We hardly ever use our tub, preferring the walk-in shower, but I keep cleaning the tub. And I love that tub. When I clean it faithfully, it shines and shines. Kind of like writing. If you practice and practice, the words become all shiny and bright, bringing a glow each time they’re read.
I have to remind myself of that and make time for rewrites, even when I do a short blog post like this one. Oh, you’ll find the occasional typo or other error when I’ve just not checked as closely as I should or despite my best efforts my eyes have missed something. But most days, my post is error-free and, I hope, an interesting read.
Writing a novel is a little like cleaning house. If you keep putting off all the revisions that deep down you know need to be done (like destroying spider webs drifting in the slanting sunshine) you’ll never have that shining book. If you know there is a problem with your opening scene or your main character is just a little flat, fix it. Buckle down and rewrite the sucker, even though it takes days or weeks. Sigh.
Here are 7 Ways to Make Your Writing Shine
- Check that your verbs are active and that you haven’t got caught in a web of “to be” words. Even though Hamlet used it with great results–he was talking about suicide, for Heaven’s sakes–the verb “to be” can make for dull prose.
- Make your characters real; that is, not perfect. Do you know anyone who is perfect? I don’t. And yet we like and even love these people, perhaps because of their idiosyncrasies. They make us feel good because, like us, they have faults. If misery loves company, so does imperfection.
- Polish up your sentences. Vary their length. Give your reader a break from long, drawn-out lists of thoughts and feelings and mountain scenes and rivers and solitary goats tripping along beside babbling brooks, their whiskers dripping with sparkling drops of nectar from the gods. Wow! Isn’t that sentence nasty? On so many levels? Of course, I exaggerate but you get the point. Do you see how fast your eyes moved over the two short bursts at the start of this point? And got absolutely bogged down with the long one? The judicious varying of sentence length and type will work wonders for your prose.
- Learn the correct usage of “it’s” and “its”. Here I go again harping on this one. If you are a writer you want to be able to use the language properly and join the ranks of those of us who decry its desecration. (Did you notice its?) It’s a shame to see talented and educated people misuse these two forms. For a lesson check out this post where I ranted about this one other day.
- Study the artful use of dialogue to enliven your story, show characters at their worst or their best, and to make scenes real. Many good books on writing devote chapters on dialogue. One example is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers which has chapters entitled Dialogue Mechanics, See How it Sounds, Interior Monologue, and Easy Beats, among others. I think I’ll go back and read those again, now that I see them once more.
- Voice. Your voice as a writer. This one has been as ethereal as that floating cobweb back up a few paragraphs. For me, anyway. Anne Lamott explains it well in bird by bird in the chapter entitled–what else?–Finding Your Voice. Get her book, read it, reread it, take it to bed with you, read it until the ink starts coming off the pages.
- Forgive yourself. Yes, I know, that’s a strange one but if you tend to be on the perfectionist side, you’re going to get awfully angry with yourself at times. When you realize you should have done a major plan of some sort before you actually started writing. When you forget to follow the formatting rules for a submission and get lambasted by a writing professional. Or when you realize that short story you spent a week developing is just utter crap. Forgive yourself and then find the way to overcome the latest obstacle.
Time to take a good long soak in that shiny tub.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. What might you add to it to help your fellow writers polish their writing to the shiny stage? If you’re not a writer, what might you add for writers to make your reading life heavenly? Consider leaving a comment below.