Avoid Passive Writing

An explanation of what constitutes the passive voice is too technical to fully cover – not that I would try anyway – but here is an example:

Passive: Passive writing is something to be avoided.

Active: Avoid passive writing.

Notice that the active version is both clearer and more concise. This is key.

If you, like me, have trouble spotting passive phrases when we proof our work, the good news is Word does a reasonably good job of finding them.

My early writing was consistently passive. I never knew this, however, until I turned on Word’s grammar checker. It irritated me on most every sentence by proclaiming it as passive. After Word assaulted me for a couple of days, I resolved the problem by turning off the option to check for passive writing.

I resigned myself to accept that my writing style was passive, and I tried to shove the issue out of my mind. So I wrote for a couple of decades. When I became serious about improving my writing, I turned the option back on. Yikes!

At first, I corrected everything Word flagged as passive. Sometimes this was easy, and the edited version was better, both clearer and more concise, as in the above example. Other times, the reworked section became more verbose, clunky, or lost clarity. I felt the edits didn’t make my better but worse – because it was.

Now, I’ve settled into a middle ground. If I can make the sentence cleaner and clearer by removing the passive voice, I gladly do so. However, if removing the passive voice obscures meaning or increases the word count, I’m content to retain the passive construct. This was hard for me to accept: Sometimes we need to keep a passive phrase if we want to clearly communicate.

What are your thoughts on passive writing? Aside from my intentional example, Word finds no passive sentences in this post. Did it miss any?

How to Deal With Your Writing’s Winter Season

As writers we need to determine the best time of day to write. The answer hinges on when our words flow best, balanced with when we encounter the fewest distractions. For me, this is early morning. This is my prime time to write.

If we fail to capitalize on our best time to write, our writing will fail to be its best for us, or at least, will take much more effort to get there.

Similarly, we need to find the best days to write. The best advice is to write every day. Short of that, some writers can only work on the weekdays and others only the weekends. For me, I write every day, working on a project during the week and blog posts on the weekends.

Another consideration is the time of year. For me, writing is easier in certain seasons: spring, followed closely by summer and fall, but not winter. With the recent surprise of an early season snowstorm, I posted on Facebook, “Winter is my fourth favorite season.”

This isn’t to imply I don’t write in winter. I do. Even though it’s harder, I maintain my regular writing schedule throughout the winter months. What I must keep in mind, however, is that my production levels drop during this time of year. What might take thirty minutes to complete during the embrace of spring, may take an hour during the assault of winter.

Also, in winter I may need to allow more time for rewriting. During the winter months, it often takes additional effort to rework my words into an acceptable package.

Last, I know that winter is not the time for me to start a new project. I save those for other seasons when my energy is higher and creativity blooms. In winter I labor to move existing projects towards completion and don’t add new undertakings to a bulging workload.

You may share my seasonal struggles with winter, or perhaps your “winter season” is actually a metaphor for a different time of year. If you have a seasonal low time, learn how to deal with it. And if not, celebrate that you don’t.

Do you have a winter season for your writing? How do you handle it?

News Release: Blogging Video Available

Blogging Video Available: 12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation

Veteran Blogger Peter DeHaan’s WordCamp Grand Rapids Presentation Is Now Accessible Online

Peter DeHaan spoke at the recent WordCamp in Grand Rapids Michigan. Peter’s topic, “12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation,” is now available for online viewing at WordPress.tv. Other recordings from WordCamp Grand Rapids are also being added.

WordCamps are informal, community-organized events, put on by WordPress users for WordPress users, including everyone from the casual hobbyists to core developers. “This is my second year attending WordCamp Grand Rapids; it’s such a great event,” said Peter DeHaan. “This year, I had the privilege to be able to give back to the local WordPress community. WordCamp Grand Rapids is a well-run event with a great core team of organizers. Everyone there – both speakers and attendees – were so willing to share what they know and to help one another.”

Peter DeHaan has been a magazine publisher and editor for the past fifteen years, a blogger for the past seven, and a published writer for much longer. Peter’s editing, blogging, and writing skills made him an ideal person to talk about blogging on WordPress. “I have multiple blogs and have written over 1,500 posts,” added Peter. “I think I’ve made about every mistake a blogger can make, and I hope I helped other bloggers avoid repeating my missteps.”

Grand Rapids WordCamp is an annual event put on by area WordPress enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, with each year being bigger and better than the year before. For 2014, the event expanded to three days.

The direct link to download Peter DeHaan’s presentation is http://wordpress.tv/2014/11/05/peter-dehaan-12-tips-for-better-wordpress-content-creation/.

Writers Should Meet Reader Expectations

Last week we discussed “Why Writers Should Follow the Rules of Writing.” Now we’ll focus on reader expectations.

When readers consider our writing, they have a set of expectations – whether they realize it or not. If we don’t meet their expectations, they will stop reading. If we fail miserably, they may never read anything else we write – ever again.

