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 don't know what to do."
That's what Barbie wrote when she contacted me about her book.
She'd been working on her memoir for years. The writing was done and she wanted to move forward, to publish the book, but she had so many questions.
Should she find someone to edit the book? Where could she get a cover design? And what about the inside? She had no idea where to begin.
She's not alone.
Writing a book is a huge accomplishment, getting it into book form and publishing it is another.
Together we reviewed her manuscript, edited and organized what she'd written, talked about titles, cover designs ... and how and where to get it published.
As we worked through the project, Barbie often thanked me for my guidance and told me she was learning so much about the process.
I was learning, too. Learning about how hard it can be for writers to share their work, to hand it over and trust things will work out.
Last month after Barbie's book was published, she sent me a note:
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have been a dream to work with. I am so happy with my book. I could NEVER have done with out you."
Do you have a book tucked in a drawer ... waiting to be published?
Do you have an idea for a book but aren't sure where to start?
I can help. Especially with things like ...
So there's this dog up the street; a menacing, bothersome dog. It came at me on Sunday, full bark. It was one more run-in with a dog that reminded me of another run-in, so I decided to write about it.
After getting it all down, it was too long, so I edited what I'd written. And edited some more. But there was still one bit that wasn't right.
Does that happen with your writing?
You have too many (or too few) words, but still struggle to find the right ones? Well, I kept at it until I found the one word that would fix it all: dumbfounded.
Here's the story. I'm sharing it because it's ridiculous and good for a laugh if you need one.
Years ago I was walking with Agatha, my long-earred, droopy-eyed, red-and-white basset hound. It was early morning and I decided to mix things up and walk through a neighborhood across the avenue.
We were two blocks in when a German shepherd bolted from the side of a one-story house on the corner.
Now Agatha was a sweet, easy-going dog and she merely raised her head, looked at the German shepherd, and continued on her way. I should have followed her lead, but that dog just kept barking and circling, getting closer and closer, and it was making me nervous.
And then I heard a voice.
A woman's voice coming from inside the house. It was hard to make sense of it all, but there she was, peering out from a six-inch gap at the bottom of an open window. With her head tilted to the side and wedged in the opening, she spoke again.
"Ask him if he wants a bath," she said.
"What?" I asked (though I was fairly certain I heard what she said).
"Ask him if he wants a bath," she said again. Dumbfounded, but feeling a bit desperate, I did what she said.
Turning to the circling German shepherd I said, "Do you want a bath?"
That dog stopped barking, dropped his head, tucked his tail, and turned back toward the house. The gap in the window closed.
Dumbfounded. Until I found that one word, I was struggling with the story. I tried writing about how confused I was, how I wasn't sure about what I was hearing ... blah, blah, blah.
So I kept at it. Walked away a few times. Rewrote what I had written. And did it all again. Writing is hard for all of us because writing is hard.
Do you sometimes struggle with writing?
I can help. Especially with things like ...
Spelling is complicated ... and easier than ever. Spell-check is a great tool, even if it's always correcting me, fixing my mistakes, and schooling me on the proper spelling of this word ... and that one.
But, despite its know-all application, I know it's not perfect.
Do the spell-check double check
Spell-check catches a lot, but a regular check on spell-check is good practice.
Proofread your writing
Your book, ebooks, and essays, all need proofing before being shared. Give your writing (no matter the format) a good review; eyeballs on each and every word.
Read your writing out loud
When you've got your final draft, read your writing out loud. It's one of the best ways to catch awkward phrases and confusing sentences.
This simple graphic was designed to help you visualize three words that spell-check, and your memory bank, might struggle with: their, they're, and there.
If you need help with words, let's exchange a few. Maybe I can help.
I write words, edit words, and arrange words, online and on paper. Helping you look like the professional you are.
Call 207-252-9757 today, or write.
p.s. I did the spell-check double check on this email and my fingers are crossed I didn't miss anything. But let me know if I did.
Flipping the switch was flipping me out. Last week's storm left us without power.
It was Thursday morning and I was up early. Not because the alarm went off. No, it was the rain lashing against the bedroom window that woke me.
Fifteen minutes later the power went out.
It was a blackout: no power, no lights, no heat, no opening the refrigerator, and no computer.
A day and a half later (37 hours, but really, who's counting) we still didn't have power.
But I was still flipping switches.
It wasn't that I was hoping the power was back, it was utterly clear that it wasn't. It was habit. An especially bad habit in light of things. At least a dozen times I flipped a wall switch.
And each time it was the same thing. Nothing.
It was worse than nothing. I was ready to scream. Well, I did scream. It was so frustrating.
Flipping the switch was flipping me out.
So I put my headlamp on. The headlamp gave me what I needed: a beam of light.
I stopped flipping switches.
The point is to see it fresh.
Sometimes a fresh approach to a nagging problem can help you move forward. If you've been struggling with your marketing, a book, or your website, maybe I can help.
Call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation and a fresh start.
It was the third round of editing on a piece I was writing about the autumn harvest. It was all about kale, collards, squash, and Brussels sprouts. The problem was, I had it all wrong.
Instead of Brussels sprouts, I was writing brussel sprouts. No capital B at the beginning, no s on the end of Brussels.
I've cooked and eaten lots of Brussels sprouts, but clearly I'd never written about them.
Lesson #1: Proper names have proper spellings.
When a red line appeared below the misspelled "brussel," I was surprised. So I checked the dictionary.
I found the correct spelling: A capital B? A bit more digging revealed the name comes from the city of Brussels, in Belgium.
Unless you're certain about the correct spelling of a product, a city, a town, someone's name, title, or product, look it up.
That was last year. This year, I have another editing tip courtesy of the Brussels sprout.
Last week I was watching a cooking show when the chef introduced a new segment by saying, "Today we're making Brussels sprouts."
Lesson #2: Ask yourself, "Is that what's really going on?"
Of course the chef wouldn't be "making" Brussels sprouts, as in constructing or creating them. He would be cooking them. Or, maybe he'd be roasting them.
In the context of the show, it didn't matter much. It was a live taping and viewers could watch and listen.
But his word choice caught my ear. I've been writing a lot and that means I'm rewriting and editing a lot.
I wanted to edit the script, to rewind the tape and have the chef say, "Today we're roasting Brussels sprouts."
Roasting is a more descriptive word. Making is vague and in this example, inaccurate.
Every word has a purpose.
Lesson #3: Just because you're familiar with something doesn't mean you know all you need to know.
It turns out eating Brussels sprouts didn't make me an expert. From misspellings to context and relevance, it's important to know what you're writing about. Do some research. Dig around. What you find may not only surprise you, it could add a new dimension to your project.
Get Your Cabbage On
Are you a fan? Brussels sprouts with a capital B offer a boost of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. And they're good for gut health, too.
The only question is, how will you cook them?
Feeling the heat?
If you don't like to write, are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes to read through what you written, let me know.
Nonfiction book development and design.
Call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation.
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.
Boost your credibility.
Writing a book can boost your credibility as an expert in your field and serve as a permanent record of your achievements, ideas, and expertise.
Make it the best it can be.
If your book is hard to read or lacks a professional presentation, you'll lose readers before they get to the last sentence in the first chapter.
Let's make your book real page turner.
From creative page designs to illustrations, photos, and sidebars, we'll make it a real page turner.
• illustrated biographies
• corporate histories
Get the 5 Compelling Reasons to Write That Book
Call, text (207.252.9757), or write today, for a free consultation to see how I can help you finish your book.