Writing the Personal Experience Article (Part 1)

Everyone has a story to tell. Each of us has at least one story inside our heads. You can use your own personal experiences to create salable articles or use interviewing techniques to tell the stories of others. Do you know what type of magazine article is the most popular? It is the inspirational true life drama—the personal experience story.

I’m going to challenge you to write an article about an experience you have had that will benefit others. Do you keep a journal? This is an excellent way to get your feelings down on paper. But remember that some of the entries in your journal are meant just for you. These entries have been therapeutic for you to put on paper, but they won’t benefit others. Remember you are writing for publication; you are writing for your readers not for yourself. And you don’t ever want to bore your readers.

Richard Green, formerly of Decision Magazine, suggests some excellent questions to ask yourself before you begin writing your story.

  1. What have I learned from this experience?
  2. What can I teach others through what I have learned?
  3. What do I want the reader to do at the end of the article?

 

Beware: 28 Pitfalls to Avoid! (Part 7)

Here are pitfalls 25-28. This concludes my blogs, detailing the 28 pitfalls you should be aware of and should try to avoid. Hopefully these tips will help you improve your writing.

  1. Watch for Missing Punctuation

Make sure that your commas are in the right places and that none have been left out. Do you have a period or other punctuation at the end of each sentence? A good reference for proper punctuation is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

26. Watch for Cumbersome Punctuation

Be careful not to over punctuate with commas. Today we use fewer commas than in the past. Also avoid the overuse of dashes, exclamation points, semi-colons, and colons.

     27. Watch for Poor Transitions

Your paragraphs must flow into each other. If the transition seems rough, add an introductory clause or phrase to smooth it out. “After several hours of traveling, we arrived,” or “When we reached Phoenix, we were greeted by our host.”

28. Watch for Telling

Show, don’t tell. On first rough drafts, writers often tell the story in narrative either from an observer’s viewpoint or from the main character’s mind. Both of these locations are boring. Readers want to participate in the action. They want to join in the excitement and experience the events as they are happening.

Be concrete, specific, and definite. Use dialogue, anecdotes, and fictional techniques whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. When we avoid these 28 pitfalls, we make our writing come alive. This is how we can truly reach our readers and touch their lives.

 

 

 

Beware: 28 Pitfalls to Avoid! (Part 6)

Here are pitfalls 21-24. Next week you will be given the final pitfalls 25-28 that you will want to watch for. Hopefully these will help you improve your writing so your work can become published.

21. Watch for Adverbs

Instead of using a weak verb and an adverb, use a dynamic verb in the past tense. Instead of “walked slowly,” use “ambled.” By using strong verbs, you can eliminate most adverbs.

22. Watch for Tags

“He said” is a perfectly good tag and can be used often. It is usually better than “he uttered,” “he articulated,” or “he expressed.” What matters is what he said, i.e. the words within the quotation marks. You can use an occasional word like whispered, shouted, or asked, but try to keep your tags in dialogue simple. Sometimes you can eliminate them altogether if it is obvious who is speaking.

23. Watch for Noncommittal Language

Avoid tame, colorless, hesitant, noncommittal language. Try not to use words such as “little,” “so,” “very,” “just,” and most “thats.” Keep your readers interested in what you are saying by the way you say it.

24. Watch for Preachy Words

“Would,” “should,” “could,” “may,” “might,” and “can” should be used sparingly. If you preach to your audience, you will lose them. Jesus didn’t tell people what to do, nor did He use abstract concepts. He spoke in parables. He used anecdotal stories to get His points across to His audience. Try using that same technique.

 

 

Beware: 28 Pitfalls to Avoid! (Part 5)

Here are pitfalls 17-20. Next week you will be given pitfalls 21-24 to avoid. Watch for these pitfalls to help you improve your writing.

  1. Watch for “To Be” Verbs

Eliminate weak verbs such as “was,” “were,” “is,” “had,” “have,” “become,” and any form of “to be.” Instead of writing “He is happy,” use “He skipped down the road humming his favorite tune.” Often when you eliminate a “to be” verb, you also get rid of an “ing.” Example: Instead of saying, “The man was ambling down the road,” use “The man ambled down the road.”

18. Watch for Negatives

Write in a positive form. Leaving out negative words makes your writing clearer and more upbeat. Also, negatives are often confusing. Example: Instead of saying, “He was not very often on time,” use “He usually came late.”

