Building from an Outline

Working from an outline helps writers to maintain focus and to avoid detours that can confuse the reader or take them entirely off topic.

Great advice. Give me an outline and I’ll write War and Peace with the flow of the outline in mind at all times. But write an outline of my own?

No way!

Since elementary school, I have been an A/B outline maker.

A. Premise

B. Interesting Hook

Then Whammo! Like a homemade volcano at the Science Fair, I could no longer contain the extraordinary idea bubbling in my brain. Fearful of losing my inspiration, the pen in my hand flew across the paper consuming copious amounts of blue ink from my Bic.

Masterful in their result, the Premise and the Interesting Hook dare I say captured imaginations. By contrast, the Primary Story and the Ending lacked the quality of the former.

The Moral: Balance the beginning of your tale and it’s hook with the Primary Story and the Ending; otherwise, what’s the point? Excuse me while I go work on my outline.


Spring Cleaning

Are there phrases that you often use that make your writing as dull as the last few days of winter?

Make it a point to spring clean your writing to remove any clichés.

Scour your next written piece for any evidence of those weary words to ensure that you replace them with fresh polish. Better yet, invent a few new ways of approaching your subject by adding imagery.

Which is more interesting to read?

Walter opened the door to a dusty, sparse room save for an old four-poster, long in need of replacement.


Walter opened a door in the dark hallway exposing a tiny room, its air heavy with the musty smell of a summer cabin open for the first time in a season—the mattress dank with mountain dampness.

The scene uses the same character entering a room but the second invokes a feeling and smell that is lacking in the first. Use of imagery can make your writing more interesting to the reader. Honing this aspect of your work during editing will be worth the time spent.

Break out the lemon juice and get scrubbing.

Old Cake: Fresh Frosting

Experts suggest that web writers keep their posts on a sixth grade reading level unless the site for which they write is inherently high-minded.

If one is writing for a site frequented by molecular engineers, using the reader’s expected vocabulary, the associated jargon and acronyms, and an educated understanding of the subject matter is preferable.

Conversely, if  writing for the Sun Sentinel’s FloriDUH blog under strange news headlines like:  37-pounds of pot found during traffic stop for seat belt violation, cops say,”  then the sixth grade reading level guideline probably applies.

Ask yourself:

“What first impression does the writing project?”

“Am I writing to attract new visitors or potential customers to the website?”

“What might a reader expect once he or she gets past the first paragraph?”

Have a sense of humor and write as you would when speaking to a friend or colleague. Otherwise, your writing will be a lot like putting fresh frosting on an old cake. It will attract the reader, but will likely lose them after they get beyond the first bite.

Construction for Clarity

All great writers need an editing service.

All great writers need a great editor.

Most great writers need their writing edited.

Every great writer needs an experienced editor.

An editor can transform a good piece of writing into a great one.

Choosing a great editor can propel a writer from good to great.

Though each sentence above contains truth, each has its own shade of meaning. However, none of them may convey the meaning intended by the writer.

As a writer, your sentence construction is critical to a reader’s interpretation of your material. An experienced editor can help you to flesh out your intended meaning. As an editor, I help writers to construct their writing for clarity by providing suggestions and questioning intent when the piece could be misinterpreted.

Improving on Shakespeare: The ‘To Be’ Dilema

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles

Perhaps the opening phrase of this Hamlet soliloquy eternally doomed future writers, rendering avoidance of the phrase ‘to be’ impossible. The question of whether one prefers life or death scores points with audiences today, almost 400 years after the original Shakespeare folio graced its contemporaries.

Nevertheless, improved writing begs attention to this detail. Showing the reader a character invites interest, dialogue, and imagination. When editing, eliminate the verb ‘to be’ in any of its forms: was, were, has been, is, are, had been, etc. whenever possible. Carefully consider the use of alternative phrasing and stronger verbs.

Brainstorming V. Barnstorming

Editing can be tricky business. One tip I have found helpful is to be sure to fully understand word meaning. Let’s face it. There’s a boatload of difference between brainstorming and barnstorming. Often, a word, similar-looking to the one an author actually intends is not the word used.

Your ability to edit well comes down to understanding contextually what you are reading and determining whether a given word fits. It’s all about whether a cow fits in the brain. If that seems unclear, then consider the complexity of our barns and how we think. It bears repeating; editing can be tricky business.

Write While Your Feet Are Wet

Unless you have both a vivid imagination and an intense ability to avoid distraction, you can easily lose perspective when writing about nearly any topic.

Suppose you wish to convey an account of flood survivors. Imagine it is a rainy fall day. But you hover indoors, ceramic heater beside your work space, hot cocoa in hand with your laptop at the ready. Several hours go by as you struggle to accurately describe the experience of your victims. In order to avoid the incessant blinking cursor, you decide to go out for a while to clear your mind.

You throw on a pair of sneakers and rush to your car, managing to keep reasonably dry in the process. Zipping into town, you gas up under the cover of the canopy. It occurs to you to make a quick stop to collect a bit of dry cleaning before you return to the office. The rain has become heavier.

When you arrive in the crowded shopping center parking lot, you cannot find a space near the dry cleaners. Luckily, you have your golf umbrella on the back seat. Grabbing it, and unaware of a deep puddle just beside the driver’s side door, you step out of the car placing both feet squarely in its center. Your sneakers act as the perfect sponge. The autumn chill and your cotton socks amplify the cold, uncomfortable feeling.

Having retrieved your clothing, you return to the office with cold, wet feet. Inspired, the ideas and words flow easily, and your story of survival is soon complete. Sometimes, you just need to write while your feet are wet to gain a little perspective.