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Having trouble deciding on a New Year’s resolution? Why not look to your writing for help. Even if you’re satisfied with how things are going, there’s always room for improvement. Take a minute to reflect on your writing life during the past year—what you liked about it, what you didn’t, and what you could do differently. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you come up with a New Year’s resolution—or a whole list of them. To help you get started, here are some ideas to consider:

Set Higher or Lower Goals

If you feel like you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to produce, maybe you need to scale back this year. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to set a high standard to stay challenged. Re-evaluate what you know you can and cannot accomplish in the next year, and resolve to meet your goals.

Try a New Writing Genre or Market

Have you been unhappy with the type of writing you do? This could be the year you begin your mystery novel or try your hand at children’s writing. Maybe you just need to look into new markets for your work. Do some research and see what piques your interest for the upcoming year.

Acquire Knowledge

Learning helps you advance your craft, plus it’s a good way to avoid burnout. If you’re writing life feels stagnant, make it your New Year's resolution to taking a writing class—or a class on any topic that appeals to you and helps you further your career. Or, join a writer’s group or organization. You’ll learn from your peers and make some friends in the process.

Start Submitting Regularly

How often do you submit your work? If the answer is very little, it’s time to step up your game. Pledge to submit a certain number of articles or queries weekly as your New Year's resolution. Remember, the more you submit, the more likely your chances of getting published—which will help keep you happy and inspired this year.

Talk Openly About Your Writing

Many of us are quiet about our writing. No one asks, so we don’t talk about it. Telling the world you’re a writer, though, may open up good discussion and new opportunities. One thing’s for certain: it’ll validate to you and others that you’re a writer—and that can be just the motivation you need for a fruitful year.

New Year’s resolutions are good for writers. Spend some time coming up one or more. You’ll approach 2017 with a much better outlook and a greater likelihood of success.

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writing v editingMost of us writers know that writing and editing have a lot in common. For one thing, they both need each other. You can’t write, or write well, without editing, and you can’t edit without a piece of writing. For another, they both involve words, grammar, mechanics, communication, headwork—and the list goes on.

But writing and editing are actually very different disciplines, and understanding those differences can go a long way in making you better at either—or both. Check out these five, and learn what skills you need to use for each process. You might even discover which one you’re best suited for.

Writing is about creating; editing is mending.

Writers are creators of stories. They know how to tell a tale or put an idea into readable form. A thoughtful, creative mind is a quality of a good writer. Editors are fixers. They’re good at cutting, pasting, adding, revising, restructuring, and rewording.

Writing requires finding research; editing corroborates it.

While writers must find resources to back up their facts, editors do the fact-checking. They need to verify that the writer is telling the truth. Fact-checking is a good skill to have as a writer, but it’s essential for an editor.

Writing uses the heart; editing relies on the head.

Writers are a passionate bunch. They write with heart, soul, and all the senses. Editors make sure the writing isn’t overly emotional, flowery, or opinionated and that it appeals to the intended audience. Editors must be mindful and objective.

Writing takes reading; editing takes resourcefulness.

Most good writers are avid readers. Reading makes writers better at their craft. Editors benefit from reading, but they must be good at using resources even more. Knowing how to make something read better by consulting style guides is key for editors.

Writing can’t be interrupted; editing can.

Writing is something you need hours of quality, uninterrupted time to do. Editing can be done in pieces—a paragraph or page at a time. It helps to have continuity when editing; writing, on the other hand, depends on it.

Writing and editing go hand-in-hand, but they’re not the same thing. Even though many writers are editors and vice versa, each requires a different set of skills. Know what it takes to do either job and learn how to become better at what you do best.

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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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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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groundhogToday is Groundhog Day, a great day to think spring now that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted its arrival in just six weeks. With that in mind, why not leap into your writing by working on some fulfilling and rewarding new projects that’ll make the last few weeks of winter fly by? Here are a few ideas to consider:

Enter a writing contest. In past years, I’ve posted many Spring writing contests around the state and nation. Take a look at my past posts for 2012 and 2013, and check the links for updates. Visit Fanstory.com, and look at the upcoming contest offerings. Or search writing contests in your preferred genre or locale, and see what pops up.  You’ll be surprised at all the options, both fee based and free, for entering a writing contest.

Start a writing journal. I asked for a writing journal for Christmas this year. It’s still sitting on my desk, waiting for my pen to mark up the pages. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to use my journal—as a place to take notes, write poetry, draft character profiles, jot down writing tips, practice paragraph styles, scribble daily thoughts, or all of the above. Of course, you don’t need to put a lot of thought into journal writing. The purpose is to just write, every day. Good advice to self.

