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9 Expert Tips For Better Writing

9 Expert Tips For Better Writing

    One of the things I like best about social media is the way it helps me discover talented writers. They remind me a lot of distance athletes with their deep conversations about seemingly minor details and long periods of time spent practicing alone.

    The web also has a downside. There seems to be a growing belief that having mobile access to information negates any need to regularly consume quality writing.

    Some writers point to the popularity of the Twilight series and say it’s a sign the general population no longer cares about quality. In my reply I always point to the wise commentary of Juan Williams:

    Pandering to base interests is very different from catering to real needs. (Paraphrased from his commentary on the notion that people of color only want to watch MTV.)

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    It’s possible that you’ll make money by pandering, but there are a lot of people doing the same thing now. Traipse around online for a bit and you’ll find thousands of desperate writers trying to predict the next fetish in hopes of fame and fortune. It’s sad to watch them trying so hard because in the end they’ll have nothing to be truly proud of. I want to write things for which my only explanation for writing is not, “I needed the money.”

    Do you? If so, you may find some portion of the following useful. I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes from brilliant, prolific, and plain crazy writers and share them here with some tips I’ve found incredibly helpful in my own journey as a yearning writer. I hope you enjoy!

    1. Write to make a point, not a target word count

    Vigorous writing is concise. ~William Strunk Jr.

    Nothing makes me grimace quite like hearing somebody say they’ve reached 50,000 words and so have completed their first novel. Remember dully typing toward a minimum word count for an academic paper you had no interest in writing? If you start to get the feeling about something you’re writing, it’s probably time to stop writing and do some more research (or bribe your editor/professor/mother into accepting the shorter piece of work).

    2. Help another edit their writing

    I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

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    I have a short, round-bellied friend who turned me on to this quote. That said, I’ve found that helping another writer edit their work often leaves me with more insight into my own writing than I gave to the other writer! If you can find a trusted friend to trade nascent work with, you will have found a wealth of improvement.

    3. Write something every day that you do not intend to share

    Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

    I have a private blog I update daily with rants, outlines, fears, and bits of nothing that stream out of me when I’m struggling to find focus for another piece of writing. You’ll never see it. There’s no value in my sharing it because the moment I know others can see it is the moment I no longer write just for me. I suggest you give this method a try. It doesn’t have to be a blog.  A notebook would work just fine.

    4. Outline before drafting & Don’t confuse fiction with dishonest writing

    If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    I am still learning to to do the first part. I’ve taken great value from sharing outlines of my intended work with friends who are very logical and excel at criticizing arguments without muddling thoughts. The last part… is something I can only hope for. If I someday hear a reader say, “his writing is imbued with kindness” I think that will do.

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    5. Don’t get caught up in restating the obvious

    The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~Anaïs Nin

    As one who writes a lot for the web, I am continually tempted by the low-hanging fruit of trending topics and morning news drivel. Restating the obvious is easy, fun, and very retweetable. But the obvious rarely seems to translate into any sort of real legacy. If I only had a list of all the things my readers already know collectively, it would be so simple to stay fresh!

    6. Befriend a dictionary

    The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ~Mark Twain

    Imbue, conjure, nefarious… are just a few of the words I have as friends to help me clearly make a point, share an idea, or call something into question. There’s a joy in having the perfect words at one’s disposal that only a dedicated writer can appreciate. A thesaurus can be useful if you’re bored, lazy, or drunk. Nothing trumps having a word come to mind just as you need its help.

    7. Keep a little notebook for moments of inspiration

    Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~Francis Bacon

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    I use a moleskine to store my thoughts for later. Having thoughts and personal commentary all in one place has the added benefit of serving as a source of inspiration for later times of drought. Think of it as you would catching raindrops in a canteen. You’ll be glad for the moisture some day.

    8. Not having a pen in your hand doesn’t mean you’re not writing

    The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. ~Agatha Christie

    If you walked into my office at random, there’s a very good chance you’d find me sipping a glass of tea while staring off into space. Am I doing nothing? Not in the least. Contrary to my mother’s early suspicions, I’m not addled. I just like to silently try phrases out in my mind before writing them down. Agatha had a point about dishes, too. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. But there are times when washing dishes is a better use of time than staring at an empty screen!

    9. Be kind to yourself

    Every writer I know has trouble writing. ~Joseph Heller

    I hope you are kind to yourself and forgiving when you cannot find the perfect phrase or paint a story just so! Writing, for me, seems a monumental task at times and I am always delighted to find others who understand my situation and reach out to help. There’s a joy in knowing that no matter how lonely a stretch of path may seem we are never entirely alone, no? We always have our writing and with it an entire community of people who care.

    If you’re a writer, and you are one even if you simply compose witty text messages, I hope you’ll say hello.

    Image: mezone

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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