How to Incrementally Improve Our Writing

One way to improve our writing is to write every day. Another method is to receive feedback from qualified sources. A third technique is to pick one new skill to study and master each week.

If we learn and then practice one new skill for seven days, it will become ingrained and begin to form a habit. Possible areas to consider are:

  • A writing technique
  • A punctuation rule
  • A vocabulary word
  • A spelling that trips us up
  • A style guide directive
  • A grammar tenet

Each of us needs to pick what to focus on, based on our weak areas. Some people struggle with punctuation or syntax, others with word choices or passive sentences. While I could pick something from any of these categories, my biggest deficiency is style guides.

Over the years, I’ve used every major style guide. Each one has rules that contradict other style guides. As a result, conflicting advice has muddled my mind. While some mavens can spout off the requirements for a particular situation from multiple guides, I struggle to comprehend just one. This week, I’ll work on colon usage, as covered in the Chicago Manual of Style.

What area do you need to work on? What new skill can you start this week?

The 2014 Breathe Christian Writers Conference

Last month I spoke about blogging at the Grand Rapids WordCamp. Next month I’ll again be speaking about blogging, this time at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference on October 10-11. The title of my Saturday presentation is “Getting Started with WordPress for Your Author Blog or Website.” In addition to my workshop on WordPress, there will be two other blogging sessions as well.

In another session, this one on Friday, I’ll talk about “Ten Steps to Start (or Restart) Your Writing Career.” This is an update of my well-received presentation from last year. In addition to my two presentations, there will be over thirty others to consider as well.

I invite you to attend the Breathe Christian Writers Conference to learn about writing. I hope to see you there, either to meet for the first time or to reconnect. Breathe is a great writing conference and my one “can’t miss” meeting every year.

If you’ve never attended a writers conference, please make Breathe be your first one; otherwise, I encourage you to add it to your agenda. Do this for yourself, your writing, and your career.

Are you considering going to Breathe this year? What other writing conferences do you attend?

What is the Only Rule of Writing That Really Matters?

Many writing teachers and coaches offer all manner of rules for optimum writing. Do this; don’t do that. Always include this one element; never use another. These rules make my head spin and threaten to paralyze my writing. Is it possible to compose even one sentence that doesn’t violate some critical principle?

Though I’ve given my share of recommendations, my goal is to offer suggestions not absolutes.

First, know that there are few unconditional imperatives in writing. Rules, as they say, are made to be broken. We just need to make sure we have a good reason when we do break them. Never deviate from convention just for the sake of rebelling.

Next, remember that all writing instruction is one person’s opinion, based on his or her perceptions, experiences, and training. Even when most people agree, surely other credible sources will disagree. Art, after all, is subjective.

Last, the trends and expectations of today will become tomorrow’s tedium. Remember, each new trend is the result of someone who opposed expectations.

There is only one true, unassailable rule in writing: keep your readers engaged. All else is secondary.

What writing rule irks you? Have you ever gone against a writing rule? What happened?

What is Your Writing Weakness?

As writers, we all have strengths and weaknesses. One person’s forte may be another person’s nemesis. It’s wise to know where we excel as writers and what trips us up.

For myself, I’m good at editing for length and ensuring a piece flows, something I do every day at work. I’m good at spotting needless words and pride myself in dialogue. Conversely, though I know the basics well, I’m still learning the intricacies of punctuation, am abysmal at spelling (which makes my love of crossword puzzles confounding), and struggle mightily with grammar.

As I relish my strengths, I strive to shore up my weaknesses. While I never expect to master grammar or win a spelling bee, I can do things to improve. To aid in my understanding of grammar, I follow the Grammar Girl; for spelling, I maintain a list of words that often trip me up. I also keep my shortcomings in mind when I give feedback to other writers, either not talking about what I’m not sure of or prefacing my comments with a disclaimer.

Not only should we assess our own abilities, but we should also be aware of the capabilities of those in our writing circles. After all, we are wise to esteem syntax advice from a grammar expert, but foolish to consider period placement from a punctuation novice. We need to not only evaluate the comments of our critique partners, but also factor in their mastery of that area.

This is one more step to writing well.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses? Let’s look at both.

Learning More About WordPress

This weekend I’m attending Grand Rapids WordCamp, a fun, but intensive, two-day event about WordPress. The meeting is geared towards developers, so it’s mostly more technical than we writers need for our WordPress blogs and websites.

I went to last year’s event. Though much of it provided more detail than I needed, I picked up something valuable in each session. I’m still implementing the things I learned.

So, I’m back to repeat the experience. Plus, this year, I’m speaking as well. My session will be later today, titled “12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation.” It’s based on the series of posts I did earlier this year on blogging; see 14 Posts on Better Blogging.

