Write Brightly, but with Restraint

As writers, we want to create strong mental pictures and evoke powerful emotions. Even if your writing is prescriptive rather than narrative, you want to give readers a clear idea of your concepts.

☐ The writing is illuminating and vivid.

The foundation of vivid writing is strong nouns and verbs. People doing things. The next important element is using precise words. It’s one thing to write about a girl riding a horse. It’s another to write about a twelve-year-old waif riding an elegant palomino. Continue reading

Keep Your Writing Voice Informal

The best journalism, business, and academic writing is as eloquent and enjoyable as the best writing in other genres. Unfortunately, most people do not produce the best writing. Most people produce adequate writing. Since you aspire to be a writer, I trust that regardless of the field in which you write, you are striving to be among the best.

If most of your writing has been done in academia, business, or journalism, you may need to work on loosening up your style if you’re now writing for the general market. There, a casual tone is preferred to the formality often found in other realms. You do need to adjust the level of formality based on your personal style and your audience expectation, but generally speaking, modern readers of general-market books are not looking for a highly formal tone. Continue reading

Use an Authentic Writing Voice

Write the way you speak, only with more polish.

You may need to unlearn a lot that you learned in college about writing. Teachers teach academic writing, which tends to be dry, fact-focused, and concerned more with making a point than crafting elegant sentences.

The narrative voice draws the reader into the text.

The author’s voice and approach are fresh.

To develop an authorial voice that is engaging and fresh, imagine you are writing a letter to your reader. Continue reading

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