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Microsoft Word Tips

By Brent Middleton

Microsoft Word is massive. These are some of the lesser-known Word functions. Since computers vary to a large degree, these instructions are basic.

Page Breaks

Microsoft Word automatically inserts a page break at the end of the page, but you can also insert manual page breaks. A page break is the point in the document where the text goes onto the next page. To insert a break manually, click where you want the page to be broken, then go to the Insert tab (at the top), and look under Pages. There you’ll see the Page Break button. If you’d prefer a shortcut to perform a hard page break (one that immediately starts the next page of the document), it’s CTRL+ENTER.

Section Breaks

You can configure automatic page breaks where you want. To do this, highlight the paragraph(s) that you want to work with. Go to the Page Layout tab, click the little icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph subcategory, and a dialogue box should pop up. Click on the Line and Page Breaks tab, and from there you can manage your automatic page break settings.

For more in-depth instructions on page breaks, check out the official Microsoft site: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/insert-a-page-break-HA010368779.aspx

There are other kinds of breaks, too, such as Next Page, Continuous, Even Page, and Odd Page. If you want to learn more about them, there’s a handy description of each right next to each one in Word.

The Ruler

One of the most underutilized features of Word is undoubtedly the ruler. Word includes both horizontal and vertical rulers, and they can be useful for aligning different elements of your document, such as text, tables, graphics, etc.

To view both rulers, click the little button in the top right-hand corner above the “move-the-page-up” arrow. If for some reason your vertical ruler doesn’t appear (in which case it’s turned off), you can turn it back on by going to File, then Options, which is just before Exit. Once in the Options menu, click Advanced, and then scroll down to the Display section. There you’ll find a series of check boxes, and one will say “Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view.” Select that one and you’re good to go.

Were these Microsoft Word tips helpful? Please let us know and feel free to suggest other topics that you might want us to cover.

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What a Writing Tutor Will Do for You

by Deborah Owen

Writing tutors will take your skills to a new level in an unbelievably short time. It isn’t necessary to invest multiplied thousands of dollars on courses you can’t afford. The same thing is available at bargain basement prices.

The pioneers of yesteryear provided a mentoring system for their children. Indeed, many of America’s great leaders were tutored at home.

  • Abraham Lincoln attended school only a few months
  • George Washington had the equivalent of an elementary school education
  • Davy Crockett, who was elected to the State Legislature, had almost no formal education
  • The eloquent diplomat, statesman and scientist, Benjamin Franklin, quit school at the age of ten and…
  • Thomas Edison, the father of 1,093 patented inventions, only briefly attended school.

Today’s populace is so disconcerted with traditional education that over one million disgruntled families tutor their children at home. A writing tutor will make you grow by leaps and bounds.

Here’s what the tutoring system can offer you:

  • Instead of being assigned a number like a prisoner in cell bock D, your tutor will know you on a first name basis
  • Your mentor will be available daily to answer questions and guide you through the mire of journalistic rules.
  • You will compete only with yourself as your tutor escorts you from your present level to your individual highest potential
  • The tutoring system is affordable
  • You will gain certification when you successfully complete your course.

Indeed, the mentoring system is more than equal to traditional teaching. It surpasses it.

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Writing Rules

by Terri Forehand

Creative writing rules govern story writing. The message, content, characters, and storyline can differ,  but some key elements must be present in every story.

Theme

Trust writing rules to link every story properly into a common idea. You can weave a moral or underlying lesson into the mix, but the theme can be as simple as boy meets girl. Many times, there may be both a theme and an underlying moral or lesson. Gone with the Wind is an example of a complex theme with a moral thread woven throughout the story. On the surface, the theme is war and romance, but the underlying lesson theme illustrates control, manipulation, and the weak characteristics of humans.

Plot

Every good story maintains an interesting plot throughout. The plot must fit the characters, just as the character’s actions must fit the plot. The plot encompasses the beginning and middle with a series of events that leads the climax to a satisfying ending. Plotlines must be concrete and believable. They must move the story forward and keep the reader interested in development. It behooves the creative writer to learn the craft of weaving meat into the story and delete every word that doesn’t directly pertain.

