Tag Archives: writing help

Today’s Writing Tip: Clarity


You know what you want to say but sometimes it’s hard to express.

Try to imagine your reader. Could anything you’ve written be ambiguous? Could it be confusing? Don’t assume that the reader knows what you are thinking. Step back and fill in certain details or clarify to be as precise as possible.

Take this sentence: “That ended her short life in Shadow Lakes.”

What ended her life there? Did she die or simply move? Or did she stay but she never had a decent quality of life afterward?

Think like a reporter and ask yourself all the W’s: who, where, what and why (and, of course, the non-W, how). Once you’re clear about those, convey them to the reader.

“Marrying Stephen ended her short life in Shadow Lakes because they moved into the city right after their honeymoon.”

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. This is an excerpt from her last book, Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/c3az54r

Today’s Writing Tip: Critiquing Someone Else’s Work

sig2010At some point in our writing careers, we may join a writers’ group or be asked to provide constructive criticism to a fellow writer. This is not always as easy as it seems. Some people have thick skin and when they say that they want us to be bold and to deconstruct their work, they mean it.

Other people may be very sensitive. Some may want a thorough evaluation and others may only want a brief report akin to a book review. What to do?

First, be tactful. Telling someone that the characters in their novel sound like robots is potentially hurtful. Make an honest list of what you think about the material and then go back and revise it as carefully as possible, taking your friend’s feelings into account.

Second, be honest. It won’t help anyone to tell them that their book is on its way to being an Amazon bestseller if it’s an inferior and poorly-written piece of work. Third, be helpful and individualize your response. For example, if you think the whole book should be rewritten from start to finish but you know perfectly well that the writer has neither the ability nor the intention to do so, don’t provide that kind of feedback. It won’t be useful.

Make sure that whatever you say is kind and specific so that the writer knows how to implement changes. Instead of saying, “That scene in part two didn’t work for me at all,” tell the author why and if at all possible, suggest a way to improve it.

Last, talk about the writing instead of the writer so that the person doesn’t feel attacked. In the end, your writer friends will love you for your diplomacy and will benefit by your carefully chosen advice.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books and a manuscript editor. You can find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/.

Today’s Writing Tip: Varying Your Style

sig2010Usually I read nonfiction or dramas that take place in the present day, but in the beginning of 2012 I forced myself to read seven Shakespearean plays.

I wanted to break my routine and expand my thinking. Whatever is true for reading habits is also true for writing habits. You can benefit by varying your style.

Maybe you like to write long, lyrical prose. In that case, you might want to try writing short declarative sentences like Hemingway did. If you tend to write very emotionally or persuasively, try drafting an article or something that requires research or precision instead of opinion.

It’s easy to follow our routine – even Bilbo would have preferred staying in his hobbit hole and eating scones to venturing out into the jungle, but he forced himself out of his comfort zone. And as a result he discovered all kinds of character traits that he never would have known he had. You’re probably skilled in more ways than you know. Take the great leap: walk among the wolves, bears, and goblins.

Sigrid Macdonald is an author and editor. You can find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/

Today’s Writing Tip: From Worse to Worse

sig2010I’m surprised at how often I see the phrase “from worse to worse” in print. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a lot like the term “I could care less.” Neither one says what you want them to say.

Let’s reason this out. If I am number 10 in line in the grocery store and I move forward one spot, I become number nine. If I move back one spot, I become number 11. In either case, there is a sense of motion and movement. Something changes.

If I go from worse to worse, nothing much changes. I am still number 10 in line at the grocery store – or maybe I’m 10 1/2. I have to go from worse to worst in order to see a significant change.

An easy way to remember this one is to think of the opening line in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Thus, you want to go from worse to worst. Although of course, you don’t really. That is the outcome that most of us are hoping to avoid.

As a postscript, I will add that the correct way of saying I don’t give a damn is “I couldn’t care less,” because if you could care less it means that you already care. If you couldn’t care less, you care so little that your interest in the matter is currently negligible. Thus, it couldn’t become any more unimportant to you; hence, you couldn’t care less.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor http://tinyurl.com/7wnk5se and two erotic short stories, which she wrote under the pen name Tiffanie Good. Silver Publishing just released “The Pink Triangle,” a tale of friendship, lust, and betrayal. You can view her story here: http://tinyurl.com/6v65rgr

It Pays to Be A Nerd

Paisley Babylon Blogby Joe Wallace

Doesn’t that t-shirt just scream “music nerd”? The image to the left is probably so small you can’t see the two cassette tapes (remember them?) on the tee, but they’re there. But being a MUSIC nerd isn’t specifically what I’m thinking of…actually any specific area of knowledge you have completely obsessed over can earn you freelance money.

I run a blog about vinyl records, film soundtracks and other vinyl-related topics; because of my obsession with all things related to Italian cinema on vinyl I was approached to do a couple of articles on that very topic. My “hobbies” frequently get me writing opportunities. And yours can too.

But what happens when you get to the end of your tether with your extensive knowledge? Even the most obsessed of us have limits to what we know about that topic we’re working. That’s when I fall back on the interview.

There is no reason at all for you endure the pressure of passing yourself off as the 100% know-it-all expert when you can interview someone who has specific expertise on part of the topic you’re stuck on. When I don’t know if an Italian thriller soundtrack used a mandolin or a bouzouki, I can always play a bit of the track for an expert on one of those instruments and ask which instrument made those sounds.

I know so many writers who pressure themselves needlessly to know all the answers. The truth is, the whole purpose of the interview could be viewed as the way to fill gaps in a writer’s knowledge. Writers and editors don’t have to have a god-like understanding of the topics they work on as long as they can find reliable sources to fill in the blanks. The next time you get stuck, try looking on ProfNet or using the phone book to uncover some subject matter experts to help you get the details you need. Continue reading It Pays to Be A Nerd

Writers Groups By State

Writers Groups By State

You might have noticed the little section in the upper right toolbar portion of our site titled Writers Groups By State. We’re nearly halfway done with the initial phase of this ambitious project, but we need your help to fill in the blanks. If you browse your state in the pulldown menu and don’t find your favorite writer’s group, we’d love to know about it. Please feel free to drop us a line and let us know what groups we missed! You can get in touch by writing editor (at) freelance (dash) zone (dotcom).

When the project is “finished” we’ll have all 50 states represented, but this work is truly never done as old groups retire and new ones spring up. Don’t miss the chance to promote yours here!