Monthly Archives: August 2016

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good adverbs

Good Adverbs for
Unapologetically Good Writing

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I know what you’re thinking: How can there be such things as good adverbs? After all, great writers like Stephen King revile them. His opinion on adverbs drips with venom, and is enough to shake most writers’ confidence in using them. What the heck happened to him as a child that caused him to get adverbial PTSD? Did his parents pay attention to him sparingly?  Was he unwittingly frightened by an adverb buzzing drowsily about his head at summer camp? Did an early editor comment acidly about his adverb habit?  Most of you probably know that in his bestselling bookOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he famously said:

‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops.”

Plenty of writers and pundits love this quote and use it as proof positive that adverbs are a defunct and useless part of our language. What they’re not telling you is the quote goes on. Yes, Grasshopper, there is another part to the story, and it goes like this:

good adverbs are like dandelions“To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”

Okay, okay — he does advise that you root them all out of your manuscript like you’re possessed of a giant can of RoundUp for words. Thing is, everyone misses that tiny little place where he says, “If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique.”  What if we could train ourselves to stop at one (or two) and let them ornament our prose like the literary embellishments they’re meant to be? That, Grasshopper, is the secret I’m going to let you in on right now.

Good Adverbs Happen with Adverb Control

Alright, most agree you need to use restraint with these little buggers lest they overrun your picture-perfect prose and turn it into a pulp fiction nightmare. Let’s explore ways to keep both your creative spirit and Stephen King happy.

Use Adverbs with A Strong Verb

It’s true, adverbs can dilute language to anemic proportions. But adverbs can also take a strong verb and kick it up a notch, supercharging your prose in the process. Take this example: If  “John smiled widely” is bad, and “John grinned” is good, then “John grinned impishly” is even better. After all, “impishly” gives us an additional bit of information. John’s not grinning like every other grinner grins — he’s grinning like John, a mischievous imp of a boy. So, what you should do as a writer is always be sure you have the strongest verbs possible in place before adding your good adverbs for extra detail.

Use Adverbs for Contrast

Another great way to use “good adverbs” is to let them stand as a juxtoposition to the verb. Use your adverb for contrast instead of as a modifier, like describing your OCD protagonist who is unaware of his problem as “inadvertently anal”. This can help convey the feeling of a character in conflict with his own attributes, much more so than simply calling him “anal” would.

Use Adverbs as Part of Your Mediumdandelion wishes

Writers paint with words. Why would an artist ever, ever limit their palette? Adverbs are just another luscious pot of ink you can use to color your writing. Make it flame furiously with the dark red slap of anger; whisper breathlessly in love-blushed shades of pinkish-gold, or let the pale tears of a lingering depression drip silently. Experimentation is the key to every astounding work of brilliance we humans have produced, so don’t be afraid to use every part of language to perfect your craft.

After all, it’s your craft.

See you on the next page!

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defending your writing from trolls

Defend Your Writing Without Turning Yourself into a Troll

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I read a well-written article by fellow Medium writer Pete Ross about how people are offended by the occasional curse word. He nobly defends his fellow writers from what were obviously petty and poorly-considered jabs at their writing prowess and personal choices from the horde of trolls that inevitably lurks around every corner of the social media landscape.

Even though I wanted to fist-pump and shout “Hell, yeah!” to his overall message, (why, indeed, must people freak over opinions that don’t mesh with perfect precision with their own?), I found myself being a bit confused by the way in which he went about building parts of his defense.

When touching on the idea of people’s dislike of writers using curse language, he suggests, “Maybe you don’t like it because you’re old or conservative.”

Oh, no he didn’t.

Yes, he did. And then he went on to call them stupid.

He writes, “I’m going both barrels on you right now, because you’re stupid. You’re stupid because you can’t separate one little word from what is usually an excellent body of text, or even worse appreciate its skillful use because it somehow offends your sensibilities.”

Oh, no. I love Pete–he’s super intelligent and it definitely shines through in his writing. But he lowered himself into the troll barrel with the name-callers and I don’t think he even realized it.

Not everyone that doesn’t agree with cursing in an article is old, conservative, and/or stupid. Some people just don’t like it. And guess what? That’s okay. It’s okay to have an opinion and to voice it . After all, examining opposing viewpoints is how we grow and learn. It’d be boring beyond belief if we were all the same! But, we all need to learn to voice our opinions with respect for each other.

We writers need to be the change, as trite as that might sound. I know that nasty, small-minded comments are hard to deal with; I’ve had my share of them directed at me, too. But we have to argue our points without descending to their level, or we just become part of the problem.

We should focus our writing on attacking the issue, not the person voicing the opinion. Pete makes fantastic arguments in his article. I loved his example about comments to a video in which a veteran uses the f-bomb. In the video, the vet responds with occasional profanity to the current “22 pushups a day challenge”. He wants people to understand that there’re better things to do to help vets with PTSD. Pete writes, “It was a rather deep and profound message, but that didn’t stop people showing up to tell him that using the f-bomb a couple of times devalued his message and turned them off. Seriously, a combat vet is putting his soul on video and providing some really important social criticism, and all you care about is the word “fuck”?