Write outside the box.  Have you ever wanted to write a fantasy story but didn’t think you had it in you? Do you sometimes wish you could go back to school and develop your writing skills more fully? Has your fear of networking kept you from meeting other writers and finding markets for your work? Being a successful writer requires stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things. Take a class, try your hand at writing in a different genre than you’re used to, or join a writer’s group. The benefits of your leap of faith will far outweigh the risks.

Happy writing all!

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social-media-419944_640So you’re well on your way to a blossoming freelance writing career. You’ve got plenty of publishing credits to your name, clients with upcoming projects tailored just for you, and fresh ideas for writing pieces you plan to tackle this year. What more do you need to succeed? You might say nothing—but you’d be wrong. There are some key must-haves for experienced (and not-so-experienced) writers that fall outside the obvious. Here are five that come to mind:

  1. Social media presence. If you haven’t opened an account on Facebook, twitter, or linked in yet, it’s time to get on the bandwagon. Having a social media presence is essential for today’s freelance writer. Not only does social media help you network with other writers, it’s also one of the best ways to promote yourself and your work and to find new gigs—all key to success.
  2. Goals. Without goals, you won’t get very far in your freelance writing career. Goals give you something to work toward and help you complete steps along your writing journey. Goals can be short term or long term, simple or complex. They are also subject to alteration. The most important thing is to write goals down and take them seriously. Then, feel the joy and rewards of crossing them off, one by one.
  3. Daily inspiration. This might come in the form of a book of daily writing prompts, a tweet from a favorite author, or an activity that spurs you on and gives you motivation. You can also get daily inspiration by simply reading a chapter of an engaging novel. Anything that gets your creative juices flowing, even if it’s just a morning jog or a cup of joe, can be all the inspiration you need.
  4. Writing support. Writing is a solo act, but it shouldn’t be a lonely one. In fact, acquiring writing friends, mentors, and supporters is a necessary part of becoming a successful freelance writer. Social media is a great way to round up writing friends, but don’t leave out those who have helped advance your career by encouraging you to pursue your dreams, like spouses, long-time friends, librarians, and teachers.
  5. Desire to improve. Writing is an ongoing process that always has room for improvement. The more you strive to improve, the more developed your writing will become. You may write what you think is your best effort, but it won’t be the best piece you can ever write. A desire to improve is a necessary mindset for success. Without it, you may miss out on drafting some of your most amazing work yet.

If you’re an experienced writer, a novice, or anything in between, what must-haves make your list?

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thesaurus pageIf you don’t already own a good thesaurus, now’s the time to invest in one. A thesaurus isn’t just a useful writing tool; it can turn out to be one of your most valuable resources and one you’ll find hard to live without. I like to compare a thesaurus to a best friend. Here’s why:

It makes you better. The purpose of a thesaurus is to help you discover the right word choice. No two words are exactly the same; synonyms have similar meanings but different connotations. Sometimes, a dictionary is necessary to use alongside a thesaurus to help you determine the best word fit. But a thesaurus is the tool that helps you choose exactly which word you mean to use so that your message is accurately and clearly conveyed.

It’s there for you every day. And, trust me, you’ll refer to it every day. A thesaurus is by your side as you write, there at every minute to advise you. It’s accessible, convenient, easy to follow, reliable, and full of good ideas…just like a best friend.

You’ll wish you had two. The only thing better than one best friend is two best friends. Thesauruses are no different. I have a large hardcover thesaurus and a smaller, paperback one. They are completely different in design and format, but they both serve me well. When one thesaurus doesn’t come through, the other invariably does.

It’ll help you out of tricky situations. When you’re stuck, do you call on your best friend? In writing, a thesaurus serves the same function. Often, we writers get stuck mid-sentence, hung up on trying to find that perfect word. Thesauruses can whisk you out of a roadblock and get you back on track. You may not know right away what word you’re looking for, but one word leads to another and another, until finally, there it is—the word!—dancing on the page, luring you back to work.

It’s different from the others. Though full of words, like a style guide or a dictionary or a usage manual, a thesaurus isn’t one of them at all. It holds a unique place in a writer’s life. It’s a gift of just words—a stockpile of vocabulary, neatly arranged, simple yet not superficial, and unlike any other resource of its kind.

