Category Archives: General

Writing Resources: Old Letters

By Terry C. Misfeldt

If you are writing a memoir, whether it is your personal history or that of a family member, a great resource can be found in correspondence from that individual.

I always wondered where my father was stationed in the U.S. Navy during World War II. I remember hearing him say something about Norfolk and Brooklyn but never knew when he was there. When one of my daughters told me to look through some recycling, I was shocked to find letters my dad had written to my mom during the war years.

They were rather mundane but provided insight to his military service as an Electrician’s Mate, 2nd Class. What I also found in that box of letters were letters from my uncle who was also in the U.S. Navy but saw combat in the Pacific theater. He was assigned to a minesweeper and provided a snapshot of his service in letters home.

In a letter dated February 13, 1945, my uncle wrote: “Censorship rules have been made more lax and we can tell anything that’s happened up to the last 30 days. The biggest event was the invasion of Saipan. I’ve been to Guam, Tinian, Makin, Eniwetok, and most of the Hawaiian Islands.” Earlier in that same letter he opened with: “I’m in the sick bay under observation for acute appendicitis. They don’t know whether they’re going to operate or not. I sure hope they do because I’d hate to have it act up while on patrol.”

His letter was not postmarked until February 16th. It was received by one of his older sisters in Chicago on February 22nd, 1945. I share this because it is precious information for my uncle’s five daughters who never heard about his war exploits until I have been able to share these letters with them.

Correspondence can be valuable in preserving history and sharing life’s lessons.

A Thousand Words A Day

By Terry Misfeldt

Considering participating in the effort to write a novel in the month of November?

It is a monumental task if you think of a 90,000 word novel. That’s 3,000 words a day during the 30 days of November!

Doable? Yes!

The first step, in my opinion, is to get an early start during October. Sit at your keyboard and time how long it takes you to craft 1,000 words. If that takes 1/2 hour, you need to dedicate an hour and a half each day to crank out 3,000 words. Allowing for creative thinking time, if 1,000 words takes an hour to generate, now you are up to three hours a day.

When is the best time of day for you to write? Early morning after that 1st cup of coffee and before the day kicks into high gear? Later in the evening as you start winding down?

Think about when you will have the time to best dedicate to get the words out. Set the goal and stick to it, allowing some down time to refresh and renew the commitment.

Generating 1,000 words a day is a good objective for us as writers. It can be done!

Self-Editing: Fasten Your Seat Belt

This blog was recommended by Lawrence Wilson and can be found by following this link to the original source.

Welcome aboard! This is your editor speaking. On this trip through your recently completed draft, we’re going to run through a few easy steps to take while you re-read. These steps will teach you to recognize common mistakes and eliminate a lot of red ink along the way. My fellow editors will thank you, and manufacturers of red pens everywhere will curse you. Remember, in the event of a grammar emergency, a Google search will point you toward your nearest online dictionary or style guide. Now, let’s take a quick look at the procedures that will help you navigate any turbulence, and take that prose from rough to smooth. 

1. Read Your Work Out Loud

This is probably not the first time you’ve heard this tip—it’s a venerable old chestnut of writing advice. Nonetheless, a huge percentage of writers see this advice and think, “Okay, good idea. Here we go, I’m reading my draft out loud… in my head.”

It may come as a surprise that reading your work out loud in your head and reading it out loud with your voice are not the same thing. One is a purely mental exercise; the other is a physical action. Reading out loud forces you to listen to your own words in the same way that your audience would hear them for the first time. It also helps you understand that words are meant to be spoken, and that writing does not only exist on a page. You can’t get those results from reading in your head, no matter how much your internal narrator sounds like Morgan Freeman.

Get a glass of water, clear your throat, and start talking. It might feel embarrassing to read aloud to an empty room, but your empty room will forgive you. Incidentally, your pets or house plants may be the perfect audience. 

If your sentences are too convoluted, you’ll catch that. If you stumble over awkward phrasing, you’ll catch that too. If you have to take a deep breath halfway through every sentence, you’ll learn to break up those long clauses. Similarly, if you find yourself stopping constantly, you may realize your sentences are short and choppy. Reading aloud will give you a sense of the rhythm and flow of your writing. 