Hook

Construct a hook that grabs the reader and keeps him/her turning the pages. The hook may be a sentence, a few sentences, or even a page. In a technical world where people want instant gratification, they won’t stay engaged if the words don’t grab them at the onset.

Dialogue

Dialogue is another essential skill in creative writing. It must be natural and match the characters in the story, which can sometimes be tricky. Become a good eavesdropper and you’ll learn to write excellent dialogue. Mimic conversations you overhear. Notice how people finish one another’s sentences or and cut one another off mid-stream. Concentrate on contractions, sentence fragments, poor English, and bad sentence structure. All of it plays into reality.

To Conclude:

Practice the writing rules regarding plot, developing a proper hook, and creating dialogue that matches the speaker. Don’t just read other writers. Study them. Find the theme and plot of every story. Notice how characters and dialogue build the climax. Writing rules define the heart of every successful writer. Yes, you can break the rules, but not until you understand the structure that they give.

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‘Must Have’ Tools for Every Writer

by Lily E. Wong

Every writer needs tools. These include pen, paper, a computer and, surprise – books. Reading is as essential as writing. Being well read will help you to write well.

For writers certain books catapult our work into the forefront. The following five books will help hone your craft. How can anyone claim to be a writer if his/her work is not easy to understand? The goal is for all writers to own, read and refer to these books multiple times throughout their career.

1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White

First published in 1979, this book covers use of the English language. There are many books on grammar but few have stood the test of time. In essence, the book is a great example of good writing. Clear and concise, it’s a quick reference on grammar.

2. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

The subtitle of this book is “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” The book, divided into four parts, covers principles, methods, forms, and attitudes. Each section contains chapters that will enhance any writing. Zinsser provides examples from authors to teach and remind writers to keep their readers in mind.

3. On Writing by Stephen King

King calls it, “A Memoir of the Craft,” and delivers that and more. He tells a great story of a writer’s life, with himself as the focal point. Creativity and inspiration is his message.

4. A dictionary and thesaurus combination

This is invaluable to everyone because we all read and write. A dictionary enhances our vocabulary when we come across an unfamiliar word. On the other hand, a word repeatedly used can numb the reader. This is where the thesaurus comes in handy. The combination of both a dictionary and thesaurus is the ultimate necessity in a writer’s arsenal.

5. Your favorite book

This can be any book, fiction or nonfiction. Choose an anthology, a novel or any piece of literature. If you enjoyed reading this book, the writer did his job. Let this book be your inspiration, the goal you want to achieve.

As a writer, you want to do your best. You have talent but get some tools. Tools are a means to bring this talent forth for all to enjoy.

If these books aren’t yet in your library, borrow them, try them, buy them. But like all professional craftsmen, make sure any tool is worth its weight in gold before adding it to your collection.

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Using the Spellchecker

by Karen Johnson-Waugh

Microsoft Word has accumulated thirty years of features to assist us in writing. One beneficial feature to the writer is spell check. It will highlight the error and open a dropdown menu. The best word option on the list will be highlighted. This is an indispensable tool.

It also checks spelling and homonyms with new dictionaries. It will correct grammar errors, too, but it won’t enhance the readability of your style.

The spellchecker also runs a quick diagnostic feature known as the “Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease.” The test will grade your article and score it. Reading ease should be around 55. The grade level can be as low as seven.

The spellchecker will tell you if your article is too wordy or hard to understand. It will also indicate the amount of passive sentences. Passive voice is most effective in a scientific paper or instruction manual, but in stories, it diverts the attention away from the speaker and highlights the facts. Active voice is the key to prize writing. Keep your writing relative and tight and aim for less than 3% passive voice.

Spell check doesn’t always recognize the meaning of words. It isn’t a proofreader. Try reading your article backwards to catch errors. Another trick is to change the font size to shift paragraphs around on the page and gain a new perspective.

