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Vacation is a time relax and leave your work behind, right? Not so fast. If you’re a writer, you’ll always take a piece of your work with you wherever you go. That piece is your brain and it never stops thinking about the next writing project or interesting tidbit to add to a current one. While you shouldn't work on vacation, you also shouldn't ignore what pops into your mind when you're away, since it could pay off big when you get back home. So go ahead, have fun and enjoy your trip, but take along these important writing tools that may come in handy and make your getaway productive too.

A Pen and Notebook

Whether you’re lounging by the pool or travelling the countryside in a bus, a pen and notebook are a must on vacation. You can use them to journal about the scenery, the food you ate last night, your mood, the weather, or anything you care to reflect on. You might brainstorm for topics for your next article or book. Notebooks and pens are also fun for doodling and sketching, both which can usher in all kinds of ideas pertinent to your writing.

A Pocket-sized Notepad

If a journal is too cumbersome, slip a small notepad into your backpack or back pocket. You never know when a thought will strike that you can apply to your writing. A site you're visiting or an activity you're doing might trigger something as simple as how to finish that sentence you've been struggling with for weeks. Never be without a notepad, especially on vacation. A relaxed state of mind can be exactly when your brain does its best work.

Your Phone or Tablet

Did someone on vacation use an interesting expression you’ve never heard before? Would your travel destination make a good setting for a historical novel? Your phone or tablet are not only portable, they’ll give you the means to look up words, do quick research, and even take notes for later use in your writing. Be sure to download any apps that might be of use to your writing life while on vacation, like a note-taking, translation, or dictionary app.

Books to Read

No vacation is complete without a book to read. Reading doesn’t just help pass time while in a car or plane; it’s an excellent writing tool for improving your writing skills. Books are easy to transport, slipped into a carry-on or handbag. Or, bring an e-reader on vacation and take as many books as you’d like. For a list of must reads for writers this summer, check out these ideas.

Your Curiosity

Don’t let your mind go dull on vacation. In fact, travelling is the perfect scenario for igniting your curiosity. Take full advantage of your trip and ask unlimited questions. Curiosity spurs deep thinking and creativity, both which benefit your writing life. Let your curiosity kick into full gear while you're away. It will make the return home that much more productive.

Embrace your summer vacation and enjoy it to the full. Just don’t forget to pack the above writing tools to complete the trip and make it profitable too.

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Sunshine and warm days. It’s the perfect setting for doing the thing every writer should do: read. Not only can you unwind with a good book, escape to another place, and take a break from your work; reading helps you cultivate your writing skills by teaching you how to use literary techniques effectively, broadening your vocabulary, and sparking creativity. The best part about summer reading is there’s no shortage of book options. But if you’re wondering what to read this summer, these ideas will give you plenty of satisfaction—and help you grow as a writer:

A Best Seller

Don’t let the summer go by without reading a book that everyone’s talking about, not only to experience all the hype for yourself but so you can contribute to the conversation too. Even better, best sellers can provide insight on what sells. Remember, a book becomes a best seller because it’s engaging, well written, and relatable. Pick one up; it might just help you on your journey to crafting one of your own.

A Nonfiction Book on a Favorite Subject

Reading nonfiction is a great way to learn about a real-life topic—and gain insight into a highly lucrative writing genre. Choose a nonfiction book with a subject that interests you, whether it be a political figure, historical event, or place to visit. As you read, consider how the author uses fictional tools to bring life to the facts. Don’t be surprised if you finish the book in one sitting. Nonfiction today is nothing like the mundane textbook-like stories of the past.

An Inspirational Read

Books that lift your spirits and give you confidence, comfort, and encouragement are worth a read for everyone. They can also inspire you in your writing life. A google search will uncover all kinds of inspirational books worthy of your time and attention, but here are a few top sellers to consider: The Time is Now by Joan Chittister, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, and any of Mitch Albom’s inspiring stories.

A Cookbook

Cookbooks aren’t exactly reading books, but they can be just as absorbing and useful to writers. Whether you enjoy cooking or not, browsing through a cookbook is a great way to pick up tips for meal prep, get a feel for how to organize a book, see how pictures enhance content, and learn more about the art of good eating. Besides that, cookbooks are just plain fun to read, plus they’re easy on the brain and appealing to the appetite.

