Monday, April 29, 2019

If Writers Write the Way Drivers Drive

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

Everyone knows we have stereotypical ideas about the drivers who live in the states surrounding our own residences. Right? It's okay. Admit it.

Well, what if we wrote like we drove?

Forgive me, but I'm going to use the states I've grown up in or currently live near as examples. I apologize in advance if you don't like the preconceived notion of the drivers in your state. And I admit up front that NOT EVERYONE DRIVES LIKE THE STEREOTYPICAL DRIVER in your home state. So please don't hate me... ;)

New York
Drivers in New York are rushed. Because that's the pace of the area. Hurried. Not afraid to cut you off, requiring an abrupt application of the brakes while you pray you stop before you rear end them. Because insurance companies love rear-end accidents, where you are blamed for the accident, rather than the lovely driver in front who cut you off.

Writers, it's important to avoid rushing your work. Don't be like a NY driver. When we hurry our work and try to put it out into the world too soon, it can cost us. Like the driver who ends up rear ending another, we can find ourselves losing our shirts over sloppy or unfinished writing, because it won't be accepted for publication as it is. That editor's eye, agent's approval, or contract may pass us by if we don't take the time to polish our work. Or, we may end up spending the money to self-publish a book no one wants to read when they notice all our spelling errors or that we're telling the story rather than showing it. Or the character arc is missing or she falls flat.

Slow down. It's better to take your time and have a book that's refined and ready to be presented to the world than to rush it and miss out.

These drivers also like to take the parking spot you've patiently waited for while the person using it prior to you took their time putting their groceries in the car, putting their seatbelt on, shifting into reverse, and pulling out of the spot.

Writer, be careful not to think you're entitled to that spot in the magazine or that book contract or any other dream you are pursuing. We don't have to have the first spot. Our work may not be ready. We may not be ready.

When the door closes on the spot you were certain you were qualified for, take it with grace. There are other spots in the parking lot of the writing world. Some are closer to Barnes and Noble. Others are a little farther away.

One day, the right spot for you will open, and it will be an answer to all your prayers. Take courage, and keep seeking the one designed specifically for you.

North Carolina
North Carolina drivers are cautious drivers. They rarely drive over the speed limit. Case in point: I am driving a Yukon XL pulling a 12-foot U-Haul trailer on my second move to South Carolina. I'm on a major highway just north of Charlotte, and traffic is moving and is bumper to bumper. The left lane is traveling at a few miles per hour over the speed limit, as most law-enforcement officers will allow. The right lane is moving just as quickly or maybe slightly slower. Like, the speed limit. Where most North Carolinians I've found myself behind like to travel. There's nothing wrong with that. If the driver is in the right lane, where most go the speed limit. But this guy was in the left lane. And he Refused. To. Move. And I'd been on the road for twelve hours and had another hour-and-a-half to go. I wanted to be driving a few miles per hour over the speed limit. And every chance I had to get around him, he sped up.

Maybe God was keeping me from an accident. But this guy was bringing out the NY in this transported southerner. I wanted to get around him so I could get where I needed to be. Home.

Writer, there's nothing wrong with being cautious and taking your time and obeying all the rules to get where you dream of being. It's safe. It's secure. It's well-planned and honed. It's practiced.

But sometimes, it's okay to break the rules, when you know how and what's allowed.

And sometimes we need to step out of our perfectionist tendencies and take a risk or two. To step out of our comfort zones. To live a little and take a chance with our writing.

South Carolina
There's a little wand on the left side of our steering wheels that makes a little lights on the fronts and backs of our cars blink. This notifies other drivers that we are planning on turning shortly. It warns those behind us that we are going to be slowing down. It gives those around us time to plan ahead, instead of potentially causing another of those rear-end accidents where the person who isn't to blame will pay the cost.

Writer, no one wants to be utterly surprised because they didn't see something coming. Not everyone likes a surprise party. In our writing, we need to be sure to foreshadow, to let the reader in on what's to come. Yes, we want to keep them guessing, but we want to give them hints along the way. Not write a bunch of mumbo jumbo to distract them and then suddenly slam on the brakes and set off a chain reaction. Don't be the one who didn't use their turn signal.

Let the reader in on the secrets. Make sure they know what's coming. And then give them a satisfying surprise that they may be able to guess but contains a plot twist. They'll thank you for it. And they'll keep reading your books.

Alabama
I'll never forget the first time I was driving in Alabama, shortly after we'd moved there for a construction project my husband was hired to work on, and I ventured out to do some shopping. This section of road was interesting. Shopping lined up on each side of the street, and a median running down the middle of it. It was like a mini highway, with entrances and exits for stores and shopping plazas. And it could be busy. Like, impossible to enter the road busy.

