Writing Tips

How To Make A Writing Plan

By E.. P. Ned Burke


Before you lock yourself in your room to write that best-selling novel or whatever, you should honestly ask yourself what you want to accomplish. If all you want to do is pen a few poems or write some lines of prose for your own amusement, then go now with my blessing and enjoy. But, if you want your talent to be recognized and rewarded and long lasting then you will need a "plan" of some sort before you start.


Because writing is not an exact science, there are no rules you must obey. What follows are only "suggestions" that I have found useful over the years.


Making up your mind:

The first thing you should do is to commit yourself to writing. This means believing in your talent enough to visualize your success before it actually happens. On a Seinfeld television episode a few years back, Kramer planned going on a long trip. His friends doubted him, but Kramer pointed to his head and told Jerry, "Up here, baby, I'm already gone!" Of course, the line got laughs because Kramer was a real "gone" character. But the point it makes is that once your mind tells you something is true then your body will follow. So, commit yourself to your dream of becoming a successful writer--see it happening!--and before you know it success will be yours. They say faith can move mountains. Let your faith in your own ability bring mountains of personal and financial rewards to your doorstep.


Communicating your intentions: 

After you resolve that you are serious about your writing, you must relate that same seriousness to your family and friends. I realize that writers who are married to non-writers find this difficult. But you must try to make your loved ones know how committed you are. In the movie, "Cool Hand Luke," Paul Newman as Luke is dragged back in chains after he tries to escape from a backwoods southern prison. The warden, apparently believing that Luke didn't fully understand the consequences of his act, calls all the inmates together and tries to get poor Luke's "head straight" by saying, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." So, before you place your spouse or kids in leg irons for disturbing you, make certain you communicate with them from the start. Tell them you need time to write. Set down some rules. Don't fail to communicate beforehand how serious you are. Then, if these rules are broken by anyone, feel free to bring out the shackles.


Staking out your space: 

After you have made your commitment and communicated your intentions to your loved ones and friends, you need to locate a suitable space where you can write without interruption. The ideal solution, of course, is to have an "office"--a separate room in your home or apartment reserved exclusively for writing. It took me almost 35 years to get to this point. And I relish it. But, for decades, I wrote wherever I could find a quiet spot. For instance, my first so-called office was in the basement. It consisted of an old workbench next to the coal furnace. Later, I set up my trusty Royal typewriter in the attic. Like Stephen King, you may find your niche beneath a stairway, or, perhaps, in a second bathroom which Erma Bombeck used to pen some of her best-syndicated columns.


The main thing you have to look for is a space that is relatively quiet and away from possible interruptions. This is why I don't advocate writing on the kitchen table or in the living room or any room frequented by other family members. You can't expect them to tiptoe quietly around you while you work.


If you can't find a quiet place at home, consider this idea: Get a job! By that I mean part-time solitary employment, such as a cashier in an all-night parking garage, a night watchman, or night bridge tender--all jobs I have worked at and used to my advantage. Not only do you put a few dollars in your pocket, but such jobs also offer you hours of quiet solitude and even supply you with free coffee and office space. How can you go wrong?


There are many "mindless jobs" out there that offer the writer a superb place to write. So, if you can't write at home, get out of the house and write. For years, I penned my newspaper articles on yellow legal pads in the front seat of my old Buick during my lunch break. Then I'd go back to the office and pound out the story in a matter of minutes, much to the amazement of my colleagues. A friend of mine liked to write in the library where she had access to as many books as she liked. Hemingway and others sketched a lot of their stories in cafes and saloons. So, lack of proper space should not be an excuse not to write.


Finding the time: 

Experts say the ideal plan is to have a set routine where you write each and every day at the same time. Personally, I find this difficult, especially when writing at home. So, rather than being held accountable to a clock, I prefer to set a goal for myself based on the amount of words I can produce. For instance, if I can chisel out 500 words a day, I'm satisfied.


The way I look at it is that in three days I have the first draft for a column like this one; in ten days I have enough words for a short story, and in a hundred days I have the makings for a novella or a good chunk of a novel. This way I'm not locked into a timetable that I know I can't possibly keep day after day. If my muse is in a good mood, I might get out a thousand or more words in one day. When this happens, I head out to the golf course the next day without any guilt.


Of course, each writer is a little different. Decide for yourself what is best for you. But, don't set unrealistic goals and then give up when those goals aren't met. Your writing plan--like writing itself--should be enjoyable and within your capabilities.


Getting started: 

Once you have your space and the time to write, the fun part starts. You stare at that blank sheet of paper or empty computer screen. You adjust your chair. You crack your knuckles. You scratch your head and ... nothing!


