Writing Tips

Writing Tips: Will Everyone Please Sit/Set Down!

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Which do you do?

Set, set, set: This verb is so busy placing objects in various locations, it has no time to alter its tenses.

“Set” wants something to do. There is always a “what” after “set” such as set the table, set your hair, set goals.

After setting her purse on the table, Joan read the mail.

Have you set a date with that cute guy yet?

Set down the knife and raise your hands.

Sit, sat, sat, not standing. Actually, not doing anything. There is no “what” after sit, just a rest from working. No motion, nothing is going anywhere or doing anything. There could be another verb in “-ing” form, and you may use adjectives to describe the length, location, or style of the sit, but no objects follow “sit.”

Gary did not sit long on Janice’s couch. He preferred sitting in the recliner. While sitting there, he fell asleep. Janice sat thinking about Gary. How often has he sat on her recliner sleeping? He never would set a wedding date. Obviously this relationship is going nowhere–

Writing Tips: Is There Dessert in the Desert?

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Dessert is luscious, and often “sickeningly sweet” — hence the two “ss” in dessert.

The desert is too dry to support more than one “s.”

Shift the accent on desert – the place – and you have desert, the action.

The legionnaire de-SER-ted his post in the DES-ert.

Are You Using A Lot A Lot?

Recently I was chastised “a lot” for using “a lot” in my writing. While the vague measurement is now over-used and abused, I was reprimanded to not use a lot a lot. I pass this writing wisdom and grammar greatness onto you.

“A lot” is a piece of property, typically land. It is also used to represent multiple items in a collection at an auction or any collection of items or people. Lot was also the nephew of Abraham whose wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back after being specifically instructed against such treachery, which has nothing to do with casting your lot, taking a chance or making a decision based upon the random generation of a number of objects such as pebbles, coins, straw, or dice.

Today’s dictionaries include the definition of “a large number or amount; a great deal; much,” but old English professors still claim that this is an atrocious use of the words, and demand alternatives, as well as removal of the various twisted forms of “a lot” such as alot, lotsa, and lotta, which send spell checkers into a lot of fits.

So what are a lot of alternatives to “a lot?”

Impertinent Remarks by Laura Hale Brockway offered 32 alternatives to help us a lot. They include:

a good deal
a great deal
a large number
ample
bunches
enormous amount
heaps
infinite
loads
many
masses
much
plenty
reams
scads
several
slew
surplus

She also offers example sentences:

“Our style guide does not appear to be used by many people.”
“I try not to ask for any help from the IT Department.”

Thesaurus.com offers these alternatives:

enough
full
abundant
adequate
considerable
copious
countless
endless
everywhere
extravagant
galore
generous
immeasurable
jam-packed
lavish
mega
oodles
profuse
satisfying
sizable
slathers
substantial
sufficient
voluminous

I decided to test out a few more sentences of my own and play around with the various synonyms.

  • He uses the phone a good deal.
  • He uses the phone a great deal.
  • He uses the phone a large number.
  • He uses the phone ample.
  • He uses the phone bunches.
  • He uses the phone an enormous amount.
  • He uses the phone heaps.
  • He uses the phone infinite.
  • He uses the phone loads.
  • He uses the phone many.
  • He uses the phone masses.
  • He uses the phone much.
  • He uses the phone plenty.
  • He uses the phone reams.
  • He uses the phone scads.
  • He uses the phone several.
  • He uses the phone a slew.
  • He uses the phone surplus.
  • He uses the phone enough.
  • He uses the phone full.
  • He uses the phone endless.
  • He uses the phone everywhere.
  • He uses the phone extravagant.
  • He uses the phone jam-packed.
  • He uses the phone lavish.
  • He uses the phone mega.
  • He uses the phone oodles.
  • He uses the phone slathers.
  • He uses the phone substantially.
  • He uses the phone voluminously.

Some worked in this sentence structure, some clearly didn’t. Some are actually very funny.

Let’s try again and incorporate the alternative for “a lot” in a preposition.

