February 1, 2023

Encouragement for beginning writers

Posted in beginning to write tagged , at 9:26 am by Rebecca Hein

Part Two: Be careful who you talk to

I’ve learned the hard way that many people feel free to ridicule “unsuccessful” writers. I discovered that if I mentioned that I liked to write, most of the time people jeered at me. (See my series about this: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

I began to think, Why bother? What do I gain by talking about my writing to unsupportive, even scornful people?

I realized that it’s much better just to get on with the job and do my best to find encouragement. I didn’t join any writers’ groups at that stage of my development, but this is certainly an option for any writer.

But the writing itself is your most important activity. Write daily or as long as possible, and ignore people with unhelpful attitudes.

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January 25, 2023

Encouragement for beginning writers

Posted in beginning to write, starting to write tagged , , at 9:05 am by Rebecca Hein

Part One: Start and don’t stop

Don’t be afraid to start. Arm yourself with the knowledge that nobody needs to know you’re writing.

I began writing in high school, encouraged by an exceptional creative writing teacher—supportive and no-nonsense. Writing became my serious hobby, and my early attempts weren’t great, typically for a beginner. Cringing at the low quality of my work, I continued.

I was a cellist, and knew from my musical training that beginners don’t play as well as more advanced performers. Student recitals and grade school orchestra concerts attract parents and teachers who want to listen, not because of the quality of performance, but because they’re involved in the students’ musical education.

Nobody expects a beginning writer to generate publishable work. So don’t expect it of yourself. Above all, don’t believe that good writers spring out of nowhere. They weren’t skilled from the very beginning, but had to climb the same uphill slope as everyone else.

If you persevere, your writing will improve, and also become easier.

January 18, 2023

Listening to your writing

Posted in music and writing, Revising, self-evaluation tagged , , at 3:15 pm by Rebecca Hein

You can learn to evaluate your own writing. This is one of the most important skills I learned from my best mentor, the late Ron Kenner. He was an excellent freelance editor.

I was struggling with revisions, not seeing what should be changed or, if I did see it, not knowing how to rewrite it. Ron, knowing I was a cellist, said, “When you’re playing the cello, you can tell when you’ve played a wrong note.”

I agreed.

“When you read through something you’ve written, you’ll also notice where it feels and sounds wrong.”

Sure enough, those passages jumped out at me as not being quite right. And, as I listened to what I was writing while revising, I could also tell if something was right or not.

You don’t need to be a musician to be able to detect weak spots in your writing. All people have a sense of what rings true and what doesn’t. You just have to believe in this ability and search for it within yourself. This process may take some time, but it’s important to persevere.

Eventually you’ll notice that your writer’s “ear” is sharper, and that evaluating and revising are easier.

January 11, 2023

Be consistent with style

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 10:42 am by Rebecca Hein

“Style” here refers to whether you use digits or words for numbers; whether you abbreviate states; how you treat plural possessives (James’s dog was a collie. Or James’ dog was a collie.); and other such decisions. Which style you follow, whether Chicago Manual, MLA, or another is less important than being consistent.

It’s simple to keep track of your style decisions. The Chicago Manual of Style (13th edition, 1982), p. 62, fig 2.2, recommends ruling off a single sheet in sixths (I use quarters), assigning a few letters of the alphabet to each section, and writing your style decisions in those spaces. For example, in S-Z, you might write “States, don’t abbreviate.” In A-F, you could write “Ages (of people), use words, not digits.”

It pays off, saving time and attention later. It also makes your work that much better.

January 4, 2023

An editing trick

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 5:32 am by Rebecca Hein

A simple editing trick, once you know it, is likely to impress editors and agents. Or, at the very least, it will trim your writing.

Omit superfluous phrases such as “who is” and “was a.” For example, “George, who is an excellent pianist, nonetheless suffers from stage fright” becomes “George, an excellent pianist, nonetheless suffers from stage fright.” You could further edit this to “George, an excellent pianist, still has stage fright.”

“Anne was an excellent harpist, but didn’t play with orchestras much” becomes “Anne, an excellent harpist, didn’t play with orchestras much.”

It’s amazing how much these few changes will improve your writing.

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