6 Tips to Improve Your Writing

Reading good writing -- in any form -- will make you a better writer. (Photo illustration by Cynthia Price)

Reading good writing — in any form — will make you a better writer. (Photo illustration by Cynthia Price)

Writing a book is easy.

The hard part is sitting down to write it. Or sitting down to write the article that is due in two hours… or the speech that is due on Monday.

Whenever I hear bestselling novelist Adriana Trigiani speak, she always tells would-be writers, “Just write.”

It’s great advice.

Here are a few tips for writing or improving your writing:

  1. Write every day. You can write in a journal. You can write a letter to a loved one. You can write one page of your novel. At the end of the year you would have 365 pages.
  2. Don’t write to impress. As a college student, I knew how to turn a short sentence into a longer one so I could hit my word count. I liked using large words – the better to show off my vocabulary. Readers don’t care about that. They want a good story.
  3. Read good writing. Some of the best writing I know comes from writers for Sports Illustrated. Think about it. There are two teams or two players. One wins, one loses. This happens over and over. How do you make it exciting? Read Sports Illustrated and you will find out. Read the classics. Read anything and identify what you don’t like and why. Then don’t do that. If you find something you like, strive to be that good.
  4. Shorten what you wrote. After I finish writing an article, I check the word count and then attempt to delete 10 percent of it. Almost always, the writing becomes stronger and more powerful.
  5. Check the verbs. Passive voice is quite dull to read. If you aren’t good at this, take a highlighter and identify every very. Then you can change the passive verbs to active. You’ll see a difference in your writing.
  6. Read for inspiration. I aspire to publish a mystery. I read lots of mysteries and now know the specific type of mystery I want to write. I know the setting of the book, too, and so I read travel books from that location.

Now stop reading this and go write. And yes, I know I need to take my own advice and finish the novel!

Advertisements

How to Make Your Content Stand Out

Let me begin by thanking you for taking time to read this post. You could be watching a video of grumpy cat or looking at photos of your BFF’s children on Facebook.

That’s the reality of content today. As someone who produces content I know that I am competing against “an infinite ocean of content.” Sarah Skerik, vice president of content marketing for PRNewswire, discussed the topic during a recent webinar.

Whether you are producing content for your company or for yourself as a freelancer or author, it’s critical to recognize that you are competing against much more content than ever. So what do you do?

Florence, Italy

Images make content stand out, which is why I included this one of Florence, Italy. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Begin by finding different angles to appeal to different audiences. For example, best-selling author Adriana Trigiani writes books that are set in New York and Italy.

Her readers want to know more about the settings so working with a close friend, they established a tour company that takes readers to the locales so they can learn more about the settings in the book. That’s an extreme example, and it works.

Author Ellen Crosby wrote a series of mysteries set in Virginia’s wine country and her social media posts often included information about vineyards and wine. She not only appeals to those who enjoy her books, but also to wine lovers.

Another step is to rethink the press release. You want to make it easy for bloggers and others to tweet about your press release so keep the headline short. Keeping the headline short also ensures that the release can be properly indexed by search engines. Character length should be about 65. If you need more, use a subhead.

The key is to make the press release something that people want to interact with. Interaction, Skerik says, is worth measuring. Measurement includes the number of times it is shared and how it ranks when searched, for example. Shares are a measure of engagement and can influence purchase decisions, according to Unruly, a marketing technology company that created an infographic about the Super Bowl and shares.

One way to encourage interaction is to include visuals in a press release or blog. These visuals can then be pinned on Pinterest or other social sites, creating more play for you.

Writing the press release, blog or online story is just the first step. It’s important to take the time to think about how you can get people interested in your content. How do you ensure that your content is noticed?

Celebrate National Author’s Day Tomorrow

During the Library of Virginia Literary Awards Oct. 20, guests dined with the nominated authors. Host Adriana Trigiani, a best-selling author beloved by millions of readers around the world for her hilarious and heartwarming novels, asked, “You’re actually eating with writers. How is that working out?”

