While the number one fear in the U.S. is public speaking, my experience has been that everyone would like to be able to write “their story.” It has been said that each person has at least one book in them. After my first book was published, I was astonished at how many people came up to me and said, “I can make you a $1 million. All you need to do is write my book.”
Some of these folks I knew personally and unless I’d missed something extremely adventuresome, their book would be a small bedside table volume read to put you to sleep. Of course, a few people said, “I read your book. If you can get that book published, I figure anyone can get published.”
After a couple of years, I learned to smile pleasantly and say, “Hey, the best thing for you to do is learn how to type. It’s your book. You are the only person who can adequately tell it.” It wasn’t merely a way to get the person to leave me alone. This was my honest assessment.
Over the years, I’ve broadened my advice. In fact, it is remarkable how many people make the exact, same mistakes. Here are a couple of suggestions you might be able to use.
1. Be sure that you actually have a story to tell. There must also be a point (or a lesson) to your tale. A good question to ask yourself, “What is the lesson I learned from this incident?” Then be sure that you make that lesson the point of your adventure.
2. Writing is a skill. Learn the basics of grammar and punctuation. You would not even attempt to mow the lawn without some rudimentary knowledge of lawnmowers and grass. However, we often feel that we don’t need to know the rules of the English language. You don’t have to be a perfect grammarian. You do need to know what the regulations are and how to apply them.
3. Learn how to type. Sure, you can get up to about 30 to 40 words a minute with the hunt and peck method. Yet, anyone who can type that quickly without proper training could be typing at 120 to 130 words per minutes if you would take a class and learn the correct positioning of your fingers for typing.
4. In elementary school, when you were being taught to give a speech or write a paragraph, you learned: Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them. The same applies to everything you write. There must always be what is called a “take away.”
5. Remember the reader comes to the page with absolutely no knowledge of what you are going to say. You must explain clearly and exactly all the details of your story. I ask myself, “If I knew nothing about this, would I understand what I’m talking about?”
5. There are certain words you don’t use. They are just, very and so. There are many wonderful words that are equally as effective as these three sorrowful excuses for descriptives.
6. Unless someone is screaming, “Fire!” Do not use an exclamation point. Never, never use two or three exclamation points. Let the words you use give the emphasis, not the misusage of a punctuation point.
7. When you break grammatical rules, do it for emphasis, not out of ignorance. And do not start a sentence with “and” unless you are doing it to make a point.
8. Do not use the same word twice in a paragraph. The English language has many thousand’s of words that can and should be used. Repeating the same word again and again is not necessary and it is boring.
9. Buy a Thesaurus and use it. There is a Thesaurus on every word computer processing program. Use it.
10. Practice your writing skills in everything you write. Don’t be sloppy when you write anything.
11. Reread every sentence you write several times. Prose should flow as beautifully as poetry. There is as much a rhythm in your favorite novel as there is your favorite poem.
12. “Good writing is rewriting” is a phrase repeated often at writer’s workshops. You should expect to rewrite whatever you write at least four or five times.
13. Read your finished product out loud. Change what doesn’t flow.
14. Show. Don’t tell. Use descriptive verbs and adverbs to give your writing action and color. She didn’t walk into the room. She waltzed into the room. She hopped into the room. Or she sauntered into the room.
What is a writing principle that I didn’t include? What is a rule that you see ignored often?