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?

The Rhythm of Writing

To be a successful writer, we’re encouraged to do many things:

  • Write every day.
  • Study the craft.
  • Read regularly, both in our genre and outside it.
  • Build our platform.
  • Maintain a blog.
  • Participate in a critique group.
  • Attend writing conferences.

The list goes on, and it overwhelms me. Though I do well at writing every day and blogging, I struggle doing the other items on a consistent basis. And this is when the rest of my life is in order. When something disrupts the rhythm of my life, it sorely disrupts the rhythm of my writing. Mostly I feel guilty over what I’m not doing to advance my writing career.

I’m in that season of disruption now. My wife and I are simultaneously selling our house, packing, and planning for the next one. To adjust, we’ve made many changes to our normal schedule. Everything that can be put on hold is on hold. I’ve even curtailed my daily writing routine and am struggling with blogging.

I share this for two reasons:

First, for the next three Saturdays, my posts will be different. They’ll be short and you will have the opportunity to finish them. I’m excited for what you will contribute.

Second, as writers we all go through these cycles, but we mostly keep the down times to ourselves. I think we need to talk about them and not pretend they don’t exist. Then we can encourage each other to press on and not give up.

What season is your writing in today? Are you encouraged or discouraged?

Forbidden Words: Traps to Avoid in Your Writing

Most anyone who has heard me talk about writing, knows of my disdain for the word very. I’m quick to strike it whenever I see it; only rarely does it survive my critical eye. Along with very, here are some words to avoid in your writing:

Very: Writers use very to intensify the word that follows it. But if that word can’t stand on its own, then it’s the wrong word for the job. Pick a stronger one. Usually the sentence is stronger by simply deleting very; if not the sentence needs work.

Of course, there are exceptions, but they are very, very rare. (Or should I simply say exceptions are rare?)

Really: Another intensifier is really. Really doesn’t do much to improve writing. Only very is more useless. Don’t say, “The rose was really red.” Try, “The rose was a vibrant red,” or be content with “The rose was red.”

Really avoid using “really.” (That is, avoid really.)

Just: The word just is another word to watch out for. Instead of intensifying the word that follows it, just lessens its partner. Would we ever say, “I’m just a writer?” Of course not!

When it comes to “just,” just skip it. (That is, skip using just.)

Almost and Somewhat: These two words also serve to lessen the words that follow. Don’t say, “It was somewhat cloudy.” That phrasing diminishes cloudy. Even the weather term “partly cloudy” is questionable as far as good writing is concerned. Instead, try “clouds scattered among a backdrop of blue.”

Using almost is somewhat weak writing. (Using almost is weak writing.)

Sort of and kind of: These two pair of phrases waffle on what follows. My favorite pet peeve is “sort of pregnant.” Either you are pregnant or you aren’t; there’s no middle ground. While most other examples aren’t so unequivocal, the principle still applies.

It’s kind of bad whenever we use sort of. (It’s bad to use sort of – and kind of.)

These words creep into our writing, and intentional examples aside, I had to edit a few occurrences out of this piece. So join me on a campaign to improve our writing by avoiding these weak words: very, really, just, almost, and somewhat, as well as the phrases sort of and kind of.

Which ones of these trip you up? What would you add to the list?

Is Your Writing Improving? Seven Tips to Grow as a Writer

My original blog, Musings, has over 500 posts, totaling about 130,000 words, enough for two or three books. While many posts wouldn’t make for good book content, about half of them have potential. So, I’ve taken the best ones and organized them by topic to repurpose as a book, codenamed Woodpecker Wars.

I’ve enjoyed reading my past work. I’m also editing as I read, because I’m now a better writer than when I first penned them. What an amazing realization. I didn’t know my writing was improving, but looking at my work from a few years ago shows that has happened. How affirming.

Here’s what I think contributed to my improvement:

  1. Writing Every Day: I start every day with at least an hour of writing, usually more. I write when I want to and when I don’t. I write when I’m inspired and when I’m dry.
  2. Blogging Regularly: Popping out four or more blog posts every week (I have multiple blogs) means I’m always looking for ideas, frequently turning them into short essays, and meeting deadlines.
  3. Attending a Critique Group: Giving feedback to other writers and receiving input from them is critical to hone our craft. Some groups are better than others; look for one that is both nurturing and honest.
  4. Reading Books: Understanding how others put ideas into words and construct paragraphs provides fodder for our writing. Their work, style, and voice inform ours.
  5. Evaluating Other Writers: Aside from being a critique group member and working as a magazine editor, I sometimes have the opportunity to read new and not-yet-published writers. Giving some of myself to them requires I remain sharp so I can provide them with value.
  6. Attending Writing Conferences: Being in the company of other writers is a treasure. At writing conferences, there is the opportunity to learn from others who are further ahead of us on this writing journey and encourage those who are not as far. We must give and receive; both are rich experiences.
  7. Working to Improve: A key item is simply striving to get better. For a couple of decades, I sought to write with greater speed. And I did get faster, but I didn’t get much better. If we are to improve, we need to focus on it.