Writing With Style

All writers want to write with style. However, your publisher thinks of style less in terms of crafting words with fashion and flair and more in terms of communicating with good grammar and consistency. iStock_000003403361MediumHere are a few resources you will need as you polish your prose for publication:

1. Manual of Style:
A manual of style (MOS or MoS) is a comprehensive guide to editorial style and publishing practices. These thick books cover industry-wide or profession-wide guidelines for writing. If you are writing a book for general readership, you probably need to follow The Chicago Manual of Style. For both UK and US usage, you can turn to the New Oxford Style Manual.

If you are writing articles for newspapers or magazines, you may need The Associated Press Stylebook. If you are writing for a scientific or medical audience, you will need to use the AMA Manual of Style. Other academic fields and professions have specific manuals of style. I keep several manuals of style handy on a bookshelf near my writing desk. All of these reference books provide guidelines for grammar, citing sources and use of terms specific to that writing style. They also help you better understand the publishing process and the final layout you can expect for the piece you are writing.

2. Publisher’s Style Guide

The publishing house for your book may have its own style guide that serves as a supplement to an industry-wide manual of style. InterVarsity Press, the publisher of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, provided me with an editorial style guide that addressed how they format parts of a book and answered specific questions about grammar, punctuation, word usage and appropriate choice of abbreviations. Remember that your publisher’s style guide can overrule a more general manual of style, so always follow your publisher’s editorial direction.

3. Style Sheet

While writing a book or an article, you might find that certain words or phrases could be spelled, capitalized, punctuated, abbreviated or used in more than one way. To keep your writing consistent, create a style sheet that tracks your own or your editor’s rules for these words and phrases. This style sheet will take precedence over the more general publisher’s style guide and the industry-wide manual of style. Make a simple template with two columns: one that lists each word or rule and one that defines the style. Fill in the template as you write or receive comments from your editor.

A style sheet also can help you achieve consistency across a series of articles for the same magazine or for each book in a trilogy. It can save you time when editing your final draft by eliminating the need to look up a given rule in a larger reference work or trying to locate a particular email from your editor. With style sheets, guides and manuals helping you handle the mechanics of writing, you will have creative energy left over for the fun part of writing, such as choosing great literary devices and playing with the rhythm of a sentence. Within the constraints of proper style, your own writing voice will emerge.

Which resources have you found most helpful for keeping your writing in style?

Conquering the Blank Page

For most professional writers, the incessantly blinking cursor on the computer screen functions like the blank sheet of paper reminiscent of unfinished homework. This nagging reminder of the writing task awaiting completion dares the writer to rise to the challenge. On days when the needed word count looms large and inspiration falls short, I have learned to pull out my writing bag of tricks to make progress. In this bag, I keep different elements of writing. Selecting the right elements helps me conquer the blank page.

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Here are the elements I keep handy in my writing bag of tricks.

Factual Information

When I am not sure how to begin writing a particular passage, I start by listing the factual information relevant to what I will be writing. Often when creating this list, I discover that I need to check a source or gather additional information. Once I have the information entered onto the page, I create an outline and sort the information into its proper place.

Dialogue

While the importance of dialogue in creative writing goes without question, nonfiction writers also should consider the place of dialogue in their passages. Dialogue between two characters adds action and excitement to a scene, drawing the reader into the story more effectively than descriptive language alone. Dialogue also forces shorter paragraphs, helping the reader move forward rapidly and read with greater ease.

When you need to illustrate a point, consider using dialogue, even if the dialogue simply conveys the thoughts going through one person’s mind. A few sentences of dialogue can serve as an ice-breaker for a section of nonfiction writing explaining a concept or offering instruction. Pepper sections of factual information with a few tidbits of dialogue and the blank page will begin to fill!

Sensory Language

Long sentences filled with too many adjectives and adverbs can bog down a reader, but a few well-chosen words that appeal to a reader’s senses can make a paragraph come alive. In everyday life, we form memories that encode the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures we experience. Help your readers enter into the world of your book by supplying them with information that appeals to more than one sense. Instead of appearing dull, your factual information will sizzle with delectable style.

