My sample chapters are due to a publisher in one week; these tips for writing for publication are my final attempt to make those chapters as lively, concrete, and strong as possible! These writing tips focus on the craft of writing (not the mechanics, such as grammar, spelling, or sentence construction).
Before the tips, a quip:
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug,” said Mark Twain.
Writing for publication involves finding the exact right word — and stringing your sentences together carefully and deliberately. For more ways to improve your writing, read Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore (the revision techniques work for nonfiction writers, too).
And, read on for seven tips for writing for publication…
7 Tips for Writing for Publication
1. Detach. When you’re revising or editing your writing – the stage I’m at now with my sample chapters – you need to detach. Take a cold hard look at how your sentences work together to capture the reader’s attention, how your paragraphs flow, how your whole article or chapter is linked together. Writing isn’t just about expressing yourself and playing with metaphors and creating sentences for readers to drool over. Writing for publication is about tightening your ideas with specific strategies.
2. Drop crumbs throughout your writing. To keep readers (including editors, agents, and publishers) reading, sprinkle crumbs of your story throughout your piece, starting with the first sentence. For instance, here’s how one of my chapters of See Jane Soar opens: “k.d. lang likes seeing football players get knocked down – but not because she’s a lesbian.” Hopefully, readers will wonder why lang likes watching men in tight pants (that’s the first crumb). I dropped another crumb in the next paragraph…and the next one.
3. Learn which crumbs tantalize readers. Think about the last novel or article you read – or even the last movie you watched. What kept you there? Darin Strauss’ crumbs in the novel More Than it Hurts You involved unanswered questions, suspicion, mystery, foreshadowing, and end-of-chapter hooks. This tip for writing for publication involves analyzing your writing make sure your crumbs are tantalizing enough.
4. Tie your crumbs together with the same thread. If I mention lang’s love of football players in the intro – and then go into her reasons for loving football players – then I’ll refer to both topics again in the body of the chapter, and at the end. If you’re writing for publication, you need to tie your whole article or chapter together with one thread, into a tight little muffin package. To practice this, notice threads in the magazine articles or book chapters you’re currently reading.
5. Look for ways to include literary techniques. Learn how literary techniques such as personification, alliteration, dialogue, symbolism, contrast, parallelism, oxymorons, etc can improve your writing. Here’s the most recent example of personification I’ve read: “Normality strolled back into the Goldins’ home, then hung around as if it’d never left.” (From More Than it Hurts You). Take your writing to the publication level by keeping a list of literary techniques nearby, and looking for ways to insert them in your writing – naturally.
6. Be aware of your writing weaknesses. I tend to use too many run-on sentences. So, when I edit, I deliberately look for places to insert short, snappy sentences. Do you struggle with grammar, sentence fragments, verbiosity, excessive flowery language? Figure your flaws. Fix them. Read Writing Help for Common Non-Fiction and Fiction Mistakes for more tips.
7. Send it out with a kiss. This tip for writing for publication isn’t about craft as much as the writing life: after you’ve poured your heart and soul into your work, after you’ve detached yourself to revise and edit with specific strategies, and after you’re satisfied that you’ve done the best you can…let go of your writing. Give your manuscript a big fat smooch, and send it off to the editor or publisher. It’s not yours anymore.
It’s hard work, this writing for publication thing. But it’s also stimulating and satisfying – especially if you can put aside your desire to get published and just enjoy the writing process. The more you enjoy your writing, the more entranced your readers will be…and the hungrier they’ll be for more.
What do you think about these tips for writing for publication – and do you have anything to add? I welcome your comments and questions below…