Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Writing a book requires creative, emotional, and business discipline

By Dennis Mellersh

Learning how to write a book, and the overall process of researching, writing, and promoting it (especially if you self-publish) requires more than just mastering the skill of writing.

It also requires a lot of discipline in terms of: organizing your book project, focusing your creative efforts, keeping your emotions balanced and positive, and learning how to market your book.

It can be  hard to do all of this while at the same time maintaining the right mindset to keep moving forward.

I found a helpful video interview of Seth Godin that you might find useful in your efforts.

Seth Godin is successful self-employed marketing and personal growth expert and is the author of more than ten books on these topics.

He was interviewed by Bryan Elliot of Behind the Brand and the interview has been published on YouTube.

Here’s the link to the interview:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Writing your book with authority

By Dennis Mellersh

Whether you are writing a book of fiction or non-fiction, one of the skills you will need to develop is the ability to write with authority. It’s the quality that makes any writing believable, and is an important aspect of learning how to write a book effectively.

If your writing does not have an authoritative tone, your readers will quickly realize it and your book will thereby lose much of its original appeal.

Once you learn to write well, you will gain confidence in your ability to communicate your ideas and the concepts you want to explore in your writing. In turn, your confidence in your ability gives you the ability to write authoritatively.

But probably the single most important factor that will give your writing authority is the process of thoroughly researching the factual information you will need for your book. In your own reading experiences, you have probably come across how-to books, which to you did not offer convincing information. In other words, the writing in those books lacked authority.

And, make no mistake; you will need factual information for your book whether it is fiction or non-fiction. Books cannot be written based only on vague generalizations and personal impressions.

You cannot for example write a believable “western” novel with a theme involving the early days of the American West if you don’t have a good amount of background knowledge on that historical period. You gain that knowledge through your research.

And obviously, writing non-fiction book will require detailed factual information on the subject you are writing about. Even if you have first-hand knowledge of a non-fiction topic you should still do additional research to gather new material you may not be totally up-to-date on.

When doing your research, you will need to take notes. Following are a couple of approaches.

M.L. Stein, in his book, Write Clearly…Speak Effectively, advises, “The notebook is the writer’s good companion. Have one handy at all times and write down the facts you find. Always take down more information than you will need. It’s much better to have too much data than too little.”

As an alternative, ruled 4x6-inch index cards are also a good way to keep your research notes. And, once you have begun the process of writing your first draft,  index cards are easy to sort into the subject categories you have established in your book’s outline.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Your fiction: Be original, don’t imitate

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the traps that new fiction writers can fall into is using images, issues, or concepts from previous periods of artistic creativity in their work, instead of utilizing contemporary references. This tendency can stem from an effort to write in what the writer perceives as a “literary manner.” For the new writer learning how to write a book, this is a pattern of writing that can be avoided  by being aware of the importance of speaking in your own voice, of being original.

Much writing from earlier periods, particularly poetry, contains references to classical mythology and symbols, for example.  The readers of earlier periods understood those references. Or there may be allusions to the Bible, which was known intimately by most people years ago, but which is not known nearly so well today, by most people.

Using imagery and references from earlier periods of literature will not be understood by many readers today, including, probably, the target audience for your book.

The issues that concerned an informed reading audience 100 or 150 years ago are generally not the same issues that are of interest to readers today.

I am not speaking here about issues and themes involving human emotions and their associated behaviors, which have remained a constant throughout recorded history. Human behaviour, in fact, is in one way or another, the foundation of all good fiction writing.

In addition to the communication problems posed by such images and references, using the outdated images and references of the writers of previous time periods will make your work appear dated and derivative.

Most of us imitate when we are in early stages of becoming a writer. But as we progress in our writing, we need to use symbols, references, and images that are readily recognized by today’s reading audience.

In his book Creative Authenticity, the painter Ian Roberts makes an excellent point that can be applied to the art or craft of writing well: “We cannot appropriate the power of past images by using them today. We can’t assume that because they had a primal, aboriginal, and elemental power when they were created, that they will, if we use them today, convey that power to a viewer now.”

I’ve written before on the subjective of imitative writing, but I think it is worth re-emphasizing. Imitative writing robs us of our uniqueness.

Whether you are writing a novel, or working on a book-length collection of short stories or poems, imitating other writers, particularly from earlier literary periods (except as a study or learning exercise) works against our ability to originate and create.

It really boils down to having the confidence to write in your own voice and not someone else’s.

Editing, revising, rewriting your book

By Dennis Mellersh

In writing a book (and learning how to write a book) one of the processes on which writers have different working methods is the process of editing, rewriting, or revising their draft manuscripts.

Depending on their writing methodology for the first draft, some writers do very little revision during the initial creative process, while others revise or rewrite extensively as they progress.

Generally, writers who compose their initial drafts methodically, carefully choosing each word and phrase, and taking great care with their sentence structure, do not need to make extensive changes to their completed draft manuscripts.

Other writers, those who like to “get it all down” as quickly as possible, will be faced with the need for a lot of changes in the final revision process. Such writers often comment that taking the time to correct things as they write interferes with their train of thought and blocks the flow of their writing.

There are also writers who enjoy the entire creative writing process so much that they are in constant pursuit of perfection in their writing and will go on and on making detailed changes even in the final printing-proof stagers of the writing and publishing process.

The novelist George Simenon often commented in interviews that he revised very little when editing his final draft copy. Although he wrote quickly, his main concern in the revision process was in taking out any adjectives, adverbs, and descriptive details which he felt did not contribute to moving the story along. If for example he found “the perfect sentence” which was there only for literary effect, he would take it out. His aim was to avoid being “too literary.”

By contrast, the writer James Thurber would labor endlessly over his drafts in an effort to “make the finished version smooth, to make it seem effortless.”

In an interview with the Paris Review, Thurber commented, “A story I’ve been working on – “The Train on Track Six” – it’s called, was rewritten fifteen complete times. There must have been close to 240,000 thousand words in all the manuscripts put together, and I must have spent two thousand hours working at it. Yet the finished version can’t be more than twenty thousand words.”

So, there isn’t really a formula or a set of rules governing the process of revising, editing, and rewriting your work; it’s a matter of your preferred method of working on your initial draft.

It’s your choice of whether you want to write slowly and revise as you write, whether you want to write, for example, a thousand words and then revise, or whether you want to write the entire draft manuscript without pausing for revision, and then make your changes at the end, working with a completed manuscript.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How extensively should you rewrite?

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the questions or dilemmas faced by all writers, whether beginners, who are studying how to write a book,  or experts, is: “How much should I rewrite or revise my first draft?”

Assuming that you write quickly and don’t revise along the way, your initial draft will have the liveliness and freshness of a first impression or the immediacy of “first thoughts” – it will have “life.”

It may also be overly loose, repetitive, redundant, ungrammatical, excessively wordy, or lacking in clarity.

Revising and rewriting should substantially reduce these negative attributes of your first draft.

But, some restraint is often needed in the revision and rewriting process.

With excessive revising and rewriting and “never being satisfied”, you run the risk of taking all the life and personality out of your writing.

A good piece of writing can be ruined by laboring over it endlessly.

It’s admirable to make your writing as good as possible, but remember that trying to make your writing “perfect” can also make it dead.

Tip: You should always keep each version of your drafts – you may want to “re-include” some material that you initially removed or changed in your zeal  "to make it better."

I remember taking a long time to write a feature piece, laboring over it at length, and then showed it to a colleague, for his opinion.

His response, after taking some time to review it was, "I can see what you're getting at, but I think the words are getting in the way of what you are trying to say."

In other words, my struggles ended up in the article being "overwritten" and ineffective in conveying my message.

Sometimes you just need to go with your instincts an resist the temptation to overly fine-tune your work.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The new writer: Five responsibilities

By Dennis Mellersh

You are interested in the process of becoming a writer; you want to learn the craft of writing; and you may want to learn how to write a book.

These are admirable goals yet they carry with them certain responsibilities if they are to be achieved.
Primary among these responsibilities is that you will need to make a commitment to do a lot of work over an extended period of time in order to achieve your objectives.

