Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Writing Tips Competition

Recently my friends at SpellCheckPlus wrote to me offering two more annual subscriptions to their premium service, SpellCheckPlus Pro, for use as competition prizes.

For those who don't know, SpellCheckPlus is a free online spelling and grammar checker. I wrote about it a while ago in this blog post, though since then it has been considerably enhanced.

SpellCheckPlus Pro, as mentioned above, is the premium (paid-for) service. It offers a number of advantages over the free version, including unlimited text length (the free version has a limit of 500 words), no ads, and an 'enrichment' tool that allows users to find alternatives to common, often over-used, words such as nice, good, bad, happy, and so on. The winners of my competition will get a year's free subscription to this service.

So what does the competition involve? Well, I thought I'd ask readers to submit their best writing tips of under 250 words including the title. Tips must be original (I will check this online), and they must be posted as comments on this blog. Only one tip per person, please. I'd also be grateful if you would give your tip a title so that I can identify it.

Tips can cover anything related to writing. Some possibilities might include beating writer's block, generating ideas, creating believable characters, making dialogue life-like, boosting your writing income, improving your grammar/spelling/punctuation, and so on.

As an example, here's a tip I submitted recently to the WeBook blog:

Write With All The Senses
by Nick Daws

The art of writing is bringing your words to life on the page. And one of the best ways to do this is to write with all the senses. In other words, don't just write about what your characters see. Describe what they hear, smell, touch and even taste as well. This is a guaranteed way to make your writing more vivid and exciting.

Here's a quick example:

Tony offered Malcolm one of his roll-ups. Malcolm had previously refused, but because he felt guilty about dropping Tony's paintbrush, this time he accepted. He didn't enjoy it at all though.

Now here's the same scene again, with the senses of taste and touch added. By the way, this paragraph comes from the published novel Painter Man by UK author Jeff Phelps:

Malcolm had already refused one of Tony's roll-ups, but now felt so bad about the brush that he accepted. Between his lips it had the texture of toilet paper. It tasted disgustingly of Tony's Old Spice aftershave.

No prizes for identifying which of these descriptions brings the scene more vividly to life! Writers are always taught to show, not tell, and writing with all the senses is one of the very best ways you can do this.

The closing date for this contest is Friday 31 October, so you have plenty of time to come up with your tip. I will announce the winners on the blog on Wednesday 5 November, so be sure to check back here on or after that date to see if you are a winner. One prize will go to the tip I consider best, while the other will be allocated at random by my cats ;-)

Naturally, contributors will retain the copyright in their tips and are free to offer them elsewhere after the competition closing date. They will, of course, remain on this page of my blog, however.

Good luck, and I look forward to reading some great tips posted as comments below!

* Just a quick reminder - when posting your competition entries here, try to avoid using 'smart quotes' and other special characters from Word, as they won't display properly online. It's best really to compose your tips in the Blogger comments box, or alternatively use a text editor such as Notepad and copy and paste from that.

The contest is now closed. Results will be posted shortly!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

My tip may seem like a really obvious one, but it is that reason that it often gets overlooked.


When you send off an email,or written piece make sure you keep a diary or computer record of where you sent it, to who, and the date - along with the details of the submission.

You can use a spreadsheet or, like me, if you prefer paper and pen then buy a small notebook from a stationary shop and keep accurate hardcopy records.

This can save embarrasing situations, such as the one I recently found myself in.

I used an webpage submission form to fire off a query letter to a publisher. I didn't even think of making a note at the time as I assumed they would reply before I forgot. What a mistake that was!

A few months later the publisher contacted me to thank me for my query and requested a full proposal. I could not remember what I had suggested to them so I had the embarrasing task of writing back to say that my PC had died and I had lost all my records. It wasn't true of course and needless to say I never heard from them again.

So no matter how mundane it may seem, make sure you keep records of everything so that you don't miss the chance of being published .


10:33 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Here's a tip I once sent to a friend of mine:

As I write, and particularly when I edit my work, I imagine I'm an artist painting a landscape scene.

