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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Writing Ideas: 9 Ways To Jumpstart Your Writing Goal

In the past I conducted a writing project called Gotta Get Goals where people blogged about the life goals that they just had to get done before their time was up. Not surprisingly, the majority of the people said that writing a best selling novel was high up on their goals list.

This tells me that a lot of people can relate to the desire to create beautiful writing, while a lot of people lack the discipline to put the pen to the paper.

Like most goals, accomplishment comes with investments in time, in brain power, and consistent commitment. Here I will discuss some specific things you can do to get a jump start on developing a writing habit. If writing is not for you, think of a life goal that you have and then build a plan for it.

Let's now take a look at some writing-specific habit making techniques.

Building The Writing Habit

A set time. Each and every morning I wake up at 6am and begin writing. They say the first waking hour is the Golden Hour, where you concentrate and experience the most creativity. I think this is true for me, and it can be true for you even if you aren't a morning person. Once you are in the habit of writing at a certain time, that is your Golden Time.

A set place. Since I do my writing right when I wake up, it's pretty much always done in my bedroom, at my writing desk, on my laptop. While I will occasionally write from other locations or on different computers, this is home base (literally). The purpose of this is to continually trigger my mind into a creative flow. You might want to have a completely separate computer just for your writing in order to build an even stronger connection with writing and this apparatus.

Writing Utensils. I do 95% of my writing on my Dell Inspiron 6000 machine. It may not be luxurious, but it gets the job done. My program of choice for all initial writing happens to be Dark Room. It is a very basic program that takes up the whole screen and forces concentration on the written word.

Idea Lists. An important part of stimulating creativity is the act of bringing plentiful ideas to the writing table. To do this it is important to carry a Moleskin or a Voice Recorder with you throughout the day. You might be in a very random place when you get your million dollar idea and you'll want to capture every nuance of it instead of letting it get forgotten by trusting your memory.

Kill Distractions. I hope no one skimming this list is going to throw a hatchet at the first person to knock on the door while they're writing. On a serious note, it's very important to preserve quiet in a distraction free writing space because it takes several minutes to enter a creative flow state after a disturbance. If it takes you 15 minutes to get into maximum flow, and you get distracted every 20 minutes, you aren't realizing your full writing potential as you throw yourself into the writing world.

Quit Quitting. Get used to quitting all those self-limiting beliefs that say you have nothing to write about, no fresh ideas, and cannot properly articulate the language. Forget that. Put the pen to the paper, and write anything that comes to mind, and see where that takes you.

Sit In Dark and Silence. Create a time where you can just sit with your eyes closed for 15 minutes and think. You can concentrate on the stillness and block out all ideas or try asking a question of someone that has all the answers in the world. You'll be surprised to find that your mind will generate the answers for you, then get up and write.

Ideas, Not Grammar. I know that my ideas are worth their weight in gold, but my grammar might not always be on top of the class. If that is the case with you, don't worry about it; write however you write. If it's a serious piece of work, the editor will take care of it for you. Otherwise your purpose should be to make the ideas as understandable as possible, and nothing more.

Revisit. Contrary to number 8 that says 'Write and don't worry about it', a great writing habit is to revisit your work to revise. On a second run, especially after a day break from the work, you get to see it with fresh eyes, and a fresh state, that can word things in a completely different way. This is where you make your ideas even more understandable.
What have you done to kick start your long term writing goals? Let us all know in the comments. Who knows, your words of wisdom may help the next person that stumbles into this article!


Writing Ideas

Writers find ideas everywhere – from newspapers, magazines, books, television and conversations, for example. It is good practice to read an article and think of a fresh angle on the topic. Imagine that you have recently read an article on Kolleru Lake, for example. Could you expand on Kolleru’s history? Do the tank owners have an unusual way of making money? Are the visiting birds especially interesting? You can often ‘brainstorm’ and obtain many different angles based on the one subject.

Using your professional background can give you a head start in the competitive world of freelance writing.

One big advantage of using your professional background is that you can write for fellow professionals or you can simplify complicated subjects so that lay people can understand them more easily

Writing Ideas… What???

Write about what you care about. If you are passionate about a particular subject it is likely to show in your writing. You may, for example, be concerned about the effect of violence on TV and film on children or the easy availability of drugs.
Write about your personal experiences – they could be life-changing, humorous or romantic. You may know someone with an interesting story who would make a good interview subject.

Hobbies and activities that you like doing will provide you with many ideas. If you like films and books, for example, you could write reviews. Some other examples include travel, technology and sports.
How-to-do articles are always in demand. Use the skills that you are good at to write these. You may be a 3D buff, for example, and able to teach others about how to create 3D with 3-D Max.

