Sunday, October 31, 2010

Save Time. Get Organized to Write

“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.”—William Pollard
I decided to finish a book I’m writing. However, I felt frustrated. Years of writing compost—research, documentation, word pictures, illustrations, biblical word studies—plus every version of every WIP chapter and every critiquer’s document with their feedback littered one main folder titled with the book’s working title. Umpteen folders and miscellaneous documents filled the main folder. I even had another “main” folder containing everything recovered from a hard drive that crashed. I didn’t know if the recovered documents were duplicate files.

At one time I knew why I’d created every folder and oodles of documents and which chapter the information went with. But I no longer knew why I’d saved some of the information or what chapter I was thinking about when I saved the file. No longer a benefit, my writing compost pile was a burden.

I surveyed the confusing electronic folders and documents. When I wanted to write, I couldn’t find what I needed. Every time I started a new chapter, I opened and searched document after document trying to find the research or illustration that I knew I’d saved. When I wanted to polish a chapter, I wasn’t sure of the latest version of the WIP. I like to make the most of my precious writing hours. Trying to find specific information amidst the jumble of documents seemed like such a waste of time.

I’d completed a first draft for a new chapter and received critique feedback, except for a three or four paragraph illustration from Saint Augustine’s life that I still needed to write. To make sure the context from Augustine’s life worked, I wanted to re-read his book Confessions. When I discovered that I’d already downloaded Augustine’s book, but forgot Confessions sat in my unorganized folders, I decided it was time to bring order to disorder.

Before cranking out any more chapters, I ignored the urge to finish the Augustine chapter to spend a week organizing every file. I created folders for:
  • “stuff.” I dumped every folder and document into the stuff file, and then systematically opened every file to decide which chapter that information went with. If I wasn’t sure where to dump a document, it stayed in the stuff folder until recapturing my original vision.
  • the finished book proposal and pitch sheets. I placed the latest versions of the book proposal and pitch sheets in their respective folders.
  • each chapter. I created a file for each chapter (Chapter 1: Working Title) and then dumped every document into the respective chapter folder, including critiques. For each unwritten chapter, I created a working document that includes the chapter summary, problem, solution, and value statements and placed it in its chapter folder.
  • endorsements. I dumped all the endorsements already received, sample endorsement request letter, plus names and contact information for those I intend to ask.
What are some ways you organize your files, enabling you to find info fast while you write?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Take Five: A Dose of Writers Quotes

"Ambition is putting a ladder against the sky." ~ American proverb

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." ~Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator

"The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes." ~Benjamin Disraeli, British author and politician

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals." Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motors

"If it were not for hope, the heart would break." ~Thomas Fuller, English churchman and historian

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Storycrafter Retreat and NaNoWriMo Time!

I'm packing my suitcase with warm, comfy clothes, my laptop, and chocolate. (How can anyone expect me to write without chocolate?) I've got the nugget of an idea for a new novel, and I'm heading to the My Book Therapy Storycrafters Retreat Friday through Sunday in Minnesota, where it's already a bit chilly for this Texan. Storycrafters is a working writing retreat where participants will arrive with an idea and leave with a story plotted out -- just in time for NaNoWriMo!

Have you registered for NaNoWriMo yet? Don't wait! There's only a few days left in October.

After you register for NaNoWriMo, head over to the 2010 MBT NaNoWriMo Celebration where you'll get a ton of encouragement and be eligible for great prizes.

If you're not one of the lucky few registered for the Storycrafter Retreat, don't fret. Susan May Warren will teach a one-day Storycrafter Seminar on Saturday, November 13, 2010, near Denver, Colorado! Susie is packing in all the essentials of writing a novel, plus adding a hot, new class - Managing the Muddle (middle!) - into this intensive, one-day seminar. Hurry, the registration deadline ends November 1st!

What are you waiting for? There's never been a better time to write the story of your dreams!

~ Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Secret of Impressive Writing? Keep It Plain and Simple

"Contrary to what some people seem to believe, simple writing is not the product of simple minds. A simple, unpretentious style has both grace and power. By not calling attention to itself, it allows the reader to focus on the message"—Richard Lederer and Richards Dowis

Daniel M. Oppenheimer, an associate professor of psychology at Princeton University's Department of Psychology, won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature for his paper entitled Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly. Aren't you glad he added the subtitle? I found the title of his paper laugh out loud hilarious. His paper argues that simple writing makes authors appear more intelligent than complex writing. His research found that those who stick with basic vocabulary and plain text are seen as less intelligent.