The first expectation of readers is interesting writing that holds their attention. Without that, nothing else matters.

Nonfiction readers expect our writing will educate, encourage, or enlighten them. There are probably other reasons, too, but these are the main ones. Our writing must be logical, carefully researched, and well organized. It can’t contain factual errors or circular logic. It needs a compelling premise and a strong conclusion. Even if a reader disagrees with what we say, they shouldn’t find fault with how we said it.

Fiction readers seek escapism, entertainment, or an emotional journey. Like nonfiction readers, they may also want to be educated, encouraged, or enlightened, but, if so, these are secondary needs. With fiction, we need to hook the reader quickly, give them a reason to keep turning pages, delight them with surprises along the way, and not leave them disappointed at the end.

Also, each fiction genre carries its own set of expectations, such as word length, writing style, point of view, target audience, and so forth. These can best be learned by reading extensively in that genre. Read the classics, as well as contemporary works. Also consider those with critical acclaim, along with bestsellers – even if experts berate the writing.

The expectation of memoir readers falls somewhere in between nonfiction and fiction, while poetry and other written art (screenplays, song lyrics, ad copy, and so forth) carry their own unique expectations. Again, study successful pieces and praised works in the particular category to discern what expectations readers may hold.

Meeting reader expectations will go a long way towards success as an author, but the key is to simply write something people enjoy reading.

Why Writers Should Follow the Rules of Writing

Anyone who’s been writing for more than a day or so knows that writing carries a bunch of rules. There are hundreds of rules or even thousands, perhaps a million, way too many to keep track of. These rules flood our minds and threaten to overwhelm. There are rules for how to punctuate a sentence, rules for word usage and sentence construction, rules for paragraph structure and book length, rules for grammar and capitalization, and yes, rules for spelling.

Writing is full of rules, and wise writers strive to learn – and follow – them all.

Why? Because without rules, the congregation of letters would fall into anarchy and writing would fail to communicate. We need rules to give structure so our audience can understand.

Occasionally, I run across writers who choose to ignore the rules of writing. Their attitude is “I’m a free spirit and my writing reflects that; rules only get in my way and limit my creativity.” Yeah, sure. In reality, they’re just lazy.

Having said that, here are three things to know about the rules of writing:

1) Almost every rule has been broken at some point. The key is to do so sparingly and for a good reason, an extremely deliberate reason. The judicious breaking of rules, however, requires that they first be understood; ignorance is not acceptable. If we lack a well-considered justification for breaking a particular rule, then we shouldn’t do it.

2) Some rules change over time. Sage writers are alert to the ever-shifting conventions we must follow. Be aware that some of what we learned in grade school is no longer correct. While it’s wise to let others lead these changes, it’s equally unwise to resist them. In general, follow the consensus.

3) Some rules never were. Sometimes the preferences of our teachers take on the weight of law, instead of merely strongly held opinions. Other times, an adage is repeated often enough that it acquires the status of a rule even though it’s not. Though I can’t state this as fact, I’ve learned from people who should know, that there is no basis to the rule that we should never end a sentence with a preposition. Surely, some will cringe at this; for me, I feel a huge relief.

As wise writers, we must write rightly: learn the rules of writing, follow them diligently, and break them only when there’s a clear reason.

Will Blog For Money: 12 Questions to Ask Before Becoming a Blogger for Hire

A company asked a friend to write blog content for their website, and he wasn’t sure where to start. He called for advice.

“So, what’s a blog?” I skipped the pat answer and connected with his experience.

“It’s like short articles posted on line.” I referred him to this website as I shared things to consider. At first he was excited, but then his interest waned.

“What if I just refer them to you?” I’d been contemplating offering a blog writing service and had given it some thought.

“That would be great!”

“What do you charge?” That’s a question with no easy answer. It’s like wondering what a vacation will cost without revealing the length or destination.

Here are a dozen questions to ask before agreeing to write blog posts for money:

  1. How many words per post?
  2. How often do they want me to post?
  3. Will I get the byline (with a link and maybe even my photo) or will I be a ghostwriter?
  4. Can I use my own voice and style, or do I need to follow their guidelines?
  5. Is the content exclusive to them or can I repurpose it for other uses (that is, repackage and resell it)?
  6. If it’s exclusive, will the rights revert to me at some point?
  7. Are they looking for straight content, or do I need to do keyword research and write meta tags?
  8. Do I need to supply graphics?
  9. Will they indemnify me if there’s a problem?
  10. How much direction will they provide about topics and content?
  11. Will I email them the finished post or must I add it to their site?
  12. Will I need to monitor and respond to comments?

Depending on the answers, I’d charge $50 to $250 for a typical length post, more for longer ones. Yes, there are folks out there who will crank out a post for $25 or even less, but if someone’s looking for cheap content, they shouldn’t look to me. My focus is on quality and quality costs.

I suspect they’re looking for a bargain, so if they call, I doubt they’d hire me. Even so, I am open to work as a blogger for hire.