Spell check won’t write your story, but it will give you a lot of help.

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15 Quick Editing Steps to Rewriting Success

The Editing Commandments

by Deborah Owen

Editing can get pretty confusing. What should stay and what should go? Let this article be your guide.

Editing is another name for rewriting, and rewriting can only come once you’ve finished writing; therefore, your first step should be to complete your first draft. Once you’ve finished, instead of trying to edit all of the story or article at once, make each edit accomplish a specific purpose.

Follow these 15 quick editing steps to find out how.

1. Do some warm-up writing for ten minutes before you begin editing. During this time, write about something that makes you mad… perhaps an old flame, something an old boyfriend or girlfriend did, a spanking you unjustly received—anything that will stir your emotions and creativity. When your creative juices are flowing, you can critique you own work better.

2. Keep your eye on the goal. Refer back to the rough outline you used as the basis for your first draft. (What? You didn’t use an outline? No wonder you’re reading this article.) Be sure you’ve included all the initial points you wanted to make.

3. Check for linear flow (order of events). Don’t try flashbacks unless you know what you’re doing.

4. Don’t tell what your character is thinking. SHOW it with action, demonstration, or dialogue. Keep in mind that showing always takes three to five times more words than telling. That’s okay, as long as it’s meaty.

Example of Telling: “I’m so nervous,” Jennifer thought as she saw the doctor approach.
(boo… hiss… bad writing)

Showing:  Jennifer picked on her thumb nail as the doctor approached with furrowed brow. Noises in the room amplified. Did his strides grow longer? Slower? Was everyone looking at her? Tick. Tick. She could hear the seconds clicking on the clock overhead. A tiny drop of blood appeared as she pulled the nail into the quick, but the drop of bright blood and stabbing pain were welcome. They were the only signs of reality.

5. Edit for excessive wordiness, also known as verbiage. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines verbiage as “profusion of words, usually of little or obscure content.” In other words, excess words say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Use only one adjective at a time. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene and leave only the most necessary. When you delete a favorite phrase, copy it and save it in a file for another day.

6. Delete all adverbs ending in -ly, such as sadly, hatefully, etc. The use of adverbs is a sure indicator that you aren’t engaging the technique called Show, Don’t Tell.  (See #4)

7. Sentence tags: Don’t use “said she” or “said he.” Turn those words around to read “he said” and “she said.” Delete most tag endings, such as “she said with a snicker.” If you have sufficiently built your characters and the scene, the reader will know the attitudes on display.

8. Check the verbs and replace them with jazzier ones. Examples:

•          He choked until he couldn’t breathe – He hawked until he couldn’t breathe.
•          The little girl ran down the sidewalk – The little girl skipped down the sidewalk.
•          The boy hit the ball out of the park – The boy whanged the ball out of the park.

Jazzing your verbs (choosing more active verbs) will make your work glow!

9. Douse as many forms of the verb “to be” as possible. That includes is, am, are, was, were, be, being and been. These are dead verbs that say nothing. According to Wikipedia, allowed forms are: become, has, have, had (use sparingly), I’ve, you’ve, do, does, doing, did, can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, may, might and must. The fact that they are allowed, however, does not make them desirable. Get rid of as many as possible because they weaken sentence structure. Likewise, using “could” and “would” will drop you into a trap that you’ll find hard to escape.

10. Watch for tense changes. If you begin in past tense, the entire story must be written in past tense, with two exceptions – one of which you should never use.

  • The first exception is dialogue, and that’s because people speak in mixed tenses – present, past, and future.
  • The second exception is internal dialogue (thoughts). That throws it into the omniscient voice and editors consider it a lazy writer’s way of telling what they should be showing. Don’t use it.

11. Follow the rules for prepositional phrases – no more than three to a sentence, and avoid using more than two in consecutive order. Prepositions are easy to identify. Some of the most common are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before, but there are hundreds. Find a partial list of them here: http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/prepositions-list.htm. Pick out the ones you use most and avoid them like the plague. Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: “I will meet you IN the afterlife,” or “He told his daughter to go INTO the house.” Consecutive prepositional phrases make weak sentence construction. Note: If you begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase, place a comma at the end of it (just as I did in this sentence.)