When you first put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) you are using a wide brush, blocking out the background with bold strokes. You're aiming for the correct scale and proportions at this point, giving yourself a framework to work to. Perhaps, in some scenes, your eye will be drawn to one section of the canvas and you'll add in a little more detail with a narrower brush, but generally your main aim is to cover the canvas with paint.

Remember Rolf Harris...can you tell what it is yet? No, it won't be ready for anyone to read at this point, and if it's a longer story you might be some way from your ideal word count, but it doesn't matter at this stage.

Once your background, or story, is complete you'll pick up your thinner brushes and start building up layers of colour to add depth, light and shadow - giving your characters personality and emotion. Finally, you can choose a really fine brush and go over the canvas yet again, adding in those finishing touches, perfecting your word choices and bringing the picture to life.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Leah said...

Dream up your Story

I'm sure you're familiar with the advice to have little notebooks and pens in every room of your house. In the bathroom, on your bedside table And here I'm going to tell you to not use them. Not with this technique, which I've been using successfully ever since I first started writing as a child.

When you go to bed, don't count sheep. Think about your story. Dream about your main character while you're still awake. Dream while you're in that twilight zone between wakefulness and sleep - but don't reach for your pen and paper; it will disrupt the flow of your dream. Dream about what's going to happen until you fall asleep.

When you wake up, still half asleep, pick up your dream where you left it last night and allow yourself to dream for just a little while longer. Then, when you're finally fully awake, grab pen and paper and write it all down.

You can also use this technique when you're taking a nice long hot bath, or in the car on a two-hour drive to your grandparents up North... Just make sure you're in the passenger seat.

11:44 AM  
Blogger hughdunit said...


When you read, you subconsciously hear the words in your mind, so when you have written something, it makes sense to read it aloud, to make sure it conveys what you want it to. If it sounds right, it probably is. But beware. It might still need revising.

Driving too fast along the jungle track an elephant suddenly appeared in front of her.

The reader will know what you mean, but not before getting a bazaar mental image of an elephant behind the wheel of a speeding car. Your story, and your credibility as a writer, is ruined.

Reading your work aloud will not only show whether the writing makes sense, it will also help with the punctuation. Try saying out loud the following sentence:

She hurried past the cake shop she had already eaten and didn't want to be tempted, she was trying to lose weight.

As it is written, without proper punctuation, it's nonsense. What, she'd already eaten the cake shop? Reading it aloud immediately shows that it should be three separate sentences.

She hurried past the cake shop. She had already eaten, and didn't want to be tempted.She was trying to lose weight.

The comma after eaten is not essential, but the slight pause makes it sound better.

Whatever you write, whether a postcard or novel, reading it aloud will make it better.


7:06 AM

4:05 PM  
Blogger jo said...

If you are struggling to create characters you can use the resources around you.
Spend some time sitting in a cafe or pub and use other people to help mould your character or create a new one.
Listen to other people's conversations, are they telling any funny stories? Are they discussing any burning issues or talking about something that has actually happened.
Look at what they are wearing, how they have their hair, how they greet each other.
Ask yourself how they respond when they are laughing, how they look when they are confused and body language and non-verbal signs.
Alternatively look at old photos of schoolfriends or people you were on holiday with and try and remember their personality traits and mannerisms and use these in your characters.
As time has elapsed and you have fitted them to your story they won't be able to be identified but will be very believable.

I hope this helps either form an existing character or inspire anew one, perhaps even a whole new tale just from eavesdropping someone else's conversation.

Cheers, Jo.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My best tip is when you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard,maybe paint to canvas and when you are on a roll keep going!

If inspiration hits in the middle of the night get up and put it on the page. We lose so much by not putting it down for safe keeping.
I know I had a big inspiration for this and then went to sleep and lost it. Seriously get that first draft down no matter if it does not play well.

That is what tweaking is for and second drafts and third. Just keep writing till it's done and then worry about editing and touching it up. Get inspiration from anyone, anywhere