Way to hit home. Reading Pete’s sentence made me angry for that veteran. Ross goes on later in his article to say, “Get it straight: this isn’t academia, this isn’t The New Yorker and it certainly isn’t your local community newsletter. People come here to write wonderful pieces in the way that they want to write them, not the way you want them written.”

Again, a great argument that gets his opinion across without descending into name-calling and trollish behavior.

Writers, when you’re called to defend your writing, I hope you do so armed to the teeth with your superhero-power: a compelling way with words. You’re a writer, able to leap tall trolls at a single bound. At the very least, you ought to be able to use your verbal acumen to skewer the little buggers without turning you into a carbon copy of them.

See you on the next page!

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writing in the dark

Writing in the Dark: A Technique for Explosive Prose

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Need to add impact to a pivotal scene in your novel? Try writing in the dark. Anyone who’s studied the effects of sensory deprivation knows they impact creativity greatly. While not everyone has access to, or can afford, time in a sensory deprivation tank, there are ways to harness some of that deprivation juju to enhance your writing skills.

First, let’s talk about what happens during sensory deprivation. Your brain shifts from the alpha and beta waves of conscious reality to solid theta waves—the kind you have right before falling asleep and just after waking up. Normally, dreamers only experience theta waves for a few minutes, but having extended theta periods helps us to visualize better and sometimes give us vivid mental images, akin to hallucinations.

While writing in the dark isn’t as effective as total sensory deprivation for creativity, it allows you to broaden your creative reach and can help you craft scenes, dialogue, and plot twists that are nothing short of amazing.

In a typical session, you’ll find your writing becomes more demonstrative and full of words that describe all your senses. Writing in the dark allows you to concentrate on your scene, immerse yourself in it, and write about it as if you’re experiencing it yourself in detail. This makes your writing richer, fuller, and more emotive than ever.

In addition, this exercise sparks plot twists and turns, subplots, and even new story ideas. After twenty minutes or so of immersion, you may find yourself in a rhythm the likes of which are hard to duplicate while writing in the cold light of day. If this happens to you, embrace it for as long as the feeling holds and get those words on the page.

Foolproof Technique for Writing in the Dark

To try this technique, you’ll only need two things: A dark room and reasonably good typing skills.

A Dark Room

If you’re working at a computer or laptop, you can darken the room all you want but you’ll still contend with the ambient light from the device screen. That’s enough of light to ruin the effect, so you’ll need to find a way to circumvent this. You can cover your screen with black paper or turn the screen off while keeping power connected to the computer. Conversely, you can leave all the lights on and just cover your eyes with a scarf, a bandanna, an eye mask or your roommate’s old sock (as long as you wash it first!)

Personally, I find turning off the lights is key, even if you use an eye mask or other sight-dampening method. This may sound odd, but I can “feel” the darkness around me. It lends the room a certain stillness and closeness that really helps with immersion.

It’s also a good idea to block sounds as best you can. Find the quietest room in your house, turn off all electronics, or wear earplugs to increase the isolating effect of this exercise.

Good Typing

You’ll need to be a proficient typer to make writing with your eyes closed work for you, since you’ll need to be fairly certain of where each key is without looking at them. Don’t worry about typos, though. As long as you’ve got a grip on hand placement, a few misspellings will be easy to correct in editing.

That’s all you need. Don’t forget to let any housemates, friends, or family know what you’re up to to minimize interruptions. Choose a time of day that you know is “slow” in terms of social interaction for greater success. Then, simply write. At first you may feel awkward or even silly. You may write for ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty minutes in this stage. Stick with it. Once you lose your sense of awkwardness, your mind will relax and begin to enjoy the experience.

Begin to “see” the story as you write it. Picture your setting, characters, and even the narrative as you type through it. You’ll begin to see through your characters eyes and feel what they feel, leading to evocative and riveting prose. The more you practice this technique, the more you’re able to achieve immersion. More immersion leads to greater gains for the writing you produce during your session.

Give it a try and let me know how it affects your writing. Send a sample of “dark writing” if you dare and I’ll publish my favorite one!

See you on the next page!




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write fast on computer

Write Fast Now. Write Better Later.

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Sometimes, I write fast. Other times, not so much.

In fact, some days the tick of the clock in my office seems as horrible as Chinese water torture with its insistent reminder of the words I’m not writing. Tick. (I’ve got laundry to do.) Tock. (Better answer this email.) Tick. (The dog needs some exercise.) Tock. (I’m stuck on this chapter.) Tick. (What’s that scratching in the wall?) Old Edgar Allen Poe’s got nothing on my overactive imagination.

