Martin Luther once wrote, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” While changing the planet might be beyond your goal, writing remains a powerful method of conveying information and emotions. As the author of hundreds of published articles, short stories, devotional pieces, and five novels, I have great respect for skillful writing, and I like to encourage people who are interested in writing. Might that be you?
While selling my novels at IAHE conferences, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with both teens and parents about writing for publication. Homeschool families tend to be readers, and reading provides an excellent foundation for writing. If you read often, chances are your mind has already soaked up some principles of quality writing even if you weren’t conscious of it.
However, reading by itself isn’t sufficient preparation. No matter whether you wish to write articles, short stories, blog posts, or novels, in publishing there are standard ways of doing things, plus stylistic considerations. If you’re unaware of them, you’ll waste time. You’ll also brand yourself as an amateur. So, are you ready to consider some basic steps? Let’s go!
Analyze Your Motives
First, scrutinize your desire. Why do you want to write? If your motivation is to impress others or to validate your existence, those aren’t the best reasons. Quality writing is tough, mental labor. It requires hours of thinking, composing, cutting, revising, and polishing. To survive the long haul, you need a better reason than to impress others. However, if you enjoy wordcraft and have a story or article that yearns to be shared, then you have motives that can sustain you during the solitary hours of keyboarding.
Do Your Homework
More than once, budding writers have emailed me, “I’ve written an article. Can I email it to you so you can tell me which magazine might buy it?” Occasionally, I hear of gung-ho newbies submitting a manuscript to dozens of magazines at once in hopes of getting one acceptance. These approaches are backwards. (An analogy might be a hunter who totes a shotgun into the woods, pulls the trigger at random, and then asks, “Did I hit anything?”) Publications that accept submissions from non-staff writers have established writers’ guidelines. (Usually downloadable via their websites.) They expect even newbies to study the guidelines and the actual publication first, and then to tailor submissions accordingly.
Develop an Eye for Details
In American usage, does the period at the end of a quoted sentence go inside or outside the closing quotation mark? Or how about an exclamation mark, inside or outside? (Actually, it depends on whether the exclamation mark was part of the original quotation or your personal emphasis.) Words, grammar, and punctuation form the writer’s toolbox. Learn the right way to use your tools. Doing so helps to lift your manuscript above the sea of mediocre submissions. Often, you don’t even need a style manual. By leafing through a professionally published book or magazine, you can find abundant examples of proper punctuation.
Avoid Clichés Like the Plague
English is overflowing with threadbare expressions we’ve heard hundreds of times: “Quiet as a _____.” “The grass is always _____.” “A diamond in the _____.” “Cat got your _____?” Because we’ve heard these trite expressions so often, they creep into our writing. But clichéd writing is lazy writing. Be fresh, creative. Take delight in clinking words together and rearranging them to discover new, distinctive expressions. Strive to avoid any sentence the reader can finish before seeing the end. In other words, don’t touch a cliché with a ten-foot ____!”
Root out Redundancies
Unnecessary repetition is another sign of unpolished writing. For instance, “I write fiction novels” is redundant. Why? All novels are fiction, so inserting the word fiction is silly and repetitive. Here’s another example. The common expression “in every way, shape, and form” is bloated with redundancy, since “every way” automatically includes every shape and form. (It also fits the cliché category.)
What a joy it is to see an aspiring writer graduate to published author. But what a tragedy when a bit of success swells a writer’s head with pride. Determine in advance that, no matter how many times you’re published, you won’t strut with your superior nose in the sky. Don’t adopt a prima donna tone. Remain genuine, and readers will appreciate you!
All right, that’s enough advice for this article. I’ll be back with more tips to shorten the learning curve and help you grow as a writer.
Rick Barry’s writing has been published by Kregel Books, Focus on the Family, JourneyForth, Answers in Genesis, and others. His latest novel is Christian sci-fi, The Next Fithian: An Ordinary Teen on a Strange, New World. Visit his website at https://rickcbarry.com/.