Category Archives: writing techniques

Books on Writing

Like many writers, I read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style several times (it’s a short book). Nowadays, books on writing have more imaginative titles like Sin and Syntax, Eats Shoots and Leaves, and The Transitive Vampire.

The current books with their creative themes are good because they generate interest in writing readable English. But, we should not ignore older books on writing, even with their plain titles. Things haven’t changed that much.

I recently read A Handbook of Short Story Writing by John T. Frederick, published in 1924, and If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938 (recently reprinted).

Both had basic writing advice that is just as good as the current books. One advice I found useful: a writer should always write to someone.

It may be a stuffed toy, an imaginary friend, God, or someone the writer knows. It could be a small audience of people, a bigger group in a specific genre, or the writer through a diary. When writing, there is the intent of a reader.

Back to books about writing.

People who write text messages, emails, notes, or shopping lists do not need to read books about writing. Those who want to communicate by writing, should.

Whether it has an imaginative title or was written a hundred years ago, writing readable English means writing so a person could be understood clearly. Whether a writer is writing to someone, no one, or to themselves, there is the hope of a reader.

Small Notebooks

I always carry a small notebook and a pen with me whenever I leave the house, the place where I have a lot of pens and papers. If I take my wallet and car key, I take my notebook and pen.

There are a lot of things I write in my notebook. Like how much I spent for gas when the receipt doesn’t print out, a list of places I need to go to when running errands, and the odd idea that comes into my head for no reason at all.

Everyone who wants to write, and those who do, should always carry around a notebook to write things in. They may be reminders, ideas to explore, or a memory to write about later. At the end of the day, the pages could end up in the trash. Yet, a lot of times there is something salvageable .

 

Quote: Writing is finding order in chaos. Reading is the act of meditation.

 

Keeping Track of Things

This blog entry will be dull for most people. I’ll explain how I track my short stories when I send them out to magazines for publication. I have two methods – one using a spreadsheet and the other writing in the folders I keep for each story.

I’ve been maintaining a spreadsheet for many years and eventually settled on the following categories.

  • Magazine title and each story I sent
  • The date I sent the story and the date it was returned (“returned” is a polite way of saying “rejected”)
  • A formula stating how many days the story has been with the magazine
  • Another formula flagging the story with an “x” in the cell after 60 days. After 120 days, the formula puts an “XX” in the cell and so on until after 250 days when the formula puts a big “OUT” in the cell. Usually before this last step, I’ve given up on the magazine sending me anything.
  • “Remarks” is when I do get something back, mostly a form rejection. If they say something, I put that down. If positive, I send them something else. If negative, I take them out of my listing.
  • I mark the months the magazine does not read submissions and the genres the magazine accepts, such as experimental, humor/satire, literary, mainstream, or science fiction
  • There are three categories for word length (minimum, maximum, and average)
  • How often they publish, when they were established, and their website ends my worksheet headings

I have over 260 magazines listed in my spreadsheet. The most useful part is my ability to sort through the headings and find magazines for my short stories that got rejected (or returned).

My second method is much simpler. I give each story a manila folder that includes all the rejections I received and acceptances (when they happen). In each folder, I write the magazine title, the date I sent them my story, and the date they returned or accepted it. It’s redundancy, but I can double check with my spreadsheet to make sure they match.

These methods are my means of being organized with my short stories. I still make mistakes, but not as many if I didn’t have these methods.

A writer should try to be organized (actually everyone should). Organization does not mean clean surfaces. It could be piles of clutter. As long as a person knows what’s in the pile when they need it and the pile does not fall on them.