Since I’ve started writing more I’ve noticed that when I’m not confident about my writing or the direction a story is taking, I add filler words to doll up sentences. As if more words will make for a better story. It doesn’t, and usually it’ll make it worse.
Adding unnecessary sentences and words that don’t move the story forward is a common mistake a lot of new or unsure writers make while they’re still gaining understanding of what exactly it is they’re trying to say. They often think they’re following the lead of accomplished writers whose work is dipped in extended metaphor, but fail to see it’s purpose in moving the story forward. Extended metaphors and lyrical language are useful supports to the bare bones of narrative, but overuse (and misuse, with passive language) dull the impact of a story.
As fiction writers, we’ve done half the job when we’ve told a clear story in it’s most basic forms, without any extra words or events that don’t add to or move the story forward, but this is something a lot of writer’s, including myself, struggle to do. Here are some ways I avoid unnecessary language.
Since a lot of this is sparked from self-doubt, remind yourself that the first draft is exactly that, a draft – a preliminary version of a piece of writing – not a finished product. Use the first draft to tell the story from beginning to end, and use later drafts to add in all those bells and whistles of imagery and trim whatever other fat that can be spared.
Remember, a story is not primarily a place to demonstrate your literary prowess. It is also not primarily a place to explore character. Everything in a story should be there to teach the reader something important and push the plot along, not stagnate it for a few moments of your brilliance.
Ask yourself, what organically feels like part of the story and what stops or distracts from that flow? and Could I say this in less words? when reading over your work.
I find that keeping these in mind while combing through my second and subsequent drafts helps bring out the core and most powerful parts of a story, and cuts out what doesn’t have that effect. I hope you find these helpful, too.
Have you got any tricks you use to make your writing more powerful? Do you struggle with writing what you mean? Who are some authors you enjoy that don’t mince words?
You’ve told your parents, friends, and pets that you’re going to be a writer when you grow up and they’ve all given you that look of pity that roughly translates to You’re never going to move out, are you? You want to write for a living because as much as you love writing, you don’t want to do it for free (and you shouldn’t have to), but what are your options?
When people think of professional writers their imagination only goes as far as novelists before it taps out, but there are so many paths to choose from on the writing track.
Tell your parents there’s no more need to worry that you’ll be performing your poetry on the street in exchange for a bite of someone’s hamburger- although that might be an upgrade to what you’re currently selling your writing for.
Here’s a list of freelance writing positions for writers of all experience levels and education levels; these jobs rely primarily on your capabilities as a writer and ability to sell yourself.
Online Content Creator
If you’re here you probably already do this, but may not even know it. Content creators create original content for online audiences, these are typically blog and article writers. This content can be to inform, sell a product, or simply to entertain. A lot of popular blogs hire out their work to freelancers, whether it be travel, food, or fashion blogs. Next time you’re on your favorite blog or website see if they have a “submit” or “contribute” tab on their website. Most sites will have this somewhere unless they exclusively hire staff writers.
Copywriters are often confused with content writers because they have similar duties of creating content to inform the masses. Copywriters differ slightly because their writing is aimed at generating interest and trust while calling the reader to action, this can be in the form of direct emails to customers, product descriptions, or landing pages to name a few.
Copy writing is one of the more lucrative writing jobs because it directly affects a business’s sales. Good copy means more sales for the business, and more money and recurring work for you.
Technical writing is one of the harder fields to get into without some relevant education in marketing, experience, or knowledge of the product because of the amount of research required for the job. Technical writers enable readers to use a specific product or complete a task by transforming complicated information into simple terms and delivering it through manuals, safety instructions, how-to guides, and FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). If an activity needs a certain skill to perform, a technical writer lurks somewhere behind.
This path is especially profitable if you already know the area you’ll be writing for, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time researching. If you don’t have the slightest idea how a H-VAC system works, don’t think you can learn about the product while you’re writing about it.
Press Release Writer
When companies need to let their customers and clients know something newsworthy such as upcoming events, new products, and sales – that’s where press release writers come in. Writers can get press release writing jobs by pitching directly to companies or looking on job boards. Be aware that some clients may also want you to distribute the press release. I personally don’t do press releases, but have heard other freelancers say they prefer just to write the release and if they distribute it, they offer it is an extra service.
