Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Amateur Writer: Writing for Love and Pleasure

Fall back in love with writing
I recently heard a speaker remind his audience of the meaning of amateur, from the French "lover of" and the Latin amatorem and amator, "lover." Of the dictionary definitions, the following seem most applicable to writers, many of us, anyway:
  • A person who engages in an activity for pleasure, rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons
  • A person who admires something, a devotee or fan
But how do you rekindle the love of writing when the flame is flickering or has died?

One good way is to ask yourself a few simple questions (you may be too exhausted to ask hard ones). Often, the answer to one question reveals another question that helps you arrive at answers. For example:

Q: Do you lack the time or energy to write?
Q: Where do you spend too much time and effort?

Q: Do you lack writing credits?
Q: In what areas are you already involved that could use a guest post, newsletter entry or how-to article?

Q: Are you stuck in a writing rut?
Q: What type of writing do you focus on (e.g., posts, tweets, etc.), and what other type(s) of writing would you like to do?

Questions like these beget questions that point to answers. There will always be reasons not to write, one of which is that it stops just being enjoyable. When that happens, ask yourself the questions above, or others, until the fog begins to clear. Then map out a strategy to constructively address the answers.

  • Simplify: Don't take on more if you have enough already, at least not before reorganizing what you have. I did that with today's blog.
  • Journals: They can be a great way to get those feelings of frustration out on paper (and you never know what an entry might lead to).
Let me know how it goes. And if you've got a particular writing or editing conundrum share it here. You're not alone, and the answers to your questions can benefit others.

Happy writing!

Articles that can help:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"The Art and Craft of Concentration: Teaching Yourself to Write Well"

The art of concentration
It's said writing is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Okay, that could be said of all work and despite our love of writing and its feel-good factor, it's still work. And it takes work to improve as a writer. It also takes time — and self-awareness.

Writing here I mean revising, because you shouldn't hamstring yourself on draft one  is one place where self-consciousness is a good thing. Revision is the place to slow down and watch your word choices so you can purposefully gauge their effects on the sentence, paragraph, chapter and story all of it, if possible.

It's essential to master this process because it's the only way to improve your writing. Sound grandiose? Not really. You can read the best writers, attend the best conferences, study at the best schools, but until you learn to develop your writing ear and critical writer's eye for your own work above all none of those tools will help. It's like reading a diet book and never putting the principles into practice.

So how do we use this technique? My favorite way is to take a blank page and write a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter, whatever my goal is. Then I let it sit and do other things. When I return, I do what I'm doing now, take time to tinker. I cut every unnecessary word.  I use a thesaurus to replace clichés and Google to replace generic terms with precise language, especially if I'm working on something topical. As I make each change, I consider how the choices will fortify the meaning of the section and story. To make things easier, I do this by scene.

Once I'm done, I let the work sit and repeat the process until I find myself changing words I've changed before. To make sure I've done the best job possible, I read the work in different venues, times of day and formats (single-spaced, double-spaced, online, printed, etc.). Each time I read, I read with awareness, as if for an audience even if it's an audience of one.

Time and thought are heady things. Make the best use of them. Happy writing!

For more on the art of concentration, see The Art of Concentration.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hone Your Craft: Build a Bibliography

The Art of Fiction
In March I can’t believe it's May already I did a seminar/workshop for fiction and nonfiction writers called Write From the Start, on the importance of first paragraphs and the problems that show up there and are most likely to recur throughout a piece of writing. One handout was a bibliography, which I was just reviewing and thinking wow, it's really important keep this as a living document that gets updated with each new find. Here's a partial list with descriptions to get you started.

On Craft:
 Reference Books:
 The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual
The Careful Writer
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Elements of Style
Webster's New World College Dictionary
Webster's New World College Dictionary

This is just a partial list send along your faves!