Okay, don't panic. Take a deep breath and look around you. What do you see? Now, describe your surroundings as if you were writing to your best friend. Don't worry about punctuation, grammar--just write! Once you get going, change gears--don't stop!--go directly into what you wanted to write in the first place. Your mind is like a locomotive. Once it builds up steam, it will roll along swiftly and almost effortlessly. But you have to jog that big engine out of the station first. You will be surprised that, many times, it pays to write before you think.


Sticking with it: 

The hardest part of writing at home for many writers is the guilt that goes along with it. You tell yourself you should be spending more time with your loved ones. All writers have struggled with this dilemma of how to balance writing time with the needs of family and friends.


Author James Faulkner once missed his son's birthday party because he needed to write and was told, "I'll bet Shakespeare didn't miss his son's birthday party." Faulkner shot back, "Who cares about Shakespeare's kids?"


This disregard for the feelings of others may sound harsh, but the point Faulkner makes is that if you believe you are destined to be a great writer you often have to be selfish. The amount of time you spend writing--alone, away from family, friends, and other worldly distractions--will determine the degree of success you will eventually receive.


And, this "selfish" attitude also means being selfish toward yourself as well. You can't give into your personal craving to watch television, or go shopping, or play a round of cards with your friends. You have to be as tough with yourself as you are with others. Remember, like most things in life, you have to work at it if you want to succeed. But you should enjoy writing enough to make these small sacrifices. Your journey to success should be a pleasurable one, albeit a difficult one at times.


Finishing the task

There is no greater joy in the writing process than typing "The End" on the last page of your manuscript. It signifies you accomplished what you had set out to do. Like James Caan in the movie "Misery" after he finally finished the novel to Kathy Bates' liking, it's time to light up that cigarette and drink a glass of your favorite wine. You've earned it.


But wait! You still need to re-examine your work one last time before you mail it out. Have you followed the publisher's writing guidelines? Is your submission free from misspelled words, or typographical and grammatical errors? Is your manuscript typed neatly with adequate margins and enough space between the lines to allow for editing changes? Did you include a SASE with adequate postage for a reply or return of your manuscript? Are you certain you spelled the editor's name correctly? Have you spelled your own name correctly? Yes, a writer's lot is not an easy one.


But would any of us change it for another occupation?


I think not.


So, plan today for a rewarding tomorrow.


* From the book, Writing Tidbits.



Lose Weight; Your Prose Will Fit Better

By Madonna Dries Christensen


Do you have difficulty staying within an editor’s word count? Your manuscript might be overweight with unneeded words and phrases. Try these methods to pare your writing. 


Contractions: Most people speak using contractions. In dialogue, a character probably wouldn’t say, “I do not want to walk the dog while it is raining outside.” He would say, “I’m not walking the dog in this rain.” That’s eight words instead of thirteen and the voice is natural.


Attribution: When two characters speak, “he/she said” is not needed after each line of dialogue. Action can often indicate who’s speaking. When attribution is needed, don’t complicate it with adverbs. Make dialogue and action strong enough so readers don’t have to be told something was said merrily, gratefully, scornfully. Remove adverbs and your word count drops.


Redundancies: “The reason why,” is redundant. Choose either: “Here’s the reason I did that,” or, “Here’s why I did that.” Beware of: free gift, for free, tiny little, pair of twins, two twin beds, burst open, past history, personal belongings, gathered together, forever and ever, very first, first ever, empty out, unexpected surprise, commuting back and forth, continuing on, true facts, blend together, follow behind, thought to myself, crept slowly, brief moment, tiptoed silently, nodded his head, shrugged his shoulders, ran quickly, rose to her feet, crouched down, sat down, fall down, rise above, add on, filled to capacity, later on, early on, entered into, mental telepathy, end result, advance reservations, revert back, completely positive, my own personal opinion, general consensus, shared together, both agreed, exact same, dropped down, passed by, final decision, kneel down, squat down, ATM machine, PIN number, HIV virus, IRA account, and that pesky “up” family: rose up, pile up, finish up, fill up, clean up, conjure up, wrap up, cover up, wake up, open up, close up, zip up, button up, beat up, fix up, call up on the phone, and lock up the house. Just lock the house and leave. And watch the pair syndrome: a pair of tweezers, glasses, scissors, pants, jeans, trousers, shorts. Is your character really wearing two jeans, two glasses, and using two scissors?


Disposable Words (very, just, so, such, some, however, that, really, kind of, sort of, somewhat, a bit, a little, sure, actually, basically ….) “It’s a very unique house.” Perhaps, but unique means one of a kind, or nearly one of a kind. “Very” contributes nothing to the description and adds a word. Likewise: very overwhelming, very ancient, very elegant. Examples: 


I just love ice cream. I love ice cream.


I told her that I would be there at ten. I told her I'd be there at ten. 