Writers love learning new vocabulary, but if it sends your reader to the dictionary in the middle of a tense chase scene, it defeats your purpose to engage your reader. Smart writers use words their readers understand.

Erudite Vernacular (a.k.a. gobblygook)
As writers, I thought you’d enjoy common clichés transformed into “erudite vernacular” (a.k.a. gobblygook.) In 1944, Texas Congressman Maury Maverick coined the word gobblygook in reference to prose of politicians that sounded like the senseless gobbling of turkeys. So if you enjoy using big words that others don’t know, see how many of these sayings you can figure out. Don’t peek at the answers below.

And if you’re tired of dumbed-down silly games at wedding and baby showers, give your guests this entertaining list to decipher. The person who figures out the most sayings wins a dictionary.

  1. Pulchritude possesses solely cutaneous profundity.
  2. A futile superfluity of culinary aid destroys nutritious liquids of osseous tissues made.
  3. Never enumerate ere fractured are the shells of bipeds gallinaceous, lest suddenly thy calculations prove utterly fallacious.
  4. Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.
  5. Selecting on the part of mendicants must be interdicted.
  6. Surveillance should precede saltation.
  7. That prudent avis that matutinally deserts the cosiness of its abode will ensnare a vermiculate creature.
  8. It is fruitless to become lachrymose over precipitously departed lacteal fluid. 

  9. Freedom from incrustations of grime is contiguous to rectitude.
  10. The stylus is of greater potency than the claymore.
  11. It is fruitless to attempt to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers.
  12. Eschew the implement of correction and vitiate the scion.
  13. The temperature of the aqueous content of an unremittingly ogled saucepan does not reach 100 degrees Celsius.
  14. All articles that coruscate with resplendence are not truly auriferous.
  15. Where one detects visible vapors having their provenance in ignited carbonaceous material, one is certain also to find conflagration.
  16. A plethora of individuals with expertise in culinary techniques vitiate the potable concoction produced by steeping certain osseous tissues and comestible herbs and vegetables.
  17. Eleemosynary deeds have their incipience intramurally.
  18. Male cadavers are incapable of yielding testimony.
  19. Individuals who make their abode in vitreous edifices would be advised to refrain from catapulting petrous projectiles.
  20. Neophyte's serendipity.
  21. Exclusive dedication to necessitous chores without interludes of hedonistic diversion renders Jacques a hebetudinous fellow.
  22. Missiles of ligneous or lithoidal consistency have the potential of fracturing my osteal structure, but appellations will eternally remain innocuous.
  23. A revolving lithic conglomerate accumulates no congeries of a diminutive, verdant bryophitic plant.
  24. Elementary sartorial techniques intitially applied, preclude repetitious actions to the squares of three.
  25. Abstention from any aleatory undertakings precludes a potential escalation of a lucrative nature.
  26. Persons of imbecilic mentality navigate in parameters which cherubic entities approach with trepidation.
  27. A person presenting the ultimate cachinnation possesses thereby the optimal cachinnation.
  28. Scintillate, scintillate, asteroid minific.
Fain do I fathom your nature specific.
Exaltedly set on the aether capacious
A reasonable facsimile of a gem carbonaceous. Scintillate, scintillate, asteroid minific.
Fain do I fathom your nature specific.
  29. A research team proceeded towards the apex of a natural geologic protuberance, the purpose of their expedition being the procurement of a sample of fluid hydride of oxygen in a large vessel, the exact size of which was unspecified. One member of the team precipitously descended, sustaining severe damage to the upper cranial portion of his anatomical structure; subsequently the second member of the team performed a self rotational translation oriented in the same direction taken by the first team member.

  1. Beauty is only skin deep.
  2. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  3. Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.
  4. Birds of the feather flock together.
  5. Beggars can't be choosers.
  6. Look before you leap.
  7. The early bird gets the worm.
  8. Don't cry over spilt milk.
  9. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  10. The pen is mightier than the sword.
  11. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
  12. Spare the rod and spoil the child.
  13. A watched pot never boils.
  14. All that glitters is not gold.
  15. Where there is smoke, there is fire.
  16. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  17. Charity begins at home.
  18. Dead men tell no tales.
  19. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
  20. Beginner's luck.
  21. All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.
  22. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
  23. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  24. A stitch in time saves nine.
  25. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  26. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
  27. He who laughs last laughs best.
  28. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in gobblygook.
  29. Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill in doublespeak.

