Explanations of MLA, APA, the basics of writing a business letter, résumé writing and much more is available at the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) website. The information available to writers of all types and abilities at OWL is both broad and deep. This is quoted directly from the website —
“We offer over 200 free resources including:
- Writing and Teaching Writing
- Grammar and Mechanics
- Style Guides
- ESL (English as a Second Language)
- Job Search and Professional Writing”
OWL even has a set of podcasts available that cover rhetoric, logos, pathos, and ethos. It’s worth the time to check out and explore.
Tessa Adams is another proud member of Fine Lines. She keeps “writing on” by blogging. She’s one of the co-authors of Family Footnote (familyfootnote.com), a site that is dedicated to “discussing being women, moms, and wives in this fun world of ours.” The month-old blog is one to check out. Recent topics have focused on time for self, lying to your kids, and being a parent who needs to say no. Here’s a nice line as a kind of teaser — “I’d like to pretend my family is the one you never notice in Target.” Read the whole blog entry by clicking this link.
A favorite professor of mine provided a wealth of practical writing and editing advice to his graduate students about preparing papers to be submitted for consideration of publication years ago that I continue to use. It’s applicable to all kinds of works—fiction, non-fiction research, personal essays—and incredibly practical. The overarching thought is a final draft isn’t truly final until you run your piece of writing though several steps to make it stronger. A boiled down set of ideas and active voice sentences make for shorter, sturdier submissions.
Dr. John McKenna (who has been a friend of Fine Lines for years) is the source of what follows below, and he’s a man who knows what editors and readers are looking for. His writing career has stretched out over more than 40 years, and his poetry has been has been included in journals like Ariel IV, Chaminade Literary Review, The Cape Rock, The Climbing Art, English Quarterly, Eureka Literary Magazine, Hawaii Review, Ideals Magazine, Journal of Kentucky Studies, The Louisville Review, Midwest Quarterly, Nebraska Presence: The State of Poetry, and many, many more.
The short version of Dr. McKenna’s practical tips:
- Use Word’s spelling and grammar check. This is a basic, given point. The higher-level approach is that you can go into the program’s preferences and turn on grammar readability analytics, which provide great information on a document’s percent of passive voice sentences and reading grade level. It’s powerful stuff and free. Decreasing an article’s passive voice percentage to below 20 (below 15 or ten is better) and keeping to a reasonable grade level (like eight to 11) helps.
- Read your text out loud. If something sounds odd to your ear it’s worth looking at.
- If you have time, enlist a copy editor. Another set of eyes will spot problems more effectively than a writer working alone. My wife is a nitpicky English teacher, and that helps.
- Look for words like “very,” “really,” “almost always,” in your work and eliminate them. Sentences are stronger without these weasel words that sap the strength of statements.
- If you are writing for yourself, settle on style points you like and stick with them. I like the Oxford comma. I double space after periods. Times Roman is the best font for papers. For citations, it’s MLA all the way. No one can tell me different.
- If you are writing for a publication you want to be in, find out what that publication’s preferred submission standards are and follow them to the letter. Making a written work adhere to someone else’s preferences isn’t selling out how you do things. Instead, it’s showing respect in an attempt to get your ideas to a wider audience.
Finally, once you have a written piece where you want it, go back through and look for opportunities to shorten. People can and do overwrite, and editing out the fat of a paper makes the writing stronger and more memorable. Cutting copy is not a sign of weakness. It’s smart and a sign of writing confidence. Like Dr. McKenna said to a class I was in years ago, “(t)hat 15-page paper that is good is likely even better at 12. It might be excellent at ten.”
Writing takes thought and effort. Taking that written piece and building it for speed takes thought and effort . . . and a willingness to keep working a few steps further.
Guest Blogger Tim Kaldahl is student teaching during the fall semester of 2015. After a 20-year career in public relations, he hopes to become an English teacher. His nonfiction writing has included news articles, press releases, magazine features, and speech writing. He also has written several 10-minute one act plays and a full-length play.
I hope you agree, it’s better late than never to share my notes and lessons from last year’s “Writing as Healing” panel sponsored by Fine Lines.
We had a panel of authors who rocked my world.
First came Abigail, who requested to not have to go first, but did anyway. She bravely shared her truths, how the truth feels, and how she faces it. Then, Kathy shared her heartbreak, her honesty, and how writing helped her. How writing keeps her son’s name in the conversation. Suzanne gave us beautiful words among hard lessons. Her storytelling wove around the room and embraced us. She reminded us of the rewards after the pain. She asked us to be truthful, see the joyful bits, and inspired random acts of storytelling to share with the universe. Start that unknown conversation. Share and be shared.
All of our panelists emphasized that everyone has the chance to show purpose with words and live through the tough bits. By sharing her journey, each person has come to help others, others who have grieved, and those who need to remember. Life is fragile and precious.
When and What to Share?
When it comes to trauma and grief or whatever you’re working through, time does not equal readiness to share your work. Write for yourself first. Then, when you’re ready, polish. Be sure there is a message. Perhaps a resolution. When you hit send or publish, you have a responsibility to the reader, what is your gift to them?