Have you ever been paid to write a blog? What items would you add to the list?

Six Types of Writing Communities

Two weeks ago I asked the question, do you have a writing community? Although a writing community can be a haphazard hodgepodge of writing connections, an intentional solution will likely offer the best type of community. But what might a structured writing community look like and do? The answer covers a gambit of options. Here are six:

  1. Critique Group: The purpose of this writing community is to give one another feedback on our work. The success of these groups hinge on two things: the structure of how the critiques take place and the attitudes of the writers. Not all critique groups work for everyone.
  2. Support Group: The purpose of this writing community is to care for and encourage one another, sharing the joys and struggles of the writing journey. Consider it as self-directed group therapy for writers.
  3. Writing Circle: Similar to a support group, but with the focus on sharing our writing with one another, but not for a critique. It’s also a place to update each other on what we’re working on and our career plans, as well as our successes and failures.
  4. Accountability Partners: Do you need someone to check up on you to make sure you’re writing every day and doing what you said you would? Then you need an accountability partner. Just keep in mind that it’s often a fine line between holding someone accountable and nagging – and no one likes a nag.
  5. Discussion Groups: The goal of a discussion group is to read books and talk about them. While most groups consider their reaction to the words, writers will gain more by analyzing the authors writing style, techniques, and voice.
  6. Craft Groups: The purpose of craft groups is to mutually help one another become better writers. At each meeting, one person takes a turn to share an aspect of writing he or she is good at (or at least one step ahead of the rest of the group) or to research and teach one facet of writing.

There are many similarities between these options and much room for overlap. Often, groups will focus on one area, while dabbling in a few others, be it as needed or consistently. While there’s great value for these interactions to occur in person, when it isn’t an option, online groups offer a great alternative.

The important thing is for writers to seek community.

Are you in a writing community? What does it look like?

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. The goal is to write the first draft of a novel (or at least the first 50,000 words of a novel) during the month of November.

The rules are simple:

  • Any type of fiction, in any language, counts.
  • Advance planning and preparation is acceptable.
  • Actual writing may not start prior to November 1 and must end by midnight November 30 (local time).
  • No prior written material may be used.

Though no prizes are awarded, everyone who completes the 50,000-word goal is a winner. Started in 1999, the fifteen-year-old event draws more writers each year, with over 400,000 participating last year. A tremendous online community and support group surrounds NaNoWriMo, providing comradery, encouragement, and resources.

Though I’m not a novelist, I’m drawn to NaNoWriMo and hope to participate one year. If you’ve not already prepared for NaNoWriMo, it’s likely too late (though not impossible) to take part this year, but you can follow along this year and plan for next year.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you think you might try next year?

Do You Have a Writing Community?

As writers, we write alone. Even if we compose our words with people around us – such as at a coffee shop or the kitchen table – writing is a solitary effort. Often we must isolate ourselves for progress to occur; we say “no” to social activities in order to move our work forward or meet a deadline.

Our family and friends, as non-writers, often don’t understand this. With well-intentioned prodding, they urge us to emerge from our writing seclusion to embrace others and experience more of what life offers. And sometimes we must, but often, we must not.

What we need are comrades who understand, fellow writers who know the agony and the joy of creating art with our words. We need colleagues who can celebrate our successes and comprehend our discouragements.

We need other writers to walk along side us. We need wordsmiths who can guide us. And we need writers who we can help. We need opportunities to both give and to receive.

We need a writing community.

Too many aspiring writers struggle alone. When discouragement emerges, writer’s block hits, or self-discipline evaporates, they have no support team to fall back to. They abandon their vision, suppress their dream, and stop writing. If only they had someone to support them, someone to offer encouragement. If only they had a writing community.

Writing communities can happen in person or online. They can take on various forms and formats, with different goals and purposes. The important thing is to be in community with other writers.

Do you have a writing community? If not, what can you do to find or form one?

The Breathe Writers Conference

Last weekend I was at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. It was my fifth year attending and my third as a speaker. (I shared tips on getting started as a writer and how to use WordPress.)

Breathe is simply the finest writers conference I’ve ever attended. And this year it was the biggest one yet and, in my opinion, the best ever.

Breathe is full of inspiring presentations, informative workshops, networking opportunities, helpful people, nurturing situations, and great food. Aside from all this, the best part for me is talking with people. Some I meet for the first time, others I reconnect with each year, and many who I communicate with throughout the year but only see at the conference. Each year my list of friends who I see at Breathe grows.

At Breathe, we’re able to celebrate finished books, agents procured, book deals, and published books. More importantly, however, is those who don’t realize such grand results are not reduced or left languishing but are encouraged to persist.

Writing is a lofty calling and Breathe is a valuable resource to help us become what we yearn to become. Breathe is my “can’t miss” writers conference each year, and I hope you’ll make it yours.

Next year’s conference is October 9-10 in Grand Rapids Michigan.

What did you like about Breathe? What other writers conferences have you attended?