If you have no experience in writing at an expert level, learning to write well enough to produce a successful book can be a long haul. But it is a do-able objective and certainly a worthwhile one.
Following are five of the main responsibilities you will need to assume and make a commitment to in order to become a writer and realize your ambition of writing a book:
  1. Spending time each day (or most days) practising your writing skills. It is the constant effort of working on your writing that will develop it more than any other activity
  2. Reading many books (and making notes on them) by authors specializing in the genre that interests you whether it is fiction or non-fiction, mystery novels or how-to books
  3. Studying and learning something every day related to the techniques and best practices involved in mastering the craft of writing
  4. Doing background research for your book whenever you have the opportunity to push your project forward. Leaving all or most of your research until the last minute will make it a tough job, and an easy one to procrastinate.
  5. Making an effort to self-publish your writing work, on a free-platform blog for example, to give you a feel for actually putting your ideas in front of the world and taking responsibility for them
Research shows that the majority of people in North American say they want to write a book. However, most do not take the necessary steps to actually make an effort to do accomplish this desire.
One of the reasons is the discovery that learning to write well and then writing a book is hard work and does not happen overnight.
However, if you make the commitment and assume the necessary responsibilities, there is a good chance that you will be one of the relatively few who actually does realize their dream of writing a book.

Writing: The benefits of failure

By Dennis Mellersh

In your efforts to learn to write well and then applying your skills to learning how to write a book, you will, like all new writers, experience failures – a  recognition on your part  that what you are attempting to accomplish with a particular piece of writing just isn’t working.

To anyone in the process of becoming a writer, recognition of a failure in their writing can be discouraging, and many even lead to thoughts of feeling worthless as a writer.

Yet actually, experiencing failures in writing, and more importantly, recognizing when you have a failure, is a good sign – it means your discernment as a writer is growing.

Having the ability to recognize when your writing is not as good as it should be means that you have established standards for yourself, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Recognizing that your writing on a particular project is “just not coming together” means that you really are becoming a writer. Failure is a fact of life for even established, successful writers who regularly produce books.

As you grow further in learning the craft of writing, you will also acquire the ability to determine whether a given “failed” writing effort on your book can be salvaged by editing and rewriting, or whether it is so deeply flawed in concept that it will never work, requiring you to start fresh on a entirely new approach.

For further study on reasons why writers abandon a writing project, there is an interesting essay online from The New York Times Sunday Book Review, March 4, 2011 titled, Why Do Writers Abandon Novels?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Organizing your book: Three research methods

By Dennis Mellersh

Now that you are in the process of acquiring knowledge on how to write a book and are becoming a writer of books, you must assume the mind and methods of a writer.

Doing research for your book(s) is an example.

You need to figure out a timetable or time-related method of how to do the research required for the books you are planning, whether they are fiction or non-fiction.

One approach is to simply pick a time each day, or on as many days as you can, and devote a specific amount of time, say one-and-a-half hours, for example, to do the formal research for your book.

A second method is to organize the reading time you would normally spend on unfocussed (pleasure) reading and instead take that time to read materials specifically as research sources on the topic of your book.

A third way is to utilize your every-day reading by asking yourself, “Is there some way this information could be useful in the books I would like to write?”

An example: If you are writing a book of fiction, such as a novel, and you are reading your local newspaper, watching TV, or reviewing news sites on the Internet, ask yourself if any of what you are reading or watching, such as interesting stories involving people’s behaviour, could be useful information on which to build a character in your book, or add something to the plot of your book.

Alternatively, if you are writing a non-fiction book, make an effort to examine all your regular sources of reading, such as newspapers, TV, and online news sites, and specifically watch for topic-oriented background material that might be useful for your book.

Most general news media divide their coverage by topic such as, business, finance, sports travel, and entertainment, so this can simplify your sorting of source materials.

How to write a children’s book: Don’t over-simplify

By Dennis Mellersh

If the book you are planning to write is a book for children, one of the main temptations to avoid is the intuitive tendency of the beginner writer in this genre to oversimplify the writing, or to “talk down” to an reading audience comprised of children. Part of learning how to write a book for children is training yourself as a writer to avoid this tendency.

Whether your book is one that will be read “to” children or one that will be read “by” children, the advice is the same – if you are writing as if you need to constantly hit your message with a hammer, children will sense that the writing is forced and not realistic, and you will lose them as an audience for your book.

Often when we talk to/with children many of us have a tendency to talk in a different tone of voice, and use different language and context than we would when talking with an adult. We have a tendency to talk “to” children rather than “with” children and have a real conversation with them.

At its worst this tendency can result in talking to children as if they were a baby or a family pet. Carried over into your writing, such as in a book for children, this will result in failure of your writing efforts, particularly if you’re a planning on writing a book that will be read “by” children.

It is difficult for us as adults to remember exactly how we felt or understood life when we were children ourselves. The result is that we don’t instinctively know much about children in terms of how they think and react to different situations.

The novelist John Steinbeck talked about writers generally not knowing much about children in his Journal of a Novel. In the Journal he discussed his thinking concerning how he planned to write about children in his novel East of Eden.

His comments are instructive in terms of helping us understand not only how to write “about” children but also to understand how to write “for” children (which is what we are concerned with in this article):
”I am going to try to go into the minds of children, but more than that I am going to try to set those minds down on paper. And these are not children as they are conceived by adults but children as they are to and among themselves...Most of what I read about children is crap. Grown people forget...children are no more alike than adults.”

Later in the Journal Steinbeck went on to say that in general, children in literature have been badly written, and particularly that they have been “underwritten.”

This article has focused on one important aspect of writing for children. For more detailed and general information, there is an excellent and thorough how-to article on Wikihow on the mechanics and style requirements of writing for children:'s-Book

Friday, May 10, 2013

Craft of writing requires practice

By Dennis Mellersh

Learning the craft of writing and becoming a writer takes above all, learning the fundamentals of writing well and then, constant practice.

You first need to learn how to write before you can hope to learn how to write a book. And that requires practising your writing, ideally every day.

It’s the same with any artistic pursuit at which a person expects to become competent, and then to excel.

You can’t become a watercolor or oil painter without learning the fundamentals; you can’t become a musician without learning the basics and practising them; you can’t become a photographer without learning the essential technical skills.

And you can’t become a writer without putting in the hard work of practising your writing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When should you write your book?

By Dennis Mellersh

You’ve decided that you want to write a non-fiction book, but have you fully thought through the reasons why you believe you want to do this?

Research indicates that more than 80 percent of North Americans say they want to know how write a book. But if you were to ask them “why?” it’s probable that many would not have a precise answer.

If you are planning to write a non-fiction book, there are a number of reasons you might want to do something different, at least initially, to communicate with your potential audience, than in immediately trying to write a book.

A book can take a long time to write, and if you are eager to get your ideas out to the world and test them, then you might want start with a blog ( this “website”, for example, is a blog) to get your message out.

With today’s online media tools, a blog can be set up economically (or even for free) in a relatively short period of time. And with contemporary content management systems, a blog is not difficult to administer or manage. You can do it without outside expert assistance.

The big difference between your potential blog and the book you are planning  is that a blog (which you could start today)  builds its impact gradually or cumulatively whereas a book, because of its critical mass, will have the eventual potential for a more dramatic and forceful impact.

With a blog you can set up your site and post your first article(s) in less than a day. Alternatively, Depending on the size of the book you are planning, it could be months before your book is complete, and then you still have to take the time to publish and promote it.

Ideally you could run both of these concepts in parallel. Develop your blog and run out ideas and concepts while also taking time on a regular basis to write the content for your non-fiction book (with the benefit of possible feedback from readers of your blog.).

Particularly if you are in the early stages of learning how to write, starting first with a blog is something you ought to consider.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Technology, your book, and success

By Dennis Mellersh

Technology, such as the Internet and self-publishing tools, can be a tremendous asset in helping you with learning how to write a book and about publishing your book.

However, this benefit also has a downside in that it can create unrealistic expectations on the part of some new writers.

The perception seems to be (a) that because of the ease of use of these new technological tools, virtually anyone can now write and publish a book, and that (b) this was not possible before the boom in online information technology.

Of course, this is not the case.

All that has ever been required to write a book is writing instruments, such as pencils and pens, and a writing surface such as paper.

All that has ever been needed to have a book “published” is having sufficient money to pay a printer to print and bind the book.

But being able to write a book using either traditional or contemporary technology only means that a book can be written. Not necessarily a good book, or an excellent book, just a book.

Similarly, being able to easily self-publish only means that the book can be produced. It does not mean the book is being published in the true sense of that word, as it would be when a publisher pays a writer for the rights to publish (editorially improve, print, market, and distribute) the writer’s written work.

Although technology is giving more and more people the ability to write something, self-publish it, and distribute it, such technological capability does not come with either the built-in skill to write well, or the built-in savvy to successfully gain a paid readership for the writing, such as with a book.