Editors can do as little as fact check and remove any errors in spelling and grammar, all the way to completely rewriting a customer’s work for overall quality and clarity. The kind of editor you can become is dependent on your experience and writing skill. Editing is a good job for you if you’re extremely attentive to detail, as you’ll have to read and edit a piece thoroughly multiple times before sending it back to your client as complete.
A proofreader is an editor’s underappreciated ginger stepbrother. Editors and proofreaders have a lot of similar duties, and because of this an editor may also be a proofreader, but typically a proofreader will stick with checking spelling and grammar.
You do not need a qualification to be a proofreader but it is helpful to learn some of the standard skills by reading or taking online tests to see where you stand.
Magazine freelancers pitch articles to editors and if approved can make a nice sum and get recurring work. This is especially good for travel writers and those who like journalism.
It can be difficult for new writers without clips to break into magazine writing because effective pitching does not come without practice. Start by pitching to smaller publications online, your local publications, and student newspapers so you stand a better chance of landing article and getting clips to build your portfolio, then shoot for those bigger magazine-fish. Online magazines usually have a “submit” or “contribute” section on their site, too.
Ghostwriters write for other people, typically books and articles, but give up all rights to the work once finished. This has it’s positives and negatives. For one, because ghostwriters do not get any credit for their work, they usually get paid more for it. The negative is that because you are giving up the rights to your work, you can’t include it in your portfolio or resume.
Ghostwriters have an extensive background in freelance writing and maybe a book (or ebook) of their own published; having the extra notch on their resume won’t significantly change their chances at getting a job, so ghostwriting is a win all around for them. New writers aren’t likely to get a ghostwriting job and probably don’t want to because it won’t be able possible to include it as experience.
I recently saw a job to rewrite the rules for a sex dice game and knew I’d picked the right industry for me. Videogame writing is great for those of us who love fiction writing, and is unique because it involves working very closely with a team. I’m working on a videogame right now and learned that there is a lot of communicationand even more rewriting as the project goes forward. Overall, videogame writing is one of the most creative of writing jobs because there is a lot of free reign with dialogue, plot, and scenery (as long as it fits with the game play).
There you have it: real writing jobs that pay real money, mama would be proud! I hope this has shed some light on the ever-elusive professional writing career. A lot of these job’s duties overlap, so if you qualify for one you’ll probably be able to do another, and another. And (especially in the beginning) you’ll need to do some juggling of jobs in order to get the ball rolling into a proper check. The kind that takes care of rent and bills and other grown up words.
I’ll follow this up next week with a post on exactly how much money freelance writers make in the United States, especially in those terribly expensive cities like Los Angeles.
Have you done any of these jobs or care to share your experience as a freelance writer? Are there any other jobs that should go on this list?
In keeping with receiving criticism and the writer’s super power of growing several layers of dragon scales for skin, is a quote that I read in On Writing by Stephen King. I highly recommend it to all writers, especially those in the early stages of writing and discovering their voice. Although this quote doesn’t necessarily relate to the writing process, it’s a regular occurrence for artists and can lead to self doubt and impostor syndrome – both of which negatively effect the ways we write.
A lot of us keep our writing in the closet (or our blogs) because of the reaction we get when we reveal to someone that you’re a writer and gasp plan to write full time for real money and no you’re not delusional. The general misconception that the only way to make money as a writer is by being a novelist with an absurd amount of luck, doesn’t help either.
Prior to saying this, King mentions a teacher scolding him for wasting his talents writing junk. I’m sure she went on to face palm herself into oblivion, but it goes to show how even someone who is now The Stephen King got more than a few sideways looks for spending his time writing short stories for fun and then for money. It takes confidence to be a writer and this doesn’t come quickly, especially when there can be a lot of having to justify why you’re doing it. I’m a nurse’s assistant and just recently started telling my co-workers that I stopped taking courses for nursing to pursue freelance writing instead, many of my co-workers are very supportive and want to read my blog, while others tell me to go back to nursing school because there’s no way to make a living as a writer. I used to run through a list of ways writers can make a living, but came to the realization that that was a real waste of my time.