Ed has some problems doing math. Ed has problems doing math.


He’s such a wonderful grandfather. He’s a wonderful grandfather.


Her red hair is so stunning. Her red hair is stunning.


He sure appreciates your support. He appreciates your support.


Was: When possible, avoid using "was." Water was running from under the sink. Water poured from under the sink. Dad was lighting the grill. Dad lit the grill.     


Only: Put the word only in its proper place. It doesn't save words but the meaning is clearer. 


Incorrect: I only have ten minutes for lunch.


Correct:   I have only ten minutes for lunch.


Incorrect: He only had an eighth grade education.


Correct:   He had only an eighth grade education. 


All right: Don't skimp to save words. All right is two words, not alright. Everyday is correct if you mean ordinary, but use two words, every day, when you mean each day.


Would and Could : Many writers overuse “would,” especially when writing reminiscences. “On the day before Christmas, my grandfather would walk into the woods and he would cut down a pine tree.” Instead: “On Christmas eve, Grandfather walked into the woods to cut a pine tree.” That’s fewer words; it’s active instead of passive, and readers are not distanced from Grandfather’s action by what he “would” do. Using “Grandfather” instead of “my grandfather” eliminates one word each time you refer to him. Also, it’s unnecessary to begin reminiscences with “I can still remember.” If you didn’t remember, you wouldn’t be writing the story. And, rather than: She could hear the wind howling, She heard the wind howling.


Be Active: The active voice is not only preferred, it eliminates words. Passive: The ball was hit over the fence by Hank. Active: Hank hit the ball over the fence. Passive: John was dressed in a pair of jeans that were faded almost white and a red shirt that had patches on the elbows. Active: John wore faded jeans and a red shirt, patched at the elbows. Passive: The smell of the bacon was wonderful. Active: Bacon sizzling and popping on the stove made me ravenous. Passive: There was a silence between them that was uncomfortable for Jane. Active: Jane struggled with the silence between them.


Be Specific: “It was quite a long way to John’s cabin,” leaves readers stranded. How far is quite a long way? “It was forty miles to John’s cabin,” eliminates only two words but readers know the distance. She sat on the bed a long time. How long is that? Five minutes, an hour, a month?     


Eliminate Clichés: “A shock of blond hair” or “salt and pepper hair” might have been imaginative when they were coined eons ago, but now they’re ho-hum. The same goes for: He turned on his heel, pool of blood, a shot rang out, at the end of the day, push the envelope, make a difference, and give back. You don’t always lose words by dropping clichés, but if you write something original, readers will notice and think you’re clever.   


Detail and Description: Setting a scene is important, but readers glide over too much detail. Judy awoke, threw off the old patchwork quilt that her grandmother gave her, stumbled out of bed, showered, dried her auburn hair, dressed in Guess jeans, a yellow Gap sweater and white Nike sneakers, went downstairs, made cinnamon toast and strong coffee, and sat down at the table to eat breakfast. Whew. Simply put Judy at the table and go from there. 


In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he says description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. “If I tell you Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you? We all remember one or more high school losers. If I describe mine, it freezes out yours.”


William Strunk (The Elements of Style) advised, “Omit needless words.”


Writer Elmore Leonard said, “I try to cut everything I think readers would skip.”  


Author Abigail Thomas says, "Half of writing is deciding what to leave out."


Self-editing is challenging, and fun. A lean manuscript has a better chance of acceptance than one plump with clutter. Losing weight can reduce your postage bill, too. A penny saved is a penny earned.


Wait, delete that cliche, and cut seven words. 


Do you have difficulty staying within an editor’s word count? Your manuscript might be overweight with unneeded words and phrases. Try these methods to pare your writing. 


Contractions: Most people speak using contractions. In dialogue, a character probably wouldn’t say, “I do not want to walk the dog while it is raining outside.” He would say, “I’m not walking the dog in this rain.” That’s eight words instead of thirteen and the voice is natural.


Attribution: When two characters speak, “he/she said” is not needed after each line of dialogue. Action can often indicate who’s speaking. When attribution is needed, don’t complicate it with adverbs. Make dialogue and action strong enough so readers don’t have to be told something was said merrily, gratefully, scornfully. Remove adverbs and your word count drops.


