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some grain had been partially harvested nearby, so we could walk into the center of the field and take a few photos.

Summer’s here, which means school is out and there are lots of fun things beckoning—barbecues, a trip to the beach, biking with the kids. Who has time to write?

Just because outdoor activities are in full bloom and schedules have gone by the wayside, doesn’t mean you stop writing. Writers write—year round. The trick is to find ways to fit in time to write so you’ll feel productive and stay devoted to your craft without missing out on summer fun.

You may need to be a little creative and flexible, but finding time to write in the summer isn’t all that tough. Here are five ideas that might help.

1. Carry Your Writing Tools Everywhere

You never know when an idea might strike, so always be ready to capture it. Slip a notebook and pen in your purse, or carry your tablet or laptop in a messenger bag when you go out. Even a pencil and scratch paper stuffed in the glove compartment of your car can come in handy for those days when creativity sudden flows. Don’t count on your mind to remember your ideas; be safe, and be prepared.

2. Rise and Shine

Whether you have the birds to thank or the sun, chances are you wake up early during the summer months. It’s not a bad thing actually. Popping out of bed at the crack of dawn can be a great way to start your day, especially if you use the time productively. Grab some coffee and make a beeline to your desk for an hour or two of concentrated writing.

3. Make It a Family Affair

If you have kids at home, include them in your writing routine. Set up a workshop where everyone writes. Pick a topic that's kid-friendly. You’ll get an interesting variety of writing to read, writing practice for all, and a worthwhile use of your time. Include snacks or prizes to make it more fun. Just don’t be surprised if the kids come running back for more.

4. Be a Weekend Warrior

Summer weekdays can be hectic for families with busy summer routines. Your days of writing alone suddenly become filled with carpooling to sports, making lunches, and cleaning up after everyone. That’s where weekends come in handy. Use the time when another parent is available to hit the office. Shut yourself off for several hours and get some quality writing time in.

5. Plan a Writing Vacation

A writing vacation may not be your idea of a summer trip, but you’ll be surprised at how rewarding it can be. Not only will you get to do what you love, you’ll enjoy the break from busy summer schedules to concentrate on just you. There are plenty of writing retreats available during the summer months (check out the ones on this list), or you can create one of your own.

Summer is a time for fun, family, friends—and writing. Give your craft the attention it deserves this summer, and make the season as enjoyable as it is productive.

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kids writingIf you're a young Minnesota writer looking for ways to cultivate your craft this summer, listen up. The Twin Cities has some great opportunities for blossoming student writers. Summer writing camps and workshops are an ideal way to learn because they’re laid back, pressure-free, and centered on fun. Besides that, they’re a productive use of your time and a chance to meet new friends. What have you got to lose?

Check out these six writing opportunities for youth living in the Twin Cities area. But don’t wait too long to enroll; many start soon and space is limited.

Minneapolis Young Writer’s Workshop. North Central University in downtown Minneapolis hosts this creative writing workshop for young writers aged 13-19. You’ll get one-on-one critiques, open-mic opportunities, and evening sessions with keynote speakers, including Jay Asher and Jonathan Friesen. The workshop runs June 14-16, 2016, and costs $300.

Writing Magic – The Art of Creative Writing. Targeted at grades 3 through 8, this four-day Edina Summer Computer Camp runs from June 7-10, 2016, and is an opportunity for students to explore different genres of writing and gain confidence in their skills. You’ll also learn about digital writing, including blogging and self-publishing. The fee is $135, and the camp is held at South View Middle School in Edina.

Hamline University’s Young Writer’s Workshop. This is a great opportunity for high school students to prepare for college and connect with other writers in the area, including the Hamline staff and published authors. Besides in-depth instruction, you’ll get to tour the literary Twin Cities. Cost for this workshop is $400 for four full days, from June 20-23, 2016.

Bethel University’s Journalism Mini-Camp. Have an interest in the media? This camp might be just the ticket. It’s a three-day minicamp for students in grades 9 through 12 who want to learn more about reporting and other forms of media work. You’ll also get to hear from top Twin Cities journalists. The camp runs July 22-24, 2016, and costs $75. Find the details here.

Intermedia Art’s Writing Circle for Teens. If you're a teen who loves to write and you’re looking for a peer group to learn and workshop with, this Intermedia Arts-sponsored program fits the bill. The Writing Circle for Teens meets every other week to share prompts, set goals, and get feedback. The best part is, it’s free! Check the website for times and dates.