Most importantly, you will find obvious mistakes. Your grammar app may not alert you if you used the word “corpse” instead of “course,” and your spell check may not realize that you used the word “realize” six times on one page. But you’ll notice those things if you read out loud, and when you do, you’ll vow never to edit in silence again.

Also, your editor can tell if you didn’t read your piece out loud. Just saying.

2. Take Action… Verbs!

Now that you’ve caught your most glaring errors, let’s dive into a style tip that can wake up your writing like a strong cup of coffee.

There are some sentences that are boring. They are just dull. They are perfectly functional, but they do not bring any life to your writing. 

Check out those two paragraphs above. In that first paragraph, I used action verbs: “caught,” “dive,” “wake up.” In the second, I chose stative verbs and statements: “there are,” “they are.” I nearly fell asleep writing that second paragraph. 

Take a glance at your verb choices. Are you starting every paragraph with “there is” or “they are?” It’s fine to do that once in a while, but if you’re hoping to captivate your audience, consider switching up your verbs every so often. Almost any sentence can be rewritten to feel more active and dynamic—this is especially important to remember when writing opening lines. Even if you’re writing about abstract concepts or a stationery setting, you can recruit a few action verbs for a stylistic shot of espresso. 

3. Watch Your Purple Prose

Word choice is one of those key elements that determines a writer’s voice, so as an editor, I tread lightly when giving feedback in this area. However, when editing your own work, it’s a good idea to examine your word choices carefully. Words have great power, and as a radioactive teenager once said, with great power comes great responsibility. 

If you re-read a sentence and a particular word stands out to you, remember that a reader could have the same experience. Ask yourself if you want to deliberately draw attention to that word. If so, great! You’ve made a powerful word choice. If not, find a thesaurus and try again. Remember that an eye-catching word can pull a reader out of a narrative. If you throw a word like “obsequious” or “crepuscular” into a fast-paced action sequence, you may send readers scrambling for a dictionary instead of turning the page. But that same word could be the perfect choice in a different context. 

Also, remember that you don’t need to choose “writerly” words to be a writer. You don’t need to adorn every sentence with an opulent metaphor, or describe every sunrise like a beacon of hope that unfurls its majestic brilliance across the verdant blanket of a lush meadow. Editors call this kind of language “purple prose.” Just like the accidental application of too much perfume, a draft dripping with purple prose can overwhelm and distract a reader.

While examining your word choices, confirm that the words and phrases you’ve chosen have the meaning you intend. Make sure your editor has no reason to quote Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Your editor can tell if you didn’t read your piece out loud. Just saying.

4. Stop Repeating Yourself

Words are a huge part of a writer’s life, so it makes sense that we’re particularly attached to some of them. Sometimes we may not even realize we’re repeating our favorite turns of phrase every time we’re at the keyboard. We’re particularly attached to words. Wait, hang on, that sounds familiar…

When reviewing your own work, keep an eye out for repetition. It could be a word, a phrase, or even a punctuation mark. If you find a phrase in your draft that gives you déjà vu, use the “Find” function and search for it. With “Find,” you can discover if you’ve already written the phrase “beam me up” four times, or if you’re a little too fond of the em dash. 

Years ago, one of my beta readers pointed out that I had a semicolon addiction so severe that I was using one in every other sentence. He pulled out a highlighter and began marking them in my document. When he got to 15 in a single page, he asked nicely if I wanted him to continue. I’ve since recovered from my semicolon addiction, but that day I learned the wonders of the Find tool. 

A word of caution about the Find tool, however: Be careful about using the “Replace” feature — especially the “Replace All” feature. If you use “Replace All” to change every instance of “ten” to “10”, you’ll end up changing words like “tense” into “10se.” But for hunting down your repetition habits, “Find” can’t be beat. 

5. Curb Your Time Traveling

You may be a time traveler without even knowing it, but this type of time-hopping doesn’t involve a TARDIS or Doc Brown’s DeLorean. Take a look at your verb tenses: are you switching back and forth between past and present tense? There’s a simple remedy. Pick a single tense and stay with it unless you have a deliberate, time-based reason to change.

For example, if you are writing a story in the present tense, you should use the past tense when referring to past events: “Wayne shuffles the cards like a Vegas dealer. His dad taught him to deal cards when he was only 8.” But as long as you’re with Wayne in the present, make sure your verbs stay with him. 