New writers still have to learn the craft of writing, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, if their writing, and their books, are to be well received by an informed reading audience.

The ‘win’ today is that because of technology such as the Internet, more and more people are becoming readers and interested in books. And more and more people are: learning how to write well; writing books; and are successfully reaching this expanded audience through self-publishing.

What qualities does a writer have?

By Dennis Mellersh

Many beginner writers, such as you perhaps, who are in the process of learning how to write (and more specifically, how to write a book) want to know the main intellectual capabilities they need in order to become a writer.

The novelist William Faulkner answered this question during an interview with the Paris Review:
“A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, [and] at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”

Another question from new writers concerns the question of unblocking or stimulating the creative flow and taking those first steps to getting something down on paper for a novel, a short story or a poem.

Faulkner answered this question as well in the same interview:

“With me, a story usually begins with a single idea or memory or mental picture. The writing of the story is simply a matter of working up to that moment, to explain why it happened or what it caused to follow. A writer is trying to create believable people in credible moving situations in the most moving way he can.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ignore doubts: keep writing every day

By Dennis Mellersh

As you continue to learn about how to write a book, and you put in the time to practice your writing (hopefully every day) there are times when you may become discouraged.

One of the reasons this may happen is that as you progress in your writing efforts, you will be continually developing your imagination and your creative way of looking at the world around you and interpreting it.

You already had a strong imagination before you started on your writing journey or you would not have had the intellectual creativity to want to write a book.

But, one of the downsides for people who are creative and have strong imaginations, such as you have, is that they may also have a tendency to imagine the worst as well as the best. However, such thinking is all part of becoming a writer, and having the imagination of a writer. Self-doubts about writing can affect even the most experienced writers.

Thoughts that your writing is not good enough; that no-one will care about what you have to say; that you will never meet your own high writing standards; that some days you are blocked and have great difficulty writing…the list of imagined or anticipated difficulties goes on.

If you are feeling like this, some words from Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Second World War can offer some encouragement:

“You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination, not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.”

Is your writing brief, concise, or both?

By Dennis Mellersh

If the draft of your book manuscript is 300 pages when it could have been pared down to 200 pages without losing any meaning, it is probably not sufficiently concise. On the other hand, if it is 200 pages when at least 300 pages would be needed to convey its meaning and message, it is likely too brief.

In their book Effective Writing (1) authors Kellogg Smith and Jane Stapleford make the point that the terms conciseness and brevity have different meanings, and they advise writers, ”Be sure that you grasp the distinction between mere brevity – the use of few words – and conciseness – the use of the precise number of words needed.”

Of the two writing attributes, brevity and conciseness, the quality of being concise is the attribute you should be working towards in all of your writing. That is, not using more words than are necessary to adequately convey the information you want to your readers.

This does not mean that you should write in only short sentences, or that you should eliminate adjectives, adverbs and descriptive details from the writing in your book. Rather, it means you should be looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary words from your writing.

By contrast, the quality of brevity in writing is not always desirable, or necessary. It depends more on the purpose of the writing. If you are writing the foreword or introduction to your book for example, you don’t want the introduction to go on…and on…and on. You want it to be brief.

(1) Effective Writing, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1963

Write naturally or lose your readers

By Dennis Mellersh

In planning the content strategy for your book, and in writing it, it is vital for you to write naturally. Learning how to write in your own voice, or naturally, is an important part of knowing how to write a book that resonates with readers.

One of the outcomes of not writing naturally can be a book, such as a novel, being overloaded with symbolism, or filled with moral lessons. Other results of not writing naturally can include plotlines that are too contrived, unrealistic dialogue and use of vocabulary, and an overall aura of pretentiousness.

If you make a conscious effort in your writing to include symbolism and moral lessons for example, it will be very obvious to your readers, and in all probability will result in their losing interest in your work.

Readers do not like to be lectured or preached at. Aside from that, such devices make your work appear clumsy and amateurish in the best case, and boring in the worst case.

Extended analogy and metaphor can be effective literary devices that you can use in your fiction, but if your force it and try to hit people over the head with your “symbolic” or “moral” message they will rebel and probably put your book aside to “read sometime later” or abandon it altogether and not finish reading it.

One of the reasons that new writers are prone to overuse symbolism and moral lessons or “message” in their writing may be because of the way that many of us were taught in school (particularly high school) to “explain the “intent” of the author in terms of their use of symbols and other literary devices to convey their “message”

However, often as not with good fiction writers, there was not a deliberate, calculated intent on the part of the writer, unless you consider subconscious artistic creativity to be “intent.”

With this background emphasis in the teaching of literature, students then assume they must deliberately include a lot of literary devices in their writing, or it won’t be considered worthwhile, or “literary.”

In fact, a conscious effort on the part of a writer to be literary usually results in a book that is not enjoyable to read. The author is trying too hard to be “literary” and the result is overly obvious and writing that is dead-on-arrival.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The process of becoming a writer

By Dennis Mellersh

Now that you are learning to write, and perhaps even starting to write your book, you are already in the process of becoming a writer and you soon will be living the life of a writer.

You are entitled to consider yourself a writer if you are making an effort to thoroughly learn all the aspects of the craft of writing and are also taking the time to practice your writing with a view to writing the books you are planning, whether that is fiction, non-fiction, or a collection of poetry or essays.

A new approach to life
As a writer, your approach to life will be now different than before you started to write. Now every aspect of your life has the potential to contribute in some way, either directly or indirectly, to your writing.

Everything you do, everything you read, everything you see, and everything you hear will become part of the background that you can draw on in your novels, short stories, poetry or your non-fiction.
Now that you are becoming a writer, when you go to the library, read articles in the newspaper or on the Internet, and read books and magazines, it will be goal directed, and not just for amusement.

You will be analyzing how you can use the information you are absorbing as a database to draw on in your writing. You will be absorbing the events of the world around you through the eyes and ears of a writer. You will see the world in a new perspective.

Building your writing database
As a by-product of your information gathering, a subconscious process of idea generation will happen. This is why you should always carry with you a small notebook so you can write down these ideas for your writing as they occur to you. And, ideas will start coming to you at any place and at any time.

But unless you write them down, you won’t be able to remember them. Ideas are often fleeting, and you can’t will them into existence, even if as a writer you are starting to develop an active imagination. So you have to be prepared to capture these ideas – hence the notebook. Similarly, you you should start to keep a larger notebook or journal where you can expand and develop your ideas as part of your daily writing program.

You will be reading a lot
An important part of your new life as a writer will be reading as much as you can whenever and wherever you can. Not just material about learning how to write, but equally important, and perhaps more important, reading the works of established, recognized writers such as novels, short stories, poems, essays and non-fiction in general. You should focus your reading more heavily on the type of writing that you are interested in doing.

The short story writer and novelist Ray Bradbury suggests that aspiring writers should reach each day: one short story, one poem, one essay. To that list we could add: a few pages from a novel.
It’s not easy, but it’s necessary

That is a tough order if you are a working Mom or have a full time job in business, for example. But you should do this reading because you may learn more about writing from reading good writing than you will from books and other media telling to how to write.

You will not be able to fully develop yourself as a writer unless you read a lot of what other writers have already done. You should read contemporary writers as well as writers from earlier periods.
To get an even better appreciation of quality writing, try writing out in longhand some passages from your favorite writers that seem particularly good to you. Soon, it won’t be long before you find yourself writing down your own ideas and fashioning them into literary format.

Your practice writing efforts
Regarding your “practice writing” efforts, you should keep all of this experimental or draft material on hand in a safe place. Try doing this draft work in longhand, but if using a computer, print it out instead of assuming it will be safe on your hard drive. It’s also easier to review this older material if it is permanently on paper.

Although you may still consider yourself a “beginner” writer you may be surprised later on when you go back to some of this material to find that there is a lot in these “early” writing efforts which is worth developing further.

Also keep your notes on the passages from your favorite writers in a central safe location. These notes can be a good source of both information and inspiration as you proceed on your journey of becoming a writer.

Another way of taking notes from the works of your favorite writers is to write down the quotations on index cards noting the name of the writer and the source of the information (such as book title). It can come in handy later on if you want to re-read the original source of the information. It can be frustrating if you have an interesting quote, but you don’t know where it came from, or worse, you don’t know who the author is.

The payoff
In all of this try to think of your desire to be a writer and the effort you are putting into it as part of an exciting and ultimately rewarding experience.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Waiting for your book to be chosen

By Dennis Mellersh

If you are planning on writing a book or are in the process of writing it, it’s important for you to realize that you no longer have to depend on other people to validate and market your work.