  • I avoid asking for a good deal of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for a great deal of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for a large number of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for ample of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for bunches of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for enormous amount of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for heaps of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for infinite of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for loads of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for reams of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for scads of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for several of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for slew of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for surplus of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for copious of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for countless of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for endless of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for everywhere of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for extravagant of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for galore of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for generous of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for immeasurable of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for jam-packed of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for lavish of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for mega of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for oodles of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for slathers of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for voluminously of help with my computer.

Clearly, these synonyms for “a lot” don’t slip right into place as replacements. They take a lot of fuss to make sense out of I avoid asking for jam-packed of help with my computer.. It’s a lot to ask to for every replacement to replace well.

However you search and replace your lots, you shouldn’t have a lot of excuses for using a lot a lot.

How to Write a Tutorial

We are starting a new project featuring Writers in the Grove members only. Our members will be publishing tutorials and writing and publishing on this site to help educate themselves and others. We have some of the most amazingly talented writers, and we are eager to share their wisdom and experiences with you. Stay tuned for some great writing tips, tricks, techniques, and advice. And consider signing up for email notifications from this site when we publish something new so you can keep up with all our goodies.

A tutorial is an educational how-to, informative tip, studied technique, or wise advise. A tutorial on a website is a concise, step-by-step recipe for how to do something.

A tutorial published on the web shouldn’t be an entire guide book on how to do something. It is a taste, a simple instructional process, helping you learn one new thing at a time.

Writing a tutorial is different from writing an essay, poem, or prose in general. It is different from writing most editorial articles. A successful tutorial is written as if the author is sitting down next to the person, guiding them through the process in a simple and gentle fashion.

There is form and structure to writing a tutorial, especially for the web, though its style arose from magazine publishing.

The Tutorial Form and Structure

A tutorial for this website, and websites and magazines in general, is structured at its most simple form as:

  1. Opening paragraphs: Example of someone using this technique, with a little bit of the why. Keep this to no longer than 2-3 paragraphs, one is better.
  2. Explain the why: If it is not clear in the opening, next explain why someone should use this tip, technique, or advice. Keep it to one to two paragraphs.
  3. Ingredients/Tools/Supplies/What you need to know: The next section lists the various things you need to have or know to complete the task. For writers, this could be using a software program, the web, a notebook and pen, specific books, or other items.
  4. Step-by-Step Instructions: Break the process down to individual steps, taking the reader through the process one thing at a time. Use numbered and unnumbered lists for improved readability and clarity. You may also use heading styles to break the steps up as I have done in this article.
  5. Taking it one step further: This section takes the process just one step further, offering an alternative method, a way to expand upon the lesson learned, just a tiny step further in the process to inspire and motivate.
  6. Resources: If the article needs it, add more resources, websites, books, classes, videos, other materials to help the reader learn more about the topic.
  7. Summary (optional): Some writers like to summarize what they just wrote. In the web and in many magazines, the article usually stands alone without a summary, but if you need to, this is where it goes.

What You Need to Know About Writing Web Tutorials

A well-written tutorial begins with the paragraph and not a subtitle or heading. Headings (subtitles) are used throughout the article after the opening paragraphs to break the content up into sections and guide the reader through the information.

Links are used, if appropriate, in a properly and well-formed HTML link. Ensure all links offer specific and related content to support the tutorial’s intentions.

Images are excellent additions. Use them to support specific visual examples. Not every tutorial needs images, but when they do, they are helpful. For this site, size them at 800 pixels (about 4 inches) maximum when you upload them or include them in your submission, and allow them to be resized and aligned right, left, or center appropriately as needed in the article. And please keep them at a small file size, below 100K, as JPG or PNG files.

Consider your audience. What is the least they need to know to do this themselves? Write that.

Keep it simple. Keep it clear.

Have fun. Make this process enjoyable and readers will enjoy the process of learning from you.

