Blogging: Cold Emails

Blogging: Cold EmailsFirst, I must apologize for my absence. I took some time to myself this summer to do things that were not writing blog posts, and it was absolutely lovely. But let’s jump right in, shall we?

As a senior writer at my place of employment, I frequently receive inquiries from hopeful freelancers asking to write content for the company blog. Some of these want to drop links for companies they work for and others just want to see their work published on a blog that gets around 15k visitors per month. Either type is fine, as long as they meet our requirements.

The emails that I receive usually go something like this:

Hi Brittany. I was just looking over the _______ company blog and think that I could offer some great content for your readers! Let me know if you accept guest posts. Thanks!

Needless to say, emails like that don’t really do a lot for me. Now, since a lot of you are freelancers or at least freelance hopefuls, I want to use this post to 1) show you the right way to contact strangers, and 2) why you shouldn’t feel bad about sending cold emails.

Our basic requirements are as follows:

  • We’ll need to see 2-3 writing samples
  • You may not include affiliate (paid) links
  • The content must be 100% original (barring any direct quotes)
  • You have to suggest a couple of suitable topics
  • You remember that we are not internet or marketing stupid

Let’s break into the reasoning behind each requirement so that you can understand why each one is so important.

Samples help to show how skilled you are when it comes to writing. When selecting a sample to include, try to choose one that has a topic related to the business you are contacting. Always send at least 2, and no more than 5. Make sure that if they were published, the site they are hosted on is reputable, there are no spelling mistakes, and that any and all links work. It’s also best if the post is actually attributed to you and not someone else.

Affiliate links are not “the devil”, but if you’re writing content for a business, it’s underhanded and unprofessional to try to scrape a profit from their readers. Never include an affiliate link in an organic post  unless you have been given permission.

Original content is an absolute must. I don’t want to get dinged for duplicate content, and I also don’t want your recycled information. If you wrote a post for a business and it fell through and never went live, that’s one thing, but if your blog post was published elsewhere you had better think twice before asking me to give it to our readers.

Suitable topics are another must. Spend time reading any content that the business has on their site. Skim some of their blog posts and peruse a few of their articles. When you send your email, include 2 or 3 topic ideas that you really think will work for them. One of the worst things that you can do is to suggest a topic to me that would never fit with what we currently cover.

For example, I was recently contacted by a potential guest blogger who suggested, specifically, maintaining a pool. This was about a week ago and we’re on the verge of snow here in Canada. That topic is not timely, and it is far too specific for me to use since we cover much more general real estate content.

We’re writers and marketers, we know about the internet. We know that you want to get in some good backlinks, we know if you are actually talented when it comes to SEO, and we know when your writing skills are subpar. We aren’t dumb, we know the motivation behind your content is completely selfish, but so is our reason for accepting it—we like free content. So be honest and don’t bother trying to butter anyone up too obviously.

A Good Cold Email

That being said, I will judge you on your initial email, and it greatly affects my reply. If you frequently send out cold emails to businesses or individuals, I would suggest trying something like this:

Hi ________,

I’m a *insert writing profession* and came across your blog through *insert where you found them*. I thought that your post *insert interesting post name related to what you want to write for them* was very *insert an adjective or two of your choice*.

I am writing to ask if you accept guest post, and if so, what your guidelines might be. I have attached some writing samples in order to give you an overview of the topics I have covered in the past and my writing style.

I thought that a post about one of the following topics would be both a fit for your blog and beneficial to your readers:

*insert topic 1
*insert topic 2

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I look forward to hearing from you.

*insert name (example: Johnny Awesomesauce)

Are Cold Emails Bad?

No. They aren’t bad. Although most businesses will be savvy to the fact that you are only contacting them to either get your name in print or promote a client, we appreciate when you at least make a good effort to be polite, clear, and thorough.

Sometimes you may not get a response at all, other times you may get a short and direct “No.” But once in awhile, you’ll come across someone who wants to give you a shot and who, even if they do say no, will tell you why. I try to be that person as often as I can because as a writer I know that we are expected to accept rejection without an explanation, and it can be very tiring.

So if you’re trying to break into the writing profession by sending out a few cold emails, good on you. Take note of the tips in this post and understand that no matter how good you are, you are going to hear the word “no” often. But sometimes, you’ll get a “yes”, and when you see your post go live to thousands of readers, it’ll all be worth it.