Many new writers understandably want to have their writing efforts endorsed by having their book, for example, being chosen for publication by a third party person and/or organization, such as the submissions editor at a publishing company.

That is the historical and traditional route.

But these days, if you are writing a book and want to see your ideas and concepts alive in the hands of an audience, you can personally take charge by self-publishing and self-marketing your work through a variety of contemporary platforms and marketing/communications media.

The trend to writers  going the self-publishing route is part of a growing movement among creative people to manage their own destinies – by not only being creative in their work, but also by being innovative in how they get their creative message out to a target audience.

Why wait to be chosen or picked  by a third party when you can choose or pick yourself  and be more in command of managing the spread of your ideas and concepts?

Marketing and creativity expert Seth Godin has done a several excellent posts on the importance and advantages of choosing or picking yourself. One of his latest and best articles on this subject (and the spark for my article above) is on his blog at the following URL:

Godin throws more light on this same topic in his follow-up post at:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Learning how to be a professional writer

By Dennis Mellersh

There is a distinct technical difference between learning (1) how to write professionally; (2) learning how to be a professional writer and (3) being or becoming a professional writer.

In the first case (1) you will be learning how to write as well as a professional writer; in the second example (2), you will be learning how to make money through your writing after you have learned to write well enough; and in the third example (3) you are earning money through your writing.

The novelist and poet Margaret Atwood compares the difference between a professional and non-professional artist to singing. Many people can sing songs in a pleasing manner, perhaps even sounding “professional” but they cannot call themselves professional singers unless people are paying money to hear them sing.

In the case of writing, you can learn to write well through a combination of formal writing courses, workshops, self-study, and a lot of practice. And, you can learn enough about the craft of writing (again with a lot of practice) to be able to write as well as a professional writer.

But you will not technically be a professional writer unless you can make a living or a portion of your living by means of your writing. To paraphrase Atwood, you will be a professional writer when "an informed audience" is reading your work and you are being paid for it.

Many of the people who earn their living through writing are journalists who work as employees of publishing companies. Others have developed their writing skills to the point where they can be independent professional writers and make money as freelance writers who are paid for individual writing assignments or projects.

In nearly all cases, writers who are employees of publishing companies are writing non-fiction.
In my own case, for example, for the first part of my writing career, I was an employee with a major national business-magazine publishing company and progressed through various stages of responsibility from writing articles and news stories to being the editor and editor/publisher of a number of magazines. In the second and current part of my life as a writer, I have worked independently as a freelance writer and editor and that is how I have earned my living to date.

Professional Fiction writers and poets (novels, short stories, poems) such as are discussed often on this website, are in virtually all cases, writing independently from an employer and are earning money through their fiction as independent authors. Similarly, in most cases, writers of non-fiction books are not employees of the companies that publish their work, but are independent authors.

As discussed earlier, you can learn to write professionally, in a professional manner, or as well as a professional writer, but technically speaking,  it is misleading to call yourself a professional writer unless you are making money with your writing.

However, don`t be surprised if you work hard at learning the craft of writing and also practice a lot, that at some point someone will tell you: “Your work is very professional.” If that person also pays you for your work, you are then entitled to call yourself a “professional writer.”

Regardless of these technical differences however, you can call yourself a “writer”, if you are seriously learning how to write fiction or non-fiction and are also actually writing a reasonable amount of fiction or non-fiction.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

When should I edit the draft writing of my book?

By Dennis Mellersh

A common question of new writers is: “When should I edit and review what I am writing for my book?”
The answer is that you should edit your draft writing at a number of different stages. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Edit as you go during your writing session for that day, using a spell-check and grammar program and checking yourself for obvious mistakes
  2. Review what you wrote that day at the end of the day checking your writing for clarity and logic
  3. At the end of the week, when you will have a fresh perspective, review that week’s input to see if you think any major revisions are required
  4. Finally, when your entire book manuscript is completed in draft form, do a full edit which can include significant rewriting, structural changes, and possible additions and/or deletions to your draft manuscript


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to write with originality and creativity

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the surest ways to ensure that you write without originality and creativity is to imitate your favorite writer(s).

For the new writer, such imitation is usually not done consciously but happens because of admiration and fascination with another writer’s ideas and their way of handling language in their work.
In biographical material about famous and successful writers and authors such as novelists, short story writers, and poets, we will often find admissions by those writers that they went through a period in their work where they were imitating writers they admired.
Once they dropped imitation, or being derivative, they found their own voice, their writing ceased to be derivative, and it became more original and creative.
If you do not think you are particularly original or creative, remember this:
  • You are a unique being
  • You are an original
  • You are creative (whether you realize it or not)
And no-one looks at the world and reacts to it exactly the same way you do.
So, do the rest of us a favor, and write in a way that allows us to hear your voice, your uniqueness, your creativity, and your originality.
Not somebody else’s.


Write non-fiction in your own voice

By Dennis Mellersh

In writing non-fiction, such as a book you may be planning, it can be a temptation to try to write in what you might perceive to be a scholarly, educated or academic voice or narrative style.

However, in writing this way, you will likely be writing your book in a manner that is unnatural, and perhaps worse, boring.

However, by writing in your own natural voice your writing will be more interesting, accessible, and have more appeal to most readers.

Writing in your natural voice (the way you talk) actually makes your writing more authentic, authoritative and credible than if you try to make it sound important or scholarly.

When you try to write in a way that is not natural to you your writing will sound forced, fake, and likely pretentious.

When you try to write in a voice that is not your own, you will essentially not be writing to please yourself.

The result is probably that no-one else will be pleased, or interested in what you have to say.

Do you really want to be a writer: a self-test

By Dennis Mellersh

Many people say they want to be a writer and that they want to write a book; but how many people make the commitment to activate that desire and make becoming a writer a reality?

The prime requirement for becoming a writer is to put in the necessary time and write something every day, or almost every day.

I am not talking about the equally important requirements of taking writing courses, or reading and studying books on the craft of writing, or attending workshops for writers; or doing the research for whatever you want to write about.

I’m talking about sitting down every day with your computer or tablet (with word-processing software) or if you prefer, paper and pen or pencil (if you want to handwrite your draft) and writing a few hundred words every day.

If you are not willing to do that, you don’t really want to be a writer; you really want to find a shortcut that will magically show you how to become a writer in the shortest time possible.

However, there are no shortcuts to becoming a writer. You can write some types of books in a short time (if you already know how to write), but you cannot “become a writer” in a short period of time.

“Wanting to” requires “doing” the writing.

And that’s the self-test. How much have you written each day for the past two weeks?

If the answer is nothing or very little, then you should reassess the strength of your motivation and if you still want to be a writer, make a schedule for writing something every day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

You need to tell a story in non-fiction

By Dennis Mellersh

To write an effective non-fiction book that will hold the interest of your readers, you need to tell a story in your book, just as you would if you were writing a novel.

Research on learning has shown that people will remember the content of any instructional material (such as your non-fiction book) much better if they hear or read a story about it.
Basically, all good writing is, in some way, telling a story. In your case, the “story” is the narrative you construct around the ideas and facts you want to convey to your readers in your non-fiction material.
This does not mean that you need to write your book as if it were a novel or a short story, but it does mean that you need to use a story-like narrative voice in your writing.
This is obvious if you are writing a biography, or a history book, but it also holds true for how-to-do-it books and other instructional books. You need to modify the traditional narrative curve of fiction and use it to make your non-fiction book a more compelling read for your audience.
This might look something like this in order of presentation of the material that your book will discuss:
  • Outlining the main theme of the content
  • Describing briefly the subsets of the theme
  • Your ideas/facts as the main body of the book
  • Review of main principles and conclusion
To achieve a narrative voice, write the content of your book as if you were talking personally to someone who is interested in your ideas and knowledge of the topic. 

Writing like you talk, as if you were telling a story will not only make your book much more appealing to readers, it will also help your readers to better remember the information in your book.
This will help establish your reputation with readers as a reliable and interesting source of material on the non-fiction topics that interest them.

Publisher seeks new romance-novel writers

By Dennis Mellersh

It’s not very often that you will see a major, mainstream book publisher actively seeking and encouraging even beginner authors to write novels for them. But that appears to be the case with Harlequin (Harlequin Enterprises Limited), which has a significant section of its website titled Write for Us.

