded me. I found a website called ProfileTree which allows people or business to post their services. I quickly took advantage of this opportunity to get some more exposure for Best Word Forward.
Once I had posted my information, I browsed around the site for a bit to see where my postings landed when someone searched for them. I found a few people posting writing services where they would write articles for a small fee. The only problem with these posts that offered writing services was that each one had misspelled words and absolutely terrible grammar. Granted, when you’re working with 30-70 characters, grammar can tend to take a back seat to simply getting your point across. However, if you’re advertising writing services, you probably want to make sure the writing in your advertisement, follows the basic norms of the language you’re writing in.
Now, if I am to believe the images that went along with these pictures, the people posting these ads were likely from foreign countries and not native English speakers. This does not excuse them from having to use the English language correctly if they are advertising to do so. I would compare this to a graphic designer advertising her services with something drawn in crayon on the back of a napkin or a company that makes fine stationary advertising on a piece of ripped up cardboard.
With all of the noise in the world today, it’s hard to get noticed and I’m worried that these people might get noticed simply because of their silly mix-ups and I might get skipped over because I seem to know what I’m talking about. I hope that’s not the case, but the fact that these advertisements are allowed to remain on the sight with their glaring errors, frustrates me to no end. Perhaps I should offer my services to these people and help them become better writers and in turn spread that around the world.
Please let me know if you would hire these people to write for you. Maybe I’ll have to rethink my advertising strategy.
So you’re writing a short story. You moving right along and suddenly realize that your story is over thirty pages long. It’s starting to move from being a short story into being a short novella.
Or you may have another dilemma. You started writing your story and were able to wrap up the narrative in only two pages. You went from having a short story idea to having a REALLY short story.
Technically, either of these remains correct when called a short story. There are many different types of short stories and they can range from something extremely brief to a longer and more fully developed narrative that unfolds over many pages and may even be broken into mini-chapters. That is the beauty of the short story format. There is no correct way to write it!
I was playing around in MS Word the other day and noticed an option to include readability statistics when doing a spelling and grammar check. I decided to mark the box and see what happened.
A little to my surprise I fewer misspellings that I had anticipated, many thanks to the autocorrect function in Word for that. I also received a little window that gave me a “readability score” (in the mid 60s) and a “grade level” (nearly 8th grade!) for my document. I didn't entirely understand the meaning of these numbers or what scale they should be judged against, something Microsoft might want to incorporate into their programming when they are provided, so I went online to find out more.
The name associated with the numbers was Flesch. I quickly came upon an article by Rudolf Flesch on the website of the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) titled How to Write Plain English. Apparently Mr. Flesch developed a formula for figuring out the readability of any piece of English language writing and placing it on a scale. Regardless of what you are writing, there is something in here for everyone. If you’re writing young adult novels, this formula can help you determine if you’re writing to old or young for the average reader in the ages you are targeting. If you have a piece of writing and the readability score comes back in the teens or single digits, you probably need to find some time to edit as soon as possible.
I can hear you asking already, how can language be distilled down into a formula? It can’t. We can however use this formula as a tool for guiding us in our writing. Something as complicated as language can never be measured simply like numbers but the more information we have about our writing, the better off we will be.
Check out Flesch’s entire article. And while you’re at it, browse around the rest of the University of Canterbury’s website. I always find it interesting to see what sites look like for places around the world.
I posted a note about this on the Best Word Forward Facebook page yesterday but wanted to make an official post about it on the blog. I originally wanted to make posts here at least three times a week, but that proved to be far too much to handle. For the time being, I will be making weekly posts every Friday, alternating between an editing topic and a résumé topic each week. Hopefully this will keep the blog moving forward and will help you the reader know when to expect new content each week.
If there is a topic you have questions on regarding your own writing or résumé, please leave a comment below or email me and I will do my best to answer your question in an upcoming post.
Thank you and keep working to put your BEST WORD FORWARD!
Do you have a story that you’re writing or a big paper due at school? Always feel like you can’t just get your point across the way you want to? I have an opportunity for you.
I’m offering you a limited time offer through the end of November to let me help you grow as a writer by reviewing a piece of writing that you need help with. Just fill out the form below and I will respond to your request within 48 hours. I would like to keep the offer to anything under 10 pages, but if it’s around that length, we can certainly discuss options.
Fill out the form and start becoming a better writer today!
Jonathan Ytreberg is the owner of Best Word Forward, committed to providing the best resume advice and services to clients around the globe.