Writing Tips from Real Life
After I sent some feedback and writing tips to a client, I spent this morning editing her revised manuscript. I was thrilled to see the author’s writing improve so dramatically from one draft to the next.
Eureka! Whatever I told her, I realized I should share with you today. Every writer loves to know what she (or he) can do better to improve her writing and make it sing. These writing tips can make a world of difference in your own revisions.
Today’s writing tips all focus on making the words leap out from the page and form a picture for your readers. Whether you are writing a how-to book, memoir or even a novel, you will truly draw your readers in if you paint a scene and share stories.
Sure, your book may have its abstract moments, but here we will focus on 7 writing tips that make your stories come to life—whether you are writing brief anecdotes that support your self-help tools or part of a larger narrative, such as a memoir.
Paint the scene at the beginning. Have you ever had the experience of reading a story and imagining the character in one place, only to find three paragraphs later that the room was dark, not light; the character was surrounded by people, not alone as you had thought; and that it took place in the car, not the office? Not only does such construction confuse your readers, it frustrates them and takes them out of the magical world you are creating (yes, even in a brief self-help anecdote!). Instead, picture the scene in your mind and make the essential details clear up front.
- Be specific about placement: Don’t make your readers have to guess whether your sister stood above you, sat next to you or put her head in your lap as you spoke. You can clarify placement by the verbs you use (“she sat” “she stood”). You can also clarify it by picturing the scene in your mind very clearly and then writing. Don’t overdo this (“She used her right hand to reach for the object on her right.”). Keep it simple and sparse, yet clear.
- Use specific verbs to imbue actions with emotion and motivational cues: “She went to the store.” – WEAK! “She walked to the store.” – BETTER. “She sprinted to the store.” – GOOD. “She dragged herself to the store.” EVEN CLEARER.
- Let your readers draw the conclusions. Don’t you go telling me that he was nervous and she was nuts. Instead, have him do something that shows he’s nervous—a tic, a stutter, wiping the sweat from his hands. Have the dialogue show how nutty she can be. As a reader, I get to draw the conclusion of what the action means and now I’m engaged, rather than hearing some ho-hum account with the life sucked out of it.
- Avoid overuse of adverbs. Swiftly, slowly, angrily—these are shorthand ways of conveying information without much life. Instead, tell me she sprinted or ran; that he shuffled; that she threw a vase.
- Take the time to find the perfect word. In a first draft, feel free to be lazy and allow the words to flow quickly without weighing them. However, in your next draft, look for the places where you used a word more than once, or used a word that doesn’t feel as precise as you might like. Use a thesaurus and see if you can get at “le mot juste.”
- Read aloud. Reading aloud always helps you hear what works and what needs work.
Your Bonus Writing Tip
Enjoy yourself. When you have fun writing and editing, your readers get to share in that fun. Write or edit outside (if it’s warm enough). Or write and revise somewhere cozy and inspiring. All the things you do to bring yourself into a light and happy space will bring light into the writing and reading experience—without your having to try. Your writing just naturally picks up your state of being.
Do you have any writing tips or anything you recently did that improved your writing? Please share. And feel free to ask your questions below as well.
Join me and Samantha Bennett for Englightend Author: How to Write a Book that Transforms Your Readers’ Lives on January 25 at 8:30 PM ET, 5:30 PM PT.