Do you send out cold emails? Do you look for guest posting opportunities often?

I post funny things on Facebook sometimes, so if you like funny things, pay my page a visit. If you do not like funny things, just avoid it.

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What Exactly is Poor Writing?

What Exactly is Poor Writing?Any of you who have editing experience can back me up when I say that it is a very tiring process, especially when the piece you are reviewing is poorly written. And while the perceived quality of writing is subjective, there are a few key indicators that it isn’t just you, that the writing itself is the problem.

Poor writing doesn’t necessarily mean bad spelling and questionable grammar. It can refer to the structure and style as well. When reviewing your work, or that of others, be sure to pay attention to the following things to see if the piece just doesn’t mesh with your preferred style, or if it really does need to be reworked.

Beginnings. Whether it’s a blog post, a short story, or a paragraph of copy, every piece of writing needs to have an opening line at the very least, if not an entire paragraph or even page. How that beginning is crafted can tell you a lot about someone’s writing skills. Weak beginnings cause readers to lose interest immediately, and they act as one of the most important parts of content.

Transitions. Transitions are when you go from one thought to another. They are what leads the reader from the end of one idea to the beginning of another smoothly so that there is a consistent flow to the writing. Poorly written transitions are jarring and they throw the reader out of the content, causing confusion and backtracking.

Syntax. Syntax is a tricky little beast. It’s more of an ingrained skill than one that you can pick up from studying. It’s the proper structure of sentences and words within them, and while it can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone is using proper syntax, there’s no denying when it is being misused. Poor syntax is confusing, jarring, and hard to read. I relate it to trying to swim through molasses.

Vocabulary. Repetition, lack of variety, and a penchant for either over-complicated or under-complicated word choices are all indications that the content isn’t ready for publication. While every writer has a style (that’s how Rowling was found out when she wrote The Casual Vacancy“), refusing to add a little spice to your content by means of a new word once in awhile can give off a feeling of laziness and amateurism.

Reading level. Reading level doesn’t just mean whether your content should be rated R or not. It means what grade level would be able to read the piece without difficulty. If the content is for a YA audience, then the language should match that. Just as there would be a difference between a blog post and an article for a scholarly journal. If the reading level doesn’t suit the audience, they will either lose interest because the content is too simple, or they will become frustrated because it is too hard to understand.

Punctuation. Surprisingly, punctuation can have a slot all of its own. When you see content that is written like this: “the wind HOWLED!! they couldn’t decide whether: to run or to stay in the cave?”, you know it’s not ready. Poor use of punctuation is a good way to see that the writer doesn’t have a grasp on the basics and that they need to do some more learning before they send anything else to someone for review.

Conclusions. Just like beginnings, there are conclusions to everything. Emails, lines of copy, short stories, research papers, and books. They all have endings, and while endings are never the same, and can be crafted from many different styles, how they are written can leave a reader feeling like they wasted their time.


Any one of these on its own can be a small issue that just needs some polishing, but when you combine a few of them into a single writing sample, it’s fairly easy to see that whatever you are reviewing requires some heavy edits.

The good news is that all of these things can be fixed with healthy doses of reading and writing. Often, I find that the best advice to give when handing back poor writing is to tell the writer to read more. Read pieces similar to what you are trying to create and pay attention to how they handled problem areas.

If you have issues with transitions, look at how other writers navigate through them. Pick up tricks and tools from other content before you take to the keyboard again so that you will already know how to fix your bad habits when they rear their heads.

What’s one of your worst writing habits? How did you fix it? Do you find that reading helps to make better writers?

Find me on Facebook for the good stuff.

The Right Way to Write

diary-968592_1920There seems to be a “right” way to do just about everything. But the thing with writing is that there really isn’t one, except to write. Sure, there is a right way to spell words, and a right way to use punctuation, but even those have loose and malleable rules.

Though it makes absolutely no sense to impose writing rules on anyone, people like to do it anyway; don’t use adverbs, never use the word “very”, always write every day, and so on and so forth until you are ready to rip your hair out and become a mime instead.

The beauty, and also the art, of writing lie in its complete and utter individuality. Every famous writer (for the most part) has created a masterpiece because they forged their own path, and did what worked for them. They discovered their own unique process and stayed true to it.

