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?

How to Blog Your Fiction Book

Last week we discussed ways to connect our blog with our book, which works well for memoir and nonfiction but not so much for fiction. While the vision is clear to blogging a memoir or nonfiction work, it’s murky when it comes to fiction.

With fiction, we can’t simply blog excerpts from our book because we will either end up posting the complete book online or leave readers frustrated over gaps in the story. Besides, who wants to read an entire book in blog length sections? Doling out the story in too small of segments, over too long of time, will fail to engage readers.

That doesn’t mean fiction writers can’t connect their blog with their book. Though I’ve not written a fiction book (yet), here are some blog ideas to consider.

  • Blog about the era: If the novel takes place in a different time, be it past or future, blog about the period. For historical settings, you have researched this thoroughly, so reveal what you’ve learned. For futuristic novels, share about the world you’ve created.
  • Blog about the location: If the story takes place in another country – or another world – give details about the setting.
  • Share deleted scenes: Just as movie DVDs often have deleted scenes, your book likely has scenes you didn’t use. Share these with your fans. Do they wish the deleted scene stayed in the book? The one caution is if you want to save the unused scenes for a sequel.
  • Disclose character profiles: Most novelists write character profiles for the protagonist and antagonist, as well as for supporting characters. It’s rare to use all those details in your book, so share the complete profile on your blog.
  • Reveal more backstory: Often there is background information, which although interesting, doesn’t move the story forward. Blogging unused backstory is one more way to engage readers and build excitement for your book.
  • Post short stories about your characters: Have you ever finished a book and wanted to read more about the main characters? Or perhaps discover more about an interesting but ancillary character? Short stories can fill that need in readers, building interest in the book without revealing too much.

The timing on when to post these ideas varies. Some work great as pre-publication buildup, whereas others lend themselves to post-publication promotion. The key is that fiction writers can support their book with their blog.

Happy blogging.

What ideas would you add to the list?

How Can We Connect Our Blog with Our Book?

As writers we’re encouraged to blog. Our blog should be a platform-building, audience-enhancing tool. The rub is the time we spend blogging is time not spent on our book. Is there a way to do both at once?

Can We Blog Our Book? Assume we’ve written our book. We have a publishing deal and are marching towards our release date, or we are looking for an agent and publisher. Can we begin to post segments of our book to sell books, heighten anticipation, or gain attention? Yes, as long as we’re careful – and knowing that publishers will object if they think it will hurt sales.

Can We Book Our Blog? In this scenario, we start with our blog, write our book in small segments, and incrementally post them for the world to see. The benefits are receiving immediate feedback, honing our book’s concept and theme, discovering and correcting problems, and developing our voice. We hope a publisher (or agent) will stumble upon it, love our work, and offer us a book deal. Some writers have found success doing just that, but the majority of blog-to-book authors have not.

Be Careful: Of course, if we blog the entire book, why would a publisher want to produce it, and why would a reader want to buy it? This is a problem. A better solution is to blog some of our book, but we shouldn’t post all of it. Leave readers wanting more.

Blogging our book and booking our blog works best with memoir and lends itself well to nonfiction, but what about fiction? Can we blog our book if we’re writing fiction? The answer is “yes” and “no,” which I’ll cover next week.

Finding and Fostering Writing Ideas

Each week I write five blog posts. Each month I write one magazine article, three newsletter articles, two more blog posts, and usually one press release.

That’s a lot of writing, requiring a lot of ideas. Yet I never have writer’s block. Why is that? Because I’ve cultivated a method to discover and develop content ideas. So when it’s time to write, I already have an assortment of items to pick from.

Here’s what I do to keep stocked with ideas:

Maintain a List: When I had one or two writing projects in my queue, I kept a mental list of ideas. As the number of writing commitments increased, I needed to juggle more ideas, but my memory didn’t keep up, and I lost too many good ideas. Now I keep a written list in a Word document, with a heading for each blog or publication. Under each heading is a bullet list of content ideas, some of which are partially developed. This morning I had seven possible topics to pick from for this post. I chose the one that most resonated with me today and am now writing it.

Know When Inspiration Hits: Ideas are most likely to form when I first wake up. Now that I’m aware of that, I need to be ready to capture those ideas. If my computer isn’t close by, I jot a quick note before inspiration flees.

Understand Creative Situations: There are two instances when content ideas are likely to show up: during a nature walk and after watching a movie. While I’m not intentional about using these activities to generate ideas, I’m aware it could happen and am ready to listen.

Mentally Write: I often work ideas over in my mind before I write. For example, this morning I looked at my list and selected today’s topic – then I ate breakfast. The four points of this post materialized as I prepared and ate my food. The shower is another great place for me to mentally write, while bedtime is the wrong time as it stimulates my mind and chases away slumber.

This is what works for me – and works well. Each writer is different, so adapt these ideas to what works for you – and chase writer’s block away.

How to Literally Improve Our Writing

The word literally means that something actually happened. However, too often, people use literally as an intensifier, effectively meaning figuratively – quite opposite of the original meaning.

Consider, “He literally turned blue.”

We don’t interpret this as a man becoming Smurf-like or joining The Blue Man Group, but more likely that he was having great difficulty breathing or was quite envious (blue with envy, to be cliché).

In a strict sense, this is a misuse of the word. Unfortunately, so many people have misused literally for so long that dictionaries are beginning to reflect this misuse as now being acceptable.

This can result in confusion. For example, “He literally fell on the floor laughing.” Did this actually happen? I suppose it’s possible. More likely, he merely laughed really hard. But we can’t be sure.

As writers, we need to ensure our words are clear. So how should we use literally? Do we cling to tradition or follow the trend? I suggest we do neither, that the best response is to stop using literally. (Which is unfortunate, since I use it often – and always “correctly.”)

If we use it only in the traditional sense, some people will be unsure if our words are actual or hyperbole. Yet, if we embrace the new meaning, purists will decry our work as sloppy.

The best solution is to avoid it, literally.