Specifically, Harlequin says it is looking for writers to author romance novels, and provides detailed instructions in all phases of the writing and submission process. This section of Harlequin’s website has two main sections; Learn to Write, and Writing for Harlequin.

Here’s a sample of the articles on the site that could help new writers both learn to write a romance novel and also learn how to submit their finished manuscripts to Harlequin for consideration for possible publication:

Learn to Write
Get Out and Stay Out…of the Slush Pile
Writing the Dreaded Synopsis
Learning to Rewrite
Do-it-Yourself Editing
Proofreaders' Marks
How to Write the Perfect Romance!
Glossary of Terms for the Romance Novel Novice

Writing for Harlequin
Writing Guidelines
Manuscript Format Guidelines
How to Submit a Novel
List of Editorial Office Addresses
Frequently Asked Editorial Questions
Submission Samples
Quick Query Letter Checklist

I read most of these articles and found they contained much worthwhile information, not just for aspiring romance novel writers, but for anyone interested in learning more about how to write, and how to write a novel. Remember though as you go through the material that the specific emphasis is on how to write a romance novel.

If you review the other sections of the Harlequin site, you can get a good idea of what’s involved in the overall romance novel market.

Here’s a link to the section on the Harlequin website:

Or go to Google and type in: harlequin write for us – the first item on page 1 of the Google page returns links to that section of the Harlequin website.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Can you learn to write a book?

By Dennis Mellersh

For the person interested in becoming a writer, it can be discouraging to hear comments such as, “Real writers don’t write just because they want to; they write because they have to.”

The implication being that if you have not been obsessed with a compulsion to write since an early age, you are not a “real” writer and it is highly unlikely you will be able to learn to write, let alone become a writer of books.

The other assumption in that comment is that if you have not been writing anything up to this point, you probably don’t have the ambition, or the natural aptitude necessary to learn writing, or to write books.

Well, it’s simply not true.

You can learn to write and you can learn how to write a book.

A person who has been interested in writing and the world of books and who has made efforts towards writing at an early age probably does have a head start on learning to write seriously. But such people are not members of an exclusive writers’ club that no-one else can join.

Writing is a craft, an art, a form of creative self-expression, and it can be learned. The same as learning to be an artist, such as a painter, or learning photography, or learning woodworking – they are acquirable skills.

A huge part of learning anything, such learning as the craft of writing, is having a strong desire to do so; and you have that desire, or you wouldn’t be reading articles on writing such as this one.

Learning how to write well can be challenging and it will take time, but you can do it.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

Are you writing, or reading about writing?

By Dennis Mellersh

No matter what type of book you want to write, whether fiction or non-fiction, it is important to read instructive material on how to write, and to read books of the type that you want to write, such as a novel or a how-to-do-it book.

There is a danger we all face as writers, however, and that is in becoming so interested in discussions about the craft of writing that we do not make time to practice our writing while we are learning about it.

Practicing our writing is actually an important part of the process of learning how to write a book and the single most important component of becoming a writer. Practicing our writing is largely a self-directed learning activity in which we will gradually see improvements in our writing as we do some writing every day.

Try to keep all of your practice-writing together so that you can review your progress, perhaps at monthly intervals. Review what you have written at the beginning of your efforts and compare it with what you have recently written. You’ll probably notice some improvement.

Overall, read about writing – yes, but make sure your own writing is part of the learning process.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Being blocked with how to start your book

By Dennis Mellersh

You’ve done the research for your book, and you have completed your outline, but now that you have decided to start writing it, you’re stumped and can’t think of what to write. Those few opening words or sentences just won’t come.

This impasse is not writer’s block; it’s normal – and it happens even with professional writers.

But, what to do about it?

The worst approach is to sit there stewing while you struggle to find the perfect and most brilliantly creative way to write the beginning of your book.

Often, your best bet is to forget about trying to write those lead-in words and setences and just jump in with the writing, starting with the very next item on your book’s outline.

Begin writing where you would have if you had already written those opening words. Write the quota of words you have set as your daily goal, and forget about the opening.

Once you get into the flow of the writing and have some of the book written you will often find that some thoughts about how you should start will begin to gel.

It might be a key phrase or thought, or perhaps by completing some writing on the book, the over-arching theme of the book will emerge more clearly in your mind.

That’s when you can go back and write those opening words that first eluded you.

Using index cards to outline your book

By Dennis Mellersh

Sometimes the use of traditional tactile writing materials can help your book writing efforts in the outline and draft stages.

Let’s look specifically at the book outline process, for example.

Although you can write the outline of your book on a computer, it’s not always easy to quickly scan the various thoughts you have written down and see them as a cohesive whole.

And it can be difficult, on the computer, to alter the sequence of your thoughts, to re-arrange your ideas.

What can simplify the process, and/or give you the feeling of  more direct  control of the book outlining process is to use old fashioned (tactile) writing materials such as pens, pencils, paper, and index cards.

As you do your research and are making notes on from the research material, you will start to get creative ideas for the content of your planned book.

Try writing down each of your emerging ideas such as for chapter headings, characters, plot ideas, or subjects to be included in your book, on 3x5-inch lined or unlined index cards. You can get index cards at most places that sell office supplies.

When you have completed the research, you will likely have a good number of ideas for how your book’s content should be organized written on the cards.

You can then sift through and review these cards, categorize them, sequence them, and in general organize them with an excellent overview of the whole picture of your book right in front of you in one visual field.

It can be difficult to get the same type of cohesion if you have to constantly scroll up and down screen after screen on your computer, constantly cutting and pasting.

Sometimes the old technologies for writing a book, such as pen, or pencil and paper (and index cards) can help improve the effectiveness of our use of new technologies, such as computers and tablets.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Your book project: What have you done today?

By Dennis Mellersh

No matter what stage you are at with your project of writing a book, you need to be accomplishing something every day on that project if it is to move forward.

Your book concept might be a novel, or a non-fiction book, or a book-length collection of short stories or poems; regardless, especially in the early stages of writing, a book project is a formidable undertaking.

But if you discipline yourself to do something on your writing project every day you may be surprised how quickly the work mounts up, and before you realize it, you are well on the way to actually completing your book.
So, looking back on today, did you do any of the following?
  • Write a few hundred words
  • Do some research on the subject matter
  • Work on your outline
  • Develop down some ideas on characters
  • Read something about the craft of writing
  • Read some of a novel, non-fiction book, short story, or some poetry
  • Read about the life of a successful writer
You don’t need to do all of these every day, but working on some facet of your book every day, combined with learning something about writing every day, will make the completion of your book easier because your will be “in the creative flow” so to speak, and simultaneously developing your writing skills and becoming a writer.
Trying to cram all the necessary work into one or two days a week is much tougher, and in the long term less effective.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

An apocryphal interview with an aspiring book author

By Dennis Mellersh

Many people say they want to write a book, but what is driving this desire? And, what are such people doing to realize their dream of writing a book, of becoming a writer?

Following is a synopsis of a fictitious editor interviewing a fictitious aspiring book author: the editor is on a quest to discover the answers to these questions.

Editor: From the research I have done I believe that you are a good example of the 81% of the North American population that wants to write a book.  So I thought we could discuss your ambitions, motivations, and the steps you are taking to writing a book. Perhaps we could start with your motivation: could you explain why you want to write a book?

Mr. Abookinsideme: Frankly, it’s just a vague, hard-to-describe feeling. I just have this desire, this urge to write a book a book I can call my own. It’s hard to explain in precise terms.

Editor: Is there any particular type of book that interests you; any genre that has more of an attraction than others?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  I’ve decided that I want to write a novel.

Editor: That’s an admirable goal. Are there any novelists that you particularly enjoy reading; authors that you look to for inspiration? Books in your personal library perhaps?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Well, actually, I’ve only read a couple of 19th century English novels, back in high-school, so, no, I don’t have any novelists as role models to speak of. I took engineering in university, so I thought I might write a novel related in some way to the engineering profession. I don’t really have a library as such, just professional books to do with my job.

Editor: It would probably interest our readers, who also express an interest in writing books, to know what instructional books you have read about the craft of writing, or any courses or writing workshops you might have taken, particularly with novel writing, to help you in this process.

Mr. Abookinsideme: So far I haven’t read any books on the topic or taken any courses or workshops. My thinking is that I have life experiences, and I keep up with current events on the Internet, so I thought I would write the novel based on my experiences with life in general.

Editor: You mentioned the Internet; there are a lot of good websites and blogs and videos on YouTube about the subject of writing. Have you found those to be helpful?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  To tell you the truth, I just don’t have the time to spend on that; wish I did.

