Category Archives: Writing craft

How the Dog Days of Summer Can Supercharge Your Descriptive Writing

summerwriting

The Dog Days of Summer—
days when heat and humidity reign,
sizzling July days that melt into August. 

Don’t waste them allowing your writing to languish. Instead, study the descriptive paragraphs, sentences and phrases found in summer poetry. Think about how words transform into specific moods and pictures. Then apply what you learn to your works in progress.

Here are a few examples.

2de14353abcf3a19678609e6a294006e--stephen-king-quotes-stephen-kingsA stanza from John Koethe’s poem, “Sally’s Hair”

It’s like living in a light bulb, with the leaves
Like filaments and the sky a shell of thin, transparent glass
Enclosing the late heaven of a summer day, a canopy
Of incandescent blue above the dappled sunlight golden on the grass.

(Copyright © 2006 John Koethe.)

 


9781543294002_p0_v1_s550x406.jpgDiscover how Phillip Lopate uses a loaf of bread to describe layered city sounds in “The Last Slow Days of Summer” .

I’m lying on the grass, listening to city sounds.
They come to me in three-dimensional form,
Like a loaf of Wonder Bread. Baby carriages squeak
Near the middle. Cars humming through Central Park,
Somewhere near the back of the loaf.
What sound would be the end-piece, the round brown sliver?
The unzipping of airline bags.
Or a glove thwacked
By a rookie pitcher who falls apart
In the eighth inning.

(“The Last Slow Days of Summer” from At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate.)

 

 In his “Summer Song” William Carlos Williams describes the moon fading on a summer morning and then adds himself to the scene.

if-writers-block-is-staring.gifWanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?

(This poem is in the public domain.)

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And, finally, study poet Mark Strand’s character description in “My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer”:

When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon’s ash-colored coat
on the black bay.

From Mark Strand: Selected Poems, by Mark Strand, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1979 by Mark Strand.

Make time during these Dog Days to read and study more summer poems. You’ll find them online at:

graphicstock-poems-word-on-metal-pointer_SPPlyPHAdub_thumbThe Poetry Foundation

The Academy of American Poets

Poem Hunter

A reminder: In narrative writing use descriptive language sparingly and with good judgement. Keep it in your writer’s “toolbox” as a technique for advancing plot, character and theme.

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Filed under Creativity, descriptive writing, Inspiration, Literary Devices, motivation, Observation, Poetry, Summer, Uncategorized, words, Writing craft, Writing Tips

5 Things to Remember When Writing a Nonfiction Book

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Unless your goal is to write a scholarly textbook, you don’t want your nonfiction book to read like one. Here are five ways to write nonfiction that grabs and keeps your readers’ attention.

1. Get Personal. Engage readers by making your message about them.

Ask questions: Isn’t is frustrating when . . .?

Interject some humor: Short people unite! God only lets things grow until they’re perfect. Some of us didn’t take as long as others.

Include relatable stories about your own life. But be careful. Unless you’re writing a memoir keep your message centered on your readers.

2. Be Creative. Consider writing narrative nonfiction—nonfiction that reads like fiction. Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing” series is an excellent example.

(Lincoln) paces the upper deck of the steamboat River Queen, his face lit now and again by distant artillery. The night air smells of the early spring, damp with a hint of floral fragrance.—From “Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly.

imagesYou could also write an informative book that is mostly memoir. For example in my book, An Issue of Blood, Facing Uterine Cancer With Faith, I combine memoir, factual information, and biblical history to keep my readers engaged.

Keep it real. Don’t change facts. Concentrate on adding imagery, emotion, and personality.

3. Say it Simply. Everyone hates instruction manuals saturated with confusing terms and diagrams.

keep it simpleKeep facts and figures simple.

Cut out unnecessary words.

Use lists.

Connect readers with facts using phrases like, “Did you know. . . ?” Or weave the facts into a narrative sentence or paragraph: “Imagine living in a fully functional house that is just under 500 square feet.”

Avoid unfamiliar words and technical terms. If you must use them define them simply.

4. Write With Authority. Check your facts against multiple sources and make absolutely sure they are correct. Never connect facts with words and phrases like:

“In my opinion”

“I believe”

“I think”

“Maybe”

Write in a confident but friendly voice.

5. Know Your Message

 “Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five—just one.”
—William Zinsser On Writing Well

 Think about your goal.

Do you want to persuade your readers to take action?

Is your purpose to inform?

To explain how to do something?

To entertain?

Before you write know your purpose, then write with that one purpose in mind.

quote-writing-nonfiction-is-more-like-sculpture-a-matter-of-shaping-the-research-into-the-joan-didion-81-14-96

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Transitioning Your Writing from Hobby to Career—the Cold, Hard Truth

highres_244142317Is fear stopping you from turning your writing hobby into a career? Then it’s time to put on your big girl or big boy pants and stop being afraid. Accept the cold, hard truth that the transition won’t be easy—then muster your confidence and say, “But I can do it!”

A writing career is a journey. There will be mountains, valleys, and exhilarating straightaways. It’s frustrating, wildly fulfilling, exciting, and frightening.

The transition will take time. Many would-be authors fail because they rush to submit their work before it’s ready. Don’t send your first manuscript to an agent or editor until you’ve done the research. Discover what it takes to get published. Be patient.

Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest, has an excellent web page for writers. Read her blog post: Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published.

Writing is a craft to be learned. Read about writing. Here are five books to get you started:

  • Stephen King’s On Writing
  • William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style
  • Annie Dillard. The Writing Life
  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser

While you learn the craft also read books in the genre in which you want to write. Study how the authors’ work reflects what you’ve learned.

Visit New York Times best-selling author, Nicholas Sparks’ (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe) web page where he offers advice about the craft and business of writing.

imagesWriting is a craft developed through practice. There are always ways to improve your writing… always better ways to say something. Whenever you edit and rewrite, you practice the craft. To transition from a hobby writer to a professional you need to realize that editing and rewriting (a lot!) is essential.

Accept that you will fail. The first time you get negative feedback. The first rejection letter. The first bad review. Expect it. Deal with it. Don’t dwell on it. Professional writers learn to live with rejection.

“Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skill set is not good enough and must be made better . . . Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?” – Chuck Wendig, author of Star Wars: Aftermath

1173079_165591560470377_584163750_nDon’t quit your day job. Whether you want to be a multi-book novelist or a freelance writer, understand that building a career takes time. Plan to spend a specific amount of time every day working toward your goal. Remember—slow and steady wins the race.

It won’t be easy. That’s the cold, hard truth.
But—can you do it?
YES! YES, YOU CAN!!

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