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What’s better than the combination of funk, a cute dog, and some useful writing tips? I present to you a video I made on Instagram that got a decent amount of views (in my modest world) and was useful to boot.
In it, my dog Lillie imparts some smart writing tips while out for a walk around the neighborhood. You can watch the video here, and read the tips below in a little more detail.
Explore the things that look boring to others
Great stories don’t have to be flashy. While those are fun to read, some of the most powerful stories are the everyday ones, the narratives we relate to. The stories that demonstrate how alike we are.
At the same time, you just might find flashy in the mundane. Journalists find blockbuster stories within the pages of business reports or the minutes of a town meeting. I subscribe to a few i
ndustry newsletters to keep an eye out for trade news that I can turn into consumer magazine-type stories.
Those emails can be dreadfully boring to wade through, but that drudgery is one thing that keeps the competition at bay.
So poke around in places that others think are boring, and see what treasure you find.
If the trash ain’t relevant, let it be
Heads up: you don’t have to share every detail. If you’re writing a tell-all, you don’t actually have to tell all. If you’re writing a memoir, you don’t have to start from the day of your birth. If you’ve done a ton of research, you don’t have to drag the reader through it.
Pick and choose what to include and what to leave out. Keep this question top of mind as you write: Does this detail move the story forward?
If the answer is no? Cut. Slash. Kill.
Social media has many of us thinking we need to share it ALL in order to be authentic, but that’s not true. We need to share what’s relevant. Holding back some details doesn’t mean we’re being fake or hiding something (unless you are, but even then it’s your choice; just don’t misrepresent yourself). It means we’re getting to the point.
Stick with interesting characters
What makes for interesting? That depends. Once again we’re talking about relevance. Whether fiction or nonfiction, any person you introduce into your narrative needs to be there for a reason.
They might play a key role, say something important, lead to a revelation or to another person or place. Or they might just offer comic relief, which is a form of pacing.
Remember to ask yourself what role this person plays in your message and overall storyline. What do they contribute? That’s what’s interesting.
Keep it movin’
Throughout my writing career, I’ve studied articles and books of people whose writing I admire, whether in the local newspaper or a bestseller. I’d read and re-read sentences and paragraphs to figure out how they did what they did, and then practice those techniques in a way that worked for my voice and style.
One of my newspapers hired a writing coach, and I brought her some clips from a reporter I admired.
The thing that writer did well? Drive the narrative forward. The coach showed me how he did this, what he wrote to keep pushing things along — and we looked at some of my writing as well to study where I did this and where I fell short.
One of my early mistakes — and I can still fall into this trap — was becoming so enamored with a detail or a turn of phrase that I inserted it because it sounded good, and I’d forget to ask what it did for the story. It can be painful to cut sections we love, but it’s even more painful to lose readers.
I hope you liked Lillie’s writing tips! Chime in below with any of your favorites. Need a coach or an editor? Check out my menu of services to see whether I can be of help.
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