The 15 Good Habits of Good Writers
As Presented at Comicpalooza 2014, Houston, Texas
Thoughts from Panelist Author Pamela Fagan Hutchins
- Write something EVERY day
- Read (a little) every day
- Watch a little TV or movies weekly
- Eliminate distractions, but write when and where it works best for you
- Observe and experience, actively
- Plan your writing (yep, I mean outline)
- Make notes or a journal of observations, anecdotes, and experiences
- Set up an editorial calendar of the things you’d like to write
- Blog, submit for contests, submit for publication, tell people you write
- Work with and support writers better than you are
- Help and encourage writers that aren’t as good as you
- Attend and teach conferences and workshops
- Write until the end before you edit
- Read your work aloud
- Write outside your comfort zone, in different genres and formats
Ava Jae, Five Good Habits for Writers, http://avajae.blogspot.com/2013/09/5-good-habits-for-writers.html
Charlotte Frost, Forming Good Writing Habits,http://www.phd2published.com/2013/11/13/forming-good-writing-habits-by-charlotte-frost/
Leo Babauta, Learn From the Greats: 7 Writing Habits of Amazing Writers,http://writetodone.com/learn-from-the-greats-7-writing-habits-of-amazing-writers/
Joe Bunting, Five Smarter Habits of Great Writers,http://writetodone.com/five-smarter-habits-of-great-writers/
Hamilton College, Habits of Effective Writers,http://www.hamilton.edu/writing/writing-resources/habits-of-effective-writers
Melissa Donovan, How to Develop Better Writing Habits,http://www.writingforward.com/better-writing/writing-habits
Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes award-winning and bestselling romantic mysteries and hilarious nonfiction, and moonlights as a workplace investigator and employment attorney. She is passionate about great writing, smart authorpreneurship, and her two household hunks, husband Eric and one-eyed Boston terrier Petey. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.http://pamelahutchins.com (Pamela is President of the Houston Writers Guild, http://houstonwritersguild.org, too.)
I laugh a little whenever someone asks me this question. For me, coming up with ideas is never a problem. My bigger problem is having too many ideas to write about, and not enough time to get them all on paper.
My desk is hidden under piles of pulp. Some stacks are neat – correspondence, bookkeeping, workshop information – other stacks look more like a Dr. Seuss drawing. They lean and teeter and seem to grow taller with almost no human intervention. Those piles are composed of little scraps of paper containing ideas that have hit me from out of nowhere.
Some contain a phrase or a verse. “Can a cowboy be a cowboy if all the cows are gone?” (A little prompt for a sci-fi project I’m developing.) Some contain url information for good website research. Still others hold tiny drawings for an item in a story. Add to those scraps a few business cards from new friends, a cut-out article from a magazine, a picture of someone I could use for character inspiration and a book recommendation scrawled across the back of a bank deposit slip.
Once a month – sometimes more frequently – I sit at my desk and organize the clutter. I have cubbies for all of my ACTIVE works-in-progress, and then I have files for ideas to be developed in the future. As I’m cleaning, I usually come up with another idea or two. “What would happen if I was cleaning and I discovered a letter from…?”
The point is that I’m a writer. I write. I daydream. I imagine. Every song on the radio paints a scene in my head. The sound of an unusual dialect makes me wonder. The far-away expression of the woman in the diner booth next to mine tugs at my heart. Stories surround me and call to me and make demands of me. They wake me from sleep.
I have come to the realization that most of my ideas will never be published. Many may never make it out of the files of my imagination. Some stories will never be known by anyone other than me, and I am okay with that. One thing of which I am sure is that I will never run out of ideas.
©2014 Kimberly Black, kimblackink.com
Blue Mountain Lake in Arkansas is a place to relax, take long walks, and read. While my husband fished, I read three books last year—all relating to animals.
Orphan by Harry Haines, a fellow club member of Panhandle Professional Writers, has been on my reading list for five years. One aspect I found fascinating was how Harry intertwined local history and the business of quarterhorse racing into his novel’s plot. Author Diane Mowery, who home-schooled her youngsters, mentioned a fact not often included in book reviews: although the book is targeted to an adult audience, she can recommend it to teenagers. Here’s a suspense novel free of vulgarity and expressions that offend readers with religious values.
When our precious KittyCat died, my friend Suzi gave me and my husband Aubrey a copy of the book, Dewey: the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. That same day I gave Aubrey Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz.