The Loft Literary Center Summer Enrichment Classes. Minneapolis’s well-known literary center, The Loft, has an array of classes for youth ages 6-17 this summer. There's everything from writing fan fiction to fantasy to college essays. Dates and fees vary, although discounts apply for Loft members. Online classes are available too. You can see the full listing of summer youth programs here.

Know of any other summer writing camps or workshops for youth in Minnesota? Please share them below.

Happy summer writing!

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When it comes to writing about animals, the issue of gender pronouns often pops up. Should you call the family cat in your story a he, she, or it?  What about the neighborhood coyote? The doe in the woods? Or the yapping terrier in the passing car?

As writers, we may not put much thought into something as seemingly insignificant as animal gender. Who really cares what we call them, right? Actually, our readers do, more than we might think. And it isn’t worth it to assume otherwise because our respectability—and our potential sales—could be at stake.

Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to gender pronouns for animals. Generally speaking, personal pronouns shouldn't be used unless the sex of the animal has been established. That’s straight from the AP Stylebook. But before you start calling every dog, cat, and fox an it, consider this advice from my ebook No Average Writer:

Some writers prefer to take a more personal approach to the treatment of animals in writing, especially domesticated and familiar animals. To call a stray kitten an it, for example, may seem cold and inhumane. The problem with using he, the formerly accepted generic pronoun for people, is that it’s now considered sexist and inappropriate. But while he may offend some readers, using she isn't exactly a fair alternative.

When he/she or it doesn't do the trick, writers have the option to reword their writing. One way to do that is to choose the plural form of the animal. For example, the sentence “When a dog feels ill, he chews grass for comfort” could be changed to “When dogs feel ill, they chew grass for comfort.” However, as William Zinsser explains in his classic book On Writing Well, “this is good only in small doses. A style that converts every ‘he’ into a ‘they’ will quickly turn to mush.”

For some writers, using the phrases he or she and him or her for an animal whose gender isn’t known can work too, although this will also get tiresome and clutter the writing. Another option is to change the pronoun to a noun (i.e., instead of using he for a dog, substitute the dog. the pooch, the pup, etc.)

Sometimes, whether to give an animal a gender pronoun depends on the publication where the writing will appear. For example, the Humane Society, PETA, and other organizations devoted to the compassionate treatment of animals might frown on using it in their publications when referring to an animal. Choosing either he or she and then using that pronoun consistently might be a better approach for them. On the other hand, a newspaper aimed at the general public may favor the pronoun it for animals.

Bottom line? Next time you write about animals, consider gender pronouns carefully—and then reference with reverence. You’ll make your readers happy and your writing more credible and thoughtful.

For more information on gender pronouns for animals, see No Average Writer.

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exclamation-point-64050_960_720Drills aren’t just for military personnel. In fact, just about anyone can benefit from training exercises—writers included. Here are seven simple drills that can boost your writing skills and make you better at your craft. Try one a day this week, and see how they improve your clarity, creativity, and style.

Take a quiz. On something writing related, like spelling, grammar, or vocabulary. Quizzes can be found in magazines or online and can help refresh your memory and expand your writing knowledge. Plus, they’re fun to do. You might be surprised at how much you know—or don’t know.

Rewrite a sentence. Pick a sentence, preferably a complex one, from a favorite book or a magazine or newspaper article. Now rewrite the sentence to make it stronger, clearer, and more readable. Or, using your unique style, revise the sentence to reflect a different tone.

Read content. From pamphlets to signage to blog posts, content comes in all forms, and taking notice of it can help you become a better writer—especially when you analyze it, edit it in your head, and ask yourself what works about it and what doesn’t.

Study a word. Is there a word you’ve run across lately that intrigues you? Look it up, then study its definitions and origin. Use it in a sentence or in speech. Get comfortable with the word and incorporate it into your writing and vocabulary.

Write a filler. You know those short, front-of -book pieces in magazines, like a list of tips, a simple recipe, or a brief how-to? They're easy to create and a great way to learn how to cut words and write short. Give one a try.

Review punctuation rules. Punctuation is often underused, overused, or misused. Review the rules of punctuation from your favorite style book and experiment with using each mark. Keep in mind that rules are meant to be guidelines, not set in stone.