A Light Summer Page-turner

What summer is complete without a satisfyingly light page-turner? It can be anything from a humorous memoir to a steamy romance to a young adult fantasy novel. The point of a summer page-turner is pure enjoyment, so choose something that’s entertaining and uncomplicated. Check out summer picks at the bookstore, library, or get recommendations from friends. Then take a break from your craft and head to the beach or the hammock.

A Book on the Craft of Writing

Feel like your writing skills could use a little sharpening this summer? There’s no better way to do it than to educate yourself. Pick up a book on the craft of writing, especially one that teaches something you want to learn. Maybe you’ve wanted to try your hand at writing for children’s magazines or learn how to craft multi-dimensional characters. Books on writing instruction run the gamut. Just be sure to have your pen along when you read for note-taking.

Summertime is a great time to do some seriously fun reading. Get your summer reading list in order and start the season off right.

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Spring will soon be upon Minnesota, and along with the warm sunshine, puddles of melted snow, and return of the red-winged blackbirds come writing events aplenty for the state’s word-loving youth. From young writer’s conferences to Minnesota’s first weekend-long word festival, the spring of 2019 offers a range of options for Minnesota students to grow their craft and hone their skills. So without further ado, check out these eight spring writing events for Minnesota students and choose the one (or several!) that suits your writing fancy:

Wordplay 2019

When: May 11-12, 2019

Where: Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN

Whether you’re a writer, avid reader, or lover of words, this brand-new event hosted at The Loft in Minneapolis has something for everyone.  The weekend-long festival promises to be “Minnesota’s largest celebration of readers, writers, and great books,” complete with famous authors (including Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom), workshops, book signings, activities, and books galore. For more information on Wordplay for Minnesota youth, adults, and families, visit the website.

South Central Service Cooperative’s Young Writers and Artists Conference 2019

When: March 12-13, 2019

Where: Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato

Hosted by the South Central Service Cooperative (SCSC), this writing conference targets students in grades 3 to 8 living in the Mankato area. You’ll enjoy a keynote presentation by songwriter Ken Lonnquist, along with a variety of breakout sessions, from writing about extreme sports to creating a murder mystery. The cost to participate in the SCSC conference runs $27 to $37, depending on how soon you register for the event.

Southeast Service Cooperative's Young Authors, Young Artists Conference 2019

When: May 21-23, 2019

Where: Rochester Community and Technical College, Rochester, Minnesota

The Southeast Service Cooperative’s Young Authors, Young Artists Conference caters to students in grades 3 to 5 living in southeast Minnesota. (The SSC’s conference for grades 6 to 8 is held in the fall.) The focus of this conference is “to promote student enthusiasm and competence in written and visual communication” and includes a keynote speaker and three breakout sessions. More information will be available on the website as the conference date nears.

Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable 2019 Internship Fair

When: March 19, 2019

Where: Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN

Are you an older student looking for an internship in the field of writing and publishing? Plan to head to the MBPR’s annual internship fair, where you can meet Minnesota magazine and book publishers and discuss internship possibilities, both paid and for academic credit. Bring at least 10 copies of your resume. Check out the details here.

Success Beyond the Classroom Young Author’s Conference 2019

When: May 28-31, 2019

Where: Bethel University, Arden Hills, MN

Registration Deadline: February 28, 2019

This is the second Young Author’s Conference of the year held at Bethel. Students in grades 4 through 8 can spend the day learning from professional Minnesota Authors. The theme of this conference is “Expect the Unexpected! Where Will Writing Take You?” and includes breakout sessions along with a keynote address. Some fun extras? Open mic, a book fair, and live music. Early bird registration has passed, but there are still a few days to register for the conference.

2019 Camp NaNoWriMo

When: April 2019

Where: Anywhere!

Although this event is open to any young writer anywhere, Minnesota students would be well served to consider this rewarding longtime writing event. You can chat on the forum with other Minnesota students who are trying their hand at novel writing, poetry, or short stories, plus there are many weekly events to prepare for your writing endeavor. This virtual writing retreat can pay off big in creativity, writing practice, and networking. Check it out here.

