Tag Archives: learning how to write

Understand Writing Essentials (The Marketing Author 001, Part 5)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Understand Writing Essentials”

You decided you want to write. You started working on your marketing budget. You figured out how to manage your time. You prepared yourself for rejection.

But have you actually learned how to write?

If not, this would be a good time to remind you that it’s important to know what you’re doing if you say you’re a writer.

Disclaimer: Much of what I write here is an echo of my seventh article from the Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun series, but it’s also one of the most important parts of preparing for a writing career, so let’s learn it again! Go ahead, refresh your memory.

Now, I should emphasize right at the start that understanding the writing essentials doesn’t mean that merely typing words or knowing vocabulary is good enough to prove your skill. Any monkey can type, and any monkey has the potential to type out a few actual words. You tap at the keys long enough and you’ll eventually spell out a word someone will recognize. Likewise, you can flip open a dictionary, point to a word, and write it in whatever sentence you’re working on and sound like you know what it means. You might fool a few people, especially those who don’t normally read (assuming you’re savvy enough to get their attention). But you haven’t proven that you know what you’re doing.

We spent the last four weeks talking about the prep work behind establishing a successful writing career driven by effective marketing, but we haven’t yet discussed the most essential role of the writing and publishing journey—the writing itself. If you don’t know how to write, you’re not going to accomplish much with your writing. Common sense, right? For those of you who spend all day sending emojis to your friends, common sense is that thing we call “shared knowledge,” which is what you have when you make decisions or show understanding in reference to an obvious solution to a problem. For example, if you approach a busy intersection, common sense tells you to wait for the crossing signal to display the “walk” sign before you actually cross. The reason nobody waits for that signal is because, well, I’ll leave it up to you to figure that out.

Now, learning how to write is important, but it’s also important to learn how to write the type of work you want to publish. The fact is, writing isn’t just about words, but it’s also about structure, conventions, styles, and reader expectations. If you fail to deliver on any of these elements, then your writing is not going to accomplish any of the goals you’ve set for yourself. In that case, you’ve written into the wind.

Assuming you don’t want to write into the wind, here’s a sample of writing conventions you’ll want to consider before you start:

Are you writing fiction or nonfiction?

-Each major type has its own set of rules, so you’ll need to learn and follow them. For example, nonfiction focuses on true stories; fiction focuses on fake but sounds true stories.

Are you writing a business book or a relationships book (or a combination of both)?

-Every category or genre of nonfiction must address a main idea, and will ideally tell a true story or attempt to solve a problem or inspire you to come up with something profound to share with other readers.

Are you writing a mystery novel or a romance novel (or a mystery novel about why romance is so popular)?

-Every category of fiction must follow a story arc, told in three or four acts, and take the reader through a series of conflicts until the story’s problem has been solved. If there’s no conflict or structure, then there is no story.

Are you writing something original or are you plagiarizing?

-Let’s skip this one. Protip: Don’t plagiarize.

It’s also important that you know how to tell a story, even if you’re writing nonfiction. Readers are more engaged when they’re not only interested in the topic but also when they find themselves captivated by your awesome storytelling skills. Consider any biography you’ve ever read. Chances are, you get more out of the stories about fighters who overcome the odds (like Unbroken or Breaking Night) than those about winners who stay winners and learn nothing in the process (you probably won’t find any successful examples of this). Just because you write a book of nonfiction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to captivate your reader with twists, turns, and a lesson to learn. I recently read a business biography about Nintendo, called Super Mario, that I couldn’t put down because its author knew how to tell a captivating story using real life and a real timeline of events. Nonfiction doesn’t mean boring!

And, of course, there’s grammar. Learn how to write at the sentence level. Yes, it takes time and practice to figure out how to use your commas and semicolons effectively, but your readers will thank you for your clarity. Don’t skimp on the micro level work. While you’re at it, work on vocabulary. You don’t need to write above a ninth grade reading level (and you probably shouldn’t, as higher reading levels will begin to alienate certain readers), but it’s a good idea to know as many words as possible to prevent long phrases from slowing down the reading when you could easily condense your thoughts yet say the exact same thing.

Challenge Time: Use your vocabulary skills to condense the above paragraph to its simplest form without changing the meaning. Submit your answers in the comments below.

Yes, learning how to write takes time and effort, but it’s the core essential to becoming a successful author. You can save all the money in the world and free up all the time in the world, but none of that will give you a successful writing career if you don’t learn how to write. And the best place to learn how to write is any published book, including those books about writing, of which you can find plenty, online and off. That means you should also learn how to read.

In case you missed my previous article on the fundamentals of writing, here again are some additional tips for you to ponder.

Next week we’ll address the happier sister to rejection, feedback!

Note: This article was supposed to go out on Wednesday, March 29th. I usually set these articles on a timer, but I was falling behind this week, and I hadn’t quite finished with the final draft Tuesday night (still needed to proofread and add my links). I thought I’d be able to finish and post Wednesday afternoon, but I was out and about from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, and yesterday I was recovering from exhaustion. So, it’s late. But now it’s posted. I should probably do a post about punctuality and meeting deadlines one of these days.

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Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 8): The Importance of Finding Useful Education and Resources

Missed Part 7? Read it here:

“The Importance of Finding Useful Education and Resources”

Writing should be fun. But it becomes more fun when we know how to do it.

Okay, so how do we write? Or better yet, how do we teach ourselves to write? I’ve spent seven parts building up this idea that we can become mavericks, writing whatever the heck we want, however we want, but that’s not really my goal here. My goal is to take away the stress of writing that professionalism often puts on those of us who want to succeed as an author. This, in no way, means that we should go into the game without the right education, or even without professionalism as a goal.

