For this series, we will look at the mechanics of writing. “Mechanics” is the routine or basic methods, procedures, techniques, or details of something . . . in our case, the art of writing. We will study mechanics by examining specific ways to strengthen your creative skills. Whether you are a novice or an experienced author, you need to be continually honing your craft. I’m introducing a new column format. The first part will address one point that deals with the creating/editing side of writing, and the second will present common grammatical mistakes. Each column, therefore, will offer a style and a grammar “takeaway,” tips you can immediately apply to your writing.
When thinking about how to best proceed to suit the needs of GWA’s members as well as staying within the boundaries of the website format, I decided against presenting lengthy commentaries about the elements of fiction writing. First, we’ve had an overview of all six elements, and second, there are thousands of books and just about as many websites dedicated to the development of character, setting, plot, theme, point-of-view, and style. I feel it would be more beneficial if each of you study those areas you feel are your weaknesses.
As for grammar, most of you probably have a solid background in the rules that govern the construction of sentences and paragraphs. If you are among those who do not, and you are serious about becoming a published writer, I strongly recommend you sign up for a grammar class. You may have a brilliant idea and follow the foundations we’ve studied thus far, but if your manuscript is littered with misspelled words and grammatical errors, editors and agents will not waste their time on you. If you continue to be lazy by submitting sloppy copies, your only accomplishment will be building a poor reputation as a writer.
A regular schedule is a huge part of the road to successful writing. In Series Two – “Embolden Your Writer with a Plan,” I laid out the four-pronged process I use to assure a smooth-flowing writing routine. When I am finished with the idea-gathering and researching stages, I then sit down at my desk to begin the creating process – pulling mere thoughts onto a blank page. The result of this process is the first draft. Anything goes here. You will not be judged. Have fun with this stage. For me, there is one rule for writing that first copy: write it from beginning to end before going back to edit/rewrite. I’ll admit that I am my own worst student when it comes to this point. I desperately want to go back and “fix” things. Resist the urge to change scenes, characters, and plots until you have completed the initial draft. There are several reasons for staying on task until your first draft is complete:
1. Going back stops the flow of your creative juices when they are the freshest.
2. Premature editing can harm your original idea and hurl you into a wrong direction.
3. By stopping to edit, you risk getting bogged down in a perceived problem that may turn out not to have been a problem at all.
4. Stopping wastes time and energy.
5. Early rewrites often prevent you from finishing the first draft, and as a result you never finish the story.
When I sit down to create a story, I write through until the end. This doesn’t mean I finish the first draft in one sitting. It usually takes many sessions to complete a first draft. I do, however, reread what I’ve written so that I can pick up with my previous creative mind-flow, but I only reread. I do not stop to correct or revise. When the story has reached the point where I feel it should end, then I’ve completed the first draft. It is at this point that the editing and rewriting starts.
For the grammatical part of the next few columns, we will look at sets of homonyms that often plague writers. A homonym is a word that sounds the same as another word, but it has a different meaning and is often spelled differently. The best way to be comfortable with homonyms is to simply memorize each set. The first set of homonyms is “they’re,” “there,” and “their.”
• They’re – is the contraction of “they are”
ex. They are going to work. They’re going to work.
• There – refers to a place
ex. My pencil is over there.
• Their – is the possessive form of third person plural
ex. The books belong to Mary, John, and Heather. Their books.
Step One: Pick an idea and begin writing the first draft. If you write one page a day for a month, you’ll have a decent start of
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