Why the Write Fast Method Works

While my imagination might be rampant, it can get spooled in my head, a hard ball of ideas that doesn’t want to roll out through my pen or my keyboard. Sometimes, instead of the traditional writer’s block, a sort of idea “desert”, I have the kind of block that consists of a big, fat, wad of thoughts that won’t disengage from each other enough to make one sensible story.

So, I write fast.

I find that writing speedily without caring if my ideas make sense is a great way to write myself out of a corner. Even if my prose seems nonsensical at first, it often resolves itself into a strong, sensible pattern within fifteen or twenty minutes of writing. Even all the babble at the beginning is often usable; it’s been the source of some of my more twisted pieces of fiction.

I know it seems odd to tell you to write fast when you’re having trouble writing at all, but believe me, it works. Some call this “stream of consciousness” writing, but I don’t agree. It’s not quite random thoughts, like true stream-of-consciousness. In fact, I almost always have a topic or goal in mind when I write fast, it’s just the ideas that are unprocessed as they fall onto the page in word form.

The best part of this exercise is the freedom you feel when there is no need to worry about your grammar, diction, point-of-view errors or punctuation. It’s writing as an art in it’s most elemental form. It’s soul-lifting, idea-birthing deep work for writers. So, give yourself the gift of free-range writing. Just do it. Put all those thoughts and ideas out there.

You can worry about editing later. In fact, there’s plenty of writers who feel writing is made better by having less restriction during the creative phase. The editing phase is for, well, editing. Do it then and your writing will be better for it. As writer Peter de Vries said: “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

So, be spontaneous — go write fast!

See you on the next page!




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first-time authors

Uncomplicated Advice for First-Time Authors

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First-time authors have a lot on their plate. So, if you’ve just finished your first novella, short story collection, or novel, and you’re ready to shop it around, you might be feeling overwhelmed. Sure, you could go with traditional publishing, indie, or a hybrid of the two, but you’re not sure yet. What you are sure of is that it’s quite scary to think about dipping your toe in the vast ocean of publishing choices. Do you need an agent? Can you submit directly to a publisher? What about a small publishing house? Vanity presses? What other creatures lurk in this (for you) uncharted sea?

Don’t let trepidation keep you from moving forward. Plenty of first-time authors give up at this pivotal moment out of sheer overwhelm, tucking their work away for “later”. Instead, follow these guidelines to put yourself on firm footing and keep moving forward.

Publishing for First-Time Authors

Write a book proposal. Even if you think you’re going to self-publish, it doesn’t hurt to have one of these on hand. First, it will give you practice marketing your book and sharpening your pitch. Plus, once you’ve written your proposal, it’s ready for action should your research uncover the perfect publisher or hybrid option. A great guide for first-time authors on writing a book proposal is Michael Hyatt’s Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal or Writing a Winning Fiction Book Proposal. Michael is the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, so I think he knows a bit about the business!

Develop relationships with other authors. Discover authors in your genre or other genres that you’re interested in. Most authors are willing to share their tips and tricks and many are eager to help new authors avoid pitfalls when they can. Not only can they give you worthwhile advice about publishing options, but they might even critique your writing as well. I met talented author, Lexa Cain, on Twitter and struck up a friendship. Not only did she give me invaluable advice about agents, publishing, and resources, she directed me to a great meeting place for writers, You can pre-order Lexa’s new novel, Bloodwalker, here.

Know your market. Whether you’re planning on self-publishing or not, pick up a copy of the latest Writer’s Market. The 2016 Writer’s Market by Robert Lee Brewer is currently available, and you can pre-order the 2017 Writer’s Market here. These books will help you with writer’s guidelines and submission procedures for publishing houses, as well as information on where to sell articles and other short pieces.

Get a good critique. Polish your manuscript. Then, look at publishing. The website Preditors & Editors gives good, unbiased reviews of some of these services, and is a great place to check out potential editors for hire. Beware, there are some scammers out there. I can personally recommend Michael Garrett‘s services. Michael was Stephen King’s first editor, and he does a phenomenal job of manuscript editing. He’ll give you the straight-up truth accompanied by suggestions and advice for perfecting your writing.

Finally, never give up. You can go about it in many ways, but getting published is hard work. Michael Hyatt had his book The Millenium Bug, rejected 29 times before it went on to become a New York Times best seller. Publishers rejected Louis L’Amour over 200 times before his books sold over 330 million copies. Finally, 23 publishers rejected Frank Herbert’s Dune and 12 rejected J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

If you get rejected, you’re in good company. To stay in this company, though, keep on trying. Don’t let a few, or even a hundred, rejections break your stride. Believe in yourself!

Persistence is the key to getting published for first-time authors. Persist in perfecting your craft, never shying from criticism or suggestions. Strive to learn the ropes of the publishing industry. Follow some publishers’ blogs, find out how famous writers got their start, and learn from the experience of other authors. The best way to ensure your eventual success is to keep reading, keep writing, and keep learning.

See you on the next page!



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