Getting involved in the blogging community and indie writer community has been a great way for me to build confidence and “meet” other writers who are either exploring their voice or doing what I aim to do, which is a constant inspiration. Seeing writers do what so many consider impossible is motivation to carry on in your own work, and learn how to just (as the vernacularly challenged say) do you.
How do you cope with nay-sayers? Do you keep your writing online or are you vocal about it with people you know? Why do you think everyone and their mother has an opinion about you being a writer?
If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. – Margaret Atwood
The first draft of anything is shit. – Ernest Hemingway
These quotes come at a time when I’m making several revisions to a short story from four or five months ago. Last week I was eager to edit. I got the story out of my desk, edited the first paragraph thirty-odd times, then stuffed the papers back in the drawer deciding my time would be best spent job hunting – I’d worked five months and produced excrement, and worst of all, at one point I’d actually thought it was good. I was suffering from two things all writers go through at one point or another; a disconnect from my work because so much time had passed since the last edit, and feeling stagnated because I was editing my story with the aim of perfecting it.
As writers, we’re all guilty of trying to make our stories perfect because we have a particular message we want to convey, but what is perfection anyway? When does refining become a vice?
Writing is art; personal and an expression of self, so is constantly evolving and is impossible to perfect, so why are so many of us aiming for the impossible? The idea of what makes a flawless story changes as often as our minds do. Constantly judging your writing in pursuit of perfection ends in frustration and chasing your creativity down a hole to writer’s block.
Perfectionism puts a wrench in your writing mojo so, why do we spend so many weeks, months, and years editing and re-editing, in pursuit of it? I think the greatest reason is fear. Writing is incredibly personal, even when you’re not writing about something personal. You write, edit, pour hours into a story and wonder what people will say when they read your work. What will my friends/family think? Will my editor like it? What if no one gets what I’m trying to do? All of these questions rise up and choke the life out of creativity.
Aiming to write a well though-out, clear, soul-filled story is a good thing, but writing for perfection is a hindrance on creativity and productivity, because you’ll be editing with no end in sight.
Some ways I deal with my occasionally overcritical eye are to
Try not judging work while in the middle of writing it. Save judgement for later drafts, the first one is just a place to get your ideas onto paper (or screen). Think of creating your story like painting; start with broader strokes and then go back to refine, not perfect.
Write first and foremost for you, not any potential readers you think may be out there.
Set realistic deadlines to complete work. If you like to keep track of projects in stages; set a deadline to complete your outline, then a first draft, and so on. Having a set time to finish leaves no space for endless edits.
Chasing perfection hurts the creative process, but is something all writers (even the ones you admire and can do no wrong) struggle with. Next time you find you’ve micro-edited a paragraph for the umpteenth time, take a break then come back to the work with a mindset of writing without judgement, and free of the worry that someone is looking over your shoulder.
Do you find yourself struggling for perfection, or leaning on any other vices that stop you from writing? How are some ways you combat the need to aim for perfect writing? How long do you work on a project before deciding enough is enough? Let me know in the comments!
When I realized I had a solid date and plan of action for becoming vegan, but no deadlines or real plan for how I would achieve my writing goals, I took a long look at myself in the mirror, wiped the pizza grease off my mouth and said, Minelli, your priorities are fucked. It’s easy to claim the title as a writer, but what happens next? How do you land that writing job or actually finish that collection of poems you’ve been harping on about for so long? I’m a naturally disorganized person, but when I took my “temporary” hiatus from college it wasn’t long before I found that I could not carry on this way and expect to get anywhere in writing, professional or otherwise.
I’ve had more on my plate writing-wise with trying to post more frequently and taking on a few projects. I’m working with two illustrator friends and my husband (who’s a 3D modeler) to create a small videogame, and I am writing the content and story. I am also finally (finally) editing Melancholia in Molasses for my creative writing class that recommences at the end of the month. It’s been so long since I’ve touched my 5500+ word count story and there’s still so much that needs to be done. Outside of those more elective activities, I have been working on my professional writing; refining my resume, applying for freelance writing jobs, writing proposals and cover letters left right and center. It’s impossible to get through anything without some pre-planning.