In “The Importance of Knowing the Rules of Writing and Storytelling,” I gave you a list of eleven tips to get you started, but the tips are purposely vague so that you have an understanding of what to look for in your path toward writing improvement, so that you actually go out and do the research to better yourself.

When we talk about research, we tend to limit it to items we wish to use in our books, but we often forget that learning how to write requires just as much research as learning what to write. Likewise, research is important for instructing us how to get our message out into the marketplace, should we decide to take that path.

As I said in “The Importance of Learning from Our Past,” college alone won’t teach us everything we need to know about writing, marketing, or any of the things we actually care about when we decide we want to be authors. It’ll teach us a few useful fundamentals, like how to write dialogue effectively, and it’ll do it as quickly and vaguely as possible, but even then we need to be careful, as the exercises we’re often given as warm-ups can lull us into a pattern of self-destructive story ideas, where simple actions like searching for the perfect jelly in which to put on a sandwich, can feel like a good idea at the time we write them, when in reality those scenes, if used in a real story, would probably waste a serious reader’s time, and if that happens, then why did we write that practice scene in the first place?

To get the full education we deserve, we need to look for outside sources, written or taught by experts in their respective fields. And I don’t mean experts on how to write a sex scene. Even though that’s helpful, we don’t need to start there. What we need is to start with the people who understand what drives a story, then work our way into learning from those microscopic masters who have so much knowledge of the steamy love scene that they can fill an entire book about it.

Of course, my message here is to read more. I did not improve by watching hours upon hours of reality television (though, I contend that watching reality television isn’t a complete waste of time, as they are edited to give viewers the maximum amount of conflict in an otherwise lukewarm scenario, so you can still learn the importance of storytelling from them, even from shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, I’m guessing). I improved through practice and reading the types of stories I enjoy. I also improved my skills from reading books I’ve found in the Reference section at Barnes & Noble or the virtual shelves at the Writer’s Digest shop.

As an author exploring the indie market, I’ve also studied from newly minted experts in their respective fields, like cover design, editing, copywriting, and so on, to better understand my place in this saturated market, and what I need to do to stand out. More and more this journey teaches me that it’s not always about writing for fun. But the more I learn, the more I realize that knowing nothing is merely ignorant, and there’s nothing fun about realizing either through education or a bad review that everything I’ve written up to a certain point has been crap riddled with more crap. At some point, I need to acknowledge that learning from experts (not just teachers at a high school or college) is just as important as reading the masters or tapping into my imagination.

This means that I need to study my craft, whether I go to college or not. This means I need to study, whether I’ve finished college or not.

There’s no end to the ways we can improve ourselves. I still stand by my message in “The Importance of Imperfection” that we should never wait until things are perfect to share our works with our intended audiences. But we still need to make sure we’ve done all that we can to properly educate ourselves with the expectations that readers will have of our works. This includes understanding the conventions of the genres we’re writing in, understanding what readers are buying our books for in the first place, and so on. To get there, we need to chart an educational path for ourselves. We need to start by reading those instructional manuals that the pioneers before us have written in order to prevent us from making the same mistakes they made when they first started. We need to start by putting into practice the sound advice that the experts give us.

If we write irresponsibly, then we may find that the fun in writing will eventually run out, as writing, while cathartic, is at its best shared, and we want to share what we know is good. Right? Writing well without doing the work to ensure great writing is hard to do. Our intuitions, our laziness, and our justifications for each will take us only so far.

Now, I cannot tell you how to chart your path. I do hope to begin a resource education series in the near future to make figuring out that path a little easier, but I still need some time to prepare that, as it will require a lot of reading and remembering. But, here’s a quick list of books I recommend you look into while you’re forgetting everything you learned in school or in this series:

On Writing by Stephen King

Story Engineering, Story Physics, and Story Fix by Larry Brooks

Hooked by Les Edgerton

The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Note that these books are great for foundations, but may not give you all that you need for settings, characters, dialogue, etc. But again, part of becoming a better writer is to do the research, and if you take my advice, you’ll find your way down the right path. Personally, I like reading newly released books to see these authors’ takes on a subject I’ve already learned, as every writing instructor will have his or her unique way of getting a message across, and inevitably somebody will teach me something new. So, even if you think you’ve learned everything you need to know, I can assure you that you haven’t. That said, you can still certainly learn enough from just the five books I’ve highlighted above to get you on the right track.

So, I hope you’ve gotten a lot out of this series, especially if you’ve thought about writing but weren’t sure you could do it. You can, but make sure you don’t do it blindly, and don’t expect to be great at it immediately. Like any skill, it takes a long time to get good at it. But I guarantee that your favorite author wasn’t always good at it, so don’t let the thought of learning stop you from starting or doing. Just forward-think a little before you start sharing.

Keep following Drinking Café Latte at 1pm for more articles on writing, storytelling, resources, and so on. You can also check out some of the stories I’ve written to get an idea how my journey has panned out. Many of them are available to read in their entirety via the “My Books” dropdown in the header above. My favorite is “Shell Out,” if you want to start there. It’s a short story in seven parts. Also, if you want to stay centered on your writing journey, I’d highly recommend you familiarize yourself with Writer’s Digest and visit its online bookstore. I believe it publishes 16 books on writing a year, and each book is tailor-targeted to a specific element in writing, including structure, characters, scene-setting, and even nonfiction.

Leave comments if you have any questions.