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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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