Editor: Are there any noteworthy moments or general experiences in your life which you think could be the foundation for your debut novel?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Not really, but I’m observant, so I believe I can just draw on that.

Editor: Would it be imposing if I asked to see some of your work to date? Some of your early drafts?  I know, however, that some writers don’t like to discuss their work-in-progress.

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Right now I’m not working on anything; sort of just taking things in for when I feel inspired. Then I’ll sit down and start writing my novel.

Editor: Well, I know you are a busy person, so I would like to thank you for taking this time with us. Good luck on your novel.

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Thank you; I’ll send you a couple of copies when it’s published.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dr. Wordsmith visits a patient with writer’s block

By Dennis Mellersh

You are trying to write your book, but for a day or two, the words you need just won’t come. It must be the “authors’ disease”— it’s writer’s block! You panic. “I’d better call Dr. Wordsmith.”

The doctor arrives with his black bag and instruments: He examines you thoroughly; checks your fingers’ for suppleness; inspects your pens to make sure there is enough ink for the words you need; he diagnoses your computer; yes, it has enough memory for your novel and the keyboard is functioning; he checks to make sure you have a thesaurus and a good dictionary; reviews your library and asks,” what have you read lately – anything unusual? Are you reading quality material or too much junk?”

He then moves on to your desk: “What did you write yesterday? Any particularly hard-to-write passages before you noticed the symptoms of writer’s block?”

He asks to see your journals and your notebooks where you write down your ideas and the advice you have gleaned from reading the biographies of respected, successful writers.

Finally he gives his diagnosis: “There is no blockage; it is simply a case of literary malnutrition, brought on by the unrealistic expectation that writing is simply having the  inspiration or desire to write, which is then followed by miracles of narration and dialogue flowing effortlessly onto the paper.”

 “Well, what do I do about it?” you ask.

“Unfortunately, there is no simple and fast cure,” explains Dr. Wordsmith.

“My advice to most of my writer patients is to relax and the condition will cure itself…as long as you read good writing every day, and show up every day and do some writing, any writing.”

“But, call me again if the condition goes on for more than week and I’ll refer you to one of my specialist colleagues, Dr. Persistence, Dr. MoreEffort, or Dr. ReadMore.”

The dangers of writing your book for someone else

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the surest paths to failure with your book is to write it to please someone other than yourself. You are the person you must satisfy with your writing; otherwise your writing will not be authentic.

The novelist John Steinbeck, author of the grapes of Wrath and many other notable works, commented, that, for him, his writing had to be an end in itself. If he wrote to try to please a segment of the literary world, for example, it would be like trying to write with someone constantly looking over his shoulder. He essentially wanted to write without expectation, other than realizing his ambition to do good work.

For you as a person on the path to becoming a writer, to write even with the expectation of being published can color your writing because you will be trying to impress someone such as a submissions editor at a publishing company, or a literary agent, for example. The resultant writing is not likely to be in your true voice.

I am not trying to minimize the importance or the worth of doing paid work (for someone else) as an assignment or as part of a career (freelance or in-house) in working for a media company. Much brilliant and worthwhile writing is being done every day by journalists, corporate writers, and copywriters.

But if you are setting your sights on writing fiction such as a novel, or hoping to write enough short stories or poems that you can subsequently compile them into a book, then you have to write first for yourself, and not for someone or something else.

As a perceptive observer once said, there are few things more sad than to see someone die with their music still inside them.

Writing your book one day at a time

By Dennis Mellersh

It’s a given that if you write a certain amount every day, it will not take long for you to accumulate enough pages of manuscript to have a book. You might call this the one-day-at-a-time approach to writing.

There is also an important psychological benefit for you as a writer in keeping your writing life in day-tight compartments. Writing is one of those professions that can entail a lot of emotion, and it’s sometimes negative emotion.

Some days you may feel that you are failing in your writing objectives and that your book will never materialize. But remember, that’s just how you are feeling on a given day; today the writing may not be going well, but tomorrow could be a day when the words flow effortlessly.

If you read the biographies, autobiographies, and journals of professional writers, or watch their videos on YouTube, you will find that, invariably, they all say that they have good days in their writing and days that are unproductive, when the words just don’t happen. Professional writers recognize that at such times, forcing the writing usually is counterproductive…so they take a break by reading, doing some research, or finding a distraction of some sort to take their minds off their work.

As a writer, you could take a lesson from professional athletes, such as baseball players. They know that they are not going to be 100% every day. If they can have days when they win 65% of the time as a team, they are doing exceptionally well. In the art of hitting in baseball, being productive 30% of the time, or batting for a 300 average is considered excellent.

They key point is to show up every day at your writing place, whether that happens to be on any given particular day a desk in your home, sitting in a coffee shop, a park bench, or jotting ideas in your notebook while waiting for a doctor’s appointment.

Just show up and write, take the good days with the bad or seemingly unproductive days, and you will soon have a book. And remember, even on the “bad” days, you will still be learning something about writing a book. Little “failures” for a writer are lessons in themselves.

It's all part of becoming a writer.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The dangers in imitating other writers

By Dennis Mellersh

In your journey of becoming a writer and learning how to write a book, a habit to guard against is that of imitating, consciously or subconsciously, the writing style of a favourite author.

Although it is important for you as a writer to follow the general guidelines or market principles for the book genre that interests you (writing a mystery novel for example) imitation of another author’s style will hurt your writing and your credibility with your potential reading audience.

One of the reasons that imitation can surface in your writing is if you greatly admire the work of a particular author and perhaps think that if your writing were similar, you could be a successful writer too.

But, it is a dangerous trap.

I recently came across a good explanation of why this is so in a book titled Creative Authenticity (1) written by Ian Roberts. Roberts is a painter, but he explained in his book that visual arts and writing both require authenticity, or speaking with your own voice in your art.

Here is what he says about using the yardstick of comparing ourselves to others:

“We can run into trouble comparing ourselves with another artist’s work when our temperament is completely different from his or hers, which means that we could never do what they do…it is unproductive to compare and evaluate ourselves against someone else’s work. What we’re trying to compare doesn’t. And it can be harshly discouraging to try.”

Developing your own style as a writer will take time – time spent writing every day. By disciplining yourself to write every day, eventually your own style will emerge.

(1) Creative Authenticity, by Ian Roberts, Atelier Saint-Luc Press, 2004

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Some of what you write won’t be good

By Dennis Mellersh

If you’re doggedly going to go down the path of becoming a writer, you will often need to reach for the eraser or the delete button, and sometimes the trash can.

In our work as writers, some of what we produce will be just “good”, some not-so-good, some passable, and some of it just plain bad. Sometimes, a book will “just not come together” and we will need to abandon the concept, regroup, and start afresh with a new project.

After working diligently on a promising idea, you may find, for example, that the idea is simply not big enough or sufficiently important to sustain a book-length project. It might be more suitable for a short story, or an essay, for example.

Or, the idea may excellent but we simply aren’t experienced enough as writers to execute it effectively – the idea is bigger and more complex than our present capabilities as writers. The tool-chest of our writing skills is not yet complete enough.

The sooner you recognize this fact of your evolving life as a writer, the better.

Otherwise you will be discouraged by your unsuccessful writing results and will not be able to feel the joy of work during those times when you are “in the zone” and the words are brilliantly flowing onto the paper like magic.

In the work of virtually all writers who tackle fiction and non-fiction, the writing will vary in quality. Even the greatest writers did not always hit home runs.

For the beginner writer, it is important to realize that over time, writing badly and learning from the experience will eventually result in writing well as we progress on our journey of becoming a writer.

Are you a writer at heart?

By Dennis Mellersh

If you have become discouraged at any time in your efforts to learn how to write a book, here’s a thought to provide some inspiration: the major components of becoming a writer are intention, desire, and inclination.

You already have the intention to write a book, you have the desire, and you may find, if you look back, that you have exhibited the inclination to be a writer throughout your life.
Some positive or “yes” answers to the following questions can mean that you have an inborn inclination towards the creative process and writing:
  • Do you enjoy reading books about writing, writers, and the creative process?
  • Do you find yourself searching the Internet for information such as articles about writing?
  • Do you like reading about the lives of famous writers?
  • Do you read book reviews?
  • Do you find yourself making notes about books and other informational material?
  • Have you tried writing anything, such as a short story, or a poem?
  • Do you make thoughtful comments on articles on websites and blogs?
  • Do you have a “love affair” with writing materials such as pens, pencils, writing pads, journals, index cards?
  • Do you write down notes about various ideas you have

If yes, and to use a cliché, “you get the picture” – you’re inclined to be a writer.