Friday, October 22, 2010

When All Else Fails . . .

We all have those days when we don't know what to write about. Call it writer's block. Call it laziness. Call it boredom with the whole antagonist-protagonist-plot process. Whatever it is, nothing's showing up in either your brain or your work in progress.

That's kind of how I felt about this blog post. Tired. The old "I've got nothing" feeling that hangs over you when a deadline's looming.

So I did what any desperate writer does--I started surfing the Internet. And I stumbled upon a fun Web site: Creative Writing Prompts, which was voted one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Web Sites for Writers in 2006 and 2007.

Click on any one of the numbers 1 through 346 for a writing prompt or idea. Here's a couple of samples:
114: Write about a time your pampered yourself. (Hhhm--could I do some research instead of writing about this from memory?)
254: Why would an antiques dealer leave town?
311: Use the following words in your story: photographer, needle, dormitory. bicycle
340: Melinda Alcott and Dwayne Modderman meet in a bank. One of them is a loner. Describe how they meet.

You can also subscribe to CreativeSparks!, the e-zine of CreativeWritingPrompts.com and download a copy of the CreativeSparks! E-book (volume 1) for free.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go figure out how Melinda and Dwayne meet. But first, which one of them is the loner?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just Do It!

Fitness Guru Tony Horton is so dedicated that he plans his exercise schedule six months in advance. Horton, who has one of the most toned bodies for someone over 50, encourages others to plan their workouts. If you want to workout five times a week, he says, then plan which twenty days you'll workout this month. Then, commit to do it!

A friend revealed her goal-setting strategy. She places round stickers--the kind you find in Walmart for pricing garage-sale items--on her calendar with her writing goals. So, sit down with your calendar, spread sheet, day planner, whatever (I've been accused lately of over-using that word), and write down your incremental plan to reach your writing goals.

Then, just do it!

On Writing and Dentists

"I sometimes wonder when I read what even knowledgeable people say about writers and writing if they have any conception of what the life of a writer is like . . . . What they don't know might include: a visit to the dentist . . .

My plans for Monday were to complete a chapter to send to my critique group. An aching unbearable tooth made other plans for me. I called the dentist office. His receptionist said they’d work me in, so come to the office ASAP. I printed out the compost for the chapter, packed up my computer, and headed off to the dentist. 
     After analyzing the situation, the dentist could either give me antibiotics and I could come back on Thursday or he could work me in during the day. Since I came prepared, I opted to stay and let him work me in. Antibiotics that disagree with my intestinal tract didn’t appeal to me. And after looking at the infection pocket on the X-rays, I felt anxious for it to be out of my body.
     Well…three paragraphs, four thousand dollars (I don’t have health insurance), a lot of gas at party level and five hours later…I was more than exhausted. I wanted to go home, crawl in bed and suck my thumb. Except the dental assistant said, “Don’t suck on a straw”, so I figured the thumb was out also. The pain of my dentist’s reparative replaced the cause of the pain. 
     Today I return with Ibuprofen in hand to work on the chapter. Ahhhh…the life of a writer.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Take Five: A Dose of Writers Quotes

"You can't wait for inspiration to come. You have to hunt it down with a club." Jack London, author of Call of the Wild

"Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without exercise, the muscles seize up." Jane Yolen, children's book author

"I am always talking about the human condition--about what we can endure, dream, fail at and survive." Maya Angelou, poet

"Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience." Henry David Thoreau, author

"I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms 39 times before I was satisfied." Ernest Hemingway, author

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

For Fiction Writers, Fall Means NaNoWriMo Time

God paints the landscape red, orange, gold, brown, and deep green. Grocery stores prominently display bright Indian corn, orange pumpkins, and decorative gourds in a variety of shapes and colors. Halloween costumes appear, fitting every imagination and personality.
Crisp days and chilly nights put a bounce in our steps after summer's heat. Maybe, the season's first fire blazes at the hearth. But, for fiction writers, fall brings NaNoWriMo.

What is NaNoWriMo?
November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). From November 1-30, writers attempt to complete one 50,000-word (175-page) novel. You may sign up at the website at any time, but the novel must be written in November.

Um . . . It's still October. Why post about NaNoWriMo now?
Though your novel must not be started before November 1, it's okay (and preferable) to begin thinking about the book. You may create character sketches, plan outlines, and research your story now. But you'd better hurry, you've only got two weeks.

