Friday, January 29, 2021

Jerry Jenkins's 25 Tips for Writing Well

Douglas, Whether you’re a beginner or have been at it for decades, writing well is hard work. I’ve written and published nearly 200 books, including 21 New York Times bestsellers, and I still work daily to improve. I believe we all should commit to lifelong learning. 

One doesn’t arrive at good writing. Grow or stagnate. Maybe your writing lacks punch. Or you’ve hit a brick wall. Don’t give up! With help, your message still has the potential to reach the masses. I can’t turn you into a bestselling author overnight, and I urge you to suspect anyone who says they can. But I do believe I can help improve your writing immediately. 

1. Don’t aim to write a bestseller. That’s the last thing I think about when I start a new book. To have any chance at success, my manuscript must come from my passions, the overflow of what I really care about. I have no control over the market, sales, reviews, and all the rest. All I can control is how much of myself I give to a writing project. What’s your passion? What drives you? Write about that. Your passion will keep you at the keyboard and motivate you when the writing gets tough—and if you’re doing it right, it always does. 

 2. Always think reader-first. Write Think Reader First on a sticky note and place it where you can see it while you’re writing. Your sole job is to tell a story so compelling that your reader gets lost in it from the get-go. Treat your readers the way you want to be treated and write what you would want to read. That’s the Golden Rule of Writing. Never let up, never bore. Always put your reader first. 

3. Avoid throat-clearing. That’s a term we in the writing business use for any writing that stalls a story or chapter by beginning with anything but the good stuff. Cut the setup, the description, the setting, the philosophizing, and get on with the story. 

4. Show, don’t tell. Telling spoon feeds your readers rather than allowing them to deduce what’s going on. Showing triggers the theater of her mind (See No. 7). Telling: It was late fall. Showing: Leaves crunched beneath his feet. Telling: It was cold. Showing: He tightened his collar and turned his face from the biting wind. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov Click here to read more about this. 

5. Avoid telling what’s not happening. “He didn’t respond.” “She didn’t say anything.” “The room never got quiet.” If you don’t say it happened, we won’t assume it did. 

6. Introduce your main character early, by name. The biggest mistake new writers make is introducing their main character too late. As a rule, he should be the first person on stage. 

7. Trigger the theater of your reader’s mind. Ever wonder why the book is always better than the movie? Not even Hollywood, with all its creativity and high tech CGI capability, can compete with the theater of our imagination. Give your reader just enough information to engage his imagination, making him a partner in the experience, not just an audience member. 

8. Cut dialogue to the bone. Unless including them to reveal a character as a brainiac or a blowhard, omit needless words from dialogue. Obviously, you wouldn’t render a conversation the way a court transcript includes repetition and even um, ah, uh, etc. See how much you can chop while virtually communicating the same point. Like this: image This doesn’t mean your dialogue has to be choppy—just cut the dead wood. You’ll be surprised by how much power cutting adds. 

9. Omit needless words. Less is more. Tighten, tighten, tighten. Again, you’ll find cutting almost always adds power. image 

10. Choose normal words over fancy ones. Showing off your vocabulary or flowery turns of phrase draws attention to the writing itself rather than the content. That’s the very definition of author intrusion. 

11. Use active voice vs. passive voice. Fix passive voice by replacing state-of-being verbs. Passive: The party was planned by Jill. Active: Jill planned the party. Passive: The book was read to the children by the teacher. Active: The teacher read the book to the children. Avoiding passive voice will set you apart from much of your competition. And it adds clarity. 

12. Avoid mannerisms of attribution. Have people say things, not wheeze, gasp, laugh, grunt, snort, reply, retort, exclaim, or declare them. Sometimes people whisper or shout or mumble, but let your choice of words imply whether they grumble, etc. If it’s important that they sigh or laugh, separate the action from the dialogue: Jim sighed. “I just can’t take it anymore.” 

 13. Avoid began to… …laugh, or cry, or shout, or run. People don’t just begin to do these things. They do them. Just say it: He laughed, she cried, Fred shouted, Traci ran… 

14. Eliminate clichés. And not just words and phrases. Also, root out situational clichés, like: Starting your story with the main character waking up Having a character describe himself while standing before a mirror Having future love interests literally bump into each other when they first meet Having a shot ring out, only to have the shooter be a surprise third party who kills the one who had the drop on the hero Having the seemingly dead or unconscious or incapacitated villain spring back to life just when we thought the hero had finally saved the day Also, avoid the dream cliché. It’s okay to have people dream but eliminate the dreadful cliché of spelling out an entire harrowing scene and then surprising the reader by having the character wake up. That’s been used to death and lets the air out of your story. Also, avoid heart and breathing clichés: pounded, raced, thudded, hammered, gasped, sucked wind, etc. If you render the scary situation compellingly enough, you need not tell readers anything about your character’s heartbeat or breath. Readers should experience those themselves. 