Becoming a writer in a more formal sense is really a matter of channelling the creative writing energy you already have in a disciplined way to learn about the craft of writing, and then practicing your writing (on anything) every day.

Keep reading, and keep writing!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing fiction: Listen to your instincts and write in your own voice

By Dennis Mellersh

When taking the first steps towards writing fiction, one of the common mistakes of new writers is in not following their instincts and not writing what they really want to write in their books.

This tendency can manifest itself in a new writer’s novel, short stories, or poems (although poetry is strictly not necessarily part of the fiction category).

This can be the result from at least two factors:
(1) Trying to write fiction in an idealized “literary” style
(2) Being afraid to show your true self in your fiction writing

The effects of this show up in both fiction dialogue and in fictionalized description or expository passages.

With dialogue, trying to write in a supposed “literary” style will result in the characters in your novel not talking like normal people. Simply put, neither the dialogue, nor the character speaking the dialogue is believable.

In description, trying to write in what you might perceive as a “literary” style produces “flowery’, exaggerated overblown writing passages in which it appears you, as a writer, are trying to “show-off” your literary capabilities.

Both tendencies however are a sign of amateurism and will be a turn-off for your readers. Although it is important to follow general rules of grammar and style, it is equally vital to write naturally and instinctively, rather than trying to imitate some sort of writing style that you think you “should” be using.

To some extent, writing fiction has an autobiographical element which the reader associates with you as the writer. If you don't write in your own, true voice, your writing will not seem genuine to the reader. It will ring false.

Writing your novel: Avoid being overly “serious”

By Dennis Mellersh

As you begin the actual work of writing your novel, one common tendency to avoid is that of trying to be deadly serious in getting your “message” across to your potential readers.

Although the readers of your novel will initially be interested in what you have to say in your novel, they will be turned off quickly if your book is preachy, overly obvious, moralistic in tone, and full of stereotyped one-dimensional characters whose actions always appear to embody a “moral lesson.”

It’s fine to have serious intellectual and moral purposes in your writing, but remember that people will not be buying your book to be lectured at.

You need to keep your readers entertained from the perspective of them enjoying reading your book. Otherwise you will lose your readers. So, keep the ethical and moral lessons as subtle and as unobtrusive as possible, if you must use them at all.

Remember, you are writing a novel, not a book on ethics, philosophy, or moral behaviour.

In the words of the writer Frank O’Connor, “A novel is about people, it’s written for people, and the moment it starts getting so intellectual that it gets beyond the range of people and reduces them to academic formulae, I’m not interested in it any longer…you read [a novel] because you enjoy it. You don’t read it because of the serious moral responsibility to read, and you don’t write it because it’s a serious moral responsibility.”(1)

(1) Source: Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How Ray Bradbury created story ideas

By Dennis Mellersh

In the early stages of learning to write a book, and even when you have a good foundation in creative writing skills, you will sometimes need devices to kick-start your imagination and get your writing flowing.

One of the techniques used by the fantasy writer Ray Bradbury was to make a list of nouns and then creatively play with the nouns to stimulate his thinking as a writer and to generate ideas that he could use in developing a story.

In an interview with the Paris Review,* Bradbury noted that, although he eventually would be able to generate story ideas easily, at first, in his early writing career, he needed devices to stimulate his imagination, and for this, he chose nouns.

“…in the old days I knew I had to dredge my subconscious, and the nouns did this…I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, What does each noun mean?. .. Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer…”

“…I begin to write little pensées about the nouns. It’s prose poetry …I started to write short, descriptive paragraphs, two hundred words each, and in them I began to examine my nouns. Then I’d bring some characters on to talk about that noun and that place, and all of a sudden I had a story going.”

As a first effort in trying out Bradbury’s idea we could modify the process. As a start, you could try writing down a list of six nouns and then writing just a  sentence or two about the noun that could be the lead-in or central idea for developing a story.

Here’s a list of four nouns I chose arbitrarily, followed by a written thought that might lead to a story idea.

“My addiction to constantly chewing bubble gum has caused problems for me, but if it were not for bubble gum, I would not have…”

“I wanted my typewriter to be one of those old-fashioned heavy ones like you used to see in movies about newspapers. I had a uniquely personal reason for this preference…”

“If I had never read that book, my life would have been entirely different…”

“Just a few years ago, I could not write anything even slightly creative without having a specific color and brand of ink for my fountain pen, but now, things are quite different…”

You get the idea.

Why not make up your own list of perhaps six nouns and see if you can develop a micro-story or a poem based on the associations in your mind with each noun on your list.

You may be pleasantly surprised at the results you achieve.

* Interview by Sam Weller, The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 203

You can read the entire interview at the following url:

“I would write a book – if only I had the time”

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the common misconceptions of people not familiar with writing is that it is an inborn ability, and that to write a book, for example, you just have to have some time available, tap into the talent, and then start to write.

However, as someone who is in the process of becoming a writer, and doing the hard work of learning to write, you know how difficult it is
People who think that they would write, if only they could “find the time” would not likely say that they would do the electrical installations in an office building; or build a three-story brick house; or do all the plumbing in their house – if they could just take time off from their busy schedules.

Even professional people with significant technical educational backgrounds have this peculiar notion that they could simply tap their brains and a stream of novels, short stories, or poems would then pour out with ease onto the page.

Yet, a professional writer would never say words to the effect, “Yes, I’ve been thinking that when I have the time between novels, I think I will do some heart surgery.”

The prolific writer Harlan Ellison commented on this oddity of perception:
“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”

Once you progress in your writing and perhaps have had some of your work published, you may wish to disabuse your friends and acquaintances of this popular myth.

Or instead, you might want to take the advice of Ernest Hemingway: “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Avoid clichés and overused expressions in your writing

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the surest ways to ensure that the writing in your book appears non-professional and amateurish is to sprinkle clichés (overused phrases and expressions) liberally throughout your manuscript.

The very commonplace nature of clichés in our everyday speech makes it difficult to avoid incorporating them into our initial writing. So we have to go through what we have already written and edit them out.

The problem with most clichés is that they are often completely meaningless due to their derivation or symbolism being long forgotten, or they are overused business-speak or some other form of jargon.
Here are some clichés, or over-used expressions, that I could use to start my next sentence in this article:
  • The fact of the matter (cliché: what do the words actually say?)
  • In actual fact (cliché: what other kind of fact is there?)
  • In point of fact (cliché and a meaningless collection of words)
  • When all is said and done (cliché – when might that be?)
  • What this boils down to (cliché – what is boiling?)
  • In short… (cliché: why uses these words at all?)
Minus a cliché lead-in, here’s the next sentence in this article:
A lot of clichés are fun to use in speech, but they don’t add to the content of our writing and actually detract from our writing.  An exception might be if we are trying to draw a particular image of a character in a novel or short story and are using clichés in the character’s speech patterns to help establish the character’s personality through their way of talking.
A couple of common cliché’s we all might like to use in our speech: You get the picture; go figure; well…duh.
Cute, but they add little to our writing, and instead diminish it.
Many cliché’s are so old few people know their true meaning, and that’s another reason to avoid using them. Example, He’s still “wet behind the ears.” We know it means somehow that “he” is inexperienced or immature, but how many people know what the words “wet behind the ears” actually refer to?
You might want to check out some of the websites that discuss clichés and have lists of clichés. Just type cliché into Google.

Writing your book: An opportunity assessment

By Dennis Mellersh

In his book Opportunities: A Handbook of Business Opportunity Search*, cognitive/thinking expert Edward de Bono discusses the concept of ‘opportunity space.’

And, although de Bono is not discussing the writing of books within his ideas on opportunity, but rather is focussed on business and industry, nevertheless his ideas can be applied to writing and publishing the book you want to produce.

De Bono sums up ‘opportunity space’ and our ability to seize opportunity as follows:
“If an opportunity is within our opportunity space, then we can act upon it.”

Further, “The opportunity space includes all the changes, decisions, and choices that we can make. It includes all the assets we are using and the actions we can take.”

Let’s make the reasonable assumption that (a) you are capable of writing a book; (b) that there is a market for the book you decide to write and; (c) you have access to tools or assets that can be applied to your writing and to the potential market for your book.

Granting these assumptions, and to use de Bono’s criteria, you (as someone who wants to write a book) have both the opportunity and you have the ‘opportunity space.’

The particular opportunity for you lies in determining where you have some control with your individual ‘opportunity space’ elements.