What's the big deal about NaNoWriMo?
I can write a novel anytime.
Sure, you can. And regular readers of this blog are writers. But so many people say they want to write a novel, yet few people actually do. NaNoWriMo encourages everyone from auto mechanics to zoologists to actually write the book of their dreams with a community of other writers all spurring one another to victory.

How many people participate in NaNoWriMo?
In 2009, over 165,000 ordinary people started to write a novel. By November 30, more than 30,000 individuals had become novelists. How cool is that!

What happens after November? What's next?
First, do the Snoopy Dance and celebrate! Whether you crossed the finish line with a completed 50,000-word manuscript or only came close, your book is still a first draft. You'll need to continue reading this blog and others, like The Ponderers and My Book Therapy, and study books on the writing craft. Your novel will still need to be fleshed out--no one really buys a 50,000-word manuscript--then polished and edited. But that's really the easy part. You can fix any problem. But you can't fix a blank page.

So, what are you waiting for? Begin pondering your story and get ready to NaNoWriMo!

~ Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: Not Like Me

Book Review: Not Like Me
Author: Eric Michael Bryant.
Paperback: 256 pp.
Publisher: Zondervan
ISBN: 0310329965
Price: $14.99

A smart book that looks at those hard, emotional issues spawned by an uncivil religious war with reason, compassion, humor, plus a refreshing “love your neighbor as yourself” perspective.

Cohabitors. Gays. Muslims. Freaks. Homeless. Liberals. Unbelievers. Your neighbors. Your co-workers. Your family? What stereotypical picture pops into your head preventing you from touching others-not-like-you with Christ’s love?

Fear? Anger? Repulsion?

If you are wondering how to make ministry happen with others who make you feel uncomfortable, then this book is a must-read. Eric’s uncomfortable laugh-out-loud encounter with his wife’s fellow classmate’s lesbian partner is worth the price of the book.

I was provided a review copy of Not Like Me by Eric Michael Bryant.

What’s This Book About
We live in a diverse world filled with unprecedented opportunity. According to author Eric Bryant in Not Like Me, formerly titled Peppermint-Filled Piñatas, we can become agents of change creating genuine unity among people from a variety of backgrounds and belief systems through our relationships.

Through humorous stories and pointed insights gleaned from Eric’s own personal experiences and failures, the experiences of others and the life and teachings of Jesus, you will discover how to move beyond ethnic, racial, cultural or ideological barriers towards genuine friendship with others.

In addition, spiritual seekers will find that when stripped away from the religion created around him, Jesus’ dream for our world is remarkable and refreshing. In this new world, we can discover how to resolve conflict, overcome bitterness, create a better future, develop diverse communities and enjoy our diverse world.

Not Like Me includes a brief article after each chapter with practical applications and questions for small groups. For more small group or sermon resources, visit www.NotLikeMe.org.

Eric Bryant’s Bio
Eric Bryant serves as an elder, speaker and navigator with the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles, a church known for its creativity and diversity. He is part of the core teams for the Mosaic Alliance and The Origins Project. Bryant completed his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership with Bethel Seminary.  He lives with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Caleb and Trevi, in the middle of Los Angeles County.

Inside the Life and Mind of the Author
Tell me a little bit about your background and your family.
I was born in California while my dad was in the Air Force. From Kindergarten through college I grew up in Texas.  I am fortunate to come from a Christian family, but I struggled to follow Jesus as a teenager. Just after college I got married to Debbie, and we moved to Seattle where we helped plant a church which had 4 senior pastors in the first 4 years. Twelve years ago we moved to Los Angeles to volunteer at Mosaic to experience a healthy church before planting our own.  Instead of planting elsewhere, I was invited to help with the youth group, then college ministry, then starting new venues, and then about 5 years ago I became a navigator.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Hobbies?
I love watching movies, playing Wii with my wife and kids, traveling, and performing stand-up comedy.

 If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
I would want to have the same super power that Bruce Willis had in Unbreakable. I want to be able to play basketball into my 70s.

What has God been teaching you lately?
I have been reading through the prophets and have been reminded of God’s passion for people.  Even as stubborn as they were (and they were really stubborn), he would continue to send messengers to warn them of the consequences of their continued rebelliousness.  Ultimately, God loves people so much more than we do.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a professional basketball player. At 5’8” I would have had a better shot at becoming a gymnast or jockey.

