Do. Not. Do. This.

I first saw this technique on a blog: Putting. A. Period. After. Every. Word.

It was endearing – sort of. But when I saw it a second time, it annoyed me. Now I’m seeing it too often, even in published books. I suppose if you want to communicate attitude for a thirteen-year old, angst-filled girl, it may be okay – or not.

I place this trend in the same category as using UPPER CASE, bold, underline, or italic to embellish text. It is amateurish. Never use creative formatting to cover a lack of creative writing.

The only acceptable method to place emphasis on text is italics. But even then, use it sparingly. Whenever, I have an urge to italicize something, I ask myself, “Why?” Is the sentence so weak it requires an italicized word to effectively communicate? If so, the passage may need work.

(Having said that, in blogging, we need to make our posts scannable for people who won’t read every word. One way to do that is with bold text. But save this technique for blogging; never, ever do it in a book, article, or short story.)

I want my words to speak for themselves and not rely on creative formatting to communicate.

When you write, avoid UPPER CASE, bold, underline, or italic, and Do. Not. Do. This.

How to Resume Your Writing Project After Taking a Break

Some writing, such as a blog post, article, or even the draft of a short story, generally takes one sitting. But what about longer works that take days, weeks, and months to complete? For these we have the challenge of stopping and then resuming our project.

Returning to a long piece is challenging for many writers. Some say it takes up to an hour before they can pick up where they left off. They may sit idle, desperately attempting to ramp up inspiration to reach that same mental readiness or emotional state they were in when they stopped. Sometimes this evades them and then writing languishes – for days, for weeks, or forever.

Other writers read their last chapter – or sometimes the entire project – to get a running start, hoping to launch themselves into creating the next section. Not only does this take time, but they often fall into the trap of editing as they go, sometimes never actually writing new material. A side effect of this technique is that the beginning of the piece is always edited far better than the end.

I’ve tried both methods and found them lacking. Then someone told me a better way.

When I’m working on a long project, I never end my writing session at a logical stopping point, such as a chapter, a scene or a thought, or even a paragraph. I stop in midsentence.

Then, when it’s time to resume, I simply read the last couple of lines. By the time I get to my sentence fragment, the words to finish the sentence fly from my fingers. The next line flows from it, and I’m back where I left off. This takes me less than a minute, often a few seconds.

Though this requires a bit of practice – especially for people like me who have trouble leaving something half-finished – it is possible. The key is to stop at a really interesting place, one where we can’t miss the concluding thought.

When I remember to do this, it has never failed me. Picking up where I left off becomes easy, quick, and painless. Try it.

What challenges do you have in resuming your writing project? What techniques work for you?

What Do You Do When You Don’t Want To Write?

I strongly recommend writers write every day, or at least most every day, according to a regular schedule. This is a great ideal, however, what happens when we don’t feel like writing? Here are some tips I use to keep me writing every day:

  • Sit Down and Write Anyway: If I don’t feel like writing, I often tell myself, “Too bad, do it anyway.” Then I sit down and start typing. Soon I am writing, moving my project forward.
  • Remember Your Deadline: Having a due date or commitment is another strong motivator. Nothing makes my fingers fly as much as having a submission deadline in a couple of hours or a promise I made to have something done the next day.
  • Switch Projects: Working on the same project day after day is sometimes necessary, but it’s also tedious. If writing seems like too much of a chore, work on a different project for a day or two, even a week. Then move back to the first project, refreshed and ready to go.
  • Reward Yourself Afterwards: Give yourself a small reward after you’ve written so many words or invested a set amount of time. Work first; play later. One warning: if your reward is food, use it sparingly.
  • Change Venues: Some writers need a periodic change of scenery. Try a different room in your house, go to a coffee shop, or work outside. A different environment can provide the incentive to write. (This one seldom works for me; I need a specific environment to write well.)

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of doing something else first to “get in the mood.” Email, Facebook, and Web surfing are all evil distractions that keep us from writing. Cleaning the house, doing dishes, finishing the laundry, mowing the lawn, organizing files, and backing up the computer are all worthy tasks but which impede writing.

If our writing is important, we need to make it our priority by writing even when we don’t feel like it.

Which tip works best for you? What else do you do when you don’t want to write?

Don’t Expect an Editor to Do Your Job

As a magazine publisher, I edit every submission I receive. Yes, every single one. (And then a proofreader fixes everything I miss.) Though some submissions are in much better shape than others, each one receives some changes. In fifteen years, I’ve never ever accepted a submission without making at least a few edits.