19. Watch for Abstract Nouns

Use descriptive nouns. Nouns that are concrete, specific, and definite are best. Instead of “tree,” name a type that describes what you want the reader to see: eucalyptus, magnolia, or aspen.

20. Watch for Adjectives

Adjectives are necessary, but use them as sparingly as possible. An overdone example is: “The thin, narrow black ribbon of highway wound through the velvety, emerald-green dense jungle that lurked on either side of the thin, narrow black ribbon of highway.” Instead say: “The narrow ribbon of highway wound through the dense jungle that lurked on either side.”

 

Beware: 28 Pitfalls to Avoid! (Part 4)

Here are pitfalls 13-16. Next week you will be given pitfalls 17-20 to avoid. Watch for these pitfalls to help you improve your writing.

  1. Watch for Christian Clichés

Don’t use Christian jargon that pigeonholes you into one market. Examples are: “washed in the blood” or “born-again Christian.” Try to avoid any terms that are not found in the Bible. You will find “born again” in the Bible, but you won’t find “born-again Christian.”

Christianese keeps you from crossing over into denominations other than your own. More importantly, its use keeps you from being effective with non-Christians. Non-Christians will often pick up a Christian magazine or book, especially when they are dealing with a problem. Your writing may be able to reach out and touch these individuals and perhaps bring them to Christ. Write so they can understand your words.

  1. Watch for any Clichés or Jargon

Avoid clichés like the plague, and don’t be caught dead using them. They are old hat and will bore your audience to tears. Likewise, don’t use shoptalk or jargon only understood by one segment of the population such as legalese and medical terms.

15. Watch for Humdrum Verbs

Use action verbs. The verb is the most important part of the sentence. It moves the reader along. For instance, look at the dynamic verbs for movement starting with S:  Strut, skip, slink, smash, stomp, slither, stumble, stagger, sashay, swagger, step, stalk, straddle, slip, sneak, steal, slide, shadow, stamp, skid, and stride. Aren’t these more exciting than “walk”? Use dynamic, descriptive verbs.

Use onomatopoeia, words that imitate sounds. These are especially effective when writing for children. Young children love to say words that sound like what they are: Splish, splash, whirl, crash, crunch, smash, toot toot, whee whee, growl, and buzz are examples. Plus, they are all dynamic verbs.

16. Watch for Passive Voice

Keep your sentences in the active voice with the subject doing the acting rather than being acted upon. “The car slammed into the man” is more powerful than “The man was hit by the car.” This keeps the readers involved in what is happening.

 

Beware: 28 Pitfalls to Avoid! (Part 3)

Here are Pitfalls 9 to 12. Next week you will be given Pitfalls 13-16 to avoid. Hopefully these will help you improve your writing.

  1. Watch for Digression

Irrelevant material should be eliminated. Remove needless descriptions of people and places. Ask yourself if a scene is necessary? If not, delete it. Use judgment in deciding which characters should be described and in how much detail, what facts are relevant, and what can be left out.

10. Watch for Put-downs

You don’t want to offend any element of your audience. Flippant remarks stand out. Watch your own personal prejudices regarding race, sex, and age, and try not to let them creep into your writing. Keep your writing broad-based so it will appeal to a wide audience.

11. Watch for Flashbacks

Use flashbacks sparingly, and don’t flashback on flashbacks. They are tricky, and you don’t want to lose your readers. Carefully take the readers back to an exact time and place, then bring them forward with good transitions and perhaps some telescoping narrative (covering a long period of time in few words).

  1. Watch for Abstract Words and Concepts

Use concrete words instead of abstract ones. Strangely, you may find it more difficult to write simply, in descriptive concrete terms, than to express complex thoughts. People tend to think in the abstract. Put as much detail and description in as is feasible.

 

 

Beware: 28 Pitfalls to Avoid! (Part2)

Here are pitfalls five through eight to avoid. Nine to 12 will be given next week. Hopefully these will help you polish your writing.

  1. Watch for Monotonous Sentences

Have you ever gone to a boring lecture where the speaker droned on in a monotone? Perhaps it was the lecturer’s tone that put you to sleep. Since your readers can’t hear you, change your tone by varying the length of your sentences. Also vary the structure of your sentences.

  1. Watch for Unclear Material

Sentences that don’t flow well can be detected by reading them aloud. Also, have someone else read your manuscript and edit it. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of belonging to a critique group. Form one with local writers in your area or other writers online and meet regularly.