Lakes Country Service Cooperative's Young Writer’s Conference 2019

When: Spring 2019

Where: 1001 E. Mount Faith, Fergus Falls, MN

Held every spring, the LCSC Young Writer’s Conference is an opportunity for students in grades 3 to 7 living in an around Fergus Falls to attend classes taught by Minnesota authors and other artists, including storytellers, puppeteers, and illustrators. For more information and updates on the timing and details of this conference, please visit the website.

Kate DiCamillo – A Piglet Named Mercy Tour

When: April 6, 2019, 1-4 pm

Where: Barnes & Noble Apache, Rochester, MN

Favorite Minnesota children’s author Kate DiCamillo will be appearing at the Rochester Barnes and Noble bookstore to talk about A Piglet Named Mercy, the picture book prequel to the New York Times-bestselling Mercy Watson series. No matter your age, this is a great way for aspiring  writers to see one of the top Minnesota children’s authors in person and learn what goes into the writing and publishing of a successful children’s book. Information is available on the B&N website.

If you’re a Minnesota student who likes to write, make this spring an eventful one. There’s plenty here to choose from and you’ll gain knowledge and skills that can help advance your writing craft—and your dream of being an author.

 

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Wish you could put more emotion in your writing? If you’re worried you’ll sound unprofessional or you’re just plain uncomfortable showing feelings, here’s some good news: it’s okay to write with the heart. In fact, it can bring life to your words, engage your readers, and free your spirit. But there is a catch—putting emotion in your writing must be done with care in order to work. With Valentine’s Day nearing, why not let it inspire you to take your feelings to the page. These ideas will help you write with the heart:

Remember To Show

You may be tired of hearing the mantra “show don’t tell,” but in order to write with the heart, you have to take those three words to heart. When you let readers tap into the senses by showing rather than telling, they’ll feel what you’re feeling, no explanation necessary. And that makes writing with emotion easier for you and more satisfying to experience for the reader.

Make It Relatable

Exposing your emotions in writing is a lot less intimidating if readers get what you’re saying. Gushing over something that no one but you cares about or can relate to won’t draw readers in and keep them interested. In fact, it might turn them off. When you write with the heart, make sure people connect with your feelings. In other words, always keep your audience in mind.

Be Honest and Real

Emotions in writing can come off as overdone, contrived, or fake if they’re not heartfelt. Whatever it is you’re describing should actually touch or move you. Think of people who feign emotion and feelings in person. It shows. The same thing will happen if you pretend on paper. Be real and true to yourself, and writing with the heart will come easily, naturally, and credibly.

Follow Up with Your Head

When you write with the heart, the initial draft can sound pretty raw. That’s why it’s important to take a second, third, or even fourth look at your work. You might even set your writing aside for a day or two. Then go back and edit with your head—tone down your words, fix sentences so they flow better, and make sure your point or message filters through the emotion.

Don’t be afraid to show your feelings on paper. Done with care, writing with the heart can be highly gratifying and inspiring for you and your readers.

 

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With a fresh year approaching, how about taking a fresh challenge: drop your old, worn-out writing habits and adopt a new approach to your craft. You might be surprised at how a simple change of pace, style, and attitude can bring revived life to your writing—along with a year of productivity. Try these eight ideas for starting the New Year fresh, and see how you can unleash a new writer in you that’s better, bolder, and bound for success.

Set Writing Goals

Make this year the one you focus on achieving your writing goals. Start by writing down everything you hope to get done in 2019. You can devise a list of goals for the year as well as monthly and weekly goals. Then keep the lists handy so you can refer to them regularly.

Grow Your Confidence

If you’ve been shy or uncertain about your writing worth, take time to assess your accomplishments. What have you published to date? Have you earned a new degree or attended a conference? Putting together a resume can grow your confidence by helping you see how far you’ve come as a writer.

Learn

What better time to learn than the beginning of a new year? Consider taking a writing course or enrolling in a workshop to improve and expand your skills. Learning can also open up doors for your writing business, sharpen your mind, and offer networking opportunities.

Take on a Writing Challenge

Ever wanted to participate in Nanowrimo? How about submitting to a high-circulation magazine? Don’t hold back. Commit to doing something that gives you reason to work your hardest and produce your best material. Success often comes in the risk-taking and journey rather than the end result.

