Destination Unknown

Writing is mind traveling – destination unknown.

This quote comes from a book I picked up at the thrift store. Write Source 2000: A Guide to Writing, Thinking and Learning.  Written by Patrick Sebranek, Verne Meyer, and Dave Kemper.

In a practical sense this isn’t true. When you write you do have an idea of where you are going with it, a purpose, a goal. However, there are always going to be surprises along the way, new information comes along, a better idea than your original plan or a change in your life which alters your perspective and so on. As you begin to put your ideas into form (versus floating around in your head and the notes you may have from research) the writing begins to take shape. It seldom ever works out exactly the way you thought it would. It evolves. Like a living thing, the writing evolves and becomes something more. Final destination is never a fixed point, not until the very last time you proofread your copy.

How to Comment on Writing

Being part of a writing group is a good thing. It gives you an extra push to achieve your goals and you can get some feedback about your writing from people who are writing themselves. But, being the person giving the feedback is not easy. Whether you review someon’e writing as part of a group or one on one for a friend you want to balance the criticism with positive comments. Keeping it constructive and yet honest too. For those brave enough to give constructive feedback here are some points to discuss about the writing you are reviewing.

Purpose: Is the purpose of the writing coming through clearly? Whether the writing is about cleaning your toothbrush, finding a shark in your bathtub or the latest best selling paranormal romance… does the purpose of the story/ article come through clearly?

Voice: Does the story/ article have a personality? Not every piece of writing will have a lot of personality but there should be a voice behind it, you should feel the writer gave something of themselves to the work. You should feel the writer was interested in the topic they wrote or the story they told.

Audience: Does it have appeal to the reader? Will the reader appreciate the story or article, does it speak to the reader or just drone on as if the writer was talking to themselves? Are all the reader’s questions answered?

Content: Has the writer included enough information, relevant information? Does the story have a beginning, middle and an ending?

Form: Are the ideas or the story plot presented logically so the reader can follow the information and easily move from one point to the next? Even a time travel story needs to have plot the reader can follow and understand clearly.

Writing Devices: Does the story include dialogue, personal experience, specific details, descriptions, or creative comparisons? Non fiction can use interviews as a device as well. A little variety is a good thing.

Purpose Again: Does the writing make the reader react in some way? Smile, laugh out loud, get angry, feel sad, or relief at solving a problem, when you finish the writing is there an overall reaction you are left with, something to make you remember the writing? What is especially good about the writing?

Research Away Writer’s Block

From Gary Bencivenga’s Marketing Bullets:

I learned that good copywriters get to know so much about the product and the prospect and his or her wants, fears, assumptions, and lingo that the copy soon wants to burst forth as if a dam is breaking. I learned that research is the infallible cure for writer’s block.

Having something to say is the best way to start writing. If you do the research to give yourself all the background information you would soon have a lot to say about all you have found even if you thought you had very little to say when you started. This works for any kind of writing, interviews and fiction writing included.

With fiction writing you could give yourself a whole storyboard as your research. Create the plot, the people and the actions that string them together.

Give a Link Even if you Don’t have a Blog

These days we assume people have a blog, not everyone does however. Or, some might not want to leave a link to their blog for whatever reason. (For instance, someone writing adult content might not want to have that link represent them when they are just sharing general information with others).

If you are leaving comments on blogs you could always add a link to something else, not a blog. How about a profile on a site where you use the forum, or a dating site? If you have Twitter or another social media site add that as your link/ website. You just need something that gives people a place to find you and give you some feedback too.  Even if it’s just to thank you for the comment.

Also, should you later want to link a blog to yourself you will be known by at least one link where people have followed you in the past.

Interview Yourself

Interviewing is a nice skill to have. It’s more than just being social, able to keep a conversation moving. There is quite a bit of preparation involved before the social part even starts.

What questions will you ask during the interview? Think about what you want to know yourself, that’s a good place to start. Then research about the person, their projects and other information and see what new information you come up with. If you discover something unique ask about it at the interview.

