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Writing Tips

Consider "THAT"

Few four letter words can torpedo a creative piece faster than "that." Much like a swear word in church, "that" often causes readers to stop short and wonder why it was necessary. Veteran editors and proofreaders will often advise you to either swap it out with "which" or, if possible, leave "that" out altogether. This isn't to say "that" doesn't have a place on the written page. Rather, "that" should be reserved for instances when its use is essential to convey meaning. Consider these examples from the website, English for Students. 

  • Isabel knew [that] she was about to be fired.

  • I hope [that] she doesn't blame me.

You can see "that" is completely unnecessary in these sentences and if you read them aloud, without "that," you'll probably feel the sentences sound better without it. ​


Flashback to First Grade

If you're like me, you did a lot of reading aloud in the first grade. I'll date myself by admitting my class, led by the indomitable Mrs. Ada Bea Clem, read the ubiquitous Dick and Jane books. I clearly remember being perplexed one day when she stopped me at the end of a sentence to point out that I had read a new word in our vocabulary. The word? AFTER. Yep, that's some advanced reading right there folks. My classmates were in awe of my reading abilities. They didn't know I'd been reading for 3 years by that time...but I digress. 

The point is, while I no longer enjoy the sound of my own voice, it is quite helpful to read your work aloud in order to get an idea of the flow and pacing of your story. Awkward dialogue will jump off the page as soon as the words come out of your mouth. You'll find yourself shaking your head at the idea you ever thought someone would actually say X, Y, or Z. Practice speaking in the snarls, mutters, gasps, and growls as you've instructed your characters to speak. You might realize using the simple 'said' dialogue tag will work when the others are distracting. 

Give it a go. I'm sure your dogs will listen and be happy. Mine do.

Get Some Callouses

Anyone who says writing is easy is delusional. Okay, that's not completely true. Writing all by itself, IS easy. Have a thought; write it down. Voila! No sweat. In contrast, writing well is difficult and requires persistence, practice, and parsimonious diction. Writers regularly agonize over a single sentence in an effort to perfect the thought. Writers sweat the little stuff. 

But, what happens when writers send their works, their polished prose, their perfected products, out into the world? More often than not, we expect glowing reviews, six-figure advances, and book tours which circle the globe. In real life though, we experience rejection to the nth degree. 

What's a writer to do? Develop thick skin and accept the fact that our work will not appeal to all readers. Just like all work doesn't appeal to us. Learn to discern the difference between constructive and malicious criticism. Be willing to make the changes which will improve our craft. 

A true craftsman has callouses which prove their mastery of the trade. Writer's callouses are emotional but no less important.

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