Get Serious

The month of December can be slow and unproductive for writers, especially when holiday activities pile up. But there’s no excuse not to get serious come January. Adopt a determined attitude and see how it can do wonders for kick-starting your writing for the New Year.

Make an Investment

That is, of time, resources, writing tools—you name it. Whatever you need to do to push your writing to a new level this year, go ahead and invest in it. Making improvements to your writing life may be costly upfront, but you’ll find the long-term payoff to be worth it.

Give Back

Giving isn’t just a nice thing to do; you’ll benefit from the gesture. When it comes to growing your writing career, there are plenty of ways to give that’ll fill the bill. Offer your writing skills to a nonprofit, mentor a novice writer, or donate a percentage of your writing income to your favorite charity.

Start Strong Now

Don’t wait another day to be a new, improved writer. Procrastination won’t move your talent or career along, but action and perseverance will. Shrug off the bad days and the rejections. They’re a normal part of the writing life. Be bold, push through, and strive to be the best writer you can be—starting now.

Let the new writer in you emerge. Try the above ideas, and make it a year of progress, productivity, and endless possibilities.

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Before you know it, the holidays will be here. For those of us writers-who-like-to-bake, that means one thing: it’s time to start thinking about making Christmas cookies and other holiday goodies. But don’t put away your writing tools while you’re mulling over recipe ideas. Instead, why not combine the two and craft an irresistible holiday treat recipe? You can share it with friends, submit it for sale, or just have it tweaked and ready to use when baking day arrives. Writing a holiday cookie recipe is also a fun diversion from the usual routine and a great way to learn about recipe writing. Here are some important tips to follow:

Make It Easy

Complicated holiday recipes aren’t just complicated to write; they’re hard to follow. Avoid too many steps, wordy instructions, and using unfamiliar baking terms and processes. Holiday baking should be fun, easy, and festive, not tedious and complex. The simpler and clearer the recipe, the better.

Be Fresh (Or Add a Fresh Twist)

Write a recipe that’s truly yours. Many Christmas cookie and holiday treat recipes are out there, but only yours is made by you. Make sure it’s unique. If crafting your own version of a well-known holiday treat, add a fresh twist to it—an unusual ingredient, shape, or texture that makes it one-of-a-kind.

Use Common Ingredients

Some of the best holiday recipes (or any recipes for that matter) are those made with common, everyday ingredients. No one likes to search far and wide for specialty baking items. In fact, most people will scan a recipe first to see if they have the ingredients on hand or they’re easy to buy. Keep in mind that most grocery stores carry popular holiday baking ingredients during the season.

Offer Extra Tips

What makes your recipe come out beautifully every time may be a baking technique you follow, like roasting nuts before adding them to the batter, refrigerating dough overnight, or using unsalted versus salted butter in your recipe. Be sure to include any tips that give your recipe that extra level of perfection and deliciousness.

Include a Picture

Pictures make all the difference when it comes to trying new recipes. If the end result looks tasty and appealing, chances are someone is going to want to bake it. Use an attractive display—a colorful holiday platter, for example—and photograph your masterpiece to include with your recipe.

Ready to do some recipe writing before you start your holiday baking? You’ll appreciate your well-crafted treasure for seasons to come—and so will others.

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Everyone’s got a favorite punctuation mark. As for me, I like the em dash. Seems like I often have something extra to say at the end of a sentence or find myself wanting to interject a thought between thoughts. I’ve got options, of course, but the em dash usually grabs my attention first. Em dashes are simple and clean, easy to type, and extremely versatile. They also make my writing flow the best. But take my advice: there are tricks to using the em dash effectively, and getting to know the ins and outs of this functionally fun punctuation mark is worth the effort if you want it to improve your writing.

What is the Em Dash?

The em dash is a dash that’s about as long as the letter m. Don’t mistake it with the en dash, which is shorter and typically used between numbers, dates, and times. It’s also not the same as a hyphen, the shortest dash and the one used in compound words.

While the em dash is often referred to as the long dash, it's a great way to bring tightness and focus to your sentences.

When is the Em Dash Appropriate?