Do you think every single one of them wrote every single day? No. Do you think that all of them wrote their books in a year or less? No. Do you think that none of them ever used an adverb? Doubtful. Yet we, as writers, hear these things all the time, and they are supposedly meant to be helpful.

Really, all they do is place us in a box and seal it with packing tape. If we all followed the same rules all of the time, our writing would be terribly similar. No one ever became a famous writer after writing the exact same manuscript as someone else. They did well because they broke free of the mold.

If you want to write well, you need to find your style. And in your style you need to find your voice and your tone. And of all of the difficulties that writing brings with it, I would say that this is the biggest obstacle that most writers face. It’s the difference between writing like everybody, and writing like yourself, which can go a lot deeper than just a story.

Your style is what draws people to your content. I didn’t enjoy GoT because it was just like Harry Potter. I liked it because it was different. I liked it because I didn’t need to ask whether it was by a different author.

As another example, I’m not a big fan of poetry, but sometimes the style of a poem will hook me and it won’t let go (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas).

Writing rules, whether created by famous authors and editors, or by fellow bloggers, are, unfortunately, often useless. The only writing rules that you should follow are your own, and you should never avoid writing in your preferred style because someone else told you it was wrong.

Once you find your voice, which can take a lot of effort, mind you, embrace it. The best writing comes when you are inspired, and sometimes nothing can inspire you more than your own mind. If you don’t feel comfortable listening to it, then how can you ever expect to make something of quality?


 

Just as you are your own person, you should be your own writer. Let yourself show in your work and you’ll find it comes much more easily than trying to follow all of the contradictory and suffocating rules that are floating around.

Have you found your style yet, or are you still testing the waters? What writing advice would you give to other writers?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Writers: Making Yourself Marketable

tie-690084_1280There are two kinds of writers: those who only want to write a book, and those who only want to write.

The first kind only want to write on the side while working a different full-time job. The second kind wants writing to be their full-time job. I am of the second type, and lucky for us, the popularity of the internet has opened many new opportunities for us.

But, as the job postings seem to prove, the simple skill of writing is often not enough for you to get the interview. More and more, employers want candidates to have skills above and beyond one profession, and it can be a steep hill to climb.

However, there are a few skills that can help you to stand out amidst the competition that don’t take a whole new degree to learn. If you are seeking an online writing position, try to add the following to your resume in order to boost your marketability:

SEO. Search engine optimization is something that any business producing online content will want. In a few words, it is writing in a way that uses keywords and long-tail search phrases to get organic traffic from search engines. This basically means that employers want you to write in a way that will help their content to get picked up by Google.

It is way less intimidating than it sounds, and employers value keyword research and SEO writing highly. Do some research, learn about the tools that are out there, and familiarize yourself with them. It’ll do you a world of good.

Social Media Management. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social platforms are a norm for almost any company. Many businesses will want to hire a writer who can not only write posts for social media, but schedule, plan, and maintain them as well.

It’s really quite easy to manage a business page, so to get a feel for it, try setting one up for yourself and play around with it to learn the ropes.

Copywriting and Long-Form. Sure, you can write long-form content, like guides and whitepapers, but can you write copy? Copy is essential for ads, social media posts, emails, and more. It’s also not as easy as it sounds. Copywriting can, in some ways, be more complicated than long-form because you are limited in what you can say. It’s sort of like comparing what you can write in a Facebook post to what you can fit in a tweet.

The same goes for the opposite; if you can only write copy, start learning how to produce longer pieces like articles, blogs, and the like.

Although, in my opinion, it isn’t enough to just do a little research in order to learn how to copywrite or write a whitepaper, doing some reading or taking a course can only help you to beef up your qualifications.

Online Writing. Writing for print and writing for websites are two different beasts altogether. While it is appropriate to have long chunks of writing in print, you want online content to be easy to scan and sort through.

Learn the ins and outs of writing for an online audience, and showcase your skills in your samples. This can help a potential employer to see that you’re ready to publish content to their audience.

Editing. Although most people think that writing and editing go hand-in-hand, they actually don’t. If you are a good writer, but you are a little foggy on when you should use an em dash or what a style guide is, you have some room to grow.

In businesses where you are not the only writer, you will likely be expected to edit your co-workers’ content, which means that you need to know how to spell, punctuate, and organize a sentence.

Brush up on your skills and edit a few pieces as a volunteer to use in your portfolio.


