Posts Tagged ‘writing lists’

Top Ten Ways to Recognize Bad Writing

  •  When u lk at it u c something tht lks lke txt—I ♥ u ☺.
  • there is no capitalization—anywhere.
  • The characters all laugh, comment and argue their dialogue, when a simple said would suffice.
  • There are no tags—dialogue, identifying, or action—on any dialogue.
  • The page blooms with purple prose and author intrusion.
  • There’s no white space on the page.
  • There are very very long run on sentences with very little punctuation in them to give the reader a break or clarify the meanings just a period at the end of the sentence and it looks a whole lot like this.
  • There is so, so, so, much punctuation, commas, semicolons, and, colons, on every line, and, or, every page, that, in a matter of only a few seconds of reading, you lose track of what’s being said, as well as your train of thought.
  • The word was appears 20 or more times on a page.

And the Number ONE way to recognize bad writing:

  •   You didn’t write it. ☺

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The Writer’s To-Do List ©

If you’re like us, you have a to-do list. It’s filled with the mundane-but necessary-things that must be accomplished to make life run smoothly: go grocery shopping, pay the bills, do the laundry, call the plumber to unstop the toilet. Sometimes these things, and life in general, can get in a writer’s way. But just sitting down at the keyboard isn’t the only thing a writer needs to do. There’s more to writing than putting words to paper or on computer screens. Here are a few suggestions for your to-do list. Don’t just write – feed your soul and your muse too.

  1. Read. Read books, magazines, newspapers, the back of cereal boxes-whatever you can get. Writers must be readers.
  2. Visit McDonald’s at lunchtime and pretend you’re a kid again. Buy a Happy Meal, eat it slowly, play with the toy, play with your food, make kiddie noises, and watch the other kids play. Writers must be able to get into the skins of other people in order to write realistically.
  3. Make a journal entry. Write about your dreams, your past, your goals, your feelings. Free-write to let creativity reign. Writers have to tap into the unconscious, creative brain functions that allow characters to come alive, ideas to bubble to the surface, and creativity to flow.
  4. Take a walk, jog around the block, visit the gym. Writers need exercise to stay healthy.
  5. Spend time with people. Writers can’t be lone wolves all the time. We need the stimulation of companionship to recharge.
  6. Pull your lawn chair under a tree and look up at the sky. Writers need time to stare into space and dream.
  7. Sleep late, go to bed early, take a nap. Writers need their rest so they can be alert to the world around them.
  8. Remember a time when your emotions ran high and re-experience it. Feel the anger, love, hate, fear, loneliness, sadness, courage, and jealousy. They are part of life. Writers must be able to pull emotions to the surface in order to write with passion.
  9. Close the office door and spend time by yourself. Writers need to be alone to create.
  10. Write today, tomorrow, and every day. Writers aren’t writers unless they spend the time doing the one thing they, by their very nature, can’t avoid doing. Spill your passion onto the page and release the magic into your writing life.

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Today my husband (and writing partner) and I took advantage of the beautiful and unusually warm March day and cleaned two years worth of bird droppings and green mold from the railings and edges of our Trek decking.  Our deck is a three-level beauty, designed by me. The deck is a joy to sit on and a great place to entertain, but it’s a bear to clean. Last year we noticed the birds’ ‘gifts’ deposited on the railings and the mold creeping across the banisters, and meant to get out and take care of them, but other things got in the way. I got too busy, he worked too hard, it got too hot to work on the deck, and we were just too lazy.

In retrospect, we should have paid more attention to what was happening because a minor job turned into a major one while we whiled the summer away.

We spent about five hours cleaning the railings and about two feet around the lower two decks, scrubbing, rubbing and rinsing today. I even had to do some spots with a toothbrush! We still have to clean the center of the two lower decks, the steps, and the balcony.

After dinner, while discussing the day’s work and blogging tonight, I remarked that cleaning the deck was a lot like revising a book—you have to take the time to get rid of all the crap you let accumulate.

I’m not saying our books, or even your books, are crap. I’m sure we all write well. But it’s so easy to get lazy and let a lot of stuff slip in like passive voice, adjectives, groaning dialogue tags, purple prose, slow pacing, and way too much back story, until, like the railings of my deck covered in bird droppings, you can no longer see the beauty of your original creation. I don’t know about you, but I hate revisions and I’d rather do everything I can to get my books as clean as possible the first go around.

So, here are a six tips I use to get the bird droppings out of my writing.

  • Reread the previous days’ work. This not only gives me a fresh look at my writing but also helps get me back in the groove. If I’ve been away from my WIP more that few days I might even go back to the previous chapter. By revisiting each chapter I get a head start on the small revision stuff.
  • Write with grammar check turned on.  You can set grammar check to highlight a lot of things, but the most important use I have found is to highlight passive writing. Having attuned myself to those squiggle grammar check lines, the passive verbs are very clear to me. A glance tells me where I need improvement in this area. Not every passive sentence can be revised into an active one, but many can and doing so will make your writing stronger.
  • Do a search for “LY” on each chapter as you complete it. It’s amazing how many of those sneaky adjectives creep in.
  • Look for long paragraphs. Too little white space on a page can often be a warning sign of heavy narrative, back story, or too much description.
  • Check every page for tension. Donald Maas says we should have tension on every page. It doesn’t have to be bang ‘em up, slam ‘em up tension, but there needs to be something that keeps the story humming along.
  • Do a check of dialogue. Are there too many “he saids” or “she saids.” Or are there too many lines with no dialogue or action tags? Have you gritted or laughed the dialogue?  Teeth are gritted not words, and how in the world do you laugh words? I know I can’t.