  1. Watch for Incongruities

If you are writing a historical story set during World War II, don’t have the characters watch television. It wasn’t invented yet. Also, many words came into our vocabulary after World War II. Check to see when a word came into use if there is any doubt in your mind.

  1. Watch for Loose Ends

Did you drop a character in your story? If you edit out a character or a piece of furniture, don’t let it pop up later. People who aren’t as close to your story as you are will be able to see loose ends better than you will.

 

 

 

Beware: 28 Pitfalls to Avoid! (Part 1)

When you critique the first draft of your manuscript, watch for the following pitfalls:

  1. Watch for Impractical Vocabulary

Don’t talk down to your readers, and don’t talk above their heads. Readers Digest and Guideposts are written on a sixth-grade level. Keep your writing on a parallel level with your readers. Use “ten cent” words rather than ones not commonly used in conversation. You can express profound thoughts and still write in a clear manner.

  1. Watch for Unnecessary Words

Eliminate any words, sentences, or paragraphs that don’t further your story line. Go through your manuscript word-by-word and ask yourself, “What will happen if I leave that out? If the answer is “nothing” then cut it.

    3. Watch for Unnatural Speech

Your words should flow in a conversational manner as if you were sitting at your dining room table having a cup of tea with a friend. Make your words sound natural. You will be able to do this with practice and lots of rewriting.

  1. Watch for Long, Run-on Sentences

If your readers drown in your sentences, they will feel lost. Keep your writing simple. That doesn’t mean the content is simple, but the style is. When a sentence is shorter, it usually becomes stronger. Try to keep your sentences under twenty-five words.

Pitfalls 5-8 will be given next week.

Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 22)

Publishing Process at B & H Publishing Group (Con’t)

Len Goss, who was Senior Acquisitions Editor at Broadman & Holman Publishers, now B & H Publishing Group, gives us his four basic steps that he used in reaching the publishing decision. Here are steps 3 and 4:

  1. Decision: If things look positive from the editor’s perspective, the project then goes to the publications board. This committee usually includes all the editors, the people from marketing, the sales team, various business managers, the publisher, and so on. The editor presents a summary of the manuscript to this group, and also present things like the author’s credentials, a summary of the critical reviews, his own evaluation, and a summary of the financial projections. Financial projections are done on all books. They include projected sales figures, an estimated cost for producing the book, and an analysis of projected cost versus projected sales.
  1. Contract: If most of the members of the publications board see the project in a positive light, then the standard “rich and famous” contract is offered to the author.

All editors have this in common according to Len: They are paid to process words into communication packages. They achieve this by getting the right idea together with the right author. It may be the author’s idea or the editor’s. But ultimately the rubber meets the road when the right idea gets into the hands of the right author. When this mix is achieved, the publishing house has a winning book.

There are thousands of book proposals received annually by each publishing house. To give yourself an edge, attend a writers’ conference and meet personally with book editors and agents to establish a working relationship with them. Then, when your manuscript crosses an editor’s desk, he can say, “I met her at the Write to Publish Conference and discovered her exciting idea for a potential book.”

This ends the series on “Writing Nonfiction Books.”
 

Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 21)

Publishing Process at B & H Publishing Group

Various publishing houses approach the editorial function differently. Yet, the main job of all editors is to find good manuscripts, develop them, and then sell these manuscripts to the in-house departments. Thanks go to Len Goss, who was Senior Acquisitions Editor at Broadman & Holman Publishers, now B & H Publishing Group, for his four basic steps that he used in reaching the publishing decision. Here are his first two:

1.Evaluation: The editor who receives the proposal is going to ask some hard questions about it. Does it fit squarely within the general publishing parameters of the publishing house? Does it fall within the mission statement? Is the topic timely? Is the topic significant? Is the manuscript’s readability level about right? Is it well written? Is the structure of the project coherent? Does the manuscript or the book idea stimulate thought and inquiry? Is it generally usable for courses in the typical curriculum? If so, which courses and at what level? Is this an economically viable book? Will it attract a reading audience?

2. Review: What usually happens when an editor’s initial response is favorable is that he or she will ask for the opinions of colleagues in the publishing house. In many cases, the material is sent to outside reviewers who are asked to read and evaluate the manuscript. The outside reviewers are chosen for their expertise in the subject matter of the manuscript. Sometimes manuscripts are sent to several reviewers, all in the attempt to determine the strength and weaknesses of the author’s position or presentation. When the editor receives all the reviews, he or she must then weigh them and decide whether to reject the project or move it to the next stage, which in most cases means taking it to the publications board at the publishing house.