It’s not always easy to notice all the places you’ve slipped back and forth. For example, try this sentence: It seems grammar was tricky to learn. Sounds sort of okay, but take a closer look. “Seems” is in present tense, while “was” is past tense. Unless you’re set in the present and referring to the past, this could be a mistake. Once this type of error is on your radar, it becomes easier to spot. 

If you read your draft with verb tenses in mind, you’ll realize your choice of verb tense is an essential decision. Past tense is a simple and clean default when writing fiction; present tense is often used for nonfiction, but can create an entirely different mood in fiction. Make a note of your choice, and then make sure that you switch only when the narrative calls for it. It’s the accidental switches that cause problems, especially if you’re Marty McFly. 

6. Eschew Prolixity

Take one last scan of your draft with an eye toward overabundance. Make a game of it: how many unnecessary words can you trim? Can you say something in five words that you’re currently saying in 10? Cut out wordy phrases until they’re no longer strangling your sentences. Phrases like “The fact that” and “for the purpose of” are red flags. Hopefully, you caught any stray instances of the passive voice in your verb tense scan, but if you didn’t, the wordiness of passive phrasing should set off alarm bells. “An excellent first draft was written by a Shut Up and Write member” becomes “A Shut Up and Write member wrote an excellent first draft.” Because you just did! Congratulations.

This concludes our demonstration of the self-editing procedures that should prepare your draft for another set of eyes. Remember, it’s always important to edit your own work before sending it out into the world. Thanks for helping out your editor, and come back soon — your next draft awaits.

Published by Alison King

Shut Up & Write’s Business & Content Strategist, Alison King, is also the team’s in-house editor. Alison is a writer and lifelong music geek, and can be found in Berkeley, CA, or at @alison_king on Twitter. View more posts

Deadlines — Glorious Deadlines

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Deadlines are not an issue for most writers. If you write for newspapers, magazines, or other media outlets that set publication times, then you have to deal with deadlines – glorious deadlines!

Consider deadlines as your motivation!

Deadlines can be motivating for procrastinators. I am one of those…which is why I establish and embrace my own deadlines. Contests have deadlines, so if you want to submit your work to the competition, meeting the deadline is your goal.

Self-imposed deadlines hold you accountable…to yourself! If you have several projects in the works, setting deadlines for each of them gets you to prioritize where you spend your time. Which one is closest to being finished? If you are committed to finishing it and getting it published–and really like what you have written–set a close deadline.

Remember, if you have to do editing, you will need to incorporate that time into finishing your work.

Be realistic when setting those glorious deadlines. If you have yet to start a project and want to have it completed in a month you might be stretching it and adding stress to your world. You may still be able to achieve it, but better to set a realistic goal and meet it than set an artificial one and be disappointed in failure.

Last, reward yourself when you meet the deadlines. Have a glass of wine. Get away from the keyboard for a few days. Go for a walk. And set new deadlines–glorious deadlines.

Writing Time

By Terry C. Misfeldt

When is your best opportunity for writing time? Do you need peace and quiet to think and write? Can you squeeze in a few minutes during your lunch break? Do the kids all have to be in bed before you can sit down at the keyboard?

Knowing your best writing time is an essential element of becoming a professional writer. Let’s consider options. An important aspect of these options is determining how many words you intend to craft in one sitting and how long it takes you to generate that many words. When I gave myself the challenge of writing 1,000 words per day, I learned I could achieve that goal in 40 to 45 minutes…depending on whether my brain was functioning at 25 words per minute.

  1. Pouring and sipping that first cup of coffee in the early morning hours gets some writers started. If you work at 9:00 a.m. and need an hour and one half for feeding and grooming yourself before getting dressed and commuting, you should consider how much you are willing to forego sleep to get in writing time. Could you write 500 words in half an hour? If you can and want to rise with the sun to do that, go for it.
  2. Finding time during the day to write can be a challenge if you are working full-time or in an office environment. More than likely you already spend time in front of the computer screen, but could you sneak in 15 minutes to crank out 400 words? The challenge here is to avoid using the company cloud to save your work…unless you own the company and then it does not matter. Suggestion: Use a flash drive to store your work.
  3. After work, dinner time with the family, and relaxation time can be productive writing time. Many writers work late into the evening or early morning crafting their novel or writing their memoirs because that is when they are inspired to write. Just remember there are also times when your brain is fried by then and what you write may look like rubbish when you read it the next day.
  4. In short, the best time to write is when you are motivated, inspired, and can concentrate on your project. Writing time may also be best devoted to research and making notes. Writing time is your time!

