Mark Twain once said, "The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction." That may sound like a tall task, but you already know that writing is hard work and the hardest part of the process is the editing. If you want to help yourself get through your revisions faster and with more confidence, follow these essential writing tips when working on your first draft.
Less is More
Why say in 20 words what you can say just as well in 12? Using unnecessary words makes your work come across as less readable, boring, and unprofessional. The Chicago Manual of Style suggests avoiding the phrases "whether or not", "at the present time", "due to the fact that", "in the process of", and several others. Ask yourself whether phrases you've used are redundant or verbose. If the answer is yes, then change them.
Skip the Clichés
You may know people who speak in clichés and perhaps you're one of them. But when it comes to reading, tired phrases make your writing sound sophomoric. "Time will tell", "at this point in time", "without a care in the world", "a shiver down my/his/her spine", and "loved her more than life itself" are good examples of clichés you should avoid if you want to sound like a professional.
Separate Dialogue and Narrative
Conversations will read much better if they are stacked, meaning separated out from narrative paragraphs. Don't let clever dialogue get lost among asides and unnecessary descriptive language. Assuming you've given each character a solid and unique voice, dichotomizing dialogue helps create a readable scene that flows at the right pace.
Show, Don't Tell
You have heard this several times before, but it is one of the most important writing techniques you should employ and bears repeating. Using dialogue and action to convey emotion is more powerful and interesting than narrating it. In other words, don't write that Jack furrowed his brow; convey his concern with the language he uses when speaking to another character.
Use Correct Punctuation
Professional editors, agents, publishers, and readers will get distracted by your unnecessary insertion of en- or em-dashes, overuse of commas, and misplacement of semi-colons. Unless you're writing something meant to be highly experimental, don't invent your own punctuation rules. The ones we already have work just fine.
Use Proper Capitalization of Pronouns
It's simply lazy for a writer not to check the correct spelling and capitalization of pronouns. And remember not to capitalize a civic title, such as president or governor, unless it is used as part of that person's name. For example, write: "It was time for the governor to speak." Do not write: "It was time for the Governor to speak." Similarly, it is correct to write: "It was time for Governor Watkins to speak." It is incorrect to write: "It was time for governor Watkins to speak."
Avoid Zigzags in Your Storyline
Although it might be tempting to flip back and forth from one time period to another, this is a technique best left to the masters and even among them only occasionally. Stick to a chronological storyline or you're likely to confuse and irritate your readers. Flashbacks and zigzags can have your readers spinning unless you are able to write them seamlessly. If you have mastered this technique go ahead and try it, but consider using a sequential timeline as well. You can avoid a lot of rewriting if the zigging and zagging doesn't read well.
You are bound to hear a lot of unsolicited advice from friends and would-be writers as you write and publish your book. Just make sure that the guidelines you follow along the way come from a professional or experienced source. The suggestions listed above are only some of the essential writing tips every successful writer knows and uses. You can find many more tips, as well as other information about publishing, in the free Pocket Guide to Publishing.