Tag s | Writing Craft

A Writer’s Best Friend

If I asked you what you considered to be a writer’s best friend, what would you say?

Please don’t say “Wikipedia.”

My clients would probably reply, “Bob Hostetler.” But that can’t be everyone’s answer.

You might consider “a fine fountain pen” or “a blank page in a brand new journal” to be your best friend as a writer. Maybe the thesaurus is your best friend (ally, associate, buddy, companion, comrade, “mate,” pal).

For some, it’s the Control-Z or Command-Z keyboard command to “undo” whatever it was you just did. For others, a writer’s best friend is a strong cup of coffee or the soundtrack from The Last of the Mohicans.

But my nominee for “writer’s best friend” is Find-and-Replace.

I realize that not everyone uses it to death the way I do, but Find-and-Replace has been very good to me—so good that I should buy it flowers. If only I knew where to send them.

Why do I say that?

Because Find-and-Replace has mitigated some of my worst faults and weaknesses as a writer, and helped me hunt them down like the cowards like they are and squash them like bugs. So, yeah, since I have a penchant for bad similes and mixed metaphors, I can use Find-and-Replace, anytime I finish a page, chapter, article, or blog post, to “find” the word “like” and eliminate or improve each occurrence.

Can Find-and-Replace work for you as it does for me? I bet it can. Here are just a few suggestions for how to use it:

  • Double-space after a period. Back in the day, when we wrote with typewriters (if you’re under forty, you might need to Google “typewriter” to see what I’m talking about), it was customary to double space after a period. But that’s no longer necessary in the computer age, though some of us still do it out of habit. So “Find” every double-space and “Replace” with a single space. It takes about a second-and-a-half, even in a long document.
  • “That.” Most writers—even the best among us—overuse the word “that.” If that is a weakness of yours (see what I did there?), simply use Find-and-Replace to locate every “that” in your manuscript and delete those that are superfluous.
  • “Was.” Most writers can reduce the number of passive verbs like “is” and “was” in their writing, replacing them with more active verbs. “Is,” of course, is so short and common in other words as to make Find-and-Replace unhelpful, but searching for “was” and replacing it and its related words can enliven your writing.
  • “Very.” The word “very” is very common in first drafts. Find-and-Replace can help to save you from it, reminding you to replace “very angry” with “incensed,” for example. And that would be very good.
  • Exclamation points! Scott Fitzgerald famously said that an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. They have a use, of course, but should be sparingly employed. So Find-and-Replace exclamation points with periods! You’ll feel better!
  • Your personal weaknesses. Among the self-editing exercises I urge upon writers when I speak at writers’ conferences is to learn your personal weaknesses and edit accordingly. One of my weaknesses: I love—absolutely love—semi-colons. So, when I finish an article or chapter, I Find-and-Replace semi-colons. It hurts; it must be done, nonetheless.

 These are just a few suggestions, but I hope they help. Do you have a favorite Find-and-Replace habit that strengthens your writing?

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Fix Your Worst Writing Pitfalls

Writers should know how to write. Right? But that is easier said than done. “Monsters. . . lie in ambush for the writer trying to put together a clean English sentence,” says William Zinsser in On Writing Well. Numerous dangers line the road to becoming an accomplished and published (and …

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The Curse of the Writer

Speaking from an agent’s perspective…
I have more conversations with clients about their feelings of anxiety, apprehension or insecurity than almost any other topic. Almost every writer I have ever worked with as an editor or an agent severely doubts themselves at some point in the process.

Doubts occur in the midst of creation.
Doubts occur when the disappointing royalty statement arrives.
Doubts occur … just because…

It is the curse of the writer. Writing is an introspective process done in a cave…alone. It is natural to have the demons of insecurity whisper their lies. And, in a cave, the whispers echo and build into a cacophony of irrepressible noise.

Once I had an author with dozens of titles in print and over three million books sold turn to me and say with a somber voice, “Do I have anything left to say? Does anyone care?” I didn’t quite know how to reply so tentatively said, “Well, I like it!” The author responded with a grump, “But you are paid to like it.” After we laughed, we agreed that this lack of confidence would pass and ultimately was very normal.

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Unnecessary Words

From my earliest days writing and communicating, I’ve needed to fit whatever I wrote or spoke into space and time required by the medium in which I was using at the moment. In electronic media, a clock runs everything. If you have 90 seconds to fill before the radio newscast, …

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Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Every year Beloit College creates a “Mindset List” which reflects the culture that the incoming Freshman class have grown up experiencing. It helps their faculty know how to relate to these incoming students. Click here for this year’s Mindset List.

I download this list every year and read it with increasing wonder at the speed of our cultural changes.

The college graduating class of 2014 was born in 1992. Think about that for a second. If you are a writer, you can no longer assume that your audience will understand your cultural references. In a mere six years, today’s 18-year-olds will be adults…possibly with families and jobs and children…they will be reading your books and articles.

And you will only be six years older than you are now.

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Don’t Write What You Know

I asked some of my writing and publishing friends to tell me what one “writing rule” they’d like to see go away…forever. Many of them gave the same answer. Emphatically. Author, blogger, and writers’ conference director Edie Melson said, “We need to quit killing creativity with the time-worn advice, ‘Write …

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Author Nuances

Writer and humorist Dave Barry wrote, “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion or ethnic background, is that we all believe we are above-average drivers.” The same applies to artists and writers. Most feel they are pretty good at their craft. But success as …

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