I may need to shorten a piece to meet space requirements. Or I may need to fix issues with the writing itself, such as using complete sentences, ensuring a consistent tense or perspective, fixing punctuation, and so forth. I may need to remove self-promotion, something that is unprofessional and that we prohibit. Other times I need to correct sections that readers will likely misunderstand. Occasionally, I need to remove something that will offend our audience.

Whatever the reason for the edits, I keep two things in mind: I don’t want to embarrass the writer, and I don’t what to change his or her voice. Most editors have a similar perspective: they have the writer’s best interest in mind.

Given that, some writers may wonder: If it’s going to be edited anyway, why should I submit my best work?

Submitting your best writing results in less work for the editor and earns you their respect. Your future submissions will be anticipated, more likely to be accepted, and may even be published sooner.

Submitting sloppy work has the opposite effect. The editor groans when your email arrives, puts off reading it, and is more likely to reject it. Don’t earn that reputation. This applies to both article and book submissions.

I have several writers who submit content on a regular basis. For some, each piece is well written and professional. For others, I see their quality slide over time, often degrading to a point where I think I’m reading their first draft; they didn’t even bother to proofread it. Maybe they’ve become complacent or perhaps they figure that since it’s going to be edited anyway, why bother?

Don’t be that writer.

Eight Lies Writers Tell Themselves

Have you ever said or thought any of the following?

  1. I’m not really a writer.
  2. I’m just an aspiring writer.
  3. My work is not getting better.
  4. What I write doesn’t matter.
  5. I don’t want anyone to read my words.
  6. I’ll never finish writing my book.
  7. No one will ever buy it anyway.
  8. I don’t actually care if anyone buys it.

While these may appear as cautious statements to protect us from disappointment, they are really lies that conspire to hold us back from embracing the writer within.

While we are all writers to one degree or another, if we’ve ever been the least bit intentional about stringing words together to communicate with others, then we are in fact writers. For us these eight statements are mere mental roadblocks to success.

Yes, I’ve said or thought most of these lies at one point or another. However, I’ve now banned them from my vocabulary and barred them from my mind.

I am a writer, and I am getting better; I want people to read my words and buy my books; what I have to say does matter.

I hope you will join me in rejecting these eight lies and replacing them with truth. It all begins when we say, “I am a writer.”

Creating the Perfect Sentence

As writers, we can construct a faultless sentence, one that is technically correct in every way, a complete phrase that displays impeccable punctuation and possesses unassailable grammar. Yet, accomplishing this doesn’t guarantee the results will be understandable.

Sometimes we can follow all the rules of sentence construction and fail to communicate. If readers don’t know what we mean, it doesn’t matter if our commas are correct and our tenses are true.

Sometimes it’s wrong to be right.

This doesn’t imply we can disregard the technical aspects of writing. We should strive to follow expected conventions; our readers deserve that. Grammar is important and punctuation is essential, yet both must serve to advance the message, not obscure it.

When we write a sentence that isn’t clear, we must rework it, even if that means sacrificing a bit of technical precision along the way. For example, are we content to have a passive sentence that is completely understandable or will we insist on an active construction even if it’s awkward?

The ideal sentence doesn’t need to be technically correct, but it does need to effectively communicate. If it does both, that’s a bonus.

The perfect sentence is one everyone understands.

Does the technical aspects of writing ever frustrate you? What grammar or punctuation “rule” irritates you?

Why We Must Avoid Comparing Ourselves to Others

I thought it might be fun to start the New Year by sharing our writing accomplishments from last year. I’d go first, and you could add yours in the comment section.

Just as quickly I realized that was a bad idea.

We are all at different points with our writing, having different goals and expectations, which produces different points of celebration and despair.

One writer may be ecstatic for having published her first article, only to be discouraged by someone who published his first book, who may likewise be discouraged by someone who published two best-sellers and had a prior book turned into a movie. No matter how successful we are, there will always be someone who is more successful.

Conversely, no matter how much we struggled to reach even the tiniest of achievements, someone else struggled even more and realized less.

When we compare ourselves to others, we always lose.

If we look at an author who achieved more, we risk lessening our progress and becoming discouraged with our journey; even worse, we may become envious of her. In extreme cases, we stop writing and abandon our dreams.