Transitional Phrases and Structuring Elements

By now, your blank page is nearly full. To polish what you have written, make sure that the connections between the various elements of writing are clear and smooth. Use words that convey a sense of order such as first, second, and finally. In addition, weave your thoughts together by picking up a key phrase from one paragraph and carrying it into the first sentence of the subsequent paragraph.

Each project and style of writing requires a different combination of writing elements, but if you think in terms of adding these elements one by one and then stitching them together, you will be well on your way to completing the writing task of the day.

What approaches work for you when you need to conquer the blank page?

Adventures into the Unknown through Writing

Writers are dreamers. We capture daydreams in paragraphs on pages. We are also planners. We sacrifice hours now for hopes of communicating to future readers. We work in the present and have faith for the future.

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Dreaming, hoping, and planning are good activities. Yet, as a Christian who writes, my dreams belong to Someone greater than I am. The wise and practical words of James give me the perspective to keep my feet on the ground and remember my human limits, even as my hopes soar in faith.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this city or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'” (James 4:13-15).

Even with our best plans and the wisest advisers, we do not know what the future holds. Businesses can come and go, altering the landscape of opportunities for us. The publishing industry is constantly changing. Our favorite bookstore may go out of business before our next book ships from the warehouse. Future events may change how people view our writing. We may become the voice that speaks to current needs, or our relevance may fade.

Such thoughts should not put a damper on our joy as writers. Whatever the dimensions of our window of opportunity, writing is a tremendous privilege. Our books can travel to places we have never visited. We can instruct, entertain, and comfort people who may remain unknown to us. They will know us through our words. As a Christian who writes, my words reflect God’s love for people and His message of hope. The chance to become a vehicle to carry that message, however imperfectly, is a priceless gift.

And so, on any given day, I plan. I keep writing. I dream of reaching more people. I stack books on bookshelves in far-flung bookstores in my faith-filled imagination. I bundle up and head outside into the unknown for an adventure. I do my best and expect the best of everyone working alongside me. But I know the outcome belongs to God. His will and His plans will prevail. And that’s good news for me and for everyone else!

What helps you face the unknowns of life as a writer?

Balancing Clarity and Detail in Writing

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You want your readers to enter into the world of your book and experience in their imagination the places and events you describe as if they were there themselves in the midst of the action. Yet if your writing becomes ornate, your readers may get lost in the details and miss the point of the passage. Even worse, they may skim over the descriptive sentences, seeking the next main point. Why write words that will go unread?

Capture the Essentials

To maintain the readability of your writing while also creating vivid descriptions of people, places, and events, capture the essentials and make every word count. Choose verbs packed with meaning instead of tacking on adverbs. When describing a place, consider what senses are important to setting the scene for the passage. Is the sound of classical music playing softly in the background more essential than the color of the paint on the ballroom walls? If you are trying to set the mood for dialogue that follows, use just enough details to accomplish your goal. Create a sketch and let the reader’s imagination paint in the rest of the picture.

As a reader, I find myself jumping over passages where too many clauses and adjectives abound. As a writer, I have had to remind myself that my readers will do the same.

Edit the Extraneous

After you have written a descriptive passage, edit for clarity. Cross out your favorite phrase if it detracts from the paragraph. Provide sufficient description of the attributes of an object for the reader to understand its significance. You do not need to include all the colors of the sky that make for your perfect sunset. Let the most important two or three colors set the stage.

In dialogue, the word “said” may be better than “shouted,” “whispered,” or “intoned.” While those other words convey a richer meaning, they may break up the continuity of the conversation. Let the words of the speakers carry the content. Remove nonessential dialogue that does not carry the plot or illustration forward. Jump into the action without providing too many trivial details. In short, get to the point and remove material that will confuse the reader.