If you invest time in yourself, you are more likely to get noticed. In a job market that is saturated with educated hopefuls, you need to stand out.

By adding a few extra skills to your resume in your down time, you can up your chances of getting noticed, and you might even get a higher compensation offer.

What kind of writer are you? What skills do you have on your resume other than writing?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

 

Editing Like A Boss

How to Edit Like a BossEditors are expensive. It’s a painful truth for writers who are trying to get their work to a publisher while working a less enjoyable job in the meantime to pay the bills. That’s why so many writers choose to exchange their work with others in similar situations. I mean, if you can write, you can edit, no? No. But you can provide a decent service if you make an effort.

So, as an editor, I want to share some tips about how to edit a piece of someone else’s fiction without coming off like a loathsome toad.

Tip One: Learn how to use Track Changes in Microsoft Word. This one little function will help your edits to look professional, and any suggestions or changes you make are much easier to implement this way. You’ll be doing a world of good for both yourself and the writer.

Another tip with Track Changes is to take advantage of both the inline editing feature as well as comments. Fix errors and so on inline, and leave suggestions or encouragement in the comments.

Tip Two: Red doesn’t have to mean “bad”. Not all of the red markup that an author sees needs to be negative. Make note of specifically strong passages or unexpected cliffhangers. Tell them where the dialogue is working and where they described something perfectly. This helps to show the writer that you paid attention to the whole story instead of only focusing on what wasn’t working.

Tip Three: Only provide helpful insight. If you don’t have a suggestion as to how something could be fixed, or you can’t quite figure out what is working, leave it. You are there to be helpful, not to provide useless feedback. If something is really rubbing you the wrong way, but you can’t figure out why, mark it and come back to it later. But don’t hand it over until you can explain what isn’t working and why. How is a writer supposed to fix an issue if the reader can’t tell them what is wrong?

Tip Four: Pick your battles. This is not your story, it belongs to someone else. Take your personal opinion out of the mix and substitute a good helping of understanding. If you prefer serial commas and the author doesn’t, don’t feel like you need to explain why they are superior or start putting them in every list of three or more items.

However, if you feel very strongly that a character would not react a certain way, that’s an example of when you can feel free to make a note of it.

Tip Five: Make a style sheet and ask the author style questions before you start. If you don’t know what a style sheet is, you should probably do a little research.

Essentially, it’s a document where you keep a list of proper spellings, grammar and punctuation choices, and writing rules specific to the manuscript you are reviewing. Before you make one, ask the author how to spell all of the character names correctly, if they prefer to spell out numbers, and so on.

Watching for these things will help you to edit not only the story and the bare minimum when it comes to errors, but more technical issues that would get picked out by editors and publishers.

Tip Six: Before handing over the manuscript with all of your edits, write a letter about your thoughts in general. Start with a paragraph or two that includes what you enjoyed the most about the manuscript. This could include things like: dialogue, descriptions, character interactions, setting, etc.

Use another paragraph to briefly list the most common high-level things that you picked out that could use work, like common misspellings, poor syntax, or poor transitions between chapters.

Tip Seven: Be open to scheduling a conversation about your edits. It can be hard to want to dedicate more of your time, for free, to going over edits, so limit it to a one or two hour conversation with the writer. This should be after they have had a chance to review your suggestions and write up a list of questions about any of your thoughts.

In this meeting (in-person, over the phone, online, wherever) reiterate what they did well and offer to look over any changes they have made based on your suggestions. Be kind and courteous, while still holding your ground about anything that you felt strongly about.


 

Never forget that the work isn’t your own, and that even though you have made suggestions, you shouldn’t assume that any or all of them will be incorporated into the final version.

The most important part of editing like a boss is knowing how to balance both criticism and encouragement in a way that is helpful, clear, and consistent. Take time to review your edits, to ensure that they make sense and provide value before sending anything away, and be open to discussing what you had to say. When in doubt, think about how you would feel if the tables were turned.

Do you exchange work with other writers? Have you come away satisfied, or feeling like it wasn’t worth it?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Self-Editing Tips

Self-Editing TipsA lot of us edit our own work. Sometimes we are the only ones who edit it, and other times, we edit it ourselves over and over before sending it out to someone else for review. The problem with self-editing is that not many who do it are actually trained in editing, so knowing what to look for can be difficult and time consuming.

So, as an editor and writer, I’d like to share some tips and tricks with you so that you can edit more efficiently, or even create a better product.

