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6 Best Writing Tips – Besides “Read Lots” and “Show Don’t Tell”

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Do You Write Morning Pages? That May Be One of the Best Writing Tips of All...

Just like one man’s trash is another’s treasure, my best writing tips may be your tripe. But can agree we’re tired of writing tips like “show, don’t tell” and “read voraciously”?

Here’s a bit ‘o wisdom from a writer who just won the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award (formerly the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award).

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver.

This isn’t one of my writing tips, but it maybe it should be. Whenever I get stuck on an introduction or transition, I resort to saying what I want to communicate. Sounds simple, right? It’s actually not.

If you want to improve your writing skills, read lots of books like The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well. And show how they affect you – don’t just tell about it! Or worse, forget about it.

Okay, fellow scribes, let’s jump into the deeper, yummier end of the tip pool!

6 Best Writing Tips – Besides “Read Lots” and “Show Don’t Tell”

The best way to find the writing tips you need to hear is to trot out your writing. The more you write and the more feedback you get, the more you’ll learn about your writing style. And the more you know about your style, the better you’ll see the foibles you need to fix.

In the meantime…

Sprinkle crumbs of chocolate (or drops of wine) throughout your writing

To keep readers (including editors, agents, and publishers) reading, plant yummy tidbits throughout your piece, starting with the first sentence. This will keep your readers reading, hungry for more.

Here’s one of my favorite sentences in Afterbirth – a book that reveals parents’ dirty secrets. “What can I tell you about my personal battle with breast cancer? Oh, wait a minute, that’s next week. This one’s about kids.”

That was Matthew Weiner’s introduction to his essay, “Go Easy on the Old Man.” Why did I choose this as an example of one of the best writing tips? It made me stop, think, and laugh. And I was curious about whether he did struggle with cancer, and how he makes a living as a writer. Above all, I wanted to keep reading.

Picture your stories as full circles

A story can be circular, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some stories even end up in the same place they started. The best stories (and articles, and essays, and poems) have hints – whispered references – to the beginning throughout the whole story. That’s called a thread, I believe.

One of the best writing tips I’ve heard is not only to leave a trail of breadcrumbs throughout your story, but to plant the last crumb where you left your first one. You want readers to sample one crumb at a time, nibbling or devouring your story. You want them to leave the table satisfied.

If I was a really really really good blogger, I’d continue this analogy to the very end. I’d start it at the beginning, and carry it through.

But I don’t have time to be that good. Georgie Girl needs a walk, and so do I.

Take your editor seriously

Here’s a writing tip from someone I don’t know:

“Assume your editor is right. For example, I just got comments back from my advisor on two dissertation chapters. He thinks my second chapter is off topic. So he suggested that I add a rationale for it. (Notice, too, how he didn’t just say 86 it. I like that he respects my choice for writing it.) My first reaction was, ‘I thought I explained why it’s there already.’ I realized that it is there to me, but it isn’t obvious enough to someone else. It’s worth going from the assumption that it’s not clear, doing the work of (what I think of as re-) explaining it, and seeing where that leads.” Andrea La Rose, in the comments section of Good Writing Tips.

Instead of fighting what other people think of your writing, open your mind. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong…but give it some thought before you get all huffy puffy and offended.

Look for ways to include literary techniques 

One of the best writing tips is to find the balance between plumping up your prose and writing simply. On one hand, you want to be colorful and unique, right? On the other, you need to be clear and succinct.

Learn how literary techniques such as personification, alliteration, dialogue, symbolism, contrast, parallelism, oxymorons, etc can improve your writing. Here’s the most recent example of personification I’ve read: “Normality strolled back into the Goldins’ home, then hung around as if it’d never left.” (From More Than it Hurts You).

Ramp your writing up a level by keeping a list of literary techniques at your fingertips. Look for ways to insert them in your writing. The more you do it, the more natural and easy it’ll be.

Be aware of your writing foibles, flaws, snafus

I abuse exclamation marks and run-on sentences. So when I edit, I’m on the lookout for ways to divide complicated sentences into short, snappy sentences. Do you struggle with grammar, sentence fragments, verbiosity, flowery language? Figure your flaws. Fix them.

If you don’t have any flaws, read 10 Most Common Writing Mistakes, Plus 10 Remedies. Maybe you’ll find some there!

Send your writing out with a kiss…and then detach 

This is one of the best writing tips to keep you sane: after you’ve poured your heart and soul into your work, after you’ve detached yourself enough to slash and revise heartlessly, and after you’re satisfied that you’ve done the best you can…let go of your writing. Give your manuscript a big fat smooch, and send it off to the editor or publisher. It’s not yours anymore.

Hungry for more? Read 6 Ways to Make Your Writing Better. They’re from Pat Walsh, author of 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might.

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I showed you my best writing tips…will you show me yours? Even if you think they’re trite, or tripe. I welcome them all!

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7 thoughts on “6 Best Writing Tips – Besides “Read Lots” and “Show Don’t Tell””

  1. Excellent tips as always, Laurie! Practical and honestly, not the ones I’ve heard so often before. I am a BIG believer in trust your editor/s. I have learnt SO much from listening to what they had to say and then, applying that feedback to my writing. In fact, today, when I have clients return and compliment me on my writing, I send out a silent prayer of thanks to all my editors.

  2. This post stood out to me because I’m sick of being told ‘show don’t tell’. Thanks for the info, especially like the first one, and the whole idea of letting it go and placing it in someone else’s hands. Easier said than done sometimes!

  3. I love hints throughout the book! When a writer assumes you’re a smart reader and can guess something by yourself, even if you don’t find the answers you still are engaged. Makes reading much more exciting. 🙂 And rereading – even more. I love those aha-moments – “that’s why it was like this, now I see!” 😀

  4. Hi Laurie-
    Good stuff! Especially the bit about leaving tasty morsels throughout the story. I must remind myself that as I write from point to point, I must leave tantalizing tastes to keep the reader salivating.

    I also think that looking for places to practice literary technique is a huge one. I’ve found my writing intensely more read-able when I take small sections of it and really focus on beefing it up with technique. Sometimes one carefully written sentence makes such a difference.

    One thing you partly mentioned, but which I think bears emphasis is joining a writers group to keep yourself regularly writing and submitting work to be read by others. This has helped me enormously, and forced my writing to the next level.

    Thank you for posting this!


  5. Hi Laurie,
    Your new post has some interesting tips to offer.’Sprinkle some chocolate crumbs’ and ‘wine drops’ throughtout your writing.And the most important, to thread your writing with a natural flow of ideas. Then to scatter some tidbits here and there.No doubt these are the essential elements of a saleable product.They sound simple but sweatingly hard to practice.
    Literary references add grace,sophistication and a touch of scholarship into writing and also enhances the beauty of expression for its on sake. For instance, decades back I read some Mills and Boon stuff and used to enjoy the appropriateness of the language to weave the aspects of romantic love between a man and a woman.These books with little content transport you to a world of fantasy where there is utmost tenderness and pure emotion and provide you relaxation and pleasure.All this with the poetry of the language,where words act.

  6. Laurie, I agree completely about detachment, even though in practice it’s very difficult to do. I’ve seen several writers falter badly or even quit writing after a manuscript or story was rejected.