Where are you headed next?
My passion remains communicating and catalyzing community for the mission of Jesus wherever I may be.  Right now at Mosaic I am helping as the campus pastor at both the Pasadena and West Los Angeles campuses, but our roles are always changing according to what is needed.

How did you get involved in writing?
I wrote my first book in 5th grade.  It was an intergalactic adventure called “Thysar and the Benay.”  It was never published.  In college I wrote a devotional book which was also never published.  Most of my writing has come in the form of my journal and my blog posts.  Writing has always helped me to express better what I am going through, experiencing, and learning.

What was the most difficult aspect of the writing process?
I am an extrovert to the highest degree, so sitting still to actually begin writing poses a challenge to me at times.

What did you enjoy most about the writing process?
By taking the time to sit still and reflect, I hear God’s voice more clearly than when I don’t do that. I learn from Him when I take the time to write.

How do you find time to write?
I try to write a little bit each day, mostly in my journal, on my website, on twitter, or when working on a message.  When writing a book or my dissertation, I would sneak away for longer periods of time to really make progress. At times I would pull together what I had written elsewhere to include in the book.

What would you say to someone who wants to become a published author?
Learn to enjoy writing. I have written a great deal more that is not published than what has been published. Share what you are discovering with the people already in your community (family, church, friends, etc.).  If they don’t find what you are writing helpful then other people probably won’t either.  Give them permission to help you revise your work, and be willing to edit over and over. It took me 15 years and dozens of rejection letters or conversations before I had a book published, so I would also recommend perseverance as well.

Where did you get the idea for the book?
Erwin McManus, the lead pastor at our church in Los Angeles, encouraged me to write a book on diversity. What we have experienced here at Mosaic is quite unique in terms of the diversity of people we have reached and/or who have become leaders in our community.  People come from such ethnically, spiritually, and socio-economically different places, yet for far too long, even in diverse cities, churches have remained homogenous. I have personally failed and seen some successes in reaching out to others not like me, so I wanted to be able to help others become more effective in their own mission fields.

What are the major themes of the book?
In essence the book describes how to allow people to belong before they ever choose to believe. Too often Christians view those who do not follow Jesus as outsiders or as people to be avoided. My hope is that through this book, people of faith could become more known for their love of people no matter what they might believe, look like, or the choices they may make.  In many ways, I am advocating for the rights of those who do not yet believe.  In addition, the book helps people move from social conversations to spiritual ones.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
I share a great deal of personal stories from my experiences as a youth pastor in Texas, as a church planter in Seattle, and as part of the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles. At the same time, I include insights from the Scriptures, seminary textbooks, and pop culture.

With which character do you, personally, identify most and why?
The biggest issue is that we don’t even try to get past cultural barriers. Sometimes we confuse the ideas of being “set apart” and being “sent out.” We are supposed to be “set apart” in our behavior but “sent out” into our relationships. Sometimes we do the opposite. We become “set apart” from the very people God has brought into our lives to love, serve, and influence. It’s human nature to spend time with the people who are most like us because of our self-centered tendencies. Another big part of the problem would be our more consumeristic view of the church. At Mosaic, we strive to go against that. Our lead pastor Erwin McManus  says: “The church is not here to meet our needs. We are the church here to meet the needs of the world.” If our relationship with God was all about me and Jesus, then my pastor should have just drowned me during my baptism so I could go straight into His presence. Instead, he brought me out of the water because there is much more for me to do. I now represent Jesus everywhere I go.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
My prayer is that those who read the book will be able to love, serve, and influence at least one person they had overlooked before reading the book. One of my favorite responses to the book is when I hear that someone who read the book went on to have a real breakthrough with a neighbor, co-worker, or friend. That is the best result possible!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Read this . . . and this . . . and, oh yeah, this too!

Several different posts on the Internet worth your time this week:

1. Literary agent Chip MacGregor posted A Reading List for Writers. Thanks, Chip! My Kindle is going to get quite a workout today as I start downloading some new reading material.

2. My writing friend and fellow Ponderer, Melissa Tagg, wrote a must-read column over at the MBT Ponderers' blog: Scary Prayers and Patience. I smile the minute I begin reading anything Melissa's written. I just love her voice! And FYI: Melissa, aka M-Tagg, was the first-ever winner of the MBT Frasier award.