Check for Flow

Your paragraphs of writing describing a majestic waterfall at the edge of the forest may be poetic and beautiful, but if they interrupt the flow of the chapter, prepare to edit. While writing my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I wrote illustrations to enhance the point I was making. I learned from reader feedback that the illustrations worked best when they were entertaining but concise. If I spent too many sentences telling a story, the reader’s train of thought might be broken, defeating the purpose of the illustration.

On the other hand, writing that sparkles with clarity can seem too clinical without enough descriptive material. Coming from a scientific background, I am used to conveying challenging topics in clear and precise sentences. When I first started writing my book, I had to give myself permission to tap into my creative writing side and add poetic elements to my prose. Too much clarity can lead to short, choppy sentences that need more descriptive elements to weave them together into the tapestry of the chapter.

How have you learned to balance clarity and details in your writing?

WordServe News: October 2014

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Caesar Kalinowski released, with Zondervan publishers, his second book: Small is 9780310517016_p0_v1_s300xBig, Slow is Fast.

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Ema McKinley with Cheryl Ricker released her debut nonfiction, Rush of Heaven. A 9780310338901_p0_v1_s300xtrue accounting of her miraculous healing. Zondervan publishers.

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Tracie Miles of Proverbs 31 Ministries released her second book, Your Life Still 9780764211997_p0_v2_s300xCounts, with Bethany House Publishers.

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Christina M. H. Powell released her debut nonfiction title with IVP,Questioning Your 9780830836789_p0_v2_s300xDoubts.

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Stephanie Reed released her latest Amish fiction novel The Bachelor with Kregel 9780825442162_p0_v1_s300xpublishers.

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Tami Weissert released Off the Pages & Into Your Life with Authentic publishers.781167

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Bob Welch released a devotional with Thomas Nelson: 52 Little Lessons from Les 9781400206667_p0_v1_s300xMiserables.

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Joe Wheeler released the 23rd book in his Christmas in My Heart collection with Pacific Press.

New WordServe Clients

Emmanuel and Veronica Chan signed with Alice Crider.

Judy Joy Jones signed with Greg Johnson.

New Contracts

Steve Addison signed a contract with IVP for his next book Movement Pioneers. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Dena Dyer signed a contract with Barbour Publishing for a Christmas devotional called “25 Christmas Blessings”. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Linda Kuhar signed with Leafwood for her nonfiction book tentatively titled Worthy of a Miracle. Alice Crider, agent of record.

Melissa K. Norris signed a contract with Harvest House publishers for a nonfiction book to release next year. Sarah Freese, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Julie Cantrell won the ACFW Carol Award in the Historical category for When Mountains Move!

Barbara Stoefen was interviewed by her local news station in Bend, Oregon regarding her debut nonfiction release A Very Fine House. Watch the interview here. 

Marketing: Sharing the Treasure You Discovered

Sharing the Treasure

Sharing the Treasure

In a charming café tucked in the corner of an eclectic bookstore not far from the center of town, you stare into your latte, mesmerized by the heart-shaped swirls of steamed milk. This peaceful instance of solitude is so perfect you decide to share it on Instagram.

After venting the domed lid of your new Big Green Egg backyard cooker, you reach for tongs to lift ribs dripping in a tangy barbeque sauce onto your plate. Your friend, sensing the momentous nature of this occasion, captures the moment for Facebook with her smartphone.

You weren’t trying to market a bookstore or a cooker. You simply found a treasure and you were sharing it with friends.

Draw A Treasure Map
As I prepare for the launch of my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I am learning how to assist in the marketing process. Buried treasure helps no one. A book cannot fulfill its purpose unless readers find it. So I have begun to view marketing as the process of drawing a treasure map to help potential readers locate my book.

Everyone draws a map unique to a particular treasure, but here are some ideas:

  • Have your social media bio mention your book and link to your website.
  • On your website, include links to a variety of online retailers and bookstore websites that are selling your book. Use a pull down menu of retailers if the list is long.
  • Mention your book in bylines to articles you write.
  • Blog and guest blog, mentioning your book in your post or your bio.