Not a me-moir, (As memoirs are often described by agents and publishers.) too centric and full of unmanaged bits. You have to tame your story. Give this portion of your life an arc, a relatable beginning, middle and end. Fill it with language that moves. These things will make it a gift to the reader.
It’s Your Story
Your grief, stress, trauma or any life difficulty is real and yours and it is not to be compared. Write to release. Drink water. Breathe. Take breaks. Empower yourself with empathy and fill your soul with the stories of humanity.
Submission and Rejection
Don’t be crushed by rejection. No one is rejecting your truth or your experience. What is most commonly being rejected is form, style, and fit. Your story must fit into where you send it, and there are reasons you should know (by reading writer guidelines and copies of published materials) and reasons you can’t know, like there is already a similar piece set-up in publication or similar editorial factors that aren’t public, yet.
The most important lesson is to let go. For many of us, we let go by letting the words go. Giving them the freedom to surge from pen to paper or from fingers to keys, the words’ life is new but the pain’s energy dissipates, maybe never to disappear, but to release the power it once held. Writing is healing.
– Mardra Sikora
I prefer to write poetry, but I hardly ever shy away from a literary challenge. My interest in writing began when I was three years old. This is one of the main milestones in my life, because I started to read at this age. By the time I reached the fourth grade, I was reading on a college level and had started writing my own short stories and poetry. The summer after fourth grade ended, I turned nine.
My punishment was to write a two page paper on why what I did was wrong and why I would not do it again. In the midst of my nine-year-old anger, I wrote an entire page about how I was mad at my mother for giving me an assignment as a punishment and how unfair the entire situation was. On the back of that piece of paper, I simply wrote what I was really feeling, and as I wrote, the anger and the sadness fell away and I realized not only had I finished the assignment, but I created something meaningful.
I showed the sheet of paper to my mom, and she said, “Noni, this is good.”
I thought, “Sweet. I’m done. That means I’m not in trouble,” but she insisted that it was more than just a completed assignment.
Near the end of the summer, at the North Omaha Boys & Girls Club, a poetry contest was held. I apprehensively entered my writing into the competition. When it was my turn to present my piece, I stood in front of all of the other kids in the summer program, shaking and scared, and began to read. As I read, I noticed no one was talking like they did during other people’s turns. Every person in the room was watching me, and they were listening.
Once you realize that you have the power to command attention in a room, things change. Confidence is a powerful thing. I ended up winning that poetry contest and other contests in the future. When I was eleven, I won the If I Lived in a White House contest and was published in the book that followed.
To make a long story short, since I began writing in earnest about a decade ago, I have written countless songs, stories, and poems. My senior quote was one of my own poems.
I write often, but not at the behest of another. I write when I become overwhelmed with emotion and when I need to share what I am going through but lack the wherewithal to approach a friend to discuss it with me.
Writing is a tool I use to center myself, and I have been told that it aids those who read it. It is something I have always done, and I have never had to question whether or not it was something that I was good at. I write because I need to, and I believe others might need some of it, too.
– Noni Williams
*This is a #TBT – this essay was originally published in November of 2013. Write On!
Fine Lines accepts blog submissions for “Write On Wednesdays.” We feature writers from across the country and your input is welcome.
If you’re wondering what we love, here are some great posts to check out:
And of course, Those Lowdown Rejection Blues
- We prefer blogs 500-1200 words. Short can be sweet, however, give us a complete thought.
- Send in a word file. Do not indent paragraphs. We reserve the right to change format to be “blog friendly” as needed.
- Fellow writers are extra sensitive to technical errors; please proofread your work.
- Send a bio, a photo if you’d like, links to any of your website and social networks you want to share.
- If you have an appropriate photo that you own the rights to, yes, please share.
- We do accept previously published material, please note in your copy where it was published before and, if appropriate, a link.
- Fine Lines is fueled and manned by volunteers, please be patient with reply times. We read and appreciate all the work received.
- Ready? For blog submissions send to david.martin (at) finelines.org Subject: Fine Lines Blog Submission
# 10 ALWAYS carry and use recording devices
Paper and pen are the most obvious and low-tech tools to collect random thoughts. Many cellphones have a built in voice recorder; some have “note” capturing capability. (See your owner’s manual. Find it online if you don’t have the hardcopy booklet, or go to your cell carrier’s store and give the poor trainee check-in person the thing they crave the most; a chance to show how techy superior they are to us mere mortal users). You can also text or email yourself. There are many “apps” that can be found to record and organize your thoughts and your time, which is also important for you to schedule writing sessions.