An important thing about an interview is to get new information. Rather than rehashing the same old stuff see if there isn’t some new tidbit, a new twist on an idea or something old that has since stopped working (become obsolete). It all depends on who you are interviewing and what the topic is. But keep the idea in mind that you want to have something fresh for people to read.

To practice coming up with interview questions try interviewing yourself. What questions would you write up for yourself? You already have the background information, the current projects and your own permission to be interviewed… so get started.

Come up with five good questions that would work for an interview with yourself.

Database Confusion

I feel I must find out more information about domains, databases and such written for the terminally stupid. I have a new domain which is hosted free with Hosting Matters. Nice deal, just pay once a year for the domain itself (it is added to my account where I pay to host Anyway, I am trying to set it up with a lifestream blog-like thing. But, I keep stumbling over databases and passwords and whatever else. I don’t know which are the right ones to use any more. There are some from the main domain, some from my installation of WordPress and some from other things which I have uninstalled. I kept them all in the same Notepad file. Maybe that was my first stupid mistake. Now I am confused. Luckily, Hosting Matters has very patient and understanding technical support. I will probably have it figured out by tomorrow and finally know which database is the one I should be using for everything.

Writing for Web Skimmers

When you read articles about being a web writer they all really focus on one key point: skimmers.

People reading online are skimmers, not really sitting down to focus on a good book, they just want a quick read and expect to pick up the facts right away. It’s a shame. It isn’t a good way to read, even though I am a culprit of skim reading myself. I know I sometimes miss things. Sometimes important things. As a writer keep this in mind so your skimming readers won’t miss important things.

Consider these points to format your writing for skimmers:

  • Post your conclusion first. Your conclusion comes at the top and the rest of your information follows to support your conclusion with facts, ideas and resources. If the skimmers only read the first sentence you write then at least they got your main point.
  • Keep your writing simple and clear. Take out extra words, keep it short and to the point.
  • Subheadings direct the skim reader, like pylons at a construction site, especially for longer bodies of content.
  • Keep each paragraph on one topic. If you start another idea add whitespace in the form of a new paragraph. (Each beginning sentence of each new paragraph should be an inverted pyramid too, put your main point first. The rest of the paragraph supports it, if needed.)
  • Use bullet form lists to catch more skimmer attention. Their eyes flock to lists as they are specific points of information. They are also easy to find in your writing copy.
  • Add your links as part of the writing copy, as if they are just part of the conversation, to be clicked if the skim reader chooses to.
  • Proofread your copy, for any kind of writing. But, with skim readers, a typo can be a bigger stumbling block, more like a pot hole which makes them stutter in their reading and doubt you as a reliable source of information. Use spellcheck and read it yourself cause you still know more than the machine.

A Writing Group for You?

I’m not especially a group person. Too much of a loner and I like to do things my own way which is not always conventional or sensible to everyone. Sometimes it only makes sense to me and sometimes I turn out to be wrong, really wrong even. But, that’s getting sidetracked. I’ve begun looking at writing groups for myself.

Generally they fall into two groups, those which are genre specific and those which are location specific. Chances are you won’t find a group which is in your geographic area and caters to your writing genre, in the same group. (Unless you live in a large city).  If you look for your genre it is likely to be an online group. This has good and bad points, of course. A local group will meet in person on a schedule but you may find little support and information for your genre. Don’t get discouraged, the main thing you are looking for in a group is support after all. If you can find that online or in person that is the best thing.

Do make sure the group has a set goal in mind and does keep to it. A group for coffee and conversation is nice but you need more than socializing. If you want a review/ critique of your work find out what the rules are for both writers and readers and beware of handing out your work and not getting it back or having it copied. What do they have set up and are you feeling ok to trust others with your work in progress?

Overall, stick to getting support and information. Whatever helps you to stick with your writing goals and make you feel you are on the right track. A writing group is especially good for those who don’t have support from family and friends.

To get you started, I used to maintain this Dmoz category with writing groups and organizations. I no longer maintain it but it is still a good start point.