Promotional Outlets

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Finding promotional outlets enables you to market your novel or other writing to specific markets at little to no cost. What is required is taking the time to think things through. What organizations do you belong to, or have a relationship with?

Clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Zonta, Lions, and others are often looking for speakers. If you get invited, have a copy of your book as a door prize and bring more copies along to sell after the meeting and your presentation. It is a promotional outlet requiring some of your time in return for potential sales and for visibility with potential buyers.

One member of the Guild, H.G. Watts, wrote about a character related to another religious figure. She was interviewed about the story on WFRV-TV in Green Bay and recently appeared in a feature article about the book in The Compass which is a publication of the DIocese of Green Bay.

Alumni associations–either high school or college–offer publications which may afford a promotional outlet to tout your work. Craft a media release (so it looks official) and forward it to the editor for consideration. Fraternities and sororities offer another avenue for free publicity. If you have books at a book store or cafe, offer them a book signing to help bring customers in and promote sales of your book…and others.

Also, think about your favorite magazines and read about what news they consider. Again, the media release is an excellent way to make your plea look professional. Every chance to gain promotional credibility also builds your reputation as an author.

On Media Releases

Think teaser when you put together a media release. It contains enough information to tell the editor that your submission is news worthy…and teases them to want more details. At the least, it can be printed verbatim in the newspaper, magazine, newsletter, or journal.

Create a catchy headline, centered near the top of the page and in bold. Releases should be one page. At top left goes date, when it can be released, and contact information (name and phone number).

The first paragraph gives the who, what, where, why, and when with a variant being a teaser comment from a respected individual or someone who has read your book and gave you a good quote (perhaps one you wrote for them). Get the rest of the information out there in double-spaced format and end with -30- at the bottom.

These tips make your media release look professional, and gain credibility.

Finding the Right Editor

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writers are confident people. They write because they have stories to tell or memories to share. They may struggle with editing their own work, however, so finding the right editor can be challenging. As a writer and an editor, I know both sides of the coin.

When I was the editor and publisher of Future magazine, part of my responsibility was to review articles submitted by staff writers and freelancers. Granted, magazines are a different animal than a novel, short story, memoir, or compilation of poetry. The lessons about editing remain valid.

My first task as editor was to read the piece with two considerations: 1) Was it readable?; and, 2) Was it acceptable for publication in the magazine?

The second task was to critique the article with a rough edit and then meet with the writer to help them understand why the suggested modifications would make their work more worthy of publishing. This is where conflicts arise between writer and editor. If I did not couch my comments in an acceptable fashion, the writer could easily stick to their guns and insist it be run as they wrote it.

Of course, I could never let that happen. My responsibility was to my readers, not the writer. If they remained stubborn, it never saw print.

So, how do you find the right editor? There are two steps.

First, you must know what you want the editor to do for you. Do you want them to edit for readability? If so, they need to know who your target audience is and, if they are good and know that market you are on the right track. If you engage their services, make sure you ask questions about why they make certain recommendations. Steel yourself for answers you may dislike. You have the ultimate responsibility of implementing suggested changes. Trust is a key factor.

Do you want them to edit for spelling, punctuation, and/or grammar? Most writing software programs are decent at catching some of these errors, so what you want is for them to catch the things that seem out of place. You may have writing the wrong word and not caught it yourself—and software will not catch that the word should have been written because writing is spelled correctly. Tip: Make sure you know what their rates are and check their work when it comes back to you. As an editor, I have often found that when one mistake is corrected, another one is created in the process.

Second. Do not go blindly into a relationship. Finding the right editor means asking questions and examining their work. Also ask how long they anticipate it will take them to turn your project around and get it back to you. You can give them a deadline…and they may tell you that is unreasonable. Like any consultant, you have to work with them and they need to know your expectations.

