Get opinions

It can be hard to critique your own work, may be a story or poetry, so after you’ve done an initial edit, try to get some friends or an editor group (there are plenty online) to look at your writing for you. You may not like all their suggestions, and you don’t have to take any of them, but you might find some insight that will make your writing better. Feedback is good. Pass your writing around, and ask your friends to critique your work. Tell them to be honest, even if it’s painful. Filter their responses, heeding and ignoring, then edit as you see fit.

How to Improve Your Reading Skills

Here are some steps to help you improve your reading skills:

1.  Evaluate your reading habits to find out where you need improvement. Do you “say” the words you’re reading? Do strange words slow your speed and comprehension? Do you read every word? Do you re-read sentences? Do you vary your speed to suit the material?

2.  Provide the best conditions for reading. Choose a place where you’ll have few interruptions, have good lighting, can sit in a good chair, and won’t be distracted by radio, TV or other noises. Hold the book about fifteen inches away (about the distance from your elbow to your wrist).

3.  Use your eyes efficiently. If words are blurry, get your eyes checked by a professional. Don’t “say” what you read, and don’t re-read unnecessarily. Read phrases, not every single word.

4.  Increase your vocabulary by keeping a dictionary handy, maintaining a list of new words, and knowing the origin of words.

5.  Match your speed to the material you are reading. Know what and why you’re reading. Preview the material, especially when studying. Study reading requires closer, slower reading. For leisure reading you can go faster. Be sure you get the information in graphic aids and illustrations.

6.  To improve your reading speed, practice for about 15 to 30 minutes each day, checking your rate in words-per-minute. Check your comprehension by summarizing what you read. Ideally, you want to read faster while maintaining your understanding. Therefore, use the same type of materials each time you practice to provide the consistency needed for meaningful practice.

Book bible

Most writers won’t bother with this, but that’s a mistake. If you are serious about your writing, a book bible is a must-have. However, you can work on that last. This is ideally a binder with everything about your book contained in its pages: plot outline, character sketches, notes, bits of dialog, small details, scene description, research, etc. You’ll find this extremely useful. The habit to develop: get a binder, write notes on characters, plot, scene, dialog, and keep it updated, as soon as you’re done writing. So, write, log it, then update your book bible.

Writing time

The most important habit you can form is the daily writing habit. Even if you only write a page or two in a day, that’s OK. The important thing is to do it. Eventually, you’ll get there. Some days will be good; some will be not so good. Still sit down to write. It’s important that you have one dedicated time for writing. You might do more, at other times, but make that one time be sacred. It might be first thing in the morning, right after lunch, right after work, or right before bed. Choose a time that you can do every single day, without fail. Dedicate at least 30 minutes to writing … at first. Later, you’ll need at least an hour, preferably two. This will not only improve your writing habit, but also add creativity to your ideas.

Know how to insert question marks into a sentence

The question mark can be used within a sentence (not just at the end of it) if wished, although you might prefer to use commas and leave the question mark for the end of the sentence it’s your choice, as both ways are correct. For example, take the situation of someone leaving their house in a hurry before a disaster and wondering what they might have time to take with them. The sentence could be written both of the following ways, noting that the second way provides a lot more emphasis:

  • Would I have time to take my car, my horse, my photo album, my laptop, my favorite clothes and jewelry?
  • Would I have time to take my car? my horse? my photo album? my laptop? my favorite clothes and jewelry? Note that you do not need capital letters as it remains one sentence.

In this sentence, the question marks are known as “interrupters” and either emphasize each of the separate question fragments, or show the close-linked nature of them.

Commas

Comma usage is one of the most complex, and most misunderstood, questions of proper punctuation. In some cases there are widely accepted rules governing comma usage; in a few cases, there is more than one acceptable approach. Students often think it’s silly to worry about things such as punctuation: after all, isn’t the legal analysis what really counts? However, when one applies for a job or submits written work to a supervisor, nothing will leave a more negative impression than ignorance of the basic rules of punctuation.

  • When you begin a sentence with a phrase or dependent clause to introduce a subsequent independent clause, separate the clauses with a comma.
  • Use commas to set off a nonrestrictive clause in the middle of a sentence, but not to set off a restrictive clause.
  • Use two commas to set off an appositive or an aside in the midst of a sentence.
  • Use two commas, not one, to set off a nonrestrictive clause in the middle of a sentence.
  • Place a comma after a transitional word that introduces a sentence.
  • When using commas to separate items in a list, place a comma before the conjunction that precedes the last separate item in the list, unless that last item is a compound term.
  • Use a comma to separate two adjectives that modify the same noun, but do not use a comma if the first of two adjectives modifies the second adjective, but not the noun.
  • Do not use a comma to replace the word “that.”
  • Do not use a comma to separate the parts of a double predicate, unless the sentence would be confusing without it, or the second part of the double predicate requires special emphasis.
  • When joining two independent clauses with a conjunction, place a comma before the conjunction. Conjunctions include the words “and,” “but,” “or,” “nor,” and “yet.”
  • Generally, use a comma before “which” but not before “that.”
  • Place commas inside, not outside, quotation marks.
  • Use two commas when setting off dates and places.