    1. Become familiar with “Track Changes” in Microsoft Word. This is an editing function that allows for inline edits, inserted comments, and formatting changes. When going over a draft, or having someone else go over one for you, use it. You won’t regret it.
    2. Use “ctrl f”. When you press ctrl and then f, it opens up a search box that will search the text on your page for whatever you’d like. This is especially helpful if you change a name, consistently spell something incorrectly, or know that you made a mistake somewhere. Find it, fix it, and move on.
    3. Use a standard format. That means stick with a regular sized font, double space, and ad page numbers from the very start. It makes editing easier, and whoever you send it to afterwards will love you for it.
    4. Read it out loud. Hearing things can really help you to figure out where there’s any awkward wording or jumpy transitions. If it sounds strange to you when you say it, it needs to be reworked. It can also help in catching small spelling and grammar errors because your eyes won’t just move over them.
    5. Be hard on yourself. If you feel deep down that a passage isn’t working, don’t leave it as is. Work on it until you are satisfied. Spend as much time as you need to make each word fit together.
    6. Don’t expect other people to fix your work. Before you send your work to someone else, it should be the best you think it can be. Don’t send something knowing there are errors or weak sections in it. Polish and smooth your work before handing it off.
    7. If, when editing, you find an issue that you don’t know how to fix, but don’t have time to look into it, mark it with a comment. Go back to it when you have time instead of putting a band-aid on it.

Editing is hard. Whether you are doing it yourself, or having someone else do it for you, it hurts. It’s a long process that can make you feel self-conscious and vulnerable, but ultimately it makes your story better.

It’s important to stick with clarity and consistency while you are writing, so that the editing process is easier later on. Remember to use a thesaurus, avoid repetition, and acknowledge your faults and weaknesses as a writer. Doing so will help you to create a strong piece of writing that comes through the editing process with a lot less red.

What are your self-editing tips? How did you learn to self-edit effectively? Are you comfortable with editing your own work or that of others?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Submitting Shorts

Submitting ShortsI’ve seen more than a few of you write or comment about submitting short stories. Some are well into the groove, with plenty of advice to give, and others are still skirting the edge of the pond warily, preparing to dip a toe in. We each have a different process for submissions, and I promise, it’s not as overwhelming or frightening as it seems once you get going.

I think that the scariest part of it is the fear of rejection, which I’ve written about before. The possibility that someone out there won’t like your story is difficult to anticipate, because you likely think that your story is one of the best out there. If you don’t, it probably isn’t ready to publish.

On this quiet Sunday, I’d like to exchange some submission tips with all of you. For those of you that have some to offer, please add them. To those of you who haven’t started submitting stories yet, take hold of the ones that work for your style and your personality, and ignore the rest if they don’t suit you.

Edit like you’ve never edited before. This is important. Your spelling, grammar, and less so, your punctuation, should be, if not perfect, than sparkly clean. If you don’t put time into your story by making it clean and clear, why should anyone else spend time reading it?

Edit for more than just spelling. So, you’ve spelled everything right, but did you look into the intricacies of your story? If you have to, get a friend or two to read over your piece. Ask them to pick out anything that they don’t like and to be honest about it. Where did they get bored? Where were they confused? Where did they find inconsistencies? Take their edits kindly, because they’ll make your story stronger.

Don’t write for nothing. Many submissions offer you the wonderful prize of simply being published in their magazine, e-zine, or whatever else. Ignore those ones. You spent time working on a piece of writing and should be compensated for it if it’s chosen. While it’s nice to have a story credited to you, don’t submit to anything that doesn’t pay unless the recognition is compensation enough. I’m talking a fairly well-known publisher, or even just a “for fun” contest. Those are fine, but your work is worth something. Don’t forget it.

The bigger the reward, the more effort. All of your stories take effort, and they always should. You should never submit anything that you aren’t proud of, or wouldn’t be happy to slap your name on. That being said, if you’re submitting a piece of flash fiction to a simple contest, you don’t need to spend hours looking over it. Save the time and effort to put towards a bigger piece that you’ll be submitting to a bigger publisher.

Don’t pay to submit. You should never have to pay to submit a piece of work. It’s different with full manuscripts, since you do have to pay for an editor or an agent if need be, but you shouldn’t be putting capital into short fiction unless you’re making it into a book or anthology. Avoid places that require “submission fees”, unless it’s a legitimate publisher that you are confident will at least consider your story.

