Archive for July, 2008

How to Improve Your Writing

My regular readers know that I am currently studying for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing.

One of the ideas impressed upon me by most of the lecturers and tutors last semester was the importance of striving to improve one’s writing. There is always room for change and improvement in any manuscript, whether that be a story, novel, article, essay or poem. The writer should always aim at producing the very best piece of writing. Careful editing, proofreading and rewriting are all part of this process.

How can we improve our writing?

There are many ways of improving your writing. Here is a list of some ways of making improvements. It is not an exhaustive list; I am sure you can think of many more. You can share them in the comments section. I’d like that.

  • Check your spelling. Have a good dictionary handy – or access one online.
  • Check that your work is grammatically correct. Let someone who has a good understanding of grammar check your work.
  • Check that you have used the correct punctuation.
  • Read out your text aloud; if you stumble over a word or phrase it may indicate that there is a problem with that sentence.
  • Get someone else to read the text aloud to you.
  • Watch out for obscure words; a simpler word may be better, and lead to better reader comprehension.
  • Watch out for long sentences; they can easily ramble on for far too long and this can lead to reader confusion and hinder communication. Many readers will just give up and go to something else.
  • Cut out all unnecessary and superfluous words. Be ruthless.
  • Consider every word – have you used the right word?

The list could go on and on.

The most productive and effective way to improve your writing I’ve left out of the list above.

If you really want to improve your writing, just keep writing. The more you write the better you will become.

Good writing.

Writing and hard work

Writing is hard work.

Writing can be very enjoyable, it can be frustrating and it can be downright hard work. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If it was always easy I think I’d soon get bored with it. Struggling over a few lines of a poem or reworking a short story or even starting a chapter of a novel over again can be very rewarding when it all comes together. The finished work is often much better as a result of the struggle.

Hard work has its reward.

I’ve learned that lesson in a very graphic way over the last week or so. I’ve dismantled a patio area ready for a new concrete slab to be poured. It all came together yesterday. Now we can stand back and admire the result of all that hard work in preparation. Mind you – the job is not yet finished. There is still much more to be done, but we can clearly see the way ahead. Hard work certainly has its reward.

I am determined to work hard at my writing, struggling through the tough times so I can enjoy the good times.

Good writing.

A new concrete slab being poured in our back yard.

A new concrete slab being poured in our back yard.

What I am reading: picture books

Earlier in the year I wrote about the Master of Arts in Creative Writing course I am undertaking this year. I am currently on a five week break between semesters, hardly enough time to catch my breath. My main interest in writing is books for children, in particular picture books. Over the duration of the course so far I have been regularly reading vast numbers of picture books, just to get a feel for what is being published these days.

There are other benefits too. Writers are readers, first and foremost. If you are not a reader you will struggle to be an effective writer. Period. The picture book genre is a particularly demanding one. A very restricted word count means that every word is important. There has to be balance between the text and the illustrations. Some publishers require a strictly limited vocabulary while others have restricted themes or topics. It is a very competitive field and one that is hard to break into.

Half way through the first semester I had to write and submit the text of a 700 word picture book to the lecturer. The title changed several times during the editing period but it eventually became “Brave Alice,” the story of a little lamb who pretended not to be afraid. The idea came from seeing a flock of lambs frolicking in a paddock in the mid-north of our state (South Australia) about four years ago. The concept simmered away happily until crunch time came; I had to submit a text as an assignment. Would it be good enough? The lecturer – and my fellow students – were a part of the development process, all giving valuable feedback as I developed the text.

The final day came and I submitted the manuscript to the lecturer. A few weeks later I received it back: Distinction. I should not have worried. While that result was very satisfying for all the work put into the text, it counts for very little. The big test is to submit it to a publisher. The frightening prospect of the manuscript being returned still awaits me.

Perhaps I should be like Alice in my story: Be Brave!

The frustrations of computers

Computers are wonderful – and also very frustrating. I’ve been using computers now for about twenty years – I remember with fondness the old Commodore 64 I first used while teaching back in the late 1980s. Teachers could go on a roster to take a computer home for the weekend so we could familiarize ourselves with the programmes. It would take two people lugging a huge carry basket to the car in order to transport it. Heady days indeed. Now we think nothing of carrying a lightweight laptop anywhere.

Computers have transformed my writing life. I certainly would not like to return to using a typewriter. I still have one lurking somewhere in the garage; the ink on the ribbon probably dried up a decade ago. (Can you still buy ribbons? Can you still buy typewriters for that matter?) I find typing on a computer keyboard far easier than the kluncky old typewriter. Editing is so much easier too. Printing out one’s work is simply the press of a button. Aaaah – we have it so easy these days.

That’s when they work.

I’ve been having some massive computer problems over the last two months. Well – internet access problems to be more precise. I haven’t been able to access the internet for all that time, except for two brief periods. I’ve had to rely on my wife’s computer to do basic things like read my email. Finally today I managed to solve the problem. An upgrade to my Norton’s Anti virus software was the culprit. Absolutely crippled my internet connection. Not happy. My son (the techie of the family) talked me step by step through the solution. I’ve now installed a completely new anti virus programme and all is now back to normal. Needless to say, Norton is now a nasty word in our household.

I’m still here

Hi there everyone. I haven’t disappeared, nor have I given up blogging.

Truth is – I haven’t been able to post for quite a while due to several factors. First – I was extremely busy getting all my assignments finished for the university Creative Writing course I am doing. Secondly, we were away for a few days. The third reason for not posting was the massive computer problems I was having – this has persisted for over a month and I was too busy to get it all sorted out. I hope that this will be resolved in the coming days so I can get back to normal again. I have so many things to write about before the next semester commences in a few weeks.

In the meantime, how about going to the various categories listed on the side bar and finding some interesting articles to read about writing. Or perhaps read some of my short stories or poetry. And don’t forget to leave a comment or two here and there. Your feedback is much appreciated.