Category Archives: Pep talks

What 4 Activities can make you a Top-Notch Writer?

What are the essentials for your progress as a writer?

Briefly, they are: Writing, Reading, Studying, and Thinking.

Are you writing enough?

We all know writing helps us improve our writing skills. So this will be brief.

Write a lot, and not just in your chosen niche. Any writing helps move you in the direction of being as good as you want to be.

  • Keep a writing journal that records your insights and writing experiences and anything else you find meaningful.
  • Write an ad for your up-and-coming book.
  • Write recipies.
  • Write anything, including your chosen niche.
  • Using words, recalling the right words, better words, stuggling with syntax–it all moves you forward to some degree.

Are you reading enough?

In the evening, especially after a hard day at it, I like a good TV show. Currently it’s CSI:NY. I think well written dramas can add to our story-telling bag of tricks.

But I don’t want to indulge that too much. It’s like desert after a good nutritious meal. First the meal, then the reward.

There is that all important reading within your niche’s range. Study your competition, find out what’s being read, and how those author’s go about putting together their pieces. Beginnings. Endings. Style. Word-choice–all very important.

There’s reasearch you need to do.

Holly Lisle advises us to read everything. That’s the eclectic approach where you read whatever and add grist for your creative mill, grocery items for your pantry. Fuel for your subconscious mind’s engine.  Anyway, random is fun.

And you studying too?

A craftsman studies his trade, and artist his tools, and even plumbers need to learn skills and essential knowledge. All benefit from exposure to the work of accomplished practicioners. Are you not just reading fiction-writing how to books or copy-writing how-to courses, but studying, and doing the exercises–even if you have to make them up–that can accelerate your growth as a writer? Are you reading that short story or novel and getting caught up in it, and then forgetting to give it some close scrutiny to learn exactly how the author did it?

And finally, are you thinking though it all?

Nutrition involves eating, digesting, AND assimilating your food.

Until you have done all the above AND made it yours by discovering your own insights and confirmations of all the good points you have come across, until it flows out your fingers hitting the keyboard’s keys, until it’s so much a part of you that you find that writing knowledge and wisdom popping up in your finished pieces–is it really yours?

Which of these activities have you found most helpful to your growth as a writer?

Do You Think Things Through?

Do you ever in your haste to get things done, give in to a bit of mental laziness and not think things through enough? Or do you make a mental note to fix something and then later forget to do it?

Don’t be hasty.

We all want our writing and our stories to be good, the best we can make them. Powerful writing gets noticed even in a flooded marketplace. But I think, too, we can be tempted–or even succumb to the temptation at times–to conclude that what we have written is good enough and to ignore that quiet, nagging voice that says, “you need to check that” or “that’s not quite right” or “is my writing dull here?”

This is important for all writing.

I’m going to use examples below from fiction writing, but of course the need for careful thought applies to nonfiction writing too.

What about first drafts?

Now just in case you want to say to me at this point: “Yeah, but I like to write by my intuition, my heart, and make it up as I go.”  If you do want to say that, let me add, “I’m with you. When you’re writing that first draft or plowing through your word-count for the Nano contest, go for it. Burn through it. Absolutely. But, as we’ve all heard, good writing is re-written. So I absolutely also recommend careful and thorough thinking-through after that hot piece of writing has cooled down. Even invite your critical left-brain to go for it big-time.”

So what are my points on thinking things through?

1. Thinking-through is vital for depth in writing.

Careful thought can uncover meaning in your story you didn’t see before, themes, symbols, clever twists. Depth can add value and enjoyment for your reader. You might just come up with insights that take your work from good to great.

2.  Thinking-through is vital for plausibility.

Would your character really do that?

Yesterday, I was stuck. I realized that in a key chapter in my novel, I had my protagonist too easily let his 12-year-old daughter, his one and only remaining loved one, go on an obviously dangerous outing. Something no caring parent would do. Yet what happens on that outing is essential to my plot, so I was pushing my luck. I needed to get her on that outing. Then I thought it through and came up with a solution: miscommunication.

Plausibility is super-important whether you’re writing a realistic this-world story or a fantasy with a setting in a strange and alien world. Things still have to make sense to your reader.