You may have heard of Dewey, the library cat. Although he died in 2006, Dewey’s fame continues to flourish through his image on postcards, jigsaw puzzles, and especially sales and circulation of the book, Dewey: the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. It’s a moving story about a bedraggled kitten, rescued by librarian, Vicki Myron, after being left in the book drop of her town’s library.
Spencer, Iowa, was in the throes of an economic downturn when Dewey, almost dead, arrived on its library scene. Beginning with newspaper coverage of the contest that gave the kitten his official name–Dewey Readmore Books—the orange tabby garnered publicity.
As Dewey’s popularity increased among library patrons, the library evolved from a book warehouse to a community’s gathering place. His entertaining personality helped to revive the spirits of area residents fighting for survival in hard times. Stories about Dewey spread, at first from library newsletters to newspapers to national and then international media.
As an international celebrity, Dewey proved to be an economic asset as well. “When Dewey died in 2006 at the age of 19, his obituary appeared in over 250 newspapers, including the New York Times, USA Today and the Des Moines Register, and was announced on the national television evening news.”—www.deweyreadmorebooks.com.
“We still have 3 people (Kim, Joy and Paula) that worked at the library when Dewey was here. I was actually here the day he came,” said Kim Peterson in an email.
The sale of bookbags and other “Dewey” merchandize helps support library programs. Spencer’s adorable library cat continues to draw interest—daily emails, said Ms. Peterson, and “a few phone calls a month.”
Beach reading season is almost here. You can purchase the books through most book sellers or borrow them from many public libraries. All three books are available for loan from Amarillo’s public library system. Dewey (I give it two thumbs up) is also on a CD.
© 2013, Bernice W. Simpson
Passive voice plagues my writing. It creeps into my verbiage and wears away at clarity. I wrestle with alternatives to passive voice daily. I despise those little green squiggly lines that appear from the accusing finger of the grammar police. Passive voice fattens my word count, but it whittles away at the strength of my story.
What exactly is passive voice, and how do I stop it?
I recall Mrs. Whitworth, my fifth/ sixth grade teacher, warning us of the passive verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been. All those years ago I took notes and nodded, unaware of the true danger that lurked in these villains. When I find these words in my stories, I see red flags.
Like saturated fat in food, these words manifest themselves in our sentences and add inches without substance. They waste pages and gray cells.
Observe the differences in these two passages:
She had been walking for nearly an hour before she had discovered that her dog had been left at home. (20 words)
She walked an hour before discovering she left her dog at home. (12 words)
The first sentence is padded and unclear. “She had been walking…” You can trim that statement by fifty percent by changing it to, “She walked…”
Let’s continue. “…for nearly an hour…” Does it make a difference if it was fifty-four minutes or sixty-one? Unless it does, trim it. (This point doesn’t refer to passive voice, but to lean writing.)
“…before she had discovered…” Again, let’s slim the sentence to, “before discovering…” Feel the burn.
“…that her dog had been left at home.” Hmmm, who left her dog at home? We assume that she forgot the pooch, but without context, who knows? Let’s solve this with, “… she left her dog at home.” She executes the action.
Using only seventy percent of the words, we said the same thing, only more clearly. Is seventy percent a big deal? In a two hundred-page book that translates into a sixty page savings. Consider the trees we’ll conserve!
Is using passive voice always bad? Of course it’s not. I’m a big believer in moderation. Those who know say that five to eight percent passive voice is acceptable for most projects, but consult with your publisher. Even at five percent, examine your work to see if those passive terms are necessary.
How do I train myself not to use passive verse? For a first draft, I don’t worry about voice—I just get the words out! However, when I go back to rewrite and polish, I use the “find” tool in my word processing program, to highlight all the passive verbs listed above, one at a time.
Once I find each occurrence, I look at the passage for a more concise way to word it. The process can be daunting, but investing the effort now could pay with publication later. Isn’t that the goal?
What is active voice? My sons’ elementary teachers called it using “spicy” words. I like that term.
Technically our goal is to construct a sentence in which the subject performs the action in question. They should not be the object (or victim) of the action.
Example: Joe was beaten by Mary in the race. “…was beaten…” is passive. I’ll change it to, “Mary beat Joe in the race.” If I wish to be more precise, I make it, “Mary finished the race before Joe.” In both changes, I cut the length by twenty-five percent. In the second solution, I clarified the statement that Mary ran faster than Joe did, and that she wasn’t hitting him with a bat while they raced.