15. Avoid on-the-nose writing. A Hollywood term for writing that mirrors real life without advancing the story, on-the-nose writing is the most common mistake I see in otherwise good writing. Eliminate small talk, banalities, etc. 

16. Avoid the words up and down—unless they’re really needed. He rigged [up] the device. She sat [down] on the couch. 

 17. Read The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White Every writing teacher I know recommends this short paperback, and it should be at the top of your list if you want to improve as a writer. I’ve read it at least once a year for more than 40 years. Its simple truths cover everything you need to know about style and grammar. Click here to get the book. 

18. Give your readers credit. They understand more than you think. Example: “They walked through the open door and sat down across from each other in chairs.” If they walked in and sat, we can assume the door was open, the direction was down, and—unless told otherwise—there were chairs. So you can write: “They walked in and sat across from each other.” 

19. Use powerful verbs. Ever wonder why an otherwise grammatically correct sentence lies there like a dead fish? Your sentence might be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid. But the sentence doesn’t work. Something I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose: “Focus on nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.” To learn how, read my post 249 Strong Verbs That’ll Instantly Supercharge Your Writing. A couple of things to watch for: 

 20. Resist the urge to explain (RUE). image Avoid hedging verbs like smiled slightly, almost laughed, frowned a bit, etc. The character either smiles, laughs, frowns, or doesn’t. Avoid state-of-being verbs: is, am, are, was, etc. Not: There was a man standing on the train platform. Rather: A man stood on the train platform. image 

21. Don’t shortchange your research. Though fiction, by definition, is made up, to succeed it must be believable. Even fantasies must make sense. Once the reader has accepted your premise, what follows must be logical. Effective research is key to adding the specificity necessary to make this work. Accurate details add flavor and authenticity. Get details wrong, and your reader loses confidence—and interest—in your story. The essentials: Consult Atlases and World Almanacs to confirm geography and cultural norms and find character names that align with the setting, period, and customs. If your Middle Eastern character flashes someone a thumbs up, be sure that means the same in his culture as it does in yours. Online and hard copy Encyclopedias. YouTube and online search engines can yield tens of thousands of results. A Thesaurus, not to find the most exotic word, but to find that normal word on the tip of your tongue. In-person interviews with experts. People love to talk about their work, and often such conversations lead to more story ideas. And remember, research detail should be used as seasoning. Don’t make it the main course—that should be your story itself. 

22. Become a ferocious self-editor. Agents and editors can tell within two pages whether a manuscript is worthy of further consideration. That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. But it’s a reality we writers need to face. Learn to aggressively self-edit using the tools I’ve given you here. Never submit writing with which you’re not entirely happy. 

 23. Develop a thick skin. Every piece of published writing is a duet between editor and writer, not a solo. Learn to take criticism, especially from professionals who are on your side and want you to succeed. 

24. Become a voracious reader. Your career as a writer can end before it starts unless you make time to read. You won’t find the time—you have to carve it out of your busy schedule. That might seem impossible with your busy life, but how badly do you want to become a published author? Writers are readers. Good writers are good readers. Great writers are great readers. 

25. Don’t let fear of failure stop you. Even the most successful writers fear there’s too much competition and they’re not good enough. They’re right! So don’t try to overcome that fear. Embrace it. It’s valid! Instead, let it motivate you to do your best work. Every time. You Can Get Better at Writing I’ve dedicated most of my life to coaching writers, because I love paying forward all I’ve learned and seeing you succeed. Practicing these tips won’t turn you into an overnight success—writing is hard, exhausting, time-consuming work. And if it isn’t, you’re probably not doing it right. But all that effort is worth it. Dreamers talk about writing. Writers write. So don’t quit. Before long, you just might find yourself becoming a better writer.  Jerry

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

GUEST POST: Finding the Light after Going Through Dark Times, by I.C. Robledo

Hello, This email is somewhat longer than usual, but today I want to share a part of my personal story with you. 