Alabama drivers have a slower pace than New Yorkers. But they drive at a steady pace, just slightly above the speed limit. And they recognize the use of turning signals

In Alabama, when I used my turning signal, the car to the side of me slowed their pace enough for me to move over into the lane I needed to be in. No horn honking. No road rage. No speeding up so I couldn't merge. They invited me into the traffic pattern and allowed me the opportunity to get where I needed to go.

Writers, we need to invite others in. We need other writers in our lives who are ahead of us in their craft so we can learn from them. We need other writers who are willing to slow down enough to let us into their world so we can be lifted up and encouraged. We need other writers who have been where we are headed so we aren't blindsided when something comes from behind and tries to take us out.

Don't isolate yourself, dear writer. Find someone to make the trip with you. Find someone to share their wisdom and show you another direction to go. 

What state do you live in? Is there a stereotypical driver? We'd love to hear your comparison of driving and writing in your state. Share your brief story and how it applies to writing in the comments below.

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If writers write the way drivers drive ... what would writing be like in your state? @AlyciaMorales takes a look at the states she's lived in or traveled through & shares some #writing tips. {Click to Tweet}


Monday, April 22, 2019

Stop Me If I’ve Told You This Before


By Yolanda Smith

Ever feel like a broken record? Ever feel like a broken record? Okay. I admit that’s a lame opening sentence. Nobody under the age of thirty-five will have had an occasion to hear a scratched record. If you’ve had the aggravation joy of owning LPs at some point in your history, you’ve experienced the infernal rush to lift the needle and stop the irksome clip of repetition charging through your brain.

Repetition has its place, and folks have called it the key to learning. But it is not the key to good writing. I’ve listed some repeat offenders (wink, wink) to be aware of when self-editing your work.

Repeating Words
One of the easiest offenses to commit is word repeats. The good news is it’s also one of the simplest to recognize and remedy. See if you can spot the culprits in the following paragraph:

Nora’s juice trickled across the floor. She held her breath and glanced from the floor to Mama. She waited to see what Mama would do. The floor had just been mopped this morning, and a sticky floor was at the top of Mama’s list of aggravations. The last time Nora had spilled juice on the floor Mama had made her scrub the floor once with a rag, and again with a toothbrush.

This paragraph has additional structural issues, but we are focusing on the repeats. Check out the rewrite and see how this issue has been resolved:

Nora’s juice tumbled off the table. She held her breath and glanced from the mess to her mother. She waited for what would surely follow. The floor had just been mopped this morning, and sticky tile was at the top of Mama’s list of aggravations. The last time Nora had caused this catastrophe Mama had made her scrub the surface once with a rag, and again with a toothbrush.

One of the simplest fixes for word echoes is to search the synonym list in the thesaurus. Still, this doesn’t always solve the problem. Some words don’t have a large synonym bank from which to draw. Here, writers get to be creative in rearranging phrases and sentences to eliminate the word or find other ways to convey the meaning.

Repeating Phrases
When phrases are repeated, even at larger intervals, they catch our eye faster than single word infractions:

If Melvin hadn’t been precariously perched under the stairs that day, he would never have known who his real grandmother was. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, and it would never have happened if Clyde hadn’t lost the bronze amulet between the worn treads. In fact, this was the time of day Melvin would have been precariously perched on the roof instead.

It’s easy to smell a pet phrase from a mile down the road. The longer or more unique a particular phrase is, the less a writer can get away with reusing it.

Repeating Ideas
A subtler reiteration has to do with the rephrasing of ideas. Here’s a sample:

Anxiety is something we all deal with at some point in our lives. It is not an isolated emotion that attacks a relative few. Worry is not specific to gender, age, or socioeconomic status. Concern does not discriminate between people of faith and nonbelievers. Apprehension hounds everyone.

This five-sentence paragraph might have been reduced to the first sentence alone, but would have, at a minimum, benefitted from culling the second and fifth sentences.

Repeating Actions
This writing faux pas makes an appearance more often in fiction than nonfiction. Characters who are forever nodding, smiling, standing, or sitting make for dull story companions.

It is important to give characters a wide variety of actions, as well as individual traits that distinguish them from one another. However, none of their unique actions should resurface across every scene. We are creatures of habit in real life, but habits on the page will bore the reader unless these inclinations are sprinkled selectively throughout the manuscript.

Repeating Sentence Starts/Repeating Paragraph Starts
This is another easy-to-spot, easy-to-fix blunder.