Redundancies: “The reason why,” is redundant. Choose either: “Here’s the reason I did that,” or, “Here’s why I did that.” Beware of: free gift, for free, tiny little, pair of twins, two twin beds, burst open, past history, personal belongings, gathered together, forever and ever, very first, first ever, empty out, unexpected surprise, commuting back and forth, continuing on, true facts, blend together, follow behind, thought to myself, crept slowly, brief moment, tiptoed silently, nodded his head, shrugged his shoulders, ran quickly, rose to her feet, crouched down, sat down, fall down, rise above, add on, filled to capacity, later on, early on, entered into, mental telepathy, end result, advance reservations, revert back, completely positive, my own personal opinion, general consensus, shared together, both agreed, exact same, dropped down, passed by, final decision, kneel down, squat down, ATM machine, PIN number, HIV virus, IRA account, and that pesky “up” family: rose up, pile up, finish up, fill up, clean up, conjure up, wrap up, cover up, wake up, open up, close up, zip up, button up, beat up, fix up, call up on the phone, and lock up the house. Just lock the house and leave. And watch the pair syndrome: a pair of tweezers, glasses, scissors, pants, jeans, trousers, shorts. Is your character really wearing two jeans, two glasses, and using two scissors?


Disposable Words (very, just, so, such, some, however, that, really, kind of, sort of, somewhat, a bit, a little, sure, actually, basically ….) “It’s a very unique house.” Perhaps, but unique means one of a kind, or nearly one of a kind. “Very” contributes nothing to the description and adds a word. Likewise: very overwhelming, very ancient, very elegant. Examples: 


I just love ice cream. I love ice cream.


I told her that I would be there at ten. I told her I'd be there at ten. 


Ed has some problems doing math. Ed has problems doing math.


He’s such a wonderful grandfather. He’s a wonderful grandfather.


Her red hair is so stunning. Her red hair is stunning.


He sure appreciates your support. He appreciates your support.


Was: When possible, avoid using "was." Water was running from under the sink. Water poured from under the sink. Dad was lighting the grill. Dad lit the grill.     


Only: Put the word only in its proper place. It doesn't save words but the meaning is clearer. 


Incorrect: I only have ten minutes for lunch.


Correct:   I have only ten minutes for lunch.


Incorrect: He only had an eighth grade education.


Correct:   He had only an eighth grade education. 


All right: Don't skimp to save words. All right is two words, not alright. Everyday is correct if you mean ordinary, but use two words, every day, when you mean each day.


Would and Could : Many writers overuse “would,” especially when writing reminiscences. “On the day before Christmas, my grandfather would walk into the woods and he would cut down a pine tree.” Instead: “On Christmas eve, Grandfather walked into the woods to cut a pine tree.” That’s fewer words; it’s active instead of passive, and readers are not distanced from Grandfather’s action by what he “would” do. Using “Grandfather” instead of “my grandfather” eliminates one word each time you refer to him. Also, it’s unnecessary to begin reminiscences with “I can still remember.” If you didn’t remember, you wouldn’t be writing the story. And, rather than: She could hear the wind howling, She heard the wind howling.


Be Active: The active voice is not only preferred, it eliminates words. Passive: The ball was hit over the fence by Hank. Active: Hank hit the ball over the fence. Passive: John was dressed in a pair of jeans that were faded almost white and a red shirt that had patches on the elbows. Active: John wore faded jeans and a red shirt, patched at the elbows. Passive: The smell of the bacon was wonderful. Active: Bacon sizzling and popping on the stove made me ravenous. Passive: There was a silence between them that was uncomfortable for Jane. Active: Jane struggled with the silence between them.


Be Specific: “It was quite a long way to John’s cabin,” leaves readers stranded. How far is quite a long way? “It was forty miles to John’s cabin,” eliminates only two words but readers know the distance. She sat on the bed a long time. How long is that? Five minutes, an hour, a month?     


Eliminate Clichés: “A shock of blond hair” or “salt and pepper hair” might have been imaginative when they were coined eons ago, but now they’re ho-hum. The same goes for: He turned on his heel, pool of blood, a shot rang out, at the end of the day, push the envelope, make a difference, and give back. You don’t always lose words by dropping clichés, but if you write something original, readers will notice and think you’re clever.   


Detail and Description: Setting a scene is important, but readers glide over too much detail. Judy awoke, threw off the old patchwork quilt that her grandmother gave her, stumbled out of bed, showered, dried her auburn hair, dressed in Guess jeans, a yellow Gap sweater and white Nike sneakers, went downstairs, made cinnamon toast and strong coffee, and sat down at the table to eat breakfast. Whew. Simply put Judy at the table and go from there. 


In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he says description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. “If I tell you Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you? We all remember one or more high school losers. If I describe mine, it freezes out yours.”


William Strunk (The Elements of Style) advised, “Omit needless words.”


Writer Elmore Leonard said, “I try to cut everything I think readers would skip.”  


Author Abigail Thomas says, "Half of writing is deciding what to leave out."


Self-editing is challenging, and fun. A lean manuscript has a better chance of acceptance than one plump with clutter. Losing weight can reduce your postage bill, too. A penny saved is a penny earned.


Wait, delete that cliche, and cut seven words. 

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