Humorous articles are popular, but many people, including me, find them difficult to write. The antics of children or articles which are slightly self-deprecating are usually enjoyed by many people.

Seasonal articles are always in demand, for example, articles about Christmas or Thanksgiving. So many articles have been written about the history and customs of these celebrations, however, that it is more difficult to find a fresh angle.
Most writers keep clips of articles about the subjects which they want to write about – to help their research and to provide fresh ideas. An ‘ideas file’ with clips from newspapers and magazines is very helpful. Remember also the wise advice to always keep a notebook handy!

What Should I Write About? Original Angles

Ideas that are based on what people want to know are always going to be popular. These include:

· How to save time
· How to save money
· How to be loved
· How to make money.

Original angles…

Some examples include:

‘Ten Ways to Minimize your Taxes’,
‘Unusual Ways to find your Soul mate’
‘Secrets of Successful Home workers’. You can use these simple themes to find ideas on any topic. Take travel, for example. Here are some article ideas based on these themes:

· ‘Best available airfare deals’
· ‘How to work all over the World'
· ‘Ten Ways to save money on a holiday’

Matching Ideas…

Think carefully about what kind of idea would suit your potential market. A health magazine may be interested in new research on a particular disease, for example. Women’s magazines are often interested in human interest stories or interviews with famous people.

Original angle… helps
You can also target many different markets by using variations on the one theme.
However, the old advice is to write about what you know. This can make your research easier and faster. It also provides lay people with an ‘insider’s’ view.

Matching Ideas to Markets

Most successful freelancers find their potential markets first and then think of ideas which they think might match them.
This is easier than thinking of the ideas first and then finding possible markets for them, because you have something tangible for which to aim.

There are many different types of markets. They include:

Consumer magazines. These include women’s magazines and magazines on different subjects – everything from general interest to stamp-collecting.
Women’s magazines are incredibly popular.
Trade Magazines. These are magazines for particular occupations and industries. There are trade magazines for lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers... the list is endless. If you know a lot about a particular, specialized area it is worth checking the trade magazines. They often pay well, and are more accessible to new writers
However, a magazine for engineers, for example, is not likely to want articles from lay people.
Literary Magazines. These have small circulations and don’t usually pay well, if at all. However, the quality of the writing is usually excellent and publication in these can be quite prestigious. ‘In the end, writing for literary publications will serve you two ways: it will reinvest your writing with emotion, and it will add life to your ‘everyday’ writing.

It is worth looking for new magazines, and for free copies of magazines that you may want to target. Airline magazines, for example, are often free.

You should now have a clearer idea of how to find marketable ideas and how to match your articles to markets

source: class room notes by Dr K Narender, associate professor, department of communication & journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, INDIA