If you’ve got an important detail you want to highlight or you want to show a sudden break in thought, the em dash may be just the ticket: Sarah decided to return the white dress—she never planned to keep it anyway—after her mother commented on how pale she looked.

It also works when adding a final thought: Eating healthy and staying fit and strong will improve your overall well-being—and keep you young at heart.

You might also use an em dash to set off an introductory series of nouns: Patience, empathy, and kindness—those were the virtues she preached the most.

Finally, em dashes make reading a sentence with other punctuation easier on the eyes: Fruits, vegetables, and protein—especially strawberries, cauliflower, and fish—are among her favorites.

Dos and Don’ts for Using the Em Dash

The em dash has a place in your writing, but it’s not always the right mark to use. Keep these dos and don’ts in mind:

  • Do place the em dashes in the right spot. When used with an interjected idea, put dashes on either side. When used for a final thought, place the em dash directly before the thought.
  • Do watch your spacing. Em dashes don’t need spaces between letters. Make them look neat on the page.
  • Don’t use the em dash if parentheses or commas make more sense; for example, when a detail is minor and doesn’t need amplification.
  • Don’t precede an em dash with a comma, colon, semicolon, or period. You may use a question mark or exclamation point, though: He made it on time—thank goodness!—and the meeting was a success.
  • Don’t overuse the em dash. If your entire page is filled with them, they backfire and become hard on the eyes. Place them sparingly throughout a piece of writing. And never use two or more em dash clauses in the same sentence

Got a propensity for the em dash? Me too. Use it appropriately and intermittently and make the mark work to your advantage.

 

 

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Summer’s nearing an end and it’s time to start thinking about hitting the keyboard full force. But while you’re busy collecting ideas for your fall writing schedule, here’s one more idea to consider: planning a fall vacation. Wait a sec, didn’t I just take a vacation, you ask? Whether you did or not, fall’s one of the best times to travel, especially if you want to make autumn a lucrative, productive writing season. Here’s why:

You Need a Fall Vacation to Recharge

Let’s face it, summer vacations aren’t exactly restful and rejuvenating. Bustling beach adventures, hectic air travel, and multi-stop road trips to visit the relatives can be exciting—and exhausting. Fall vacations, on the other hand, tend to be less chaotic and tiring, giving your brain and body time to refresh and recharge so you can write full force when you return to your desk.

Fall Vacations Offer a Multitude of Writing Ideas

Beautiful colors, perfect weather, and popular destinations for less money describe a fall vacation. What more could you want? Actually, there’s plenty more. Vacationing during the autumn months is also an ideal way to jumpstart a new season of writing. All the advantages of fall travel translate to a long list of writing ideas—from interesting vacation spots to unique fall foods, activities, holidays, and foliage.

Motivation Comes from Something to Anticipate

You don’t have to take a fall vacation at the beginning of autumn, but you can start planning and getting excited about it, which will help motivate you to work hard now so you can relax and enjoy the trip in a month or two. Knowing you have something to look forward to in the short-term can be just what you need to be productive after a long, unstructured summer.

You Can Make It a Writing Vacation

A vacation doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. If you love your craft (and most writers do!) and it relaxes you, why not take it along? Choose a private, quiet spot to travel, and bring your writing materials and creativity with. Or, sign up for an autumn writing conference or retreat, where you get the opportunity to mingle with other writers, enjoy the beauty of the surroundings, and spend time honing and broadening your skills.

Fall is a great time to write. It’s also a great time to get away. Do yourself a favor and plan a fall vacation. It’ll do wonders for your mind, body, and writing life.

Image by David Whelan

 

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Blog and website owners are always in need of professionally-written web content, which is good news for freelance writers. Not only is web content in high demand, writing it is lucrative, fun, and open to just about any level of experience. But here’s the catch: While anyone can write web content, writing cash-worthy content takes patience, practice, and some important pointers. Here are six tips to help you craft the best content you can—and land a sale every time:

Be Fresh

Let’s face it, everyone’s written about practically every topic out there. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write one more article or post on a used idea—just make it fresh. In other words, find a new angle, a different perspective, or an interesting update. Of course, you can always come up with something completely untold, like a unique, personal experience. Best advice? Do some research before you start writing to rule out overdone topics. And remember, when it comes to selling content, fresh is the name of the game.