3. Does it work all the way through?

Thinking things through is vital to assure that your story or copy works all the way through. Without that careful thought, it’s oh so easy to miss the need for a transition, the need for a brief explanation, or the realization that you have your character acting decidedly out of character–and many other possible problems you need to fix.

And the best thinking-through includes asking the question: how will my reader react to what I have written?

4.  Thinking things through also can open you up to the possibilities.

How about those lovely surprises that tie things together at the end? Surprises that readers love, that make your reader say, for example, “Oh, yeah, now I know why he didn’t propose!” Also, taking the time re-read your chapters and do some hard thinking can remind you to follow-up on those hints (plants) you crafted early-on and forgot about after several thousand more words.

Todd Henry in his excellent book The Accidental Creative writes: “Assumptions can be disastrous to our creative process because they limit how we look at problems” (page 72). We can, if we are not careful, let assumptions artificially limit our options (Page 75).. Don’t assume it all works until you have checked it and you’re sure.

Don’t miss choice opportunities that can make your work move vivid, more alive. Or as Jerry Cleaver wrote in his book Immediate Fiction, while emphasizing the need for constant conflict and suspense, “Can you make it worse?”

Dare I add…

Careful thought for important life-decisions can be a good idea too? Most of our decisions offer more than one option, and decisions can be powerful.

Back to writing.

My experience with getting seriously stuck made me realize that I need to go back and think through my novel–at least at every major point in the plot–and not just when I get stuck.

How about you?

Do you ask yourself hard and uncomfortable questions about your story or your copy? What do you do when you get stuck?


A bunch of dynamic strategies for improving your writing…

Been wondering what you can do to improve your writing? Want some ideas, activities that can build a fire?

Help is on the way (sorry, borrowed that from the Democratic National Convention a few years back. Catchy isn’t it?). Take a look below…

  • Study what other writers are doing–in your niche and others.
  •  Don’t  just write choppy  short sentences. Vary your sentence length. Listen to the music of your words, the rhythm of your sentences and phrases. You’ll be improving your writing right away.
  • Read good books on writing, and practice what they preach, do any exercises they include, at least once or twice or thrice. Or invent your own.
    • For instance, Getting the Words Right–a classic on that subject, one of the best on editing, revising and re-writing every written.
    •  Or, on novel-writing: Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook–guarnateed to give you some new ideas.
    •  Or, get some powerful rhetorical devices under your belt with Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers.
    •  Or, read a brief chapter a day from James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers.
    • For nonfiction, Roy Peter Clark has two excellent books out: Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer; and Help! for Writers, 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces.
    • …It’s a wide-open opportunity…
  • Read and re-read well-written books, especially those you like a lot. Which genre? Doesn’t matter. Absorb greatness wherever you find it. Reading best-sellers couldn’t hurt either. When you find one that resonates powerfully with you, study it, dissect it, find out why and how it affects you so potently.
  • Work on your sentences. Don’t be satisfied with those come-easily versions that pop into your mind–unless they came to you super-effective as is. Try various things, different wordings, especially when what you just wrote doesn’t seem quite right.
  • Make your own greatness as a writer an ongoing quest, a never-ending preoccupation. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t quit. Get more determined. And work at identifying they types of writing activities that catapult your writing skills forward.
  • Have a readily-accessible and reliable place to record your insights before they get away from you. Take them seriously. Cross-reference them, index them, bookmark them. Watch them grow–some maybe into a whole new book or essay or post.
  • Dare to write some of the wild sentences and phrases that occur to you. Hey, you can always edit them out later–that is, if it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Search for, research, find and join the right writer’s group for you. You will be amazed at times what your fellow group-members with tell you about your writing–aspects, both positive and negative,  that you might never see looking at your monitor in relative isolation. (Mine is The Writers Huddle, find it here:  Please note: this group is currently closed to new members, but will open again one of these days. If you find yourself interested, add your email address to the waiting list.)
  • Be eclectic. Be open to ideas and sources of information all around you, all the time, wherever you go. Again, have a portable and convenient way of recording it all–like a digital voice recorder or the traditional pad and pen.  Like that old Candid Camera line, “And remember when you least expect it…” (not there I go again, dating myself). Ideas can occur to you at the strangest moments.
  • Be optimistic. If it’s not the Great American Novel today,  it could be tomorrow. If your magazine article doesn’t blow the socks off and rattle the teeth of the publication’s’ editor today, you could make it better tomorrow, couldn’t you? If your song doesn’t melt the hearts of those you sing it to, try a different toon. But for goodness sake, don’t give up on it.
  • Take advantage of all the blogs on writing and the books and the advice your readers or your editor or coach give you. Try out their suggestions, and when they help you make improvements, remember how and  practice more.