Listen to the guidelines. Whether there are submission guidelines about content, contact, or file types, pay attention. Read them more than once. Disregarding a few simple requests will likely get your story into the “no” pile, just because you didn’t take the time to do what was asked. No matter how great your story is.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”. If your piece does get accepted, don’t be afraid to say “no” to any edits that you aren’t comfortable with. It’s your story, and your name, so you don’t have to agree to big or significant changes just because you’re afraid you’ll make someone angry. In the end, it’s what you are comfortable with, not what anyone else prefers.

The submission process is made up of a delicate balance between writers and publishers. While writers want their work to be understood and appreciated, publishers want to provide the best of the best so that they can continue to put out content. Each submission is different, but the bones are usually the same.

What tips or questions do you have about submitting short stories? Have you submitted any lately?

Writing Too Much

Writing Too MuchAs I have said before, I generally spend my days writing about boring things. I try my best to make these boring things interesting, and to tend to various audiences, but for the most part, when I write for work, I have a target in mind: this real estate community, this sales angle, this event, that holiday, and so on. While I wouldn’t say that it’s terrible work, my brain does need a break sometimes.

I love to write, but writing too much can be a bad thing, just as over-indulgence with just about anything else. Sometimes, even if I am writing something that I want to write, I get to a certain point where I just can’t write anymore. Either I will be forcing myself and the content will turn out to be unworthy of my expectations, or I have written until the inspiration has leaked out and hit a brick wall.

I never really stop writing, as I believe that thinking about writing, reading, and even conversing are all a part of writing in some way or another, but there are times when I need to tell myself to stop. For me, quality is much more important than quantity.

This is another reason why I don’t set goals for myself—either daily, weekly, or monthly. Forcing yourself to produce content passed the point of your creative threshold is pointless and you will end up with something that you aren’t satisfied with in the end.

It’s similar to energy, where you have a certain amount of it. Once it’s spent, you need time to replenish it before doing another lap. Our minds need rest just as much as our bodies.

To replenish my spirit, and to top up my writing reserves, I like to read, watch movies, play video games, and just be. Exercising my mind in other ways helps to inspire new ideas and to give me a jump start instead of running on empty until my brain just refuses to work anymore.

I usually get to that point after writing content that I find taxing, such as articles about funeral and estate planning, just before the holidays. Not that it’s bad content, it’s just tedious and a little depressing when it’s surrounded by holiday cheer and anticipation.

When do you decide to take a break, and what do you do to replenish yourself? Do you have certain things that you watch or play, or do you just listen to your brain and do whatever it tells you to at the time?

What bores you the most when writing?

And don’t forget to find me on Facebook for everything writing. Happy Holidays!

Rules (Myths) for Writers

There are a million (if not more) rule books out there for writers. They tell you to do something a certain way to really maximize your writing potential and to boost your career. While I’m certain that many of these guides have a completely honest purpose, many of them do not. Instead, they are made to feed on the wallets of those who don’t know much about writing, but who really want to do it. In fact, I think that you should take any rules you’ve heard about writing and throw them out the window with a quick “farewell”. Some of the most popular include:

Meet a Daily/Weekly/Monthly Word Count

Myths for WritersIf you enjoy doing this, wonderful. If you don’t, avoid forcing yourself. Writing is an art and it should not be squeezed out of you just to meet a word count. When you push yourself too hard, your writing becomes about the numbers and not about your talent. It becomes a job instead of a pleasure. Write at your own pace, when you want to write. If the story comes easy you’ll have plenty of words on the page. If it doesn’t, writing things that you’ll only erase later won’t do you any good.

Don’t Use This or That

Myths for WritersYou’ll often hear things like “adverbs are your enemy”, and “the passive voice is the worst voice”, but there are exceptions to everything. If you want to use an adverb, use a bloody adverb. If you don’t, don’t! Your writing is your own, completely different from what works for someone else. Own it! Find your own style and your own preferences and don’t worry about what you’re “supposed” to do. Thinking outside of the box will get you ahead much faster than trotting along with the sheep.

