Plaid Earthworm , one of my favorite people in the writing community, has tagged me with a Meme. This is a fun one, because it comes with an Award. It's called "Roar for Powerful Words." In a fit of writerly "lack of self-esteem," I let myself get a bit down because this meme traveled three-quarters of the way around the AW writers' community without hitting me. Of course I was being silly, but Plaid, thank you! It really means a lot to me.
In this meme, you must blog about three things that create good, powerful writing. Let's see if I can come up with some tips that haven't been done to death.
1). Learn the basics!
This seems so obvious, but many writers want to pursue their goal of getting published before they've learned the mechanics of good grammar, tight writing, how and when to incorporate quotes, what makes a good lead, etc.
Unlike talent, tenacity and persistence, the basics *can* be taught. Writing is a competitive field and writers have enough factors working against their success. Do yourself a favor and learn the basics first. You wouldn't try to be a mechanic if you didn't know how to use a wrench, would you?
Grammar, flow, pacing, word usage, interview skills, etc. are a writer's *tools*. With these tools, we can create great, publishable work. You may have a great story to tell, but without the basic storytelling tools in place, no editor will take you seriously. (Unless you're a big name star or a strongly-established expert in your field--then, your name is worth more than your abilities and an editor *will* fix your work. But that's not your "average person" I'm talking about).
Some writers say, "Fixing my grammar is the editor's job."
No, it's not.
There are too many writers out there who know how to use the basic tools of the trade. An editor will hire them, instead, because those writers make the editor's job easier.
It is also not an editor's job to teach you these skills. There are plenty of resources available. Start with Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Read William Zissner's On Writing Well. If those aren't sinking in, start with a basic grammar book or take a course.
Good writing begins with the basics.
2). Observe and absorb.
Ideas are all around us. A good writer swallows these ideas, savoring every taste, like a ravenous lion. Pay attention to the way people talk, how they respond to certain stimulus, how they act in one situation or another. People-watch. Eavesdrop. Listen.
As a writer who writes a lot of interview-based features, I am often tempted to "space out" during interviews, especially when I know my recorder is catching it all. Don't.
Focus on what your subject is saying, so you don't miss the perfect follow-up question. Besides, people are that much more forthcoming when they know you're paying attention and are truly interested in what they have to say.
3). I keep wanting to slant these tips toward "successful writing" rather than "good writing." In other words, I want to show the reader how to make money as a writer. I'm going to give in to that temptation with my third tip: Be easy to work with.
This encompasses many aspects of freelance writing. Knowing how to follow writer's guidelines makes you easy to work with. Happily re-writing when an editor requests it (within reason, of course) makes you easy to work with. Not squawking when an editor alters your precious prose, but, instead, studying what he did so you can improve your work with that publication next time, makes you an editor's dream. Delivering the story you pitched in your query makes it likely the editor will hire you next time.
Oh, and, finally... just being a friendly, nice person, with a kind word for your editor every now and then, will set you apart. All other factors being equal, an editor is more likely to hire the writer she enjoys working with than the arrogant know-it-all or even the stick-in=the-mud writer who has skill but less personality than a wet rag. That's life.
I'd like to pass this meme and Award on to five writers who regularly practice all three of these tips, but, quite honestly, don't feel like spending an hour checking to see if my choices have already been tagged.
If you are reading this and somehow have been passed by, please consider yourself tagged!