In other words, worry less, do more. Try the above strategies. See if they build a fire.

Would you like to comment and add any strategies of your own? Please do!



Are you ready for the challenge?

How good of a writer can you become? How much do you want it?

30 years ago John Naisbett published his book Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming out lives. It was based on ten years of research and wound up on the New York Times bestseller list for two years.  Much, if not all, of what Naisbett predicted has come true.

We are living what he predicted.

We are in the age of information he foresaw.  The lion’s share of our  economy is based on the exchange of information.  Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet and blogging, think tanks, research institutions and corporations, international news agencies–all those and many more more traffic information.  It has become the coin of the modern world.

Bottom line: Having skill with your language is vital.

It always has been, really. But now more than ever, it is indeed vital to your success. It is vital if you want to make yourself heard, not to mention be taken seriously. It is vital in your relationships with the people who are dear to you.  It’s part of being human.

It’s an addiction

If you’re a writer, or if you merely want to feel comfortable calling yourself a writer, understand that being accomplished at speaking or in conversation and at putting words on a page is a life long pursuit.  Good writers get better because they want to. It’s an addiction, a good one.

Is there a writer you admire?

His words move you, amaze you, tear up your eyes or make you laugh? You think, “Wow, would I like to write like that!” Your next thought will probably be, “Yeah, but I’ll never be that good.” Hey, I’ve been there.

Don’t be hasty.

How good you can get remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

Your potential is alwyas there, waiting.

One thing I’ve learned about human beings: our potential is real and mostly uncharted territory.  You just never know how far you can get until you try–and keep trying. A terrible accident and a little girl is trapped under the wheels of an SUV, and her frantic father nearly kills himself lifting the car up by himself, and she is rescued.  Climbers survive a freezing storm and make it to the top of Everest, then live to tell about it.

And Jon Morrow, a life long victim of muscular dystrophy, who has faced death several times, who must use speech recognition software and a mouse moved with his lips to write, is now one of the most successful and respected bloggers on the Internet. And if that is not enough, the Web has dropped into our laps amazing opportunity.

So what will you say?

What do you want to tell us? And more to the point, how well can you tell us?

Will your words be dead on arrival, or will they grip us?

Will they persuade us, challenge us with language that wakes us from a walking slumber and delight us like wind chimes in a  breeze. Will it clobber us with potent ideas that cause us to resonate inside with silent shouts of “Yes!”

Being a writer is a good thing.

Becoming a better writer is a worthy goal.  Yes, it takes work. It takes a lot of work, and not just on an occasional weekend. You have to keep at it.

So what can you do?

1. Make up your mind that you will get better–as good as you can get.

You’re in this for real, you’re serious, and you will go for it. And you won’t quit, even when you fail and get discouraged at times. You’ll fight for what you want. You’ll do the work.

Sandra Madeira of just completed 366 days in a row writing blog posts, each day.  She works. She has a family, children to take care of and read to at bedtime. She has more than one blog. And today, a year later, she is a better and more confident writer. She and her daughter baked a cake for the celebration. You should have seen her smile.

2.  Put that piece of writing by an author whose writings you love on the lab table and dissect it, analyze it. Find out how it works. Discover its secrets. Learn its magic. Then do it!

3. Be on a perpetual quest, not just to get better at the writing craft, but also to figure out the things you can do that will be worth your time and study and produce tangible results in your writing.

And you’ll pause at some point on your writing journey and notice something: I really am getting better.

It’ll warm your heart.

“Pros are always looking for a chance to get better, to improve their craft just a little more.”
— Jeff Goins in You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One), Kindle Location, location 198.


Note: Sandra Madeira’s blog address as I listed it in the post above has changed. It is now

You’re invited to check out her posts which I anticipate will continue to  include interesting insights from her writing journey as well as her usual practical writing advice.