Write an acrostic. Acrostic poems aren’t just fun to write; they exercise the brain. The best part is, you don’t have to be a poet to write an acrostic. Need some help getting started? Check out these tips on writing an acrostic poem.

Do you have any other drills that help boost your writing skills? Please share your thoughts!


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writing contestWhen it comes to writing contests, Minnesota earns top marks for opportunities for writers of all skill levels, ages, and genres. Just check out this list of offerings for Spring 2016, and you'll get a good glimpse of the North Star State's flourishing writing community. And what better way to do what you love, get noticed, and earn some cash than by entering a writing contest? So go ahead, browse away and find a contest that sparks your interest. No excuses; there’s something for everyone, even out-of-staters.

Lake Superior Writers Going Coastal Fiction Writing Contest—deadline April 1, 2016

This year, the Lake Superior Writers group is calling on fiction-only entries of 6,500 words maximum for an anthology tentatively titled Going Coastal! The theme is anything about Lake Superior, Minnesota. The contest is free to LSW members, but those living outside the region must pay a $15 entry fee. For more information on entry requirements and rules, click below:


2016 Minnesota Christian Writers Guild Annual Writing Contest—deadline April 11, 2016

This contest is open to members of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild only. The MCWG is calling for “stories that encourage readers to press on through life’s periods of crisis and stress.” You’ll be writing a guest blog for this contest. A $5 entry fee is required.


Minnesota Middle School Association 2016 Writing Contest—deadline April 15, 2016

Open to Minnesota middle school or junior high school students, the 2016 MMSA writing contest is themed “Ignite!” Submit stories of 200 words or less about a time you were energized by someone or some event.  No entry fee.


Minnesota State Bar Association Student Writing Competitions—deadline April 3 &15, 2016

Calling all law students, these contests are open to those attending certain law schools in Minnesota and out-of-state law students interested in practicing in Minnesota. Judges are seeking papers and articles on the topic of food, drug, and/or device law as well as health law. Check out the rules here:



Pioneer Public Television PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest—deadline April 15, 2016

Got a kindergarten through third-grader who’s a blossoming writer and illustrator? Have them enter the Pioneer Public Television PBS Kids Go! Contest. Stories can be fact or fiction, prose, or poetry but must include five original illustrations to go along with the story. No fees to enter and no purchase necessary.


18th Annual Geek Partnership Society Writing Contest – deadline May 15, 2016

Located in Minneapolis, the Geek Partnership Society (GPS)is a “society celebrating imagination, inspiring creativity, and building our community through service and education.” Multiple divisions will be judged, including open, poetry, youth, and graphic novel. The open category selects an additional winner for the Scott Imes (an honorary member of the Minnesota science fiction writing and reading community who passed away in 2001) Award. No entry fees.


Minnesota Genealogical Society Family History Writing Contest

No word yet on this annual writing contest aimed at family history writers, but check the website for updates. Past contest deadlines have been during the summer, but spring is a great time to get started writing. Take a look at Julie’s Genealogy and History Hub for past notices:


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writing.rantingWith the political atmosphere abuzz these days, there’s been a lot of ranting on the internet, especially on social media. Clearly people have strong feelings about the candidates. But sometimes these monologues go on and on, fired-up paragraph after fired-up paragraph, as if the rants are intended to be personal essays or some other, new and emerging genre of writing.

Here’s the problem with that: ranting, first and foremost, implies the use of speech. According to Merriam-Webster, to rant is “to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner.” Macmillan describes rant this way: “to complain or talk loudly and angrily for a long time, sometimes saying unreasonable things.” Vocabulary.com agrees and adds something else—a rant is “fueled by passion, not shaped by facts.”

Writing, on the other hand, doesn’t use the voice, not the physical one anyway. It’s usually done with the hand, on paper or a screen. More important, writing takes much more than mere passion, calling us to delve deeply into our minds, hearts, and souls.

Now don’t get me wrong, ranting serves a purpose. It’s a way to release energy and get things off our chests. It’s a self-indulgence we all partake in now and then because it offers immediate gratification. No doubt, ranting can be satisfyingly fun. But ranting is better left to the speaking world, where we can spew words out and then forget about them—because usually, that’s exactly what the ranter wants to do.

Writing is different. It requires time, to gather and corroborate facts and think about what we’re going to say; insight, to understand and formulate truths; and care, to express ourselves in a sound-minded fashion, with honesty, caution, and consideration. Unlike ranting, writing gives us healthy pride and deep, long-lasting satisfaction because it brings meaning to those we share it with. In short, writing is simply too important to waste on ranting. Leave the latter for your vocals.