In life, we often want so badly to be happy and to have everything go perfectly. However, we must understand that when everything goes wrong, this is just an opportunity for us to turn everything around. 

 I spent, or perhaps wasted, years of my life. I spent that time in a negative haze, with a dark cloud hanging over me. I had problems with being sociable, so I assumed that people didn’t enjoy being with me and that they did not like me. It was a great struggle for me to be around people, because I felt that they were thinking negatively about me. I didn’t sense it at the time, but my issue was more with my internal negativity, rather than any true negativity on their part. 

Sometimes, people even asked me, “Why are you so negative? What is wrong?” 

But I never had a good answer. My belief was that reality actually was negative and terrible, and that I simply had to deal with it. I didn’t understand that I was being consumed by my own negativity at the time – and that my way of seeing life didn’t represent reality. However maladaptive my negative way of thinking was, by my early twenties I was getting used to it. I thought that the negativity was a part of who I was – that it was in my personality. 

My life had evolved into a bad habit of seeing, thinking, and doing in a negative way. 

Of course, I was not happy about this – but at the same time, I didn’t see any other options. I didn’t know any other way to be. I felt entrapped, but I couldn’t grasp any way out of the reality that I had created for myself. This way of being lasted for many years, and then came the toughest period of my life. 

I had applied to a graduate school program in industrial-organizational psychology. I had a deep doubt within me, realizing that I would be tested beyond what I could even imagine. A part of me knew that I was not ready for this program, but I applied anyway. On paper, I was an excellent student, but my communication skills were quite poor, and I was worried about this. Nonetheless, I was accepted into the program. 

 In the first week, I realized that this would be the biggest challenge of my life. 

However, the work itself wasn’t overly difficult, intellectually. Rather, there was so much work that needed to be done, that there appeared to be no end in sight to it. For example, there was a heavy load of course work, multiple research projects, learning to use statistical programs, management of undergraduate researchers, many administrative tasks, and a variety of meetings per week on research topics, all while I was adjusting to living in a new state. 

 My biggest battle at the time, however, was not the work itself, nor in adjusting to the new location. It was in learning to deal with my own overwhelming negativity. 

The force of it was becoming greater and greater, as it gained in power under the increasing pressures and stresses of my life. Even in the first few weeks of the program, I did not think that I could deal with all of the work. I felt like I was being suffocated under all of it. I had so much to do and learn that it was overwhelming, beyond anything I could have expected. 

I had begun to lose confidence that I would be able to do all the tasks required of me. 

Failure was often on my mind – I sensed that it was inevitable. 

 After several months in the program, I felt defeated. I was keeping up with the work demands, but my mind was telling me that I was going to fail, over and over, and I was not happy. Work occupied my mind all day long, and when it was time to sleep, I could not stop thinking about it. 

Generally, I would only sleep a few hours per night. I was also losing weight, and I was already thin when the program had begun. 

A big sign that my mind was malfunctioning was that I was forgetting very simple things. I would forget meeting times and sometimes I could not recall what someone had said to me only moments earlier. At my worst, my mind was occupied with incessant negative thoughts about myself – which is clearly counterproductive. I may have been sitting in a meeting, and my mind would wander into negative thoughts. I couldn’t focus on anything else but this negativity. 

Eventually, I did not want to be in the program any longer. But I continued with it 
nonetheless. After a few more months it was winter break. I should have been happy, but instead I found myself bedridden. I spent most of the days in bed, not because of a physical ailment – but because of a mental one. The negativity inside of me was on permanent full throttle now. Imagine getting into your car, putting it in neutral, and then putting your foot down on the gas all the way. The engine is revving so hard that it sounds like it could break, but the car isn’t going anywhere. This is what my mind and my life had become. My mind was working in overdrive to the point of self-destruction, but I was not making progress. The fact that I was in bed, unable to do much of anything, only reinforced the negative thoughts I had had – that I was truly not going to be able to continue with the program. 

As a simple example of just how bad things were, I found it difficult to do a basic task such as brushing my teeth – even this took all of my energy to accomplish. Sometimes I would feel good that I had managed to do this on my own, and then I would go back to bed and wonder: If this is what I have stooped to, how will I ever continue with this graduate program? How will I ever finish my degree? If brushing my teeth is difficult, how can I learn advanced statistics and manage undergraduate students, or even show up to meetings or classes? 

