How to Use Sidebars, Charts, and Images

Sidebars are a good way to include information that complements your text but that doesn’t aid the flow of your main text. Sidebars are not a good place to house information you discovered that was interesting, but unrelated to the main text.

Images, charts, and sidebars are relevant and support the content, rather than distracting from it.

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Illustration by miamiamia • FreeImages

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Use Sensory Details to Capture Imagination

Like a novelist, a nonfiction writer can engage the reader’s imagination through the use of the five senses.

Vivid details enhance the reader’s understanding and highlight key points.

We usually think of this kind of detail as being visual. The shape of someone’s eyeglasses, the colors of the flowers in a garden, or the clutter on a desk. Continue reading

Why time management is so hard for creative people

Everyone in every field complains about not having enough time, even though we all have the same amount. But creative types often struggle with time management more than others. That’s mainly because organizational systems are designed by analytical types. The J’s, if you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

These are the folks who excel at scheduling, sorting, and list-making. Myers and Briggs call them “Judging,” but I prefer the term “Judicious.”

People who are what Myers & Briggs call Perceptive—creative, spontaneous, and imaginative—tend to resist scheduling, sorting, and list-making, all of which are critical to these systems. Perceivers like to have lots of options, and often see lists and schedules as eliminating options. Continue reading

Time management for creative professionals

I just returned from the PENCON Christian Editors conference in Austin, where I taught time management. I want to share with you a little of what I talked about, because time management is as important to writers as to editors, if not more so. For most PENCON attendees, editing is our day job. But most writers have some other day job, and writing has to be squeezed into “spare time.” Continue reading

A must-listen podcast for novelists

Writing a novel is an incredibly complex task with so many moving parts it’s easy to lose track of them. That’s one reason editing is so important. You can’t—simply can’t, it’s physically and intellectually impossible—get it perfect in a single draft.

Because the task is so complicated, multiple opinions about developing your craft are beneficial. Not every method or technique works for every writer.

Photo by Craig Hauger • freeimages.com

Photo by Craig Hauger • freeimages.com

I recommend the Writing Excuses podcast for novelists at every level because the show’s four hosts each present a unique view on the craft. Continue reading

Structure your blog posts for simplicity

Once during a training session at the newspaper, I asked a senior editor whether he thought reporters should outline their stories. He agreed they probably should, but admitted that most don’t.

I have written before about the power of the outline. When you’re writing something as short as a news story or a blog post, it’s tempting to think you can do without an outline. But even if your outline is just five items on a Post-It note, or two items in your head, have one. It will help you stay focused. It makes the writing process simpler, because you know where you’re going. Continue reading

New Manuscript Formatting Guideline

One of the great things about attending writers conferences—or any conference in your given industry—is the ability to meet with experts who know more than you and learn from them. At this year’s Florida Christian Writers Conference, I enrolled in a four-day fiction workshop taught by Ramona Richards of Abingdon Press.

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Photo by Kia Abell • freeimages.com

One of the intitial things we worked on were our first pages. One attendee had a first page that started halfway down the paper, so her “first page” contained only about one hundred words or so. If you’ve followed this site for a while, you know I’ve advised starting one-third of the way down the page. That’s because the Writer’s Digest publication Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript contains that age-old advice.

But that age-old advice dates from a time when editors received submissions on paper. Continue reading

Yes, spelling counts in novels also

You may write the most brilliant story with the most sympathetic characters, but if your manuscript is full of spelling errors and typos, you will struggle to find readers.

Spelling is correct.

English spelling is notoriously difficult. It is rarely phonetic, as Spanish is, and is not consistent, as French is. Honestly, the only way those kids who win the spelling bees do it is by memorizing. If you’re not entering a spelling bee, just use a good dictionary. The folks at The Chicago Manual of Style recommend Merriam-Webster’s. The abridged version is free, and will serve most of your needs. An unabridged version is available by subscription if you think it necessary.

A less authoritative but still fun source is OneLook, which searches over a thousand dictionaries. It’s useful for highly specialized terms and slang that hasn’t made it into traditional dictionaries yet. Continue reading

Get your grammar in line

Most writers are, by nature, very good about their grammar. But there are lots of misconceptions.

Grammatical errors have been eliminated.

Grammar, contrary to popular belief, does not include punctuation or spelling, as we often see on lists of “common grammatical errors,” which usually contain things like misplaced commas (punctuation) the confusion of affect for effect (usage) or misuse of apostrophes, such as it’s for its (spelling*).

Grammar concerns only the parts of speech (such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives) and how they combine to form sentences. Continue reading

Use Narrative Summary Appropriately

Last time, I said Inappropriate Narrative Summary was one of the main “telling” problems I see in manuscripts.

Sometimes summary is appropriate. When your hero has to make a long journey, but the journey itself isn’t what’s important to the story, you could put “he traveled across the Atlantic that spring, and arrived in Boston…” and get on with the Boston story. But if his ship is attacked by pirates, then you don’t put “he traveled across the Atlantic that spring. The ship was attacked by pirates, but he fought valiantly beside the ship’s crew. The pirates were defeated, and a week later the ship arrived in Boston.” Continue reading