Getting in Writing Shape
After years of going up and down with my weight, I finally found a method (Not diet) that lets me eat what I like, and combined with portion control, exercise, and some self-restraint, I have lost 52# since January. Yeah, me! (Proper round of applause here). But this story isn’t about losing weight (Your Mileage May Vary). It’s about getting into better Writing shape.
Every writer has to start somewhere. Even Stephen King had bad days, although fewer than most. Some have years of High School and College English in their background. Others barely managed to pass Senior English Lit. This doesn’t affect you r ability to write, only how you approach writing. I’ve read too many books that require a dictionary or a summer refresher course to follow. That’s how some people write, how they learned to write. Personally, I write on a 10th to 12th grade level, using words most people are familiar with, while throwing in a few words that might require a quick Google search to define. That’s how I learned. I grew up reading on a higher level than my age and improved my vocabulary.
I have all the flaws most writers do. I forget how to spell words, forget the proper usage of a word, and tend to use flow more than outline as I write. This means more editing, but it’s my style. I think better off the cuff. It allows me to put more emotion into the words and phrases I choose. Writers have different methods of approaching the task of writing. The method isn’t is as important as the result.
Writing is an art, and like most art, requires preparation. The landscape artist Homer Winslow went to Paris to study before becoming a great American artist. J.S. Bach was born into a talented musical family, but he went to St. Michael’s School in Luneburg, Austria for two years before taking Europe by storm. Only a writer thinks he or she can sit down with a piece of paper and an idea and become the next great writer. It had happened, but not often enough to bank your career on it. Writing takes learning the tools, developing the skills, and avoiding the pitfalls of a new author.
I keep my copy of Strunk and White, my Roget’s Thesaurus, and my copy of Grammar for Dummies handy on my desk. Spellcheck and Word Thesaurus are too limited in scope to rely on solely. If it doubt, whip it out. I use them constantly. Sometimes I even remember what I read for the next time I need it. I have a long way to go to become the writer I want to be, but when I look back on where I was 8 or 10 years ago, I shudder. My Deep South upbringing didn’t help. We tend to mispronounce words, structure sentences awkwardly, and just make shit up when at times. I’ve argued with Spellcheck so many times I’ve wanted to shoot the screen only to find out later it was right and I’ve been wrong for 50 years.
Here are a few tips:
1. Writers should learn and understand sentence and paragraph structure. Learn the rules before you break them.
2. Learn proper punctuation. You can argue the use of the Oxford Comma, but you will have to use it at times.
3. Learn to properly use the most common misused words and phrases.
4. Learn to spell. Spellcheck only knows if you’re spelling a word in some language or the other, not if you’re spelling the one you want to use.
5. Learn proper use of verb tenses. Don’t confuse the reader.
6. Try to avoid -ily words like the plague. Adjectives are fine, but a good active verb can give a sentence more power.
7. Show don’t tell. This should be #1, but as I said, I use flow not outline.
There are probably a lot more rules I’ve forgotten about. I hope I’m using them correctly. I hope you do too. A good editor will look at a well-polished manuscript with a favorable eye.
Note – A well-polished manuscript will not make up for a poor story or a rehashed idea.
Check out my website at jamesgurley.com