I’m jealous of writers who carry a beautiful journal and nice pen. My thoughts are often recorded on receipts, coupons and napkins. The jottings are thrown into a container that is sifted through, occasionally. Eventually some of the legible concepts are transferred to my computer and cellphone, where they buzz around like mosquitos at a screen door. This blog originated as scribbles of words that stuck fast, before they could be slapped away by the flyswatter that clears my mind quickly for the next unattached swarm of thoughts that riddle my over active brain. # 3, 4 & 5 were written on an empty junk mail envelope. # 1, 6, & 9 were fitted on to a small corner left on a yellow legal pad. Some of it was lost on a fast food napkin. If it’s found and the original ideas were better than the culmination here, I’ll do an update to this blog entry.
My perpetual disorganization is so frustrating. I hope that you are not plagued with this horrible affliction and that you have a beautiful journal and fancy pen that never leaks and always marks on any surface!
# 9 Read, Read, Read
Reading is to a writer the daily jog of a marathon runner. You must be in shape, inspired, and practice a lot to have the endurance required to complete the race, a book, a poem, etc.
Reading makes me want to write. Reading anything stimulates the brain and provides information that can make your writing more complete. Reading best sellers can help with “market research.” Plus if you love to write, you probably already love to read, the trick is finding the balance between the two.
# 8 Invest in a formal education
Take writing classes, find a writing group, or come to Fine Lines Summer Camp. Invest time, if not money, because you need to never stop learning to develop your craft. Informally planning time to write is good but a degree or certificate from a learning institution can add credibility as well. It tends to build grammar skills and enhances your vocabulary, thus making your work more interesting and pleasant to read.
# 7 Create
Writers are artists. Our form of expression is in the written word but we should not limit ourselves to one medium. Paint, sculpt, do photography, dance, sing… You may find that releasing your creativity in a variety of ways clears your mind. Then the next time you sit to write you will be ready to fill your empty canvas with fresh words.
Dancers say it with movement and music. Sculptors use their hands and tools to express themselves. Painters and photographers convey messages with colors and textures. Each of them speaks as clearly as a writer, but more importantly can speak directly to a writer and inspire continuation of the original conversation.
# 5 Listen
Children have the best ideas. They tend to lack the filter that disregards silly thoughts. Silly thoughts can turn into brilliant works. Old people are full of it! Seriously, they are filled with knowledge, experience, real perspective that can only be gained over time.
Eavesdrop on strangers; even ask them for clarification if you hear something that needs some backstory. People tend to enjoy talking about themselves, especially if you tell them you area writer.
That’s what friends are for; they encourage us when we feel the words aren’t flowing. They will often remind us of our wins in the past and usually have a good stuff to share too. Interact and take note while you are with family. Many comedies have been developed by this practice. Interact with animals. My bunnies have the cutest tails, their so soft and fluffy – they make me laugh, sometimes they make me cry. Most parent parents will light up when given a chance to tell stories of their critters. Listen, be inspired, then share.
# 4 Talk to yourself
Really. It’s okay. And you should even answer. We must process our thoughts to have a beginning, middle and an end to a story. Some people process best by talking it out. If no one else is there to converse with, you must not let that hinder your creating. Remember we are artists, we are allowed to be eccentric.
Do not dismiss mundane events. Other people identify with the observations of everyday. They will relate to your works better if they can relate to your experiences.
Comedians always encounter people who tell them to “say something funny.” As a writer, I am often told, “You should write about that.” “That” being some little thing that inspired me to share it as a verbal topic of conversation. A few recent topic suggestions: a children’s series about my bunnies, stories about my job as a master poop scooper, and the funny things the dogs do while I try to figure out who left the pile, because we have to keep track of the number 1s and 2s, sometimes 3 (the hardest to detect), experience of mothering while trying to let our college freshman be a grown up (So scary, I had to call my parents), shopping – the adventure of the hunt, squirrels…
# 2 Share your work – celebrate your wins
Insecurity holds us back. Sharing will build your confidence. It also toughens the skin. A carpenter’s hands will hurt until they develop calluses, likewise a writer’s ego can easily bruise until a few tough but fair critics have shown you how to make your work better.
Celebrate your wins with the critics that were encouraging while correcting. They deserve kudos.
What do you want to be when you grow up? The only definitive answer to that question is, “I never want to grow up.” Kids can dream, they can join gangs, they can go to summer camp and they don’t have to worry about the consequences. They can just be…It still makes me feel giddy to call myself a “writer.” It’s what I want to be but I only really feel like a writer when I’m hanging with my gang of pencil wielding writers. Attending regular meetings with a positive/encouraging writer’s/editing group is the best non-writing habit every writer should practice.
Fine Lines Summer Writing Camp is the bonus. It’s a great place to find and form your gang.
[author] [author_info]Guest Post by Rhonda Buckhold. Rhonda is currently working on a novel, Booted, about workplace bullying in the military. Instead of sleeping she writes about life experiences, of being a military family, marriage, motherhood, dealing with adult ADHD, growing up poor in Western Nebraska, and even her pet rabbits. She has a degree in Interpersonal Communication from Creighton University. As the future unfolds, she plans to continue staying up at night working on a website and blog, “survivorspouse” for teaching and sharing better communication and relationship skills for the challenges of life; failure is not an option![/author_info] [/author]