For most guests, it was a privilege to do so and a great way to celebrate the nominees. Tomorrow is another day for celebrating authors as it is National Author’s Day, which was created by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, a teacher and avid reader.  She submitted the idea for such a day, and in 1949 the day was recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

After attending the Literary Awards, I’m inspired to celebrate several new authors, including David Wojahn, who won for his collection of poetry, World Tree. In accepting he said of the award, “It looks like the Olympics, but it’s for brain works.”

At the event, I picked up David Huddle’s book Nothing Can Make Me Do This, which won the Emyl Jenkins Sexton Literary Award for Fiction. He grew up listening to his parents read books to him. “The sound of the human reading voice is the presence of love,” he told the audience.

David Baldacci won the People’s Choice Award for Fiction for The Sixth Man. I’m planning to read it on my next flight and asked him if I was going to jump in my seat from the suspense. He chuckled and said, “Don’t be surprised.”

Authors

Adriana Trigiani and David Baldacci are two authors worth celebrating. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Both David and Adriana are two authors I greatly admire because despite their millions of books sold, they are both approachable and willing to sign books and talk with fans and would-be writers. They are authors to be celebrated.

In celebrating authors by reading their books, we also are achieving another success, according to Jodi Moore, who won the Whitney & Scott Cardozo Award for Children’s Literature. “In order for a book to be happy, it must be read,” Moore said in accepting her award.

Tomorrow, why not make a book and an author happy?

Authors’ Words Provide Inspiration

Most people have an office in their home. I have a library. It’s a matter of word choice, but for me, it also sends a message. One day I will publish a mystery and my book will grace the library shelves.

In the meantime, I write in my library surrounded by signed copies from some of my favorite authors, whom I have been fortunate to meet.

Books on a shelf

Books signed by favorite authors provide inspiration. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

There is Janet Evanovich, who at her book signing, spent a few moments giving me advice and suggested writing critique groups for me to seek out.

There is Adriana Trigiani, whose advice is simple and direct, “Just write!”

There is Emyl Jenkins, who provided me with fairy dust, to keep my writing inspiration alive.

Another favorite is Michael Connelly, whom I met at a mystery writers’ conference. I passed him in the foyer and said hello as if I knew him. Of course, I didn’t, I just felt like I did because I was familiar with his photograph on the back of his book jacket. It didn’t matter. He found a sitting area and spent a few minutes with me, also giving me solid advice.

David Baldacci is another favorite. He always makes time for his fans, signing books and answering questions. Like the other authors mentioned, it doesn’t matter how many times he makes the best-seller list, he still is approachable and pleased to talk about his craft.

So while I continue to write and re-write, I surround myself with the words – both on paper and in person – of other authors.  And I leave space on the shelf for what I hope will be the first of many books I publish.

What helps you write and where do you write?

Making Lemonade

Lemons

A morning wait led to a day of lemonade.

Yesterday I showed up at a TV studio to tape a segment. I was told to arrive at 8:30 a.m. and did so only to find out I would not be interviewed until closer to 10. At first I was highly annoyed thinking about the work that was piled on my desk and my inbox that had mentioned to explode in the past week.

Then I decided to see it as an opportunity to enjoy the time and chat with the other individuals who also would be on the show.

There is a saying that says, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s what I did. Here’s what happened:

1)      I caught an interview on the CBS Morning Show with my friend and author Adriana Trigiani. I would never have caught that if I were at work. Even better, she was talking about the tours she offers and I just happen to be taking one later this year.

2)      A few moments after sitting down, another woman walked into the room. She was coordinating an interview for her workplace. We were colleagues from another time so it was great to catch up.

3)      I also met Mrs. Virginia, Brandi Pope. She has a great story and is using her Mrs. Virginia title to help tell it. (That’s another blog.)

4)      Also in the room was novelist Rita Mae Brown. I’m a big fan of her mysteries and learned she has a new one out, The Big Cat Nap. Although we all had plenty of questions for her, she managed to do most of the interviewing!

By the time I had returned to the office, I’d had a good interview, made some new contacts, caught up with old friends and even developed some blogs.