So, like a best friend, a good thesaurus is indispensable…and well worth the time and effort it takes to find a good one. Be sure to research thesauruses thoroughly before investing in one. Each thesaurus has different features from the others. If, for example, you prefer an all-in-one dictionary and thesaurus book, take a look at Merriam Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus. Want your thesaurus to include handy usage notes and real-life sample sentences? Check out the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. For a classic, comprehensive thesaurus, you might consider Roget’s International Thesaurus.

Of course, you can always refer to an online thesaurus, such as Thesaurus.com; however, I find that having a physical book to page through makes my job of finding that perfect word easier, handier, and—most importantly—more fruitful.

 

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Blank Ringbound NotepadMy new e-book, No Average Writer: How to Stand Out in the Writing Crowd and Write Your Best, is now available!

What's different about this book? First of all, it doesn't address every aspect of writing. Instead, No Average Writer points out common writing mistakes that you may not even be aware you're making—and how to avoid making them. The book also focuses on how to improve your writing skills and style, rather than trying to write like someone else.

If you want to get noticed among the throng of writers out there, why not give the book a try. Read on for more information:

Are you a writer whose words fail to come to life on the page?  Does your research lack substance or credibility? Can your grammar and usage use a facelift?  Has your attempt at self-editing fallen short? If you answer yes to any of the above, you may be an average writer. The good news is, you don’t have to be! Whether you’re a new writer or a not, you can improve your craft and break out of average-writer status with a little determination and know-how. No Average Writer is a quick, easy-to-read guide offers tips and tricks for how to stand out in the writing crowd—and write your best.

Published by Draft2Digital, No Average Writer can be downloaded through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks for $2.99. Please check it out!

 

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When I moved to Minnesota, I didn’t spend much time at my local public library. I would drop in now and then and check out children’s books for my young kids. Every once in a while, I’d browse through the adult section, but I was more likely to head to Barnes & Noble for reading material. Little did I know back then how important the public library would become to me—not so much as a reader but as a writer.

Today, the library is the first place I go for research, even if it’s just background reading on a subject. I take full advantage of all the books, periodicals, microfilm, databases, and more that my library has to offer. If I can’t find something I’m looking for, the reference librarians are usually able to find it at another library or direct me to where I might have better luck. But I don’t just go to the public library for research; I sometimes spend entire afternoons writing in a cubicle at the library. And why not? It’s close by, easy to navigate, welcoming, peaceful—and free!

Whether you’re new to writing or not, making friends with your public library is something you’ll definitely want to do. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your relationship:

  • If your public library has a website, visit it first. Sometimes, the information you need is available online, plus it’s a good idea to learn about the library, its branches, and its holdings before going there in person.
  • Get acquainted with the reference librarians at your library, and let them know you’re a writer. Not only are librarians extraordinarily helpful and knowledgeable, they make good contacts for writers.
  • Remember to take advantage of interlibrary loan possibilities. Public libraries may not carry the type of research you’re looking for, but they often have access to other libraries that do.
  • Interested in joining a critique group, taking a class, or attending an author visit? Check to see if your library hosts any writing-related events in their meeting rooms.
  • Give back to your library by donating any books or other materials that you no longer need, volunteering, or becoming a member of a Friends of the Library group, which is dedicated to supporting the public library.

If you haven’t already, get to know your public library, and enjoy the many benefits this indispensable “friend” has to offer.

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New writers looking for advice from published authors are often told to read, read, read. Reading, they say, helps make you a better writer. A great tip, except that some writers are left wondering what exactly they should be reading and how they should be reading it.

When I read, I do it as a reader first. I start by choosing books that I want to read.  Often, they’re books that have been recommended to me or books that I’ve read about. I don’t just settle on one genre or type of publication, either. Naturally, if I’m working on a children’s book manuscript, I’ll read several books that have been published for that age group. But reading any material helps me as a writer.

A page-turning thriller helps me see how pace and action are used to move the plot forward. Historical fiction novels show how to incorporate authentic details and believable dialogue into an engaging story. Magazine pieces, blog posts, and journal articles provide examples of tight writing as well as satisfying introductions and conclusions. Even that fluffy romance novel has something useful to offer me about character development and creating emotional tension.

When I read, however, I don’t analyze the writing or take notes or pick apart sentences and paragraphs. That would ruin the reading experience for me. Still, I absorb a lot of information. In fact, reading helps me with all kinds of writing issues, including technique, voice, style, spelling, word choice, grammar, chapter length, titles, topics, and names. I take in all these things and more—without actually trying. And I imagine I’m not alone; we writers notice a lot more than we think we do when we read.

So new writers, follow that advice, and read, read, read. Anything and everything. But read as a reader first. You’ll not only enjoy the experience better, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn as a writer.

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