12. Punctuation:

  • Space ONCE after a period.
  • For writing in the USA, most punctuation (except the colon) lies within the quote marks. Check to see that all of your quotes are closed.
  • Don’t use a semi-colon unless it is before the words “however” or “therefore,” (in which case, use a comma immediately after those words).
  • Don’t use colons except to list things: recipes, items of clothing, kinds of perfume, etc.
  • Use commas to separate two clauses into a compound sentence. Also use commas between city and state and to offset introductory prepositional phrases.
  • Don’t use more than one exclamation mark per every 2,000 words!!!
  • Learn to use the ellipsis (three dots) properly. Remember, the ellipsis represents a pause or interruption in the sentence. It’s easy to overuse these little devils. If you find yourself falling into that trap, use a dash instead and insert a space on each side of it.

Rules for using the ellipsis:
a. When used at the beginning of a sentence: “(space)…And that’s all he said.”
b. In the middle of a sentence: “I hated to tell you that…(space)I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
c. At the end of a sentence: “I didn’t want to tell you….(space)”
(Did you notice that the last example ended with four dots? That’s because the last dot acts as a period to end the sentence.)

13. Use the spellchecker, but don’t totally rely on it. If you use homophones such as “right” when you meant to say “write,” or “blew” instead of “blue,” it won’t catch the error. To be safe, scan for mistakes after you use the spellchecker.

14. Check your formatting. Double-space the body and indent the first line of every paragraph. Every new line of dialogue should begin on a new line; however, if guidelines state otherwise, follow the guidelines.

15. Last of all, ask a friend to read your article aloud while you take notes on places you want to change. This is the best way to get clear perspective on what you’ve written. If you don’t have someone who can read it aloud, YOU read it aloud—but be careful to read exactly what’s written and not what your mind wants to insert. Hint: Stumbling over a sentence is usually indicative of awkward wording. Rewrite it.

Follow these 15 steps and the end result will be crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?

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8 Editing Steps to Perfection

Mastering Editing

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers – don’t wait to edit your work until you know every word by heart – learn to edit the easy way. Do you know what to look for in editing? Have you wondered what should stay and what should go? By the time you read this article, you will know the answers to these questions.

  • One of the first things to look for is prepositional phrases. You can identify       prepositions easily. The most common ones are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before.  Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: “I will meet you in the after life,” or “He told his daughter to go into the house.” You should never have more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence, and preferably only two.
  •  Watch for wordiness, also known as verbiage. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines verbiage as “profusion of words, usually of little or obscure content.” In other words, excess words that say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene, and leave nothing but the most necessary meat.
  • It should be unnecessary to mention using the spellchecker, but you would be surprised how many writers fail to use this most valuable tool. However, don’t totally rely on it. If you use the word “right” instead of “write”, or “blew” instead of “blue”, it will not catch the error. To be safe, scan for errors after you use the spellchecker.
  • Look for inappropriate punctuation. Be sure your quotations are closed. Use hyphens and colons properly. Don’t use a semi-colon when a comma will do. Be sure to use commas properly, i.e., to separate two clauses in a compound sentence, between city and state, etc.
  • Check that your order of events is stated properly. Unless you are doing a flashback, you will only confuse the reader if you switch back and forth within a given time frame.
  • Watch for tense changes. If you begin in the past tense, the entire story must be written in the past tense, with one possible exception. The only time you can properly change tenses is in dialogue, and that is because people normally speak in present, past and future tenses.
  • One of the most important parts of editing is dousing all forms of the verb “to be”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being and been. These are “dead” verbs that say nothing. According to Wikipedia, allowed forms are: become, has, have, had, I’ve, you’ve, do, does, doing, did, can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, may, might and must. The fact that they are allowed, however, does not make them desirable. Get rid of as many of these as possible. They weaken your work.
  • Check every verb in every sentence and see if you can replace it with a jazzy verb. This is the finishing touch that will make your work glow.