 I thought seriously about whether it was even worth it to continue. But I somehow realized that my mind wasn’t working properly, and I didn’t feel qualified to make such a big decision in that state of mind, so I didn’t quit. 

In reality, the program was becoming less of a concern – my life itself was now my biggest problem. If I continued to deteriorate at this rate, I would have much bigger problems than just finishing a graduate program. 

After this lowest of lows, spending most of my days in bed, I decided to finally get some help and I went to my doctor. I was given some tests, and he explained that I had major depressive disorder and dysthymia. He prescribed some antidepressants and he told me to start seeing a clinical psychologist to receive some counseling. He said that in my deeply depressed state, it was critical that I take the medication and attend the counseling. Either one alone would not be sufficient. 

 After a few weeks of following the treatment, I was well enough to function again. I could do basic tasks, but it was still a struggle to operate at the higher level that the graduate program required. 

After a few months, I was doing fine. I was no longer overwhelmed by a self-created negativity, and I was able to do all of my work without much trouble. 

The true healing would take many years, however. The medication and therapy helped to reset my mind and body, but I was not truly healed. I still needed to learn to control my mind to prevent this from ever happening again. 

After a couple of years on the treatment plan, with the aid of my doctor and therapist, I stopped taking the medication and I stopped going to counseling. I felt the need to do this so that I could control my own destiny fully. I wanted to be sure that I was the master of my own mind, and that I didn’t need to rely on either medication or counseling. I intuitively knew that I didn’t need it – my biggest problem was a self-created negativity, and therefore I could learn to control it. 

In the months after stopping treatment I didn’t feel worse, but I still didn’t feel happy, or like I was on a path that I looked forward to pursuing. I wasn’t overwhelmed with negativity, but I didn’t view this alone as a true success. It’s as much of a success as you would say being absent of pain is a success. 

The achievement of not being profoundly empty or sad just wasn’t enough. There needed to be more to life than just this. I wanted something more. As an important note, if you want to stop taking a medication or stop a counseling program, be sure to discuss this with your medical and counseling professionals first. There can be great risks with stopping either one suddenly, depending on your situation. 

 The above section was an excerpt from my book, 7 Thoughts to Live Your Life By: A Guide to the Happy, Peaceful, & Meaningful Life - available on Amazon, Google Play, other major retailers, in paperback, and on your preferred online audiobook retailer. In the book, I discuss a system of thinking for helping us to overcome whatever it is that we feel is holding us back. 

I had to hit rock bottom before I finally had the epiphany that helped me to turn my life around. If there is something holding you back right now, or you would like to learn to use the power of your Thoughts to lift you higher, then I recommend that you read the book. 

 All the best, Issac “I. C.” Robledo 

 P. S., Did you like what you read here? If so, please share with a friend. 

 DWC's comment: I rarely have guest posts, but this one, by author/engineer I.C. Robledo, is too good to miss. See his books at, too.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

On Getting Older

Last night, a person who loves me said it was hard to watch me losing some of my abilities, especially observing my trouble walking under the influence of arthritis.

I replied that I have long accepted the inevitability of some decline, and I still appreciate what is left, diminished as it is.

My beloved, stoic, and heroic wife, Tina Su Cooper, quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent for the past 16 years, agreed with me one day a few years ago that if that day were our last day on Earth, it had all been worth it.

I have about a 50% chance of living into my mid-80s and a 25% chance to making it into my late-90s, (my mother lived to 98), and I am living carefully to maximize the time left and to be here for Tina if I can.

So, last night, I told the one who asked that the following poem by Robert Louis Stevenson might well be my requiem, too:


Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

I doubt I will gladly die, however.
Perhaps "gladly" if in continuing pain or perhaps after great 
disappointment, but probably sadly with
reluctance to leave those I care about.
But life has been plenty. 

We live in particularly favorable times,
all things considered, so different from
Hobbes's description of the
state of nature, where life was
"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Short may have been the best part.

Over a century ago, Robert Browning wrote,
"Grow old along with me.
The best is yet to be,
The last for which the first was made."
How many of us would agree?

Later that evening, I engulfed my usual mound of prescriptions and over-the-counter supplements, some of which, I hope, do some good. 

After we are born, there is only one guarantee. Two, if you include taxes.
So be it.

Monday, January 18, 2021

V. D. Hanson on the Political Landscape Now Beware the oligopolists. How we speak about all this now:

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

What the Republicans Can Do Next