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calendarA new year is a time of new beginnings. So why not apply that principle to your writing and do something completely different this month? You might find that a fresh project, completely out of the box, is just what you need to start your writing off on the right track for 2016. Even better, you might discover a hidden talent or skill within yourself that you never knew you had. Here are 10 ideas for writing fresh this month. Give one a try, and see what new beginning is in store for you.

  1. Commit to Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Camp NaNoWriMo is a more laidback version of November’s NaNoWriMo: you write a 10,000- to 1 million-word work during the month of April. It may not result in a best seller, but you’ll have a solid draft to polish and a productive month of writing. For more info, contact Camp NaNoWriMo.
  2. Take a class on a fresh writing topic. Classes are a great way to start the New Year, especially if they teach you a new skill or steer you in a direction you’ve always wanted to try out but never have before. Search the internet for course options, or contact a college, writing center, or writer's association.
  3. Join a writer’s group. A writing group doesn’t just reward you with contacts; it can motivate you, offer new and lasting friendships, and provide a way for you to share your skills and knowledge. Check local libraries, a chapter of a national writer’s organization, or an online writing community for groups to join. Or, start a group of your own.
  4. Make a cold call for work. It may be bold and uncomfortable, but if you want work, sometimes you have to get gutsy. For editing and proofreading work especially, cold calls and email inquiries to publishing companies, bloggers, or other freelance-hiring companies may be the best way to land clients.
  5. Write a poem. Even if you’re not poetic, writing a poem is a great way to jumpstart creativity. You don’t have to publish your poem; just writing it may be enough to refresh you and open up ideas for future writing projects. Or, you might find that you’re actually good at poetry. Poems come in all forms to try, from simple rhymes to haiku to acrostics.
  6. Draw or paint. Whether or not you’re skilled at drawing or painting, they can be a means to an end—like a way for you to put color, texture, and visuals to your words—or an end in themselves. Either way, you’ll have fun in the process. Consider enrolling in a drawing or painting class for a more serious go at this fun and rewarding art form.
  7. Find a contest to enter. Contests for writers abound, and entering one can payoff big in money, recognition, and motivation. If you’ve never entered a writing contest before, you’re missing out on a great way to showcase your work and possibly get feedback. Look for updates on these past writing contests.
  8. Start a new blog. Blogging is the thing today, and while the competition is stiff for readership, there’s no reason why you can’t—or shouldn’t—start a fresh one. You can set up a new blog, revamp an old one, or submit guest posts for other bloggers. If blogging isn’t for you, consider an alternate way to share your writing with the public, like starting a newsletter or writing posts for social media.
  9. Study vocabulary. Having an extensive vocabulary isn’t essential for writers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Building your vocabulary won’t just help you recognize and use words better; it’ll provide insight into the background and history of words. There are many books available on how to expand your vocabulary. Or, look for electronic vocabulary-building games or apps.
  10. Rearrange your office space. A fresh writing space can add newness to your writing life. Start by rearranging furniture or your desktop. Remove old, outdated reference books from your writing bookshelf, and add new, fresh materials. Restock your drawers with notebooks, pens, and other essential office supplies. Then put your “new” writing area to use!

Got any other great tips for writing fresh this month? Please share your ideas!



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Writing numbers seems pretty straight forward—seems being the operative word. In reality, numbers have some important guidelines in writing, and following those guidelines can make a world of difference when it comes to clarity, cleanness, and professionalism. Here are three cardinal tips for writing numbers:

  1. Don’t just assume. Don’t assume you should spell out a number. Likewise, don’t assume you should use a numeral. Instead, take the time to consider which way is best, given the audience, context, size of the number, and need for preciseness. If you don’t get direction on how to treat numbers, consult a style manual or grammar guide. Putting a little effort into your writing—even for the simple things, like writing numbers—will make your work that much better.
  2. Avoid too many. Numbers are great for citing facts and figures, making comparisons, and providing key details. But too many numbers, whether spelled out or in numeral form, can clutter up a page and disrupt the flow of the words. Sometimes numbers can be substituted by words that imply quantity, like many, numerous, and a multitude.  In fact, sometimes it’s better not to be so precise with numbers: 985 people might be better expressed as “nearly a thousand.”
  3. Be consistent. If you’re following a guideline from a certain style book, an editor, or your own choosing, keep at it throughout the entirety of the piece. Don’t suddenly switch gears and spell out numbers when you’ve been using numerals thus far—unless there’s a good reason, such as spelling out a number at the beginning of a sentence or when two numbers appear side-by-side (i.e., six 14-year-olds). Generally, consistency trumps correctness when it comes to writing numbers.