So when you edit, watch for these eight things. The end result will be crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?

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Novel Writing Isn’t for Beginners

Some Novel Advice

by Deborah Owen

There’s no use in attacking me. I already have 100 beginners beating on my door. By the time you arrive, there’ll be nothing left but a greasy smear and a bloody pair of shoes – but you could extend your sympathies to my husband.

Like most writers, I thought I could write a book without taking so much as one writing class. It took ten years, but I did it. When I had finished it occurred to me that I had no idea how to market it –- and what were those things called query letters and cover letters? Where did they fit into the picture? Thus, I began to see my ignorance.

I shared this story with a 15-year-old who responded, “Just because you couldn’t make it, doesn’t mean I can’t.” That little gal has a lot to learn, and like me, she’ll learn it the hard way.

If you can be the first person to successfully write and sell a novel without learning a thing about writing, please let me know. I’ll buy a copy and send you a medal.

Does a kindergartner toddle down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance and start high school that fall? Would you hire a mechanic who has never worked on a car? Would you go to a doctor who has never attended medical school? Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if he didn’t know one size wrench from the other?

Thank goodness there are some areas of life that don’t require profound expertise. Writing a novel just isn’t one of them. Most writers break into the field by writing articles and move up to short story writing. Later, they may try novel writing, but one thing is sure, the odds of writing and selling a book without previous training are almost nil.

Why People Write a Book

Most authors write a book because they have a story to tell, knowledge to impart, or they want to help others, but the brutal, searing fact of life is this: total strangers don’t care about you or your life unless it can be of practical value to them.

But let’s suppose that you’re still not convinced and are determined to write that book without committing yourself to a writing education.

See How You Fare on This Quiz

  • What is a hook and how do you make it? (Hint: we aren’t talking about fly-fishing.)
  • How do you build a 3D character?
  • What are 2D characters?
  • How many words are in the average line? Average paragraph?
  • What is a theme and how do you demonstrate it?
  • What is a plot and how do you structure it?
  • What is the acceptable percentage of passive sentences?
  • What is the difference between active and passive voice?
  • What are warts?
  • What are red herrings?
  • What is verbiage?
  • What are polysyndeton, asyndeton, onomatopoeia, epistrophe, and anaphora?
  • What are parallel sentences?
  • What is an arc and where should it fall?
  • What are resolutions?
  • Name three methods of discovery.
  • When should you not send a query letter?
  • What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?
  • How do you analyze a magazine?
  • How many chapters does a publishing company usually request?
  • Can you properly craft and sell a 2,000-word short story?

If you don’t know all of this and a whole lot more, you’re wasting your time writing a book, unless you do so for genealogy purposes or as a hobby.

Maybe you’re wondering where to learn these things and how long it will take. Start with the three basic writing courses in this order: Dynamic Nonfiction (whether you like to write it or not), Creative Writing 101 (or Mechanics of Grammar), and Short Story Safari. Each course will take about eight weeks. Although it takes years to become a seasoned writer, you can be selling nonfiction within two months. It’s a beginning.

Some folks might also need a Punctuation Review course, but punctuation is covered in all classes to some degree, so you might not need it. But if for some reason you can’t take these courses, read every article you can find on writing and take notes! Subscribe to The Writer Magazine, which (in my opinion) is the best writing magazine on the market. Find experienced writers and ask questions.

Join writing groups. I like Writing.com. They have a five-star rating system where you can rate each other’s work. Before you join any writing group, determine that you will accept 95% of the suggestions you receive, and won’t wear your feelings on your sleeve.

This is good, sensible advice and it will save you years of needless labor, but make no doubt about it, learning to write is very much like learning to play the piano. It takes years to become a professional. Why not start today?

If you’ve attempted to write a novel, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to swing by  www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into our creative writing courses!