Don’t Do This or That

Myths for WritersIn researching for this post, I came across one rule that said “don’t go into great detail describing places and things”, and another that said “avoid detailed descriptions of characters”. I know I refer to LOTR often, but this is the perfect place to do it. Tolkien is known for description, both positively and negatively. Would you really want to go back and tell Tolkien that he didn’t know what he was doing? What works for your setting or character may not work for someone else’s, but don’t let that make you think that your work is any less than theirs. There’s no “right” way to write a character or describe a world. Do what feels right and listen to your editor.

Keep Records

Myths for WritersSome people like to write down story ideas, moments, thoughts, etc. Some don’t. If you don’t, it doesn’t make you a bad writer. It doesn’t make you less dedicated. I don’t write things down, it’s just not my style. I need a story or an idea to grow in my head for awhile before I put it on paper (or screen). Others like to keep journals, files, and notes. What works for one doesn’t always work for all, and that’s completely OK.

Deadlines are Necessary

Myths for WritersIf you’re self-publishing, they are not. They are nice, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t meet one. Books take time. More time than most people think. I have had more than one client push a deadline and feel bad about it because they just didn’t realize what it would take to write a whole book. You might have an idea, but once your own soul gets caught up in it, it sometimes becomes harder to tell. Take time, let the story come as it will, and don’t worry about anyone else. You’ll have a better story in the end.

Successful Authors Know Best

Myths for WritersNo, they don’t. They got lucky. There are a ton of writers out there with absolutely brilliant manuscripts that just didn’t catch a break. There are many authors that we don’t hear of until years and years after their books have been published. On the other hand, there are many (many, many) terrible books out there. Of course, you need a good manuscript to get started, but they all started the same way as you—nervous and a little afraid, standing in front of a publisher with what they hoped was a good (and marketable) story in their hands.

Your writing is your own and no one else’s. Only you can decide what helps you to write a better story. Only you can figure out if writing is really in your bones. There are no rules to writing in reality, so don’t feel guilty for not abiding by any of the ones that have been created. Each author has their own set of rules, that works well for them. Create your own and write what you will.

What’s the worst writing advice that you have ever received? Do you have any self-made rules that you follow?

Speech Tags in Writing

Speech Tags in WritingWe’re all familiar with speech tags. While we may not always notice them when reading, they can become somewhat of a pain when writing. To balance the amount of them, to insert appropriate adjectives and verbs, to ensure that they reduce confusion instead of enhancing it—these are all things that writers face.

Speech tags may seem like a small thing when compared to the rest of the manuscript, which includes world building, character creation, adequate structure, and all the rest, but they can play an important role in the success, or failure, or a story.

The most common are “he said”, and “she said”, and “he replied”, and “she replied” are a close second. But when you are writing a long and complicated dialogue session, these become irritating, dull, and even redundant. Therefore, how do you improve the readability while making sure that the reader knows who is speaking?

Pay attention to those around you during a conversation. Often, there are movements, actions, and tones that accompany words. No one really just sits there immobile while speaking, especially if the conversation is intriguing and inviting. You will notice that someone will reply as they brush hair away from their face, or sigh while listening to a retort. When agitated, someone may uncross their legs or even pace around the room. These are all actions that can add meat to your speech tags.

For example:

  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she said.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she replied haughtily.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she answered as she paced the room.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she quipped as she leafed through the pages.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she answered quietly, her soulful eyes glazed over in thought.

Each one implies a slightly different tone. “Said” on its own tells you nothing except that it was said.

Adding an adjective delivers a more emotional sense, allowing the reader to hear how the words are being said.

Adding a verb stimulates the reader visually, letting them picture the speaker.

Adding a noun paired with a verb enhances the action, giving a setting and substance to the situation.

Adding a description enables the reader to become the speaker. They know the feeling (or the action), and can relate to it.

Using these tools can help you to create better dialogue, as well as to subtly describe the setting, character emotion, and the gravity (or hilarity) of the situation.

As writers, we strive to touch all of the senses of our readers, but to do so with outright description written in large, random chunks often slackens the reader’s interest. Why? Because they want to be fed the story bit by bit, not all at once. So, we have to get creative.

What many writers don’t realize is that in order to write well, we must become masters of observation. We must take note of the actions of others, their reactions, their tones, their quirks, and anything else. We must people-watch, we must always be aware. If not, when we try to write, it will come out as an awkward mess or an unpolished text.

Do you think of yourself as a master of observation? Are speech tags something that you struggle with? What are some of the best, and worst, speech tags you can remember?