Staying organized saves time so you’re more productive and able to stay on top of different projects. Fiction writers have to organize outlines and find writing time outside of their day jobs; while freelance writers have to be on top of their schedules, clients, research, and due dates. Here is a list of organizational tips (and helpful links) to prioritize your writing life like the boss you’re trying to be.
Cleanliness is next to productiveness
Did you know productive writers are God’s favorite children? Clean that desk or dining table (or the bed you use as a table) so you have a de-cluttered space to write and you will be highly favored. Oh, you don’t have a designated place to write? It’s better to be a Starbucks cliche than have no place to write at all.
Set a large goal, then establish small steps to achieve it
You can’t become a novelist and freelance writer extraordinaire without a (realistic) plan to get there. Set smaller goals to achieve larger ones so you can measure progress and stay motivated.
Writing a long story? Establish daily word count goals and log how many you complete.
Looking for writing jobs? Establish a weekly goal of how many you will apply to, then send out proposals/resumes daily to break application time into manageable sessions. No one likes spending hours searching jobs and emailing resumes (unless you’re a resume writer, bless your soul if you are).
Organize as much of your work as you can electronically and take advantage of apps like Evernote or Google Drive. These apps are great for planning stories and articles, taking notes, planning your schedule, saving images, and everything is automatically synced to your electronic devices. This means you will never have to wait until you get to your home or office to find out information for a client, or the details of a story you’re writing. I personally prefer Google but know many people like Evernote’s interface and ability to save articles and images with their original links and references.
Life does not need to look like a planner and mine often doesn’t, but when you’re a freelance writer it’s good if your life resembles some of the rigidity of pre-scheduled days. I’m hardly a fan of them, but if you expect to get a job writing you might as well start acting as if you’re doing it already (my ideal workplace is cat friendly and pant-free, so that is the work environment I perpetuate at home). For creative writers, use your schedule to plan writing around your work schedule.
Do more creative/time consuming projects first
Unless you have something that needs to be done right away or a meeting that has to be attended, start off with the more creative tasks. Our brains are the most alert in the morning so it’s a good opportunity to tap into those creative juices before they’re all drained from other activities. If you don’t work with creative writing, do the harder and more time consuming tasks first rather than leaving them for last – you have to do it regardless, why let it weigh you down at the end of a long day?
Don’t take on every project
You will be tempted to, but if you do you’ll likely take on too much, get burned out, and leave a terrible impression on any clients you’re working with. How productive is it to start a fourth short story when you’ve barely pieced together the second and haven’t revised the first? I know; you’re a writer, you’re broke and motivated, but that practice is not productive. It’s easy to get excited once you get the ball rolling on a story or when the job interviews start rolling in, but the more you do the less time you can spend doing one thing very well.
Take care of yourself, too
I mentioned acting as if writing is your job (if that’s where you’re trying to take it), but remember it’s not just any job-it’s the job you want. Have you had enough sleep, food, and water? If not you’ll be fatigued and won’t make it past noon without several cups of coffee to help you keep up the work. Remember to take breaks, fifteen minutes to every hour, rather than working like a Hebrew slave for hours in a row. Most of us have day jobs; I work 7am-7pm three days out of the week so do not write (or even think about writing) on those days. I’m off four days in the week and spend three of those days writing from 9-4ish. Work on a write-work-life balance that doesn’t burn your out, hopefully these organizational tips will help along the way.
Here’s to productive work and no burn out! Do you have any tips for getting organized? Let me know in the comments!
While scrolling through my wordpress reader I came across Longreads Top 5 Longreads of the Week. Longreads is a blog that regularly posts excellent content for writers and this week they linked to a compilation of articles focused on how to plot a novel, in it is a fun article that provides an encyclopedia of every kind of literary plot (ever) including examples of books that use that specific device effectively and plot devices that used to work before the technological age took over. It offers plenty of useful links and is well worth the read if you’re interested in playing around with any of these plots for your own stories.
Here are a few author’s responses to whether they believe plot should be a center device in novels:
There are commandments that the storytelling community generally agree on; thou shalt write daily, thou shalt not plagiarize, thou shalt not use adverbs in vain, but there are many parts of the writing process that go disputed between it’s disciples. The decision of whether to use plot as a main story driver (rather than characters or the writing itself) depends on the individual, what they are writing, and who they are writing for.