My goal when I published Future was to be the editor who turned projects or articles around quickly. After all, we did have deadlines to meet with each edition.

The Writing Life: Half and Half

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writers will confess that they love writing but are less than enthusiastic about marketing. The writing life is half and half. Half of the process is getting words together in sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and novels or whatever they are writing. The other half of the process is publicizing what they’ve written to their adoring fans; also known as marketing.

Must equal time be given to both halves? Not necessarily. If all you want to do is write and self-publish so you can showcase your work with a spot on your bookcase shelf, congratulations! You are a published author. If, however, you want to make a wee bit of money selling some of those copies you ordered or to get people to purchase copies online, some marketing is essential.

Simple steps include creating an author’s profile with a link people can click on. This gives potential buyers an opportunity to check you out and, perchance, buy a copy through Amazon or another outlet. Use that author’s profile link in your E-mail signature, too. It is a simple marketing tool. Create a listing for your work on Good Reads and other book-related websites. It takes a few minutes to get it set up.

Encourage readers to write reviews (and be prepared for ones that may be less than flattering). Send media releases to your college alumni association, fraternity or sorority if you were a brother or sister, any other organizations you have or may belong to, your hometown newspaper, and any other place that may publish the information about you and your work. The same release can work for a variety of publications with slight modification.

Look for speaking engagements: Book clubs, service organizations, and other groups are often looking for programs. Book clubs mean people buy your book, read it, and then invite you in to discuss it.

None of these tools on your marketing belt cost a lot of money, other than a First Class stamp. Just carve out the time to do it and see what happens.

Keeping A Journal

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Some people think of a journal as a diary and that is one version. Keeping a journal is different.

Diaries are meant to be personal and contents shared with few, if any, people. Keeping a journal is documenting life and significant events that likely impart lessons to whomever reads the journal. Do journals contain diary-like comments? They can, and often do.

Keeping a journal is important if you travel considerably, especially if you want to share those travels with others who may wish to follow in your shoes. Journal about good places to eat and the quality of the food, but do not forget to accentuate how you were treated by the waitstaff and everyone else. Write about the modes of transportation you use, how efficient they are, and the friendliness of the flight attendants, conductor, Uber driver, or others providing that transportation.

How did you feel when you stood on the beaches of Hawaii for the first time? What was it like to drive a car through busy Los Angeles traffic? Where did you see the sun rise that was an unusual location?

Family life is also worth keeping a journal. Share when your child first rolls over or cuts their first tooth. Remember to share your frustration with weird hours feeding or changing dirty diapers. Temper tantrums and how you dealt with them could also prove valuable when your children have children.

There is so much you can journal about, including your work and co-workers. Describe their work habits and personality traits but be careful about sharing these pages of your journal if you get too personal.

The point is to write, and keeping a journal is an easy method of remembering things that motivate you…and that can be used as motivation. A good time to start is now.

Cover Art

By Terry C. Misfeldt

In this day and age when naysayers believe print books are going the way of dinosaurs, it is ever more important that the cover art of your book grabs a potential reader’s attention.

Print on demand (POD) publishing today demands even more that your artwork is appealing since your book will most likely have a soft cover. That means paper instead of a stiffer, non-printable binding.

Now, if you are getting published in hard cover, there will be a wrap-around cover which will still require cover art. Even E-books have a need for cover art.

How do you create cover art that sells? I have long held the belief that copy sells while art enhances, but selling books with cover art requires both.

Romance writers know their cover art needs to show couples in a passionate embrace. Poets have more latitude in what graces their covers. Science fiction writers need “out of this world” artwork to entice potential readers.

Elements of strong cover art include: 1) Attractive color schemes; 2) Text (like your book title) that stands out from the background and uses an appropriate font; 3) Images that convey the essence of your book and entice people; 4) Catchy blurbs to garner attention; and, 5) a Professional image of you, the author.

Consider hiring a professional graphic artist to create your cover. Many publishing companies have cover artists on staff to assist you in that process…often at a steep cost. An option I employed with my first novel was contacting the local university’s graphic arts department to see if any students wanted to attack my cover. After several drafts and a few hundred dollars, I got an excellent (IMO) cover, thanks to Angela Collier. Can you guess what the novel is about?