A road map to better writing
Fran Lebowitz is an acclaimed author and speaker. In the Netflix documentary, Pretend It's a City, by Martin Scorsese, Scorsese talks to Lebowitz about her life.
When Scorsese asks, "What's the worst thing you could say about a book?" Lebowitz says, "I forgot I was reading it."
Let's not let that happen.
A lot of people talk about how writing is hard. And it is. But writing is also an orderly business:
- Start with an opening that catches your reader's attention.
- Watch your timeline ... when, where, and how things happened.
- And pay attention to detail.
Map it out
Think of your writing as a road trip. Start with the action, experience, or lesson you want to tell your reader about, then back up and tell them how it came to be. Write about where you started, why you took that left instead of a right, highlight a few attractions along the way, and talk about the traffic jam that caused a delay.
If it starts well, follows a logical thread, and offers insight, they'll be with you to the end. If not, they'll disembark before you turn the next corner.
Don't let that happen.
If you need help getting started or help editing your work, let's talk.
I put it off as long as I could.
It was a side project I was working on and I was having trouble settling on a theme. A theme and an illustration. I'd done a lot of thinking, but had done nothing concrete to move things forward.
So I sat at my desk and started mapping out ideas. A list of words. A list of images. And (no surprise, really), it worked. Ideas started to materialize.
I settled on a theme.
A snowy night. A night when snowbanks shimmer like sparkle snow in a storefront window.
And with a theme, things shifted.
The ideas started to flow.
The snowy night led to the idea of adding animals. But what kind?
Animals that turn white in winter (there are fewer than I expected). The Peary caribou is one and it would be the first of four I would include in the drawing.
Things were finally coming together. I had the shape of the caribou defined and most of the night sky around it was filled in.
But something was wrong.
The nose. With a pointed eraser, I rubbed it out. And something happened. The area I erased looked like the breath of the caribou. I was so surprised at the sight of it. Serendipity had stepped in and transformed the drawing.
The relief I felt was audible. This was going to work.
The drawing came together, I met my deadline, and felt good about what I had created.
And (fingers crossed), I learned something.
Start before you're ready.
Procrastination is hard to eliminate entirely, but sometimes a deep breath, a pencil (and an eraser), and a list will get things going.
On the final panel, I added a line from a cut-up poetry exercise. The original pencil drawing along with the hand lettering was scanned. Color was applied in InDesign.
Click on the drawing to enlarge.
If I can help you move forward with your book, let's do it.
Call 207-252-9757 or email me to get started.
Love It or Hate It
Whether or not you like to write, it seems most of us have to do some sort of writing at some point.
Email is ever-present, websites are all about content, content, content, and blogs can challenge the best of us.
When I'm struggling to begin a new writing project, big or small, I remind myself that getting something down on paper is a good first step. It can be an outline, a summary, or a list. Something, anything to get me started.
When Things Get Fuzzy
After two, three, or four rounds of writing, editing, and rewriting, things can get fuzzy. Overwhelm sets in and I'm burdened by the order of things. I worry about what it is I'm trying say, how much to say, and how to say it.
That's when I revisit one of these books:
• Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
• Writing Well, William Zinsser
• Words Fail Me, Patricia T. O'Conner
Revisiting them reminds me what it takes to write well.
• In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, reminds me that I just need to start. Forget about word choice and form. Just write.
• On Writing Well by William Zinsser reminds me that good writing is all about rewriting and clearing the clutter.
• Words Fail Me is funny. Patricia T. O'Conner reminds me that each sentence has a job to do, that clarity is paramount, and it's OK to lighten up a bit.
I've read each one of these books cover to cover, many times. But it's hard to remember it all. When my writing gets the best of me, I grab one, read a chapter or two, take a deep breath, and get back to writing.
Writing Is Hard
If you don't like to write, are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes to read through what you've written, I can help:
• content development
If I can help, call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation.
I'm the first to admit to a little DIY plumbing. I've changed a washer on the bathroom faucet and replaced the hoses on the washing machine. But, when it comes to replacing the seal on the toilet or installing a new garbage disposal, I call the professionals.
DIY publishing and graphic design is easier than ever, and chances are, you publish a lot of your own content.
A critical element in content design, and one that's often misunderstood, is font choice. There are so many to choose from and it's tempting to use too many, or the wrong ones.
Here are some tips to choosing the right fonts that will help you attract and keep your reader's attention:
Display fonts are the fancy, decorative styles, and they should be used sparingly. Just a few words. Really. Maybe a headline. Well, maybe not. Definitely not for sentences or paragraphs. They are just too hard to read. Go easy on these. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much. I used a display font above ... for one number and two words. Just two. And it works. Any more than that and it becomes difficult to read.
These are the fonts that have little bits at the ends and tips of the letters; fonts like Times, Goudy, and Garamond. These are great for long passages of text, for books, and reports. They also add a warmer feel to your text. If you're writing a book, be sure to set the text in a serif font. It's easier to read and will look more professional. Not sure about that? Grab a few books from the bookshelf and see what style fonts are used.
These are straight-up fonts, no embellishment, no little bits at the ends or tips of the letters. Helvetica and Arial are common san serif fonts. You’ll see a lot of san serif fonts on the web. They can be easier to read online for blog posts and on your about page, but again, if you have a lot of text or long passages, consider a serif font. Something like Georgia is great for online reading.
Two things to remember.
1) Make it Easy to Read
Your text needs to be easy to read. If it’s not, people will abandon what you've written and your message will be lost.
- Use display fonts sparingly.
- Choose serif fonts for longer passages and a softer, more welcoming feel.
- Use sans serif fonts for shorter entries, technical writing, instructions, and headlines.
2) Use The Two Font Rule
What is the two font rule? Use only one or two fonts on any document or page. Sure, you can use the italic and bold features within the same font and you can combine it with a display font, but that’s it. Any more than that and you risk losing your reader. Too many fonts distract the eye and make it difficult to follow.
I'm here to help. If you're too busy to worry about font choice, send an email, or give me a call. I'd love to help out.
Nonfiction Book Development and Design
Legacy Books • Memoir • Corporate History
Handouts or Leave-Behinds?
5 Reasons a Leave-Behind is the Better Move
1. Handouts are Distracting Spoilers
2. Reinforce Your Message
3. Leave a Lasting Impression
4. Expand Your Audience
5. A Good Investment
If you're doing a book signing or workshop with your book, you may want to hand out information. It's a good idea, but you need to plan what to hand out and when to hand it over.
1. Handouts Are Distracting Spoilers
If you offer handouts at the beginning of your presentation, participants will flip through them and jump ahead before you’ve even had the chance to say hello. Instead, create a sense of anticipation by telling your audience you’ll have something for them at the end of your presentation.
2. Reinforce Your Message (and don't share your slides)
Leave-behinds give you the opportunity to repeat and enhance your message. But don’t just share your slides. To begin with, your slides will likely (and should) have minimal information—and they won’t have much meaning if you’re not there to explain them. A comprehensive overview of your talk in a dedicated leave-behind will be more effective.
3. Leave a Lasting Impression
Is there too little time to present all you want to cover? Put it in a leave-behind. Your leave-behind is a tangible reminder of who you are, and your credibility is reflected in the quality of your materials. Make it professional. Get help with the writing, editing, and design. Because it matters. (That’s where we come in!)
4. Expand Your Audience
An effective leave-behind is one that will be shared when participants return to the office and meet with associates. Make it interesting and you’ll capture a whole new audience.
5. A Good Investment
A well designed leave-behind continues to work for you after your presentation. You can re-purpose it as bonus content on your website, use it as a mailer, or post it on your blog.