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Week Four: avoiding the traps of amateur writing

Please welcome back today’s contributing editor Kristin W who tweets as @kdwald and blogs at That Unique* Weblog. If you have any questions or need any clarification on today’s topic or prompts, please feel free to begin a discussion in comments.

If you’re here just to hang out, the yeah write #67 hangout grid opens Tuesday.

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Avoiding the Traps of Amateur Writing

I have no business telling anyone how to avoid the traps of amateur writing. I am an amateur writer. In fact, I like to think of myself as a highly developed amateur writer. There’s a lot of freedom in remaining an amateur writer. It’s safe. It says, “I’m not really trying too hard.” It means writing about whatever I want, however I want. It means that no one is the boss of me. And if that’s enough for you as a writer, that’s cool.

But if it’s not, then read on.

First, let me warn you – as a few of the Yeah Write folks already know – I’m a horrible, no-good, very bad know-it-all.  I’m always utterly correct, and I’m often falsely self-deprecating in order to soften the reality of my correctness. More than once, I’ve unintentionally mangled professional and personal relationships when providing feedback on pieces of writing.  So, you know, keep that in mind if you choose to continue on.  Jumping in now.

Grammar. And, let’s include spelling.  Do it well. If you are unsure about punctuation, check it. For quick guides to usage, I like Grammar Girl and the OWL site from Purdue. Spelling and grammar programs don’t catch all errors. So don’t think you’re above checking your grammar and spelling. That’s the easy part.  Here comes the tough stuff.

Since most of the posts for Yeah Write are personal, we’re dealing with sensitive material. People love that sort of thing.  I love it too. But emotional writing doesn’t necessarily make for good* writing.  And when the content is intense, it is even more difficult to edit. But you must. To make it easier, here are a few basic elements to seek out.

1. Repetition.  This is easy. Have you used certain words or phrases more than a couple of times? Count them. Give them a hard look, and make a conscious decision as to whether you need them. Change them. Or, better yet, cut them. You can always put them back later. (Ignore the first paragraph of this post.)

2. Clichés. Unless you’re writing a parody or creating a character who speaks in clichés, don’t use them.  That includes those fun internet culture phrases.  That. is. all.

3. Surprise!  If you want to pull some kind of Aha! moment on your readers, drop a hint or two along the way to show it was intentional, not desperate. Same goes for a hangnail ending. A resolution can be brief. It can even be implied. But don’t let your ending just slink away. It’s your story. Don’t let your readers invent the ending for you.

4. Present tense. Avoid it.  Or, if you must write in the present tense, let it be because your tale is urgent and tense and desperately fast-paced.

I have so much more that my know-it-all self wants to bestow upon you. Sadly, I’m already over the 500 word limit, and I know that means that many of you have dozed off. So, I’ll just leave you with the most important tool to avoid amateurish writing: a willingness to change, revise, edit, cut, reconsider your writing. It’s painful, but your writing will strengthen. I promise.

* Yes, yes. It can be good. It’s just not automatically good. Okay?

Advice on responding to the yeah write prompts [Edited to add from Kristin’s advice in comments of this post—em]

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  • Puke it all up onto the (virtual) page
  • Choose ONE of the moments to develop
  • Save the rest for another time
  • Clean it up by focusing on intense details in plain language
  • Add detail

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A note from Erica M: Two major changes this week!

Voting on the grid is back, baby! You’ve done great with the prompts while finding your way to a central conflict. It’s time to put your submissions to a vote to get ready for the return of the challenge grid next month.

So.

Instead of opening the grid today as we’ve been doing for the past few weeks, we’re gonna get back on the challenge grid schedule of the grid opening on Tuesday, closing on Wednesday at 9 pm (or at 50 blogs, whichever happens first) and the voting starting immediately and ending at 9 pm US eastern time. The winners’ post will publish on Friday.

We’re still covering four days of the summer series topics. We’re glad you’re finding them so invaluable—thanks for all of the positive, encouraging comments. I can see the improvement on the bloggers who are participating and I especially love the new blog designs popping up in response. If I work my butt off, the entire series will be available as a PDF download by August 21 when the regular challenge grid returns.

yeah write #67 badges

[image width=”225″ height=”225″ align=”left” lightbox=”true” caption=”You can grab this one. Click to embiggen. Then right-click and select save this image.” title=””]https://yeahwrite.me/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/yw_wwb_bww.png [/image]

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  • Click in the upper right corner of this page on the plus symbol and the hidden widget containing the button badge codes will drop
  • Copy the code of your favorite badge, then paste that code into the HTML view of the post you’re planning to submit to the grid
  • If you’re having problems accessing those, feel free to grab the one in this post. Your backlink will be yeahwrite.me/67-open-summer or yeahwrite.me/67-open-hangout

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all your story are belong to you

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  • Read the summer FAQ page for other details: the grid is being moderated and if you’re missing an element outlined in the summer FAQ, your post will not be published on the grid
  • Let the prompt lead you, but do not include the prompt in any way in your post, not at the beginning as an intro, not at the end as a footnote. If you reference the prompt in your post, your post will not be published on the grid
  • Remember: no more than 500 words. If your post exceeds 500 words, yup, you guessed it—no publish for you
  • If the prompt takes you from thunderstorms to watching TV at your grandma’s house to how much you love Pat Sajak to the oldest person you’ve ever kissed, we want that story the furthest away in your imagination from the original prompt. Let your imagination loose
  • Keep your writing style! Do you tell stories with humor? Prose? Verse? Photos? Illustrations? Keep doing that. We’ll read Shakespearean drama on our own time
  • Cut away at everything unnecessary to your story
  • Don’t forget to badge your post
  • The grid now opens on Tuesdays

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[divider_header_h3] This week’s prompts [courtesy of Tom Slatin] [/divider_header_h3]

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  • What is the most annoying sound you have ever heard?
  • What is your biggest insecurity?
  • Does Never Never Land really exist?

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Yeah write #67 summer writer’s series grid opens Tuesday…