If we look at an author who achieved less, we risk elevating our successes, even inflating our egos. We may look down at the other author, act with condescension, and even pity him.

Comparing ourselves with others is never a good idea. We should even avoid comparing ourselves with our past. Maybe we had a rough year; when compared to the prior year, we judge ourselves lacking. Or perhaps we had an extraordinary year, one that will not likely repeat; by comparison next year is sure to disappoint.

We should skip all forms of comparison and ask ourselves two essential questions:

  1. Did I produce the best work I possibly could?
  2. Did I do all I reasonably could to share it with others?

If we answer “yes” to both questions, we should be content with our writing, regardless of how others did.

Know Your Audience: My Ordeal of Writing About Perfectionism

I call myself a recovering perfectionist. Over time, I’ve learned its strengths, such as it propels me to produce quality work. I’ve also learned its weaknesses, such as a tendency to procrastinate or, even worse, to do nothing. I tap into its strengths and guard against its weaknesses. With this knowledge I moved from being a perfectionist to being a recovering perfectionist.

I once wrote a facetious article about this for Connections Magazine. It was playful, lighthearted, but with a practical twist. I advised readers who were likewise equipped in how they could tap into their inner perfection for greater results, while at the same time suppressing its negative aspects. I also discussed when to, and when not to, hire a perfectionist.

I received many positive comments for my article, both for its subtle humor and its practical insights.

A few years later I reprised the piece for AnswerStat magazine, expecting a similar reaction. I was wrong. AnswerStat readers have a background in healthcare, some of them extensive, such as doctors and clinicians, not to mention nurses with more letters following their name than in their name itself.

These folks reacted with great concern for my disorder. Some advised I seek professional help, others expressed sincere concern, and one suggested an intervention was in order – even offering to help. But one woman perplexed me more than all the rest. Her former husband, like me, was a perfectionist – surely a contributing factor in their divorce – but we also shared a Dutch surname. She theorized perfectionism was a Dutch defect and presumed my marriage was likewise in jeopardy. She even wondered about doing a clinical study on the link between Dutch blood and perfectionism. Geez.

In the hundreds of articles I’ve written, this article received more feedback than any other, none of which was encouraging.

The article was a good one (as evidenced the first time it ran), but this time I had the wrong audience. Though I knew my readers, I forgot to consider them when I republished the piece.

Knowing our audience is the first step; remembering who they are is the second.

Top 10 Posts About Writing for 2014

Here are the ten most popular posts on Byline for 2014. The comments are still open, so feel free to add to the discussion.

  1. How to Blog Your Fiction Book
  2. Seven Simple Tips For Stronger Writing
  3. Four Elements of a Successful Blog Post: Use Each Component to Maximize Results
  4. Why We Need to Write Every Day With Intention
  5. 14 Posts on Better Blogging (Plus 9 More)
  6. The Risk of Comparing Ourselves to Others
  7. Seven Tips to Find a Mentor
  8. Stay Within Your Genre: The Importance of Consistency
  9. How to Find Your Writing Voice
  10. How Long Should Your Blog Posts Be?

Thank you for reading these posts and following this blog. May your writing improve and your career advance in the coming year.

Which post is your favorite? What one would you recommend?

Dealing with Submission Deadlines

As a magazine publisher, I deal with submission deadlines all the time. Without deadlines, nothing would ever happen; writers would invariably ask for additional time or, more likely, they’d never make time to write in the first place.

I don’t set submission deadlines to frustrate people; deadlines are necessary to move towards publication. Deadlines are also not arbitrary. They are but one item on a tight schedule I must follow to produce each issue on time.

As a publisher, I understand the critical importance of deadlines, which motivates me as a writer to never miss one. In fact, my goal is to beat every submission deadline I’m given. Though I’ve cut things close a few times, I’ve never missed one yet; usually I’m a few days early. I know how much editors and publishers appreciate timely submissions and even more so how much they welcome early arrivals.

While I excel at meeting other people’s deadlines, I’m awful at the ones I set for myself. With no outside pressure to propel me forward, I invariably find a reason for delay. My excuse is I need more time to make it better.

The problem is I can always make it better. This is the tyranny of perfection. As a recovering perfectionist I still struggle with my inner voice that whispers, It’s not done; it can be better; you need more time.

Thus, my self-imposed deadline slips. I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with that.

How are you at meeting submission deadlines? What about your own deadlines?