While plot is necessary for certain types of genres like detective mysteries, other genres have more freedom when it comes to letting prose, character and emotion drive the story alongside minimal plot. I agree with Grace Paley (poet and short story writer) in that all stories have a plot that sets us in a time, place, and situation, but plot is best utilized when playing a small role in a story rather than a central part in it. I also agree with Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho) when he says that without plot there still must be a banal entity “to keep it [the story] moving forward”.As a reader I enjoy stories that leave me in expectation, which can come from the right words, descriptions of place, and emotions. An example of a writer who does this very well is Cormac McCarthy. His stories are rarely more than a hero’s (or anti-hero’s) journey pushed to new levels because of descriptive writing that draws in readers. In the end you don’t care too much about what’s happening because you’re in it for everything else.
Do you lean towards plots or prose (or anything else) as a center of a story? Do you know of any authors who write this way that you enjoy or don’t enjoy reading?
Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
George Orwell authored dystopian masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984, which are now required reading in many high-school English classes around the world, and still considered the process of novel writing to be a dire one.
So why did he do it? Why does any writer, famous, infamous, or aspiring, do it? Short stories and novellas are also a struggle to complete (in some aspects, even more so than a novel). Clearly there is some unknown entity that chases most of us writers. I, for one, have no idea why the strong urge to write has followed me through childhood and well into my twenties, even when I stifled art in pursuit of other careers it was only a temporary distraction and attempt at not being my mother’s worst nightmare. I may not understand what initially sparked my desire to write, write, write, but I have some idea of why I am doing it now; I love the empathetic perspective writing requires; there are endless cultures and lifestyles waiting to be explored and recreated; the rhythm and clarity of a well structured sentence is something truly wonderful; I’m a nerd for the emotions words create, and a sympathetic person that I also hate; there’s a story in me that needs to be written.
Why do you write? Do you remember the first time you picked up a book and thought I could do this!? Do you also remember how wrong you were about how easy it would be?
Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.
– William Faulkner
Almost every writer can be quoted as saying something similar, but it does not quite hit home until a Nobel Prize winning novelist, short story author, and most influential American writer of the twentieth century marks it as good advice (especially for us aspiring writers). Read often, read outside of your comfort zone, read the unexpected.
What are you reading? What are the most influential books you’ve read? Who are some of your go-to authors for inspiration or just a good old lit fix?
When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. – Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami is the author of international bestsellers, Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle known for experimental writing and narrators who deal with love, isolation, and fantastical experiences.
Murakami is not the only proclaimed writer to prefer little to no story planning, George R R Martin (author of A Song of Snow and Ice, later on released by HBO as series Game of Thrones) calls himself a writer of the gardener variety; one who has a general idea of the seed of the story, what genre it is, but let’s it grow mostly untamed and explored during growth. Architect writers are their opposites. They build a story knowing the blueprints of the plot, the family tree, flaws of each character, and a likely ending. Writers can typically be divided into two categories; those who outline and those who do not. I am in the latter group. For me, creativity flows more fluidly when it is not in the constraints of an outline and needing to know how the story is going to end. Multiple outlines for dystopian science fiction stories sit in my writing desk drawer, and although they are great intheory, they have amounted to nothing more than hours spent note taking rather than writing the story. Opening a blank page of a word doc or notebook can be daunting, but writing without a plan or desired ending takes a lot of that pressure off and can end in much more productive writing sessions.
Do you write outlines or no? Why does this practice work for you?
Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just like painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. – Truman Capote
Since reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood I thought I’d stick with his wonderful way with words for this week’s craft quote. Seeing this quote, I wondered whether Capote considered himself one of the writers born with a natural talent, or whether he had to read, write, and rewrite his way to perfection.
Is writing craft mostly talent or practice? Personally, I think an innate seedling of writing should be present – but just a seedling, an “ear” for words. But the bulk of craft is practice, work-shopping, having your work read by infinite writers and friends, multiple drafts, criticism, being up to your eyes in books, et cetera. How do you play with writing rules? I play it relatively safe in terms of structure. I have yet to learn all of the rules of creative writing so have not figured out how to break them, but it is always great to read stories from those who have reached this point and seeing how it works for them.