For More Information

Four Mantras to Help Each Other Write

In this excerpt from an interview in 2012 by Oprah Winfrey on her show SuperSoul Sunday, she talks to Thich Nhat Hanh, famous monk and author of over 100 books on spiritualism, meditation, and mindfulness. He spoke about the concept of deep listening or compassionate listening.

Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of the other person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose to help him or her to empty his heart. And if you remember that you are helping him or her to suffer less, even if he says things full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable to continue to listen with compassion, because you know listening that like that, with compassion, you give him or her a chance to suffer less.

If you want to help him or her to correct his perception, and then you wait for another time, but for the time being, you just listen with compassion and help him or her to suffer less. And just one hour like that can bring transformation and healing.

His words caught my heart. I suffer from the chronic human need to fix things. Fix problems, fix people, fix writing. I’m not alone. I know you feel the same.

It is hard to sit still and just be with someone, listen to them, hear their pain, and not fix it.

Recently, one of the writers in our group finally heard what we’d been saying for a while regarding their writing, and the dam broke. The writing became clearer, more emotional, and passionate. I realized that the writer wasn’t ready to hear our words until the time was right, and now was the moment.

I’m the same way. I can hear the same words over and over again, sometimes for many years, but I don’t hear them, take them into my heart, and act upon them until I’m good and ready to listen.

Part of the magic of our group is that we have some enlightened beings setting that example for all of us. We’ve learned to trust that the person will figure it out on their own, in their own time, and all we can do is listen, be there, and guide them, but they have to figure it out for themselves. They can take our advice or toss it, it is their work, their creativity, their process.

The Four Mantras to Healing Relationships (and Critiquing Writing)

In the next part of the interview, Thich Nhat Hanh cited his four mantras for relationships, and I felt like he was talking to our writing group.

We have two guides we follow strictly in our group. First, everything we write is fiction, which creates a safe environment for people to share and not gossip about what we write. Second, we create a supportive environment for intense support and gentle criticism.

With few words, he defined the latter in a beautiful way.

The first mantra is: ‘Darling, I’m here for you.’ When you love someone, the best thing you can offer him or her is your presence. How can you love if you are not there.

…The second mantra is: ‘Darling, I know you are there, and I am so happy because you are truly there.’ You recognize the presence of your beloved one as something very precious, and you use your mindfulness to recognize that…she will bloom like a flower. To be loved is to be recognized as existing.

…The third mantra is what you practice when your beloved one suffers: ‘Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.’ Before you do something to help her, to help him, your presence already can bring some relief.

…The fourth mantra is a little bit more difficult, and that is when you suffer, and you believe your suffering has been caused by your beloved one. So, you suffer so deeply. You prefer to go to your room and close the door and suffer alone. You get hurt, and you want to punish him or her for having made you suffer. The mantra is to overcome that.

The mantra is: ‘Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.’ You go to him, you go to her, and practice that.

And if you bring yourself to say that mantra, you suffer less right away.

When we offer criticism, we need to keep mindfulness at the forefront of your intentions. Writing is a deeply personal experience for many people. Sometimes what they write is a little of their spirit leaking onto the page, other times their hearts are fully exposed, vulnerable.

During our writing workshops, you are invited to read the results of our writing prompts out loud to the group, and bring short samples of our work to share, for some gentle criticism and advice. By listening with the spirit of deep and compassionate listening, being there in the moment for each other, and being glad to be in their presence, we go a long way to help each other get past our fears, anxieties, and road blocks to our creative writing spirits.

How do the last two mantras impact us as a group and our writing?

I could tell you that writing can be painful, to mind, body, and spirit. But I don’t have to. You know that. You’ve been there.

The inner demons show up and taunt us, old tapes running through our mind, picking at the scars, seeking blood. “Not good enough.” “You can’t do it.” “What made you think you had anything worthwhile to say.” We all face these demons, we all suffer, so let’s acknowledge the suffering. We know we suffer. That’s why we are here for you.

When we are suffering with our writing, letting the demons win, we need to practice, too. We need to come out of our rooms and stand before each other, our wonderful, supportive writing friends, and admit that we are suffering. Admit that we need to practice. And ask for help. That is what why we are here.