Active verbs engage the reader. They paint the pictures in our imaginations. A trim, tight story employs verbs that describe the action as it happens. The readers experience the scene. When a writer tickles the reader’s brain, she keeps their attention. The tale becomes more satisfying.
Cut out the fat and you produce a healthier, more interesting story.
by Kimberly Black, http://kimblackink.com
We can go to the towns and places imagined in children’s books, where we feel safe, happy, and youthful? Can such places exist in brick and mortar – or only in our mind’s fantasy? Kids’ books take us to such wonderful places.
Just for a day you get to live out the fiction of your choosing – with no repercussions – where the world can blow up, you can travel to far off planets, you can be a superhero, you can kiss the person of your dreams? The next day you would wake up and the world and your life would be as it was prior to your 24-hour fantasy pass.
You could live in the 4th century – or the 24th – -and travel through time? It is possible in a book.
What if you could be one of a hundred other professions or live the life of a thousand different people? You can, with books.
You could alter history or create it? Yes, books are the tools for such things.
You could travel the world –or to other worlds? Space and time are mere constructs of your life in books.
You could fly, or play better than professional athletes, or win beauty contests? What if you could be ten times the person you have been or be the direct opposite of who you are? Anything is possible in the world of books.
We need fiction to help us co-exist with a deformed, insufficient, broken world. We need fiction to be our playground for immortality, immorality, and improbability. It can be a telescope or a microscope to us. It can be a playground for growing useful ideas or a landfill where we can neatly deposit the violent, insane, repressed and unformed sides of ourselves. Fiction is like a Las Vegas of the mind – what happens in fiction, stays in fiction.
Our fiction is becoming the recorded history of the future. Sometimes, fiction mirrors reality or creates it. Fiction plays an important role in not only compensating for life’s shortfalls, but to open us up to the possibilities of new lives to be lived. Novels can lure us to places we would never visit otherwise, including deep within our souls.
Oh, the world of books makes for a beautiful place. For now, we must settle for the life we choose to live but in our minds we can always escape to the best place of all – our fantasies!
Reading is a wonderful way to live.
© June 5, 2012, Brian Feinblum, www.bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.
My apologies to the psychologist I’m quoting without attribution. “You insert something of yourself in every character you invent.” The key word here is something. The speaker did not infer that a suspense novelist hid a killer’s temperament. She pointed out that the better you know yourself, the more you can use that knowledge to create believable characters.
In writing workshops we’ve made “people identification” lists: achievements, assets, disappointments, dislikes, dreams, likes, motivators, and so forth. But listing nouns is only a start in your creation of full-bodied characters. Lists, even when expanded to include a person’s pocket contents or household furnishings, are apt to trap an inexperienced writer into telling instead of showing.
Ask questions: Why? What does that mean? How do the items listed under your characters’ names affect the entanglements in their lives?
For practice, examine yourself:
- Is it true we use their past performance as a benchmark for judging people? Discuss how your past performance has influenced others’ opinions of you. Be specific. What have you done to cause certain individuals to like or admire you? What have you done to turn people off? How have people reacted? How have you felt about the reaction of others and their treatment of you?
- What are your dreams—both practical and those that are pie in the sky? Consider how each, if/when actualized, would change your life.
- List opportunities you’ve missed. Do you plan to make up for them? How? Will the actions you take effect anyone else? How? Do you regret missing certain opportunities? Do you blame anyone for your loss? Describe your feelings.
- What are those innermost thoughts you’d never express out loud? Can you, using a pseudonym if concerned about exposing secrets, rise to the challenge and let them out on paper? Why are they private?
- What are your turn-ons? What excites you, elicits laughter, or at least a smile from you, or motivates you to action?
In an effort to understand a particular trait, you can interview friends, but will they be truthful? Talking or writing honestly about yourself, awakens you to emotions and situations you may have forgotten, or perhaps were not consciously aware of. You can trace your personal conversion from who you were in the past to the present.
What happens when novelists probe into their own minds, relive particular emotions, and see how the cause-and-effect relationships affected their lives? They automatically use bits and pieces to enliven their novels’ characters. Try it.
© 2013, Bernice W. Simpson
My father was an avid fisherman.