I’ve also been part of a local WordPress Meetup group. While it, too, is more technical than I need, the people there are patient in answering my more basic questions. The third and most helpful WordPress resource I tap is Dustin Hartzler’s weekly WordPress podcasts at yourwebsiteengineer.com. While most helpful, he provides more information than a typical writer and blogger needs.

So how do we learn about WordPress (or any blogging platform) without being overwhelmed by technical details? That’s a great question and one I don’t have a ready answer for. I think the solution is to find other writers who use WordPress, and then help each other. Peter’s Law of Reciprocity reminds us that we all know something others don’t and everyone we meet knows something we don’t. The goal is to share.

How do you learn about blogging?

Press Release: Peter DeHaan to Speak at Grand Rapids WordCamp

Blogger Peter DeHaan to Share 12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation

Peter DeHaan: Author, blogger, speaker, changing the world one word at a timeAug. 12, 2014 – Peter DeHaan will speak at this weekend’s WordCamp in Grand Rapids Michigan. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events, put on by WordPress users for WordPress users, including everyone from casual hobbyists to core developers. Peter will share with attendees: “12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation.” Grand Rapids WordCamp is Friday and Saturday, August 15 and 16, with Sunday, August 17 designated as Contributor Day. It will take place in the DeVos Center on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids, with tracks geared towards users, developers, content producers, and businesses.

“I attended Grand Rapids WordCamp last year,” said author Peter DeHaan. “It was a great experience, and I learned so much. This year, I’m excited to return as a speaker, allowing me to give back to the WordPress community.” Peter will address attendees at 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 16.

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. The combination of Peter’s editing, blogging, and writing skills, makes him an ideal person to cover this topic. “I have multiple blogs and have written over 1,500 posts,” added Peter. “I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the years with other WordPress users.

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 expands to three days, with presentations on the first two days, while the third day is a time for attendees to contribute to the greater WordPress community. The cost to attend is an affordable $20; register at http://2014.grandrapids.wordcamp.org. To learn about WordCamps in other areas around the world, go to http://wordcamp.org.

Finding a Place to Write

A month ago in my post, “The Rhythm of Writing,” I shared that my wife and I moving would interrupt my writing. My blog posts for the past three Saturdays reflected this, as I provided the starting point and gave you the opportunity to finish my posts by 1) promoting your blog, 2) working on your author bio, and 3) sharing your writing. Now we return to our regular programming.

Today, I’m pleased to say we have moved, albeit to a temporary place, living with family while we await our next home. The transition has been smooth, and the new living arrangements are working out great – to everyone’s delight. I’ve set-up my work office in a spare bedroom and am falling into a comfortable rhythm for my day, except for one thing: my writing.

I can’t do my personal writing in my work office, because the work awaiting my attention sidetracks my creativity. I need a different place to write, a quiet place, one with no distractions and which doesn’t inconvenience anyone else.

I admit I was spoiled at my old house: a separate room for writing, a large desk, dual monitors, and any needed resource within reach. It was a private place, with no distractions and only myself to get in the way. Most writers yearn for such a spot – and I miss mine.

So far I’ve tried the kitchen table, the deck, and am presently in my work office, trying hard not to check email and to forget the papers stacked in my to-do pile. For the next few months, I expect this struggle to continue, but a future solution is in sight. Until then, I’ll enjoy this season as a great adventure, grateful for a wonderful family and a place to live.

Where is your best place to write? Have you found your ideal place or making do with what you have available?

Do You Have an Author Bio?

The best time to write your author bio is before you need it. That means, write it today. I gave some pointers on this in my post, “Why You Should Write Your Author Bio Now.”

We need multiple length bios for different uses, but today, let’s focus on a 25-word or 50-word bio. Here are the basics: Written in the third person, it’s usually two to three sentences that tells who we are and gives our credentials, plus a plug for our book, project, or blog.

Here’s one of my 25-word bios:

“Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect via social media.”

I’m still working on it, but it’s a start.

A 50-word bio contains the same elements but allows more room for development. Here’s another example:

“Jesus-follower and wordsmith Peter DeHaan, PhD (peterdehaan.com) shares his passion for life and faith through words, changing the world one word at a time. A movie buff and nature lover, Peter looks forward to the day when pizza and popcorn are reclassified as major food groups.”

I’m still working on that one, too.

Now it’s your turn. Write your bio and post it in the comment section below. It doesn’t matter if it’s polished or a first draft. Someday you’ll be glad you worked on it now.

What’s your author bio?

Promote Your Blog

A few weeks ago, when I finished my series on blogging, I invited readers to post a link to their blog. No one did. I know many of you have blogs, so I’m not sure what went wrong. Perhaps the offer got lost in the post or maybe the series dragged on too long.

Anyway, here’s another chance. In the comments section, please post a link to your blog. If you want, give the title and share your tagline or a short description. Grab this chance at some free promotion! After all, “If we don’t promote our blog, it doesn’t matter.”

What’s the web address of your blog?