My Top 20 Tips on Writing and Self-Editing
If you happen to be a blogger or a published author, and especially if you have aspirations of writing your first book, I have a message just for you. I’ve come up with a list of 20 things you might want to consider while writing your next viral blog post or best-seller.
Editing is a touchy subject, and there are differences of opinion on how to best convey ideas in writing. There are, for example, some obvious style differences between how a writer in London and one in New York would write the same story. But there are some concepts that most authors and editors agree upon. Here are a few that I’ve found to be helpful:
1) As much as possible, try to write in clear, concise chunks of thought. In general, it’s best to write the shortest sentences possible. Try to avoid writing long, run-on sentences. If you carefully analyze most long sentences, you can usually rewrite them as a couple of shorter sentences that convey the same idea more clearly.
2) Keep related sentences together in the same paragraph and keep paragraphs as short as possible. When transitioning to a new subject or thought, begin a new paragraph.
3) Read through your draft periodically and re-organize paragraphs as needed to make the flow of thought as smooth as possible. Don’t be afraid to do some large-scale reorganizing and re-writing if it’s called for.
4) Learn the proper use of commas. It’s a simple, little mark, but its improper use can drive people crazy. One of the worst, book reviews, I’ve ever received, came from a reader, who was ticked-off, at my improper use, of commas. Go here if, you need help.
5) Learn two spell better. Spell-chick can be a useful tool, but it isn’t food-proof and it will mist some obviously misspelled worlds. If you want to be a successful writer, strive to improve your spelling. (The first sentence above passed spell-check with flying colors. I counted five misspelled words. How many did you catch?)
6) Learn to write with proper grammar. As dangerous as it is to rely on spell-check for spelling errors, it’s even more dangerous to rely on it to check your grammar. Your reputation and credibility as a writer will largely depend upon your spelling skills and your use of grammar. In particular, learn the proper use of its and it’s; the proper use of your, and you’re; and the proper use of their, they’re and there.
7) Minimize the use of bolding and the use of underlining as much as possible. Their unnecessary use makes your writing harder to read. There are fewer things that require emphasis than most of us are willing to admit. When emphasis is needed, consider using italics, but don’t overdo it.
8) Use sub-headings when introducing a new section within a chapter or blog post and keep them relevant. Good sub-headings help readers follow where you’re going. If a chapter or blog post is short, or if it only focuses on one subject, you may not need them.
9) Always use a serif font in a book’s text body. (Examples of serif fonts are Times New Roman and Garamond.) It’s probably the best option for your blog as well. Serif fonts have a little line at the end of the letter. They’re much easier to read than non-serif fonts, such as Arial. (I use Garamond in all my books.)
10) Always use the same font size within the body of a book or blog post. Changing font sizes tends to annoy readers, and causes display problems with e-books. Find a font size that works well and stick with it. (Twelve-point Garamond or Times is a good option if you’re not sure.) The exceptions to this rule are chapter headings and sub-headings. For chapter headings, I use the same font that I use for the body of the book, but a size that is two or three points larger. For sub-headings, I use the bold version of the same font I use for the text.
11) When placing a quote within a sentence, it’s generally safest to use a comma immediately before the quote. The comma will usually follow a word like “said” or “replied.”
Example: Jack said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
12) The punctuation for a quote nearly always goes inside the ending quotation mark.
13) When using quotes, always use double quotes. The exception is when a quote appears inside another quote. In this case, the outer quote gets double quotes, while the inner one gets single quotes. If there are multiple quotes within other quotes, the use of single and double quotes alternates.
Example: The author’s final argument was less convincing: “When Brown writes of ‘interpreting the matter through a “secular” lens,’ he opens himself to the same criticism he made earlier in his own paper.”
14) Many writers struggle with the proper use of semi-colons, hyphens, dashes, and em dashes. I had trouble with them while writing my first 2 books, but I’ve gotten much better with practice. I now rely heavily on the em dash, ( — ) which is a very long dash that has a lot of flexibility in how it can be used. It can replace semi-colons and even parenthesis in some cases. It’s my go-to punctuation for long sentences that contain several clauses. (If you use a PC, you can create an em dash by holding down the alt key while typing 0151 on the numeric keypad.) I use this guide for punctuation when I need help. The tabs along the top of the page provide quick access to the use of all forms of punctuation.
15) Titles of books, magazines, movies, etc. are best written in title case, which capitalizes all the words except the shortest ones (such as in, or, the, of, ect.). A title is usually italicized, and the use of bolding or underlining isn’t necessary. When in doubt, you can check the capitalization of a title here.
16) When introducing a new subject that readers may not be familiar with, it’s a good practice to italicize the first mention of it and explain what the term means, but it’s not necessary to italicize it afterward.
17) It’s a good practice to standardize Bible references. How you do that is a matter of preference, but it’s a good idea to choose a method you like and use it consistently. Some people use standard abbreviations, while others write out the entire book name. Here’s an article that has plenty of tips on this and related topics.
18) The most overused punctuation mark is the exclamation mark! I think of it as a kind of literary hot sauce! A little can be good, but it’s easy to overdo it!
19) While it’s tempting to use Capitalization Tricks to draw attention to Certain Words, it’s best to avoid getting drawn into this Trend. Learn the standard rules for capitalization and stick to them. I picked up a lot of bad writing habits from bloggers that I followed and had to painfully unlearn them when I began writing books.
20) Finally, resist the urge to use ALL CAPS to draw attention to certain words. It looks unprofessional and the main message it conveys is that you’re an inexperienced writer. Write well and you won’t need to employ such tactics. Strong writing speaks for itself.