Supply the Digging Tools

Once the map leads you to the buried treasure, you need tools to dig it out so you can enjoy the treasure and share it with your friends. In the same way, marketing involves not only drawing a treasure map for potential readers, but also supplying the digging tools so others can unearth the treasure and share it with others. Here is a list of a few tools I am using to help others spread the word about my book:

  • Bookmarks
  • Flyers (both paper and PDF format for sharing by email)
  • Publicity photos
  • Link to discussion guide for book
  • Social media page for each book

Prepare to Celebrate!

What are some things you’ve found helpful for marketing your books?

Leadership Insights for Writers

When you think of a leader, you may envision the executive of a large corporation swiveling in a luxurious leather chair behind a large mahogany desk, or a speaker delivering a keynote address behind a podium. Perhaps you think of a coach motivating a football team to persevere after a tough first half of the game or an inventor changing lives through technology. You probably won’t think of the writer quietly typing words in an unseen office early in the morning or late at night. But maybe you need to think again.

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Writers can lead with ideas, and history provides examples. Science fiction writers have shown us the future long before engineers drew the designs and filed the patents. Nonfiction writers have changed how we do business, emphasizing the importance of trust and emotional intelligence. As a writer, even if you do not see yourself as a leader, you can benefit from applying leadership insights to your work. Consider using the following three concepts to improve your writing:

Know Your Mission

Successful leaders know why they are doing the job they do. They know their mission and communicate it effectively to their followers.

In the writing world, every book carries a theme. Whether you are writing a guide to preparing salads from locally-sourced ingredients or a historical novel describing life in rural America in the mid-nineteenth century, your book has the opportunity to fulfill a mission based on its theme. Even books written primarily to entertain teach life lessons through the way the plot unfolds.

As you work your way through the chapters of the book you are writing, keep the mission of your book foremost in mind. Ask yourself how the passage you are writing today furthers that mission. Arm yourself with a red pen so you can edit out material that detracts from the central theme of your book.

Create the Necessary Structures

Leaders who build companies from small start-ups to large, stable corporations understand the value of creating structures. They find the best ways to do something and embed those methods into the company culture. Perhaps they teach employees specific phrases to use when interacting with customers. Maybe they develop a certain philosophy that guides corporate policies, such as the importance of giving back to the local community. Without the necessary structures, the leader’s ideas will become diluted and diffuse as a company grows, with employees far from the leader on the organizational chart losing sight of the vision.

Writers who hope to influence others through their writing need certain structures as well. One way to maintain a consistent message throughout a book is to break the book into parts, with each part developing the theme in a certain way. Fiction writers might want to consider how plot development furthers or detracts from the main theme.

Writers need structures in place for marketing once the writing phase is finished. By strengthening relationships with key people who will understand and promote the message in your book, you are creating structures that will expand your influence as a writer. A column in a magazine related to your book, a web presence through a blog or social media, interactions with local bookstores, and a network of places to speak all serve as necessary structures for the writer who wants to make a difference by leading with ideas.

Paint an Image of the Future

One of the key tasks on the to-do list of all leaders is sharing their vision. People like to follow individuals who can paint an attractive image of the future. We buy products that we feel will improve our lives and make tomorrow a little easier than today. Even if you are writing a book set in the past, provide your readers with life lessons that will move them forward into a better future. Help them imagine how the world will be better if more people invested in the theme expounded in your book. Throughout my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I invite people to imagine a world where individuals take the time to build bridges to one another instead of dismissing the insights of those unlike themselves. I apply the theme to faith and reason, feeling and thinking, and theology and science. However, the overall theme works beyond the scope of the book. My hope is to persuade people to improve the way they relate to others, leading them to live more fulfilling lives. I want my words to make a practical difference for my readers, bettering their everyday lives.

In what ways do you hope to influence people through your writing?