These six items may seem like little steps toward revision, but sweating the small stuff now can make your major revisions easier.   And who doesn’t want that?

What do you do as you write to help your revisions go faster?

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You might be a writer if… (c) 2011


C.D. Hersh


All writers experience a time when they wonder if the written word is the path they are meant to travel. Check out this quick list to discover if you have what it takes to be a writer.


  • your book characters are more real to you than your family members or friends.
  • you’ve started talking like your heroine or hero.
  • your characters have started talking to you and taking over the story.
  • you buy so much paper and ink you’re thinking about investing in Hewlett Packard or Staples.
  • you get up early or stay up late to find quiet time to write.
  • you have a notebook and pen stashed next to your bed, the toilet, your easy chair, and the car to catch ideas as they come to you.
  • you know how to write legibly… in the dark.
  • everything you see or hear elicits a “there’s a story/book/article idea there” comment from you.
  • you get grouchy when you’re away from the keyboard too long.
  • your friends don’t tell you too much about what’s happening in their lives because they are afraid they’ll turn up in one of your stories.
  • a day without writing is like a day without sunshine.
  • you subscribe to a dozen magazines and newspapers just to get story ideas.
  • you actually write. The real proof is in the production of completed works!

How many of the thirteen have you experienced? Are you a dabbler with only one or two “yes” answers? If you’ve experienced all thirteen, you’ve got it bad and there’s nothing to be done but admit you’re a writer. So, go forth and write!

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(in no particular order)

Writing is a learning experience. Sometimes a good experience. Sometimes a bad experience.

 Ironically, after creating this list (which is only a part of what I’ve learned in the years I’ve been a freelance writer and aspiring novelist) number 3 on this list came home to haunt me.

After putting a novel away for several years, I decided it was time to get it back out, take a look at it, and see how well the story and writing held. I was pleasantly surprised, and started working on a revision to catch the minor errors I’d made and add a few more pages to flesh the story out. On the very day I was finishing up a query and paring my synopsis down to five pages, I got an email from a friend. Crossings Book Club had a novel about the biblical character Leah (the same woman who was the heroine in my book) in their catalog! I dug through the pile of mail on my desk for my own catalog, which I hadn’t opened yet. I tore into the envelope and flipped the pages. There, staring from behind her veil, was Leah.  Beloved Leah, the caption read – a story for any woman who has ever felt second-best!

At that moment, it was I who felt second-best. I could have beaten my head against the desk! Procrastination, fear of failure, fear of rejection, any and all of those blocks that keep manuscripts on writers’ desks, danced around me sing-song chanting “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

After I recovered from the shock and the irony of the situation, I went back to my query letter. So what if some other writer got there first? So what if both books are about Leah? My voice is still unique to me, and my Leah, and the rest of the people in her life, will still not be the same as another writer’s version.  They will act and do things differently.

I reinforced, the hard way, a lesson I should have heeded. Like mothers need to release their children, writers need to release their manuscripts.  Send those babies into the world ASAP!

And now for the other 29 lessons …

  1. No matter how good you think your manuscript or article is you’ll always find something to change.
  2. Deadlines are never convenient.
  3. Someone else will discover/publish your idea before you get it written.
  4. Grammar check is not for the grammatically challenged.
  5. A computer spell check is never perfect. Sliver is a word, but it’s probably not the one you want when you want to say “silver”.
  6. If you give an editor something in too timely a fashion they’ll always expect more from you the next time.
  7. Rejection happens – even to the best writers.
  8. Procrastinators never get published.
  9. Only self-starters make it as writers.
  10. Don’t quit your day job – until you have your first best seller.
  11. Ideas are everywhere – you just have to be willing to go after them.
  12. Writers block (or writer’s avoidance as I like to call it) is inevitable.
  13. How you handle writer’s block can mean the difference between success or failure.
  14. Some other writer is going to have the success you wish you had.
  15. You can have success too. You just have to work at it
  16. Be willing to help other writers further their careers. Someday you may need the help of someone who’s more successful than you are. What comes around goes around.
  17. Networking is important – you never know who you know who might know the next editor who’ll discover what a great writer you are.
  18. On the other hand, networking isn’t everything. The quality of your writing and your ability to meet deadlines are of utmost importance to an editor.
  19. If you break your neck to make a quick deadline – and do it well –  editors remember and will give you more assignments – some just as hard as the quick one you just finished, some easier.
  20. Common courtesy and friendliness go a long way in editor relationships.
  21. A first draft is just that – never give it to an editor or your critique partners. It will annoy them as much as it annoys you when you go back over it and discover all those silly mistakes.
  22. The editing world is smaller than you think. Editors share information about writers, so don’t burn any editorial bridges.
  23. Your bum goes to sleep after a couple of hours at the keyboard. Get up and move around.
  24. Your family, the telephone, the doorbell, or the next door neighbor will always interrupt when you are deep into the flow of your writing. When you start your serious writing time, shut and lock the office door, leave goodies on the table for hungry family members, turn off the phone, hang a “Baby Sleeping” sign next to the doorbell.
  25. Time is suspended when a writer writes.
  26. When you get an assignment, start thinking about it right away. When your head is full of ideas it’s always easier to get started writing.
  27. Expect the unexpected. Assignments get canceled, people refuse to be interviewed, deadlines get changed, you get sick when the “big project” is due. (I know, because all these things have happened to me!)
  28. Plan ahead. Never wait until the deadline day or week to start working on an assignment. You’re tempting fate. Something will always go wrong.
  29. If your “hook” isn’t there don’t wait on it. Go ahead and write another part of the story, the hook will come when you least expect it.
  30. Reach for the stars – someone else is. If you don’t try they’ll get there before you.

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