Know Your SEO

Using keywords that will help your content rank high in search engines is, well, key. If you don’t know SEO practices for writing web content, study and learn them. Content that’s SEO-friendly is going to help it sell. Bear in mind that SEO needs to be balanced with good, readable writing that delivers valuable advice or high entertainment value to the reader. Over-stuffed keywords in content that has more fluff than function won’t be worth anyone’s time—including a buyer’s.

Watch Word Count

If a blog owner specifies a word count, adhere to it. When you don’t have a word count to follow, aim for 2,000, say recent studies. Years ago, short blog posts and web articles of 500 or so words were the way to go. Now it appears that, for SEO purposes, longer posts have better sales potential. Check out this article about word counts for more information.

Avoid Haste

While it’s true, some readers scan through content looking for tidbits of information, others take their time and read entire posts, including several thousand word ones. The point is, never take your writing lightly. Hastily putting together an article that contains errors and useless advice won’t sell. Instead, write carefully and offer something relevant, include strong titles and bold subheadings for those who like to skim, and edit, edit, edit. In fact, set aside your work for a few days and review it with fresh eyes before submitting.

Price It Right

Be mindful when setting a fee or pricing your content. You may think your time and work are worth gold, but a buyer is looking for a reasonable price. Check around and see what the going rate is for content similar to yours. Consider your experience, the amount of research you’ve done, and the time and effort you’ve put in. You don’t want to underprice yourself, either; well-written, useful content will eventually sell for a fair price. If you’re writing for an article database or catalog, take into account the percentage the content distributor keeps when pricing your work.

Be Efficient

Writing web content can be time-consuming, but you can find ways to speed up the process, increase your output, and still produce quality work. For one thing, try coming up with several writing ideas at once. Often, this comes naturally. After gathering research for a topic and putting together an outline or draft, you might discover that you could turn your article into two or even three pieces. Most important, write when you’re able to fully concentrate so that your writing session consists of quality time. Efficiency goes a long way in helping you write—and sell—web content.

Writing web content is a fun way for writers of all backgrounds to earn money and get published. Learn the ins and outs of writing cash-worthy web content, and see how lucrative this writing niche can be.

 

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In today’s world of loose rules and anything-goes sentence structure, bad grammar often gets a pass. But using effective grammar is essential for readability, credibility, and clarity in writing. If you think you could use a grammar refresher, look no further. These five tips will help you hone and improve your grammar—so you can give your readers a satisfying, stammer-free experience.

Take a Class

Why not enroll in a grammar refresher course? They’re fun and challenging and help sharpen this important writing skill. Recommended classes include the Editorial Freelancers Association's Grammar Combo course, ed2go’s Grammar Refresher, and Media Bistro’s Grammar and Punctuation. You might also check with a local college or community education program for onsite grammar refresher classes.

Download a Grammar App

There are many grammar apps out there, so why not take advantage of this useful tool? Grammar apps do everything from point out errors in your writing to offer quizzes and games to make learning fun. Some of the most popular grammar apps include Grammarly, Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation, and Grammar Up, but an online search will reveal many more.

Explore a Grammar Site

Websites set up to assist with grammar can be a great resource for those especially interested in learning more about the mechanics of good writing. Three to consider are GrammarCheck, Daily Grammar, and Purdue Online Writing Lab. These sites include newsy information on today’s use of grammar as well as helpful hints to keep your grammar spotless—and spot on.

Invest in a Good Style Guide

This is a must if you’re a writer. Style guides give rules for how editors (self-editors too!) should handle all kinds of grammar-related issues—from basic mechanics to word usage. For tips on choosing a style guide, check out Allena Tapia's article on the subject. Style and usage books, like the classic On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Strunk’s The Elements of Style, offer important grammar help for writers, too.

Read

You’d be surprised at how many grammar tips you can pick up by just reading a book. Plus, reading is an entertaining and informative way to hone your craft. So go ahead and read to your heart’s content. But instead of reading as a reader, try reading as a writer. Your grammar won’t just improve; so will your overall writing.

Don’t let your grammar fall by the wayside. Take it seriously, and make your writing as professional and crystal clear as it can be.