Six Ways to Tighten Your Writing

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“Familiarity breeds contempt.” 

That’s how the saying goes. And when it comes to our writing, there are some contemptible practices we all need to familiarize ourselves with, if only so we can learn to spot and eradicate them. Get yourself on a first-name basis with these inherent flaws that worm their way into nearly every first draft, and you’ll be well on your way to fine-tuning your prose like an expert.

Wimpy Verbs

Wimpy verbs suck the energy from your writing. You can’t always cut them, but you can often find ways to change them and make them stronger. Weakness lurks in “to be” verbs like was, were, are, and is. Vague words used to describe emotions and thoughts are also weak, so be on the lookout for words like felt, feel, thought, and think. Many other verbs that don’t convey a specific thought, emotion or action are weak, so use went, looked, and seemed sparingly.

It often helps to think of weak verbs as those that have trouble standing on their own in a sentence. Take a sentence like, “The dog was barking.” Remove the modifier (barking) and you have “The dog was.” Not much of a sentence, is it? How about, “The dog barked?” Better! Continue reading

Some Days it Sucks to Be a Writer

bloodrootEver since I learned to form words on paper, I’ve been writing. It’s not something I usually have to remind myself to do – it’s a reflexive sort of thing, like breathing. Most days, I’m very grateful for this gift. I get to play with language all day, and I honestly can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

Even so, some days it sucks to be a writer. And today was one of those days.

Just before my Monday morning meeting I received a phone call from my editor-in-chief. This wouldn’t have been foreboding at all except that phone calls aren’t the norm – we handle most of our communications via email and voice chat. After some chatter about computers (mine’s been acting up), he said, “Well, I guess I’ll cut to the chase. There’s no easy way to say this…”

You know those moments of dread when ice water pours through your veins? This was one of those moments. Nothing good ever comes of, “There’s no easy way to say this.”

And just like that, my employment as a full-time managing editor with an MMO gaming network – a job I spent 9 years pouring myself into – ended. Anyone who’s been let go knows the drill: It’s not personal; it’s business. It’s not performance-related, just part of company restructuring. You’re a talented writer; one of the best. We wish you luck in your future endeavors. We encourage you to continue writing.

As if I could stop writing. As if I could stop breathing.

But tonight, when it came time to sit down and write my novel – the National Novel Writing Month project I launched on November 1 with the intent to pen at least 50,000 words in 30 days – I just wasn’t feeling it. My heart was a little bit broken, and my brain a little bit tired from ruminating and obsessing. So I sat at my computer, I opened my novel document in Word, and I stared at it for a moment – not reading, not editing. And then…

I started writing.

I started writing because that is what writers do. When all else fails, we return to the page and go. What we write in these difficult moments doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t even have to make much sense. All of that can be addressed later with rewriting. But the craft doesn’t happen unless you show up for it, unless you sit yourself down, contemplate the page, and push…on…through.

Intuition tells me that better things are ahead. As I search for a new gig, I’ll have more time for my novel – an unexpected bonus of sorts. And I have to think I’ve been given the opportunity to start fresh. Change can be a destructive force; like a wildfire purges a prairie and makes way for new growth, so do life’s transitions.

So, yes, some days it sucks to be a writer. Some days it’s hard to keep putting the words down when all you want to do is go to bed, crawl under your comforter, and hide from the world. But we hack our way through the weeds, and soon the underbrush parts, the sun shines, and we’ve reached the other side.