Remember, numbers are important in writing. But they should complement words, not stick out like sore digits.

For more on writing numbers and other style issues, check out my e-book No Average Writer.

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editing If self-editing isn't your thing, you’re in good company. Plenty of writers don’t like doing it. Some writers skim through the task just to get it done quicker; others skip it altogether. I wouldn't recommend either, even if you have someone else lined up to do the job. While a peer or professional edit can be enormously useful, self-editing has worth, too. In fact, done with caution and care, self-editing can pay off in ways you may not have considered.

Here are nine reasons to take the task of self-editing seriously:

It’s good practice. Self-editing is a good way to brush up on the rules of grammar, spelling, and style. It also helps you become more proficient at using key writing resources, like dictionaries, thesauruses, and style guides.

It can make or break a sale. When there isn’t time or resources to send your work out to be edited, a self-polished piece has a much better chance of landing a sale than one that hasn’t been reviewed by you.

It’s free. Professional editing doesn’t come free, but self-editing does. Even if you do get your work professionally edited, cleaning it up first can decrease the time a professional uses, right along with the fee.

It’s a productive diversion. Self-editing gives you a break from writing. You’re still working with words, but you’re doing it in a different way. Self-editing is a diversion that’s both productive and refreshing.

It helps improve your writing. Self-editing is essentially the process of making your writing better—clearer, cleaner, and more professional. And who doesn’t want to improve their writing?

It makes you more serious. When you put some effort into self-editing, you show others that you are serious about your craft and credibility. More important, you prove it to yourself.

It adds closure. Think of self-editing as a final step in the writing process. When you give the task your all and complete it, that’s when you know your work is done and ready to be read.

It’s what true professionals do. Self-editing is the fine-tuning you do that separates you from hobby writers and less serious professionals. A self-editing job well done earns you respectability.

It does more good than harm. What are the cons of self-editing? It takes time, you might miss errors, and you may not enjoy yourself. But just re-read all the pros above, and you’ll see all the good that self-editing does!

For more information on editing your work, check out my earlier posts on punctuation, style, and usage.


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life writer

Do you write to live or live to write? It's a question I see pop up on writing websites and blogs from time to time. And it's a hard one to answer. If you say you write to live, that implies that money is your endgame, and I’m fairly certain that money doesn’t top the list of reasons why most writers write. For one thing, money in this business is often sporadic, unscheduled, and uncertain. To depend on money regularly is just plain risky.

Now, money certainly has a spot on the list of reasons why most writers write, but I suspect the majority of us do it mainly because we like it. I’d even go a step further and say that we need it. Writing makes us tick and gives us purpose. Without being able to write, we would not be fulfilled, and that would make life for us less than satisfactory.

So does that put most of us writers in the live-to-write category? Whether it does or not, living to write—like writing to live, with all its risk and uncertainty—has downsides too.

First of all, we writers need recognition. We can’t expend all that mental energy and not get rewarded for it. (Actually, we can and sometimes don’t but not usually by choice.) Rewards, whether in the form of money or praise, empower us and help validate us as writers. Second, the live-to-write mindset can make us stagnant. While writing to live might force us to write about topics we have no passion for or in styles that aren’t truly ours in order to appease clients, living to write can keep us from delving into new subject areas, learning different techniques, and experimenting with our own voice. Essentially, living to write can, if we let it, keep us from growing and developing as writers.

But whether we think we write to live or live to write, the best place to be is probably somewhere in between. If we write to live, we risk losing our true writing self as we try to meet the demands of readers and our financial goals. If we live to write, we might forego recognition for our work, the opportunities to reach wider audiences, and the chance to flourish at our craft.

If, on the other hand, we aim for a little of both—writing with passion on topics that appeal to us while being open to taking risks in areas that are new, and doing it for fulfillment, growth, recognition, and rewards—we might just win. We might find that happy medium that makes us full and complete, the writer we were meant to be.

Image by Ramunas Geciauskas