That is the true essence of this group.

And the sooner you do that, the less you will suffer.

For more information and to purchase his books, see the Amazon.com Author page for Thich Nhat Hanh.

The following is the excerpt regarding the mantras.

Get Ready Now: NaNoWriMo is Six Months Away

NaNoWriMo is in November, barely six months away. For some, that’s a long time. For others, it comes too soon. Either way, it’s time to start thinking about how you will spend your November churning out 50,000 words, or an hour a day, of writing.

We’ve featured many articles and tips for NaNoWriMo on this site over the past few years, so your first task should be to dive into that great content to warm up your creative juices.

Do you have a topic to write about, a plot for a novel, your memoir, a technical how-to book? Maybe you want to finish that book you’ve barely started, or rewrite one that went no where the first time. It is never too early to start planning what you will be writing.

There are three times of writers in NaNoWriMo. There are the plotters, those who plot and outline everything out before the event begins. The pantsers write by the seat of their pants, trusting their muse to find the words daily. The plotsters or plantsers are the ones who did a little of both, plot out a rough outline, have a sense of where they are going, then let the muse take them where their fingers and imagination goes.

We also recommend you take time to get Scrivener, the writing studio software, to hold your outline, notes, research, and to write in and keep track of your writing during the month-long event. New to Scrivener? Check out our tips on using Scrivener, especially during NaNoWriMo, and watch this site for an announcement soon on a 4-week workshop on Scrivener Basics at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center in Forest Grove, Oregon, in September, just in time for NaNoWriMo.

Here are some more tips to help you get ready for NaNoWriMo, and for writing any time.

  • Make an appointment with yourself – and keep it. Protect your writing time. Your muse works best when you show up at the same time every day, or train it to work for spontaneous 10 or 15 minute segments through the day. Either way, set writing time on your schedule and don’t miss an appointment.
  • Write what you know. It is true that it is best to write about what you know, but lean into this even more. Use characters you know, inside and out, from your own life, compilations of a variety of people, or a specific person from your childhood or present. Put your characters in a place familiar to you, your childhood community, or where you lived for many years and know all the back streets. Give your characters jobs you’ve held. Play with the rest, but use what you know. There is something special about reading a book where you just know the author loves the characters and places where the events take place.
  • Trust yourself. Trust yourself to write a great story. Trust yourself to know what to write. Trust yourself to let your characters lead you. Trust that you know how to do this, because you do. You wouldn’t be doing this unless you knew you could. Trust yourself to do it.
  • The first draft of everything is shit. Hemingway is supposed to have said that often, and it is true. First drafts don’t sell. They aren’t published. The magic comes in the second, third, possibly even the twentieth draft. Just write. Get it all down and fix it later.
  • Writing is about storytelling. Never forget, you are telling a story. You are taking the reader on an adventure, a journey, teaching them about how your characters see the world around them, and how they behave within it. The best stories are written not with the best grammar, but the best storytelling techniques.
  • Journal and note your ideas now. As you make your way toward November, jot down the ideas that come to you in the oddest of moments. You never know where one might lead, or if you may need it later when the well starts to run dry. Some people take a while to let their imagination simmer, so be ready to catch whatever floats to the top and preserve it.
  • Show don’t tell. Pay attention to everything around you over the next few months. See a beautiful sunrise, or the sun bursting forth through storm clouds? Write down what it looked like, but focus on how you felt in the moment. Look at people around you. How are they walking? Talking? Sitting? Moving in and out of the crowd. Takes notes on what you see and how they moved emotionally, with determination, courage, faith, pain, misery, depression, joy…show us how they moved. The next few months have two seasons, possibly three, in them, and you have an opportunity to view people in cold, wet, and rain, and bright sunshine, possibly even extreme heat conditions. How are their bodies responding to the environment?
  • Listen. Over the next few months, listen deeply to the voices all around you. At the store, at work, at meetings, social events, listen and take notes. How do they speak? What are they saying? Would your characters say that? How would they say the same things? The best characters are like real people, so pay attention to all the ways real people talk, to themselves and to each other, and take notes.
  • Put conflict in every sentence, paragraph, page. There are seven types of conflict in storytelling and writing. There is man vs. self, man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, etc. These struggles, elements of conflict, are the core in any good story. We need heroes. We need anti-heroes. We need villains. We need to have our characters tortured by their circumstances. Think about all the ways you could bring your characters to their knees and test their spirits, and put that in your story plans.
  • Pay attention to the news. Right now, the United States, and the world, are in teetering on the edge. The edge shifts from day-to-day, or could be all of everything, global warming, politics, pollution, economy, fake news, malware attacks, prejudice, even war. How does it feel? How do others feel? How are they responding? Are they hoarding food or money, just in case? Protesting? Apathetic? Terrified? An ostrich, head in the sand, disconnected from the world around them? Take note of all these attitudes, behaviors, and responses to the world around you and them. It’s all good fodder for the characters in your book.
  • Look for stories, and stories within stories. A well-written book doesn’t have one plot. It often has several plots, sub-plots, stories within stories with the same or different characters. Maeve Binchy specialized in writing about characters, each with their own plot lines, weaving them in and out, until they merged together at the end, surprising the reader. Look at all the stories around you, little stories like the man who forgot his wallet and realized it at the grocery checkout, and breaks down in tears not because he forgot his money but because he wife died a week ago and this is the first time in 30 years he’s shopped for himself. Or big stories of a cheerleader a month from graduation at the top of her class, who finds out she has cancer, two weeks after her mother died of cancer, and her father dies of a heart attack two days later, and she has to go on. Every moment is a moment for story, and within every story is another story, maybe three or four.