Technical Writing

Strive for readability

Remember to never split an infinitive. The passive voice should never be used. Do not put statements in the negative form. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.”
— William L. Safire,
American author
Let us summarise the essential qualities of good technical writing, so that we can have a clear picture of what is involved in it. The vital attributes are clarity, conciseness, accuracy, and organisation.
Clarity can be achieved not only by using unambiguous language but also by giving specific, quantified information. “We have to produce a large number of washers in a few weeks” is vague. Instead, if you write “We have to produce 12,500 washers before 30th June,” the message becomes clear. Expressions such as some, recently, a few days and a large amount do not provide clear information. ‘Recently’ may mean ‘yesterday’ to one reader, but ‘during the past year’ to another.
Conciseness is another essential quality. Try to give maximum information in a minimum of words. In the first place, conciseness saves your time as well as that of the reader. Further, a shorter passage of instructions will be read and understood better. If a long passage of instructions is received, the reader may be tempted to skip many of the lines that may contain vital information. Short sentences, short paragraphs and ample white space aid easy reading.
Conciseness is often lost if you follow certain traditional styles, formal expressions or irrelevant rhetoric. See how words can be reduced.
•6 a.m. in the morning – 6 a.m.
•Absolutely sure – sure
•Actual experience – experience
•Arrive at an agreement – agree
•As for example – for example
•ATM Machine – ATM
•Basic fundamentals – fundamentals
•Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. – Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
•Cancel out – cancel
•Close scrutiny – scrutiny
•Collaborated together – collaborated
•Consensus of opinion - consensus
•Costs the sum of Rs. 2,500 – costs Rs. 2,500
•Due to the fact that – because
•Face up to the facts – face the facts
•Fit enough for work – fit for work
•For the purpose of discussing – to discuss
•GPS System – GPS
•HIV Virus – HIV
•Hot water heater – water heater.
•I am in receipt of – I received
•In order to purchase – to buy
•In spite of the fact that – although
•In the likely event that – if
•In the near future – soon
•Is of the opinion that – thinks
•LCD Display – LCD
•Looking back in hindsight – in hindsight
•Make an amendment to – amend
•New innovation – innovation
•Now pending – pending
•PIN number – PIN
•Pre-recorded programme – recorded programme
•Regular weekly reports – weekly reports
•Results achieved so far – results
•Three different kinds of connections – Three kinds of connections
•Underground subway – subway
•Winter season – winter
•With the exception of – except
•Needless to say – (Then why say it?)
These expressions have been cited for helping to understand the concept of wordiness that is common in writing.
Awareness of this style will help us avoid it and go for brevity. Redundant expressions, such as each and every, may sometimes be required for emphasis. But they should be exceptions.
Another quality of good technical writing is accuracy. Your document may have the qualities of clarity and conciseness. But if there are inaccuracies in the document, it loses effectiveness and credibility.
It misleads the user. Errors in spelling should be avoided. If you misspell the name of the company you are addressing, you create an unfavourable impression straightaway.
There are some tricks to identify errors that you may overlook.
Ask another person to read the document. (Even if you read your text several times, you may miss certain errors. Perhaps you ‘read’ what you believe you wrote. Another factor: your ignorance.)
Adopt the ‘cold storage’ method. Keep the document for a couple of days. Then you come back to it and read.
For proofreading, you may use the trick of reading the document backwards, or line by line without going into the meaning.
Use spell-check on the computer. But keep in mind that this does not guarantee complete accuracy. It will pass any word in the dictionary, without looking into the context.
For example, the computer will not try to correct ‘stationary store.’ Stationary is also a word, though the context demands ‘stationery.’ If you typed ‘war window’ instead of ‘war widow,’ the automatic spell-check will not help you.
Check and re-check numbers, subscripts (as in K2), superscripts (as in x5), formulae, and equations.
Confirm that the text matches the numbers or words in the related diagrams.
In any case, do not trust your memory beyond a point. When in doubt, do not hesitate to use a dictionary.
How you organise the matter for presentation tells a lot about its readability, and the effectiveness of communication. Organisation has a significant role, along with clarity, conciseness, and accuracy. Logical organisation ensures that the reader easily follows your train of thought.
The type of organisation depends on the type of the contents.
Space: imagine that you are describing the parts of a gadget. You can give a picture and number the parts. While explaining the parts you may indicate the relative positions from left to right, top to bottom, outside to inside and so on. Perhaps, you can ask the reader to follow the clockwise or the anticlockwise direction, while viewing a series of parts. This is sometimes called the spatial organisation.
Time: If you are describing the sequence of a process, you can go in the chronological order. First this, then that, and so on.
Importance: arrange the various points in the order of importance. Suppose you are giving bullets. The first bullets are likely to attract more attention. So also, what appears down from one-third from the top of the page to the middle of the page would get better attention than what is placed at the bottom of the page.
Compare and contrast: If you want to establish that your product is better than that from your competitor, you may go for a tabular list that compares and contrasts. This technique is used in sales promotion literature, often without mentioning the name of the competitor. However, let the emphasis be on the merit of your product and not on the demerit of the competing product.
Tabular columns: These help the reader grasp the points in one look, compared to what is presented in the form of a descriptive passage.
The inverted pyramid: You would have heard of the inverted pyramid style adopted by journalists in reporting. A pyramid with the narrow tip pointing downward and the broad base pointing upward.
The most important information would be provided at the top, the less important below it, and the least important at the lowest level.
The most important things are stated first, so that it easily catches the reader’s attention. The relatively insignificant aspects are mentioned towards the end of the story. You can follow the style if it suits the topic.
Your concern for the finer aspects of language need not go to an irritating extent. Perhaps, you have heard a comment attributed to Winston Churchill. An overzealous secretary revised the great man’s sentences to avoid ending them with prepositions. Churchill scribbled in the margin: “This is the sort of arrant nonsense up with which I will not put.” This is not to suggest that you can afford to be slipshod.
“How to Write With Style” by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt VonnegutIn an essay from his 1981 collection, Palm Sunday, the wonderful Kurt Vonnegut offered simple, sensible advice on improving your writing. Love this bit on learning how to “sound like yourself”:

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

The seven points, in all:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean
7. Pity the readers

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