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?

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 writing 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.