3. I'm now a MBT Special Teams blogger, which means two things: a) I get to have a fun photo of me wearing a Broncos football jersey (thanks, Marty, for help with that!) and b) I'll be writing about editing. My other teammates are Tiffany Colter and Edie Melson. My first post is up today: Placing a Ban on the Writer vs. Editor Mentality.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The 2010 ACFW Conference -- One More Time!

Writers talked about the 2010 ACFW Conference for months before 620 attendees descended on Indianapolis September 17-20 to eat, breathe and talk writing, writing, writing.

Then we came home and talked about how the weekend went--how much sleep we (didn't) have, how many times we pitched our books, which agents or editors requested a proposal--and which ones didn't--and who wore what to the awards banquet. And, yes, we came home with a whole new way to do the writer's "Happy Dance," thanks to Susan May Warren and her line dance finale at the MBT Pizza Party. (Check out the video on YouTube to learn the steps!)

Thanks to the October issue of ACFW's e-zine, Afictionado, you've got another chance to relive the conference. Or, if you didn't get to attend, here's your chance to glean insights from the different workshops and speakers.

E-zine articles include:
Many more articles on all the workshops and session offered at the conference are also in the e-zine. Considering I only managed to attend two of the classes I signed up for, I need to read through Afictionado myself. It will hold me until my conference MP3s get here!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How Readable Are Your Sentences?

"In general, shorter is better. If you can encapsulate your idea into a single captivating sentence, you're halfway home."—Len Wein
From beginning writers to highly-educated professionals, some people write inordinately long sentences, as in lose-my-interest-length. I worked for an organization that thought good writing was, “How many thoughts and ideas can I compress into one sentence?”

As trash-compactor writers, their jam-packed manuscripts often contained polysyllabic words and long, complex sentences. Three or four complete sentences and concepts packed into one sentence was not unusual—it was the norm. I recall one 63-word opening hook.

Untangling a difficult-to-read manuscript exhausts both the reader and editor. ‘Readability’ does not mean trying to impress others with a massive brain dump in one sentence or paragraph. Readability, the writing quality of your sentences, makes it easy (or difficult) to read and understand.

How do you write easy-to-digest, understandable sentences on the first reading? The bottom line? Use simpler diction. Write short sentences. Like American writer, Janet Flanner said, “I keep going over a sentence. I nag it, gnaw it, pat and flatter it.”

Tips to Nag, Gnaw, Pat, and Flatter Your Sentences

Write readable sentences.
  • Reader’s Digest length sentences: 5-7 words.
  • The easiest sentence to read? 8 words.
  • 1-20 words: easy to read.
  • 21-25 words: easy to understand.
  • 26-29: difficult to follow.
  • 30+ words: confusing.
The Long and Short of Short Sentences
  • A string of short sentences often sound childish, choppy, tedious, and difficult to understand.
  • Use short, punchy sentence as a hook to stress one strong idea.
  • Maximize and emphasize crucial points and critical information.
  • Save for important statements.
The Long and Short of Long Sentences
  • A string of long sentences often sounds boring or unclear. 
  • Long sentences annoy readers.
  • Break a sentence of more than 20 words into two sentences.
  • Longer sentences can complicate the story in places where simplicity is more effective.
  • Long sentences incorporate information and coordinate ideas.
Promote pacing, rhythm, emphasis, and reader interest.
  • Vary sentence length and structure to create strong rhythm.
  • Vary sentence structure openings. Too many similar beginnings make reading tedious.
  • Write sentences in a logical or chronological progression of thought.
  • Begin each sentence with a different word. Don’t start two or more sentences with the same word. 
  • Keep an eye out for missing periods, weird commas, closing quotes, and opening quotes.
  • Delete exclamation points.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Special offer for ACFW Members from The Editorial Department

The Editorial Department (TED), one of the oldest full service editorial firms in the country, offers consultation, editing, and publishing support services for writers and screenwriters. Renni Browne, co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, started TED in 1980.

Through October, TED is offering a special introductory promotion to ACFW members: the Read and React evaluation, a shorter, more concise written review. An editor will help improve your story's plot, pacing, characterization and writing style. The review also includes a half-hour consultation via phone or e-mail.

TED's Manuscript Evaluation is normally $2.00 per page. The ACFW special offer is priced at $1.25 per page--nearly half the cost!

There's also the option of a $35 Introductory Critique, which evaluates your story's opening and provides guidance for the rest of the manuscript.

Check out TED's list of suggested reading too, as well as their article, "What Editors (Really) Do: A Primer" by Renni Browne.