Writing process: Three questions

This morning, I was talking with my friend Pat, who just finished taking a photography workshop. According to Pat, the photographer instructor said there are three questions photographers should ask themselves:

1. What am I trying to say with my photos?

2. Do my photos successfully express what I’m trying to say?

3. Is what I’m trying to say worth saying?

As writers, it might help to ask ourselves the same questions.

Writing process: I Write Like

Okay, I know you’ve already done it — gone to I Write Like, the website that analyzes your writing and tells you what writer you write like. But wait — don’t do it just once.  I had the site analyze several pieces of my writing — an essay, article, poem, short story and  memoir excerpt. Turns out, I don’t write like one writer. I write like David Foster Wallace, Dan Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack London and Cory Doctorow. What a mix! I don’t know if the results mean anything, but it’s fun to think it might.

Making a difference

Writers write for a variety of reasons: to entertain, inform, annoy, show off, shock or impress. Sometimes writers write to make a positive difference. As Gandhi said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

If you could have a positive impact on the world with your writing, what would you write about?

Time to start over?

On a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting show, bas-relief artist Maria Simon said, after years of making the same kind of art, she became bored so decided to start all over again, trying a kind of art she knew nothing about. Is it time for you to start a new kind of writing, something you haven’t tried before and don’t know how to do? If so, what kind of writing might that be?

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Wall scupture by Maria Simon

Editing your own writing

One of the challenges of writing is being able to edit your own work. It can be difficult to be objective about your writing, especially if it’s a piece you’ve rewritten several times. The words can become a blur. Something else that can happen is that, when you read your own story, you get pulled into the plot. You’re unable to stay outside of the story long enough to see it as someone else would.

But all is not lost. Here are some tips that will make it easier to edit your own writing:

  • Set the writing aside for a few hours or days.
  • Read the copy backwards, sentence by sentence or word by word.
  • Circle the verbs. This is great way to uncover inconsistent verb tense.
  • Look for one problem at a time. For instance:
    • Have you consistently used “said” or “says”?
    • Is the name of the source quoted in the article spelled correctly each time it is  used?
    • Use the “find” feature to see how many times you’ve used a certain word.
  • If you’ve been working on a computer, print out the article or story and proof the hard copy.
  • Change the “zoom” setting on your computer. It’s surprising how reading something in a different type size will point out different things.
  • Circle commas and then check to make sure they’re used correctly.
  • Use a software program that checks spelling and grammar.
  • Make a list of grammar, punctuation and spelling errors you commonly make. Refer to that checklist before sending your writing out.
  • When writing for a particular publication, refer to its style sheet to make sure you’ve followed those rules.

 What editing techniques have you found useful?

Writing process: Keep on keepin’ on

Writing often requires a long-time commitment to the craft. Here are some tips on how to keep writing:

  • Find a writing buddy. Meet every week at a coffee shop and write for an hour.
  • Join a writing group in which members sign up to read their writing on specific dates.
  • Take a writing class.
  • Work with a writing coach. Set up weekly goals and check-ins.
  • Read inspirational books about people who reached their goals.
  • Uncover your passion – the kinds of writing and topics you really want to work on.
  • Instead of setting aside a certain time to write, set aside a certain time to do something specific, such as: “draft that scene in the library” or “research polar bears.”
  • Expect intrusions. Plan ahead for them. Know ahead of time what you’re going to do when they happen.
  • Take commitments to yourself seriously.
  • Reward yourself after you write.
  • Find ways to write in the midst of life. There will always be something else to do. Some people respond by not writing at all or writing rarely or occasionally or only when a large amount of time opens up. Get used to writing for short but regular amounts of time.
  • Refuse to wait for the right moment. Take time to write.
  • Set achievable, measurable goals. (I’ll write for 2 hours twice this week).
  • Break large writing goals into small goals.
  • Go public with your goal (Post it on a blog or tell your friends).
  • Join an online writing group.
  • Find a support system of people who value writing.