Writers in the Grove features more writing tips and advice on writing for all your writing challenges as well as NaNoWriMo. Subscribe to our site by email or add us to your feed reader to keep us close as you tackle your next writing project.

If you are in the Portland, Oregon, area, please join us at our Monday morning workshops from 9-11:30 AM at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center, and on the second Saturday of the month at the Forest Grove Library.

Writing Tips for Organizing and Planning Your Writing

There are two aspects to the concept of organization for writers. There is the organization of your writing environment, be it your working space or virtual space you write in such as the type of computer, software, even the way your writing is backed up. Then there is the organization of the actual writing, keeping track of characters, plots, story lines, names, places, etc., and structuring the end result into something readable as well as publishable.

Discussing this with a few Writers in the Grove members, we realized that while the two concepts were separate, they were actually inseparable. As one pointed out, the spark of an idea can happen anywhere and you must have a system in place to jot it down and ensure it isn’t lost between the grocery store moment of inspiration and the moment you can finally lean into your computer and start writing. Throughout the writing process of a project, the project is with you, wherever you are, whenever your imagination catches fire. A well-structured habit system combined with well-maintained tools and access points for preserving those thoughts help you through the entire process, right through to the point of publishing.

So we decided to offer this short collection of writing tips by others for organizing and planning your writing to embrace both aspects, helping you be organized within your writing environment, physical and virtual, and in the writing process.

Writing Organization Tools and Environments

One tool that our group embraced that changed more than a few writing lives is Scrivener by Literature and Latte. Available for both Windows and Mac, Scrivener is what you use to write your story before you move it to publishing programs and tools, though Scrivener will publish directly to various ebook and print formats. Scrivener is your idea holder, notebook, character development tool, and story line planner. It helps you write your book or whatever is on your writing list. We highly recommend it and have an ongoing series to help you learn Scrivener better.

Some helpful articles on using Scrivener to organize your writing include:

How To Organize Your Non-fiction Book – The Future of Ink: This article offers six core tools and methods for organizing your book: piles, folders, cards, Evernote, and binders. The author also mentions Scrivener as it is highly capable of embracing piles, folders, cards, etc. The article offers tips for organizing your writing in general, time and space for writing, and more tips to help you keep on track of the writing. These apply to fiction as well as non-fiction. (more…)