Full stop – how to use them

Definition

The full stop is a punctuation mark indicating a strong pause. It is used most commonly at the end of a complete sentence like this one.

Examples

  • This is a short sentence. This is another.
  • It happened suddenly in 1996.
  • There are two reasons for this (in my opinion).

Use

The full stop is the strongest mark of punctuation. It is sometimes called the period.

How to write a paragraph

Organizing thoughts into a coherent piece of writing can be a daunting task. The best way to pin those ideas down and put them into a form that others can follow is to use an outline. The tried-and-true I-II-III A-B-C outline works whether you have to churn out a paragraph, a page, or a paper. Here’s how to use it for a strong single paragraph;

Write the numbers 1-5 on a piece of paper.

  1. Next to #1, write your answer to the question, or your opinion on the topic, in a complete sentence. For example, if asked to write a paragraph about your favorite person, you might write, “My favorite person is my mother.”
  2. Next to #2, write one reason in support of your answer. For example, on the favorite person paragraph, you might write, “She knows how to help with homework.”
  3. Next to #3, write another reason in support of your answer. You might write, “She takes me wherever I need to go.”
  4. Next to #4, write a third reason in support of your answer. You might write, “She is very good at reading stories.”
  5. Next to #5, rephrase your answer or opinion from #1. You might write, “My mother is a wonderful person to me.”
  6. Copy your sentences #1-#5, one after the other, on your final sheet of paper. And there you have it — a coherent five-sentence paragraph: “My favorite person is my mother. She knows how to help with homework. She takes me wherever I need to go. She is very good at reading stories. My mother is a wonderful person to me.”

The example used here is a very simple paragraph for an early elementary assignment, but the same technique can be used for a more advanced open-ended question. Just answer the question in the first sentence; write one reason for that answer in the second; another reason in the third sentence; a third reason in the fourth sentence; and rephrase your answer for the fifth sentence.

Ten Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing

Whether you’re composing a blog or a business letter, an email or an essay, our goal should be to respond clearly and directly to the needs and interests of our readers.

Follow these ten quick tips to improve your writing whenever you set out to inform or persuade.

  1. Lead with your main idea.

As a general rule, state the main idea of a paragraph in the first sentence–the topic sentence. Don’t keep your readers guessing.

  1. Vary the length of your sentences.

In general, use short sentences to emphasize ideas. Use longer sentences to explain, define, or illustrate ideas.

  1. Put key words and ideas at the beginning or end of a sentence.

Don’t bury a main point in the middle of a long sentence. To emphasize key words, place them at the beginning or (better yet) at the end.

  1. Vary sentence types and structures.

Vary sentence types by including occasional questions and commands. Vary sentence structures by blending simple, compound, and complex sentences.

  1. Use active verbs.

Don’t overwork the passive voice or forms of the verb “to be.” Instead, use active verbs in the active voice.

  1. Use specific nouns and verbs.

To convey your message clearly and keep your readers engaged, use concrete and specific words that show what you mean.

  1. Cut the clutter.

When revising your work, eliminate unnecessary words.

  1. Read aloud when you revise.

When revising, you may hear problems (of tone, emphasis, word choice, and syntax) that you can’t see. So listen up!

  1. Actively edit and proofread.

It’s easy to overlook errors when merely looking over your work. So be on the lookout for common trouble spots when studying your final draft.

10.  Use a dictionary.

When proofreading, don’t trust your spellchecker: it can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word.

Fiction writing tips – Inventing your characters

Where do fictional characters come from? Does the stork bring them; do they grow in cabbage patches? Both seem like possibilities, since story characters can pop up just about everywhere else.

Some places to start:

  • Someone you see on the street or in the supermarket. Imagine a life for this person, and you’ve got a fictional character.
  • Take a picture of a person in a magazine. Invent a name for him or her, a personality, hopes and fears, annoying habits.
  • Open the phone book to a random name. Let’s say you come up with “B. Goulding.” What might the “B.” stand for? Write down the first thing that comes to mind; for example, Bertha. When you imagine someone named Bertha Goulding, what mental picture occurs to you? I see someone tall and fat, maybe sixty years old, with black curly hair and red lipstick. Turn the name you’ve chosen into a fictional character.