That’s a lot of lemonade!

Literary Awards Are a Night to Remember

One day my book will be finished and it will be archived at the Library of Virginia. Until that day, I live vicariously through my author friends (author, as in published book; not writer, as in still working on one).

Literary Awards 2011

Adriana Trigiani, Earl Hamner and Richard Thomas celebrate Hamner's Literary LIfetime Achievement Award. (photo by Cynthia Price)

The best way for me to do that is at the annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards. As in years past, Adriana Trigiani hosted the evening. Herself a gifted and prolific writer, she always provides plenty of laughter and nuggets throughout the evening. This year was no exception. She related a story about writers.

“You’re a very dangerous person,” she said of writers. “Nothing is sacred.”

She talked about eavesdropping on some women on her flight to Richmond. All of us writers, scribbled the story down thinking, “This could work in my book.”

What did they say? They were talking about attending a wedding, and one of the women, in her best Southern drawl said, “First we’re going to socialize, then we’re going to scrutinize.”

Seriously, I couldn’t write it better than that.

While I try to be professional – after all, it is a black tie evening – I couldn’t help but introduce myself to Jan Karon, whose books I devoured during a few weeks after discovering them. Her Mitford Series, Adriana said, changed lives. And as Jan told me, “I try to give you a bit of peace from today’s crazy world.”

I can’t wait to read In the Company of Others, which won the People Choice Award for Fiction this year. She said of her win,” I am shaken, thrilled and delighted.” And she shared what almost everyone in the audience thinks about libraries, “It makes my heart beat faster to be in a library.”

And the evening is about being seen. Even Adriana admits to falling prey to it, describing David Baldacci, who presented the Emyl Jenkins Sexton Fiction Award, as “eye candy.” In talking with him about it later, he just laughed and rolled his eyes. I’ve always enjoyed his books, but as an aspiring author, I appreciate the time he has always given to writers.

The award he presented is always bittersweet as I remember my dear friend Emyl Jenkins. She continues to sprinkle fairy dust on me from afar, and for that I always will be grateful.

The highlight this year for me was watching my friend Julie Campbell win the People’s Choice Award for Nonfiction for her book The Horse in Virginia.

For many in the audience, the highlight was watching Earl Hamner receive the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented by John-Boy Walton himself, Richard Thomas. As Hamner spoke, I was taken back to my childhood days, watching The Waltons with my family. At the beginning and ending of each episode, we heard Hamner speak and wrap up the episode, usually with a philosophical thought.

Thomas described each episode as “an American short story” and said of Hamner, “He wrote these wonderful words for us to say.”

Hamner told the audience, “Virginia has given me fine gifts,” including “the wellspring of everything I have written.”

Until next year’s Library of Virginia event, good night John-Boy.

Libraries Open Doors

Attending the 13th Annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards last evening, I was struck by how each other talked about how libraries had influence them.

Whether it was opening new worlds of exploration or setting the stage for future writing careers, libraries were the cornerstone of everyone’s story.

Attending the awards feels good. I love books. I always have and hope I always will. So to be able to meet the authors whose works have swept me away is always a thrill. Last night I met Barbara Kingsolver. A great friend turned me onto her works many years ago. Her early works had a profound impact on my outlook.

“The Bean Trees,” which is described as “a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places,” was an early favorite. More recently, I was riveted by “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and this summer I embarked on my own journey to eat off the land. So I started my own garden.

Kingsolver was honored last night  for her newest book, “Lacuna.” And I was delighted to spend a few minutes chatting with her about my garden and its success. And I was overjoyed when she signed my book.

I also attend for inspiration. Adriana Trigiani hosted the evening. She continues to remind me to “just write.” She continues to encourage all of us writers to finish our projects. I attended with a friend who did finish her project. Julie Campbell’s “The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History,” is now on book shelves.

As a child, libraries opened the doors to whole new worlds. As an adult, I continue to find inspiration and friendship in my library.

Thank you Library of Virginia for an incredible evening.