You actually will have significant control.
Your particular areas of ‘opportunity space’ control are yours alone, but here are a few general examples I can suggest:
  • You decide the type of book you want to write, whether it is fiction, or non-fiction and you decide the specific writing format your book will take; a traditional approach or something experimental. You can control/decide the way your book is written and presented to a given reading audience.
  • You make the decision on what your book will be about: the subject matter, theme, and the ideas that will be presented in your writing efforts.
  • You control whether your book will be traditionally published in a print format or whether it will be an e-book. You decide how it will be designed, marketed, promoted and sold, if you make the decision to self-publish your writing.
  • You decide when you will do your writing in terms of scheduling, and you decide where you will write your book – home office, library, coffee shop. You decide when you can afford to take some time off from writing to recharge your creative batteries. You also decide on the way you will write and the materials you will use:  pen or pencil on paper, dictating, computer or tablet.
  • You have the choice and the ability to let your individual personality and the originality of your personal ideas come through strongly in your book.
There are many additional areas of control in the ‘opportunity space’ of writing and publishing your book that I could list here.
But now it’s up to you to analyze your particular circumstances and desires and see where you and your book fit in to this picture of opportunity and ‘opportunity space.’
* Edward de Bono, Opportunities: A Handbook of Business Opportunity Search, Penguin Books

Monday, April 1, 2013

Try a change of pace to unblock your writing

By Dennis Mellersh

If you’re having trouble trying to figure out the “right” words in your writing efforts, and your book seems a too-distant goal, try a change of pace. Write something just for practice to get the words rolling.

Following are a few suggestions:
  • If you’re writing on a computer or a tablet, trying writing with a pen or pencil on paper instead. Or if you already write in longhand on paper, try working on the computer.
  • Instead of working on the particular writing that’s causing you problems, write down a few sentences on what kind of a day you are having. You could even write about your writing block and why it bothers you.
  • Or instead of worrying about the book you’re trying to write, perhaps write down some of the reasons you want to write a book. If it’s going to be fiction, write about why you like fiction. If non-fiction, write on why you like that literary format.
  • Start a journal or a diary. The entries can be about why you enjoy writing, your plans for your book, or just the everyday events in your life. The novelist John Steinbeck often wrote in a journal each day before starting  the day’s novel-writing because he found that it warmed him up and helped him to write more freely.
  • Watch a news program for a few minutes and write down your reactions to any particular story. Or take a different approach in writing the lead-in to the news story you watched.
  • Grab one of your favourite books and copy a few sentences or paragraphs from a passage that you like. Write this in longhand, just to get moving with your writing.
  • Open your dictionary and write about the first word on the page, or the last word, or on any word in between. Write anything that comes into your head.
The point of the above suggestions is not to try to write something of importance, but just to write, period. Often by just “doodling” with some writing, you will get in the creative frame of mind where you can re-start the more serious type of writing that you want to do for your book.

I want to write a book but I don’t know what to write about

By Dennis Mellersh

Sometimes the desire to be a writer who wants to write a book is just a vague emotion, inclination or desire. There isn’t necessarily a concrete idea of the specific book we want to write in our minds, we just have this urge to write.

For beginner writers this often can be summarized in the statement/question: “I want to write, but I don’t know what to write about.”

Having the freedom to write anything we want can be limiting or constraining, because in the early stages of learning to write, having this freedom of choice can be paralyzing – writer’s block in effect.

The successful children’s book author and writing instructor Judy Delton stated this problem well in her book, The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

Delton related a situation in which she became aware of a university student taking a creative writing class that she was struggling with. The problem is that in the course, for some of the assignments, the students were told they could write about anything they wanted to. The student said she found this “intimidating” and had trouble writing anything at all for the assignments.

Here’s what Delton explained about the challenge of not having a specific topic to write about:

“Everyone needs limits. If I say in a class ‘Write about bubble gum’, or ‘ink’, or ‘your vacation’, the whole class is writing in a moment. But if I say, ‘Write about anything in the world you want to’, they sit and look stumped. It is inhibiting. So set some limits for yourself, something not too big, and give yourself permission to fail.”

She also suggests that beginners in the process of becoming writers should realize that in the learning stage they don’t need to write about something “important.” The purpose is to get used to the habit of writing, by practising writing.

Worrying about the topic you are going to write about will interfere with your creativity.

Is fear preventing you from writing your book?

By Dennis Mellersh

Fear, and particularly fear of failure, can be a major roadblock in realizing your desire to write a book.
You are taking the steps to learn about how to write a book, and you want to start practising the knowledge about writing that you are acquiring through your studying  and research.
And yet… you feel it is still too early to start writing.
It’s not too early.
Learning to write is a progressive activity; writing is not a skill you learn by studying and taking instruction in every conceivable aspect of writing, and then at some magical moment, setting pen to paper and starting to write.
Rather, you need to be practising your writing at each stage of your learning process.
Mostly what holds us back in our writing efforts is fear:
  • Fear that our book will not be good enough in the eyes of others
  • Fear that our writing will not meet our own expectations
  • Fear that “the publisher” will reject our book
  • Fear that the critics will think it is no good
And the list of writing-based fears goes on…
Throughout history such fears have affected many famous writers who worked work in different genres:
  • The renowned poet Emily Dickinson kept most of her poems in a drawer and the poems were not discovered until after her death
  • The brilliant naturalist Charles Darwin withheld his seminal work on evolution  for decades, largely due to fear of the anticipated public and scientific negative reaction
  • Some well-known published novelists, with an initial successful book to their credit, “dried-up”, sometimes due to a fear that they would not be able to repeat their earlier success
Fear is normal. But giving in to fear can prevent you from becoming a writer.
The key is to recognize the fear for what it is, an emotion; and to have the courage to discipline that emotion and write what you feel despite the fear.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Don’t talk about your book; write it!

By Dennis Mellersh

Although it is a good practice to discuss the craft of writing with other writers, talking with fellow writers and friends about the proposed plot and character development for your book might not be such a good idea.

Talking in too great detail about your proposed book, whether it is fiction or non-fiction can tend to dissipate the creative energy that should go into the actual writing of your book.

In the world of newspapers there is a story of a reporter spending a lot of time telling his editor all about a story he was covering. At some point the editor lost patience and abruptly told the reporter: “Don’t tell me about it. Write it!”

Many creators find that the same holds true in other artistic efforts. A painter, for example, can lose creative energy for their finished work if they do too many sketch versions before tackling their final canvas.

They may find that most of their creative energy has gone into the preliminary work and they may feel subconsciously that they have already expressed the idea sufficiently.

With writing, in addition to losing creative energy, divulging plot details and character descriptions to people before you are finished writing can result in discouragement because of possible negative criticism from the people you are telling these details to.

The only appropriate criticism you might want to pay attention to (unless you are attending an educational writing workshop or course) is the criticism that you will undoubtedly get when your fiction or non-fiction book is published.

Even in this instance, numerous established, successful writers say they don’t pay much attention to the critics. They feel that they themselves as writers know what did or didn’t work in the book, and they move on to their next book, applying the lessons they learned while writing their previous book.
In the process of becoming a writer, writing about your idea is better than talking about it.

When writing your book, be true to yourself

By Dennis Mellersh

For the beginner writer, one of the surest and most common routes to failure is trying to be someone you are not.

Writing a book and becoming a writer takes effort, time, and focus; it’s a lot of work. So why make that sacrifice if your book is not going to reflect the real you?

Here are four ways to help ensure that your true persona comes through in the writing of either your fiction or non-fiction book.

(1)Write what you genuinely want to write, not what you think you should be writing. Write what you think people need to hear, not what you think they want to hear. Writing what you think people want to read will not result in much originality.

(2) Similarly, write in a style that is natural for you; as you write more and more, your natural style will start to emerge more positively.  Don’t try to write in a style or manner in which you think you “should” be writing.

(3) Please yourself in your writing. Don’t try to please everybody in the belief that by doing so you will attract more readers. Try to please everybody and it’s probable that no-one will be pleased. Write to satisfy yourself, and at least you will be pleased.

(4) Write the way you talk, not in a way that you think is more “literary.” When you are writing, Ask yourself, “Is this actually the way I would express this idea if I were talking to somebody?” This applies to both non-fiction and fiction. The exception, of course is if you are creating the dialogue of a character if you are writing fiction.

Remember, your readers want to hear your natural voice – the real you. Not an imitation of your favourite author or a knock-off of a particular writing style that you admire.