Janelle held the gun in shaking fingers. She couldn’t believe she’d pulled the trigger and felled the invader. She had no idea who he was, but Daddy had taught her to shoot first and ask questions later. She nudged him with her toe to make sure he was dead.

What tools could we use to repair this sample? The possibilities for improvements are limitless. Change statements to questions, combine short sentences or divide long ones, or experiment with word order. Paragraph starts are harder to watch out for, but a glance through each scene or chapter with a laser focus on opening words will reveal any missteps.

Repetition for Emphasis
Occasionally writers need to repeat a word for emphasis. Occasionally. These instances need close examination and should be spread thinner than a skimpy paycheck.

If you struggle to find repeats in your manuscript, help can often come in the form of a read-aloud session. This is especially effective if someone else reads your work to you.

Repetition is not my friend. My teenagers have a compulsion for saying, “Mom, you’ve told us this already.” I don’t want my readers doing the same, and I’m guessing neither do you.

Let me hear from you. Which of these infractions do you struggle with most? What are your best remedies for weeding repeat offenders?

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Don't Give Up On Your God-Given Dream


By Andrea Merrell

Has God placed a dream in your heart? Has He filled you with words of hope and encouragement that will bless others? Has He given you stories to thrill and entertain? Do you feel content and at peace when you’re sharing those words with the world?


If the answer to those questions is yes, then God has called you to write. When He calls, He equips. He will guide, instruct, and open the right doors of opportunity. Writing for Him is a wonderful journey, but just like every other adventure in life, the road can be filled with bumps and potholes. Those obstacles can cause discouragement and disappointment. Don’t let them derail your dreams and keep you from fulfilling your purpose.

Disappointment has been referred to as the gap between expectation and reality. Having your hopes crushed can be a damaging experience. I’ve heard writers say things like, “It’s too hard. I tried and failed. I’ll never do that again.”

One writer says, “Experiencing failure is the price you must pay to achieve success. Sometimes you must face it and overcome it repeatedly in order to be able to move forward and pursue your dream.”

Failure can come in many forms: a rejection letter, losing a contest, not getting the agent you had your heart set on, a negative critique, an awkward appointment with an agent, editor, or publisher. But failure is in the eye of the beholder. Some say we only fail when we don’t try. When we learn to take a different perspective, we can learn much from our failures. The key is: don't give up.

Learning is growing. And every stage of growth has its own set of growing pains.

Never stop believing in and pursuing your God-given dream.

 What is your dream? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles and the path traveler.)

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Monday, April 8, 2019

Making a Difference as a Writer


By Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

“If you want to change the world, pick up a pen.” This is one of my favorite writing quotes and is from Martin Luther. Since the moment I heard it, I knew I had heard directly from God as to my calling.

I had always wanted to do something that made a difference. When I first started writing, I was content to write in my office and have a few things published. But sitting there all alone with my computer didn’t make me feel like a world changer. Looking across the top of my computer out the window at the vast landscape in front of me should have been inspirational. Instead, because it was all the world I could see every day, it felt very small.

Several things helped me change my perspective.

  • I had peace about what I was doing. I didn’t feel restless to go do something else. God called me to be a writer, and I was learning the craft. With each successful placement of my work, I had the opportunity to touch or change a life.

  • I ceased to worry about how I fit into the writing world and concentrated on doing what God had called me to do. Some like to approach the writing world as a competitive venue. God has a special message for every writer to communicate in a way that is unlike any other writer’s style. I needed to let my uniqueness overflow onto every page.

  • I began to receive bits of encouragement from others. Friends commented on my writing, a note or two arrived from people I didn’t even know, my passion continued to grow as aspiring writers asked me for advice.

  • Second Corinthians 3:3 says, “You are a letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart.” Whether my words are on a computer or spoken by the way I live, I am God’s messenger to the world, and others are reading.


Yes, being a writer is a pretty solitary job. However, very few other professions have the opportunity to take their messages directly to their audiences. 

Can you be a world changer? Absolutely. How? One word at a time reaching one heart at a time.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and vectorolie.)


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Linda Gilden is an award-winning writer, speaker, editor, certified writing and speaking coach, and personality consultant. Her passion is helping others discover the joy of writing and learn to use their writing to make a difference. Linda recently released Articles, Articles, Articles! and is the author of over a thousand magazine articles and 19 books including the new LINKED Quick Guides for Personalities. Linda’s favorite activity (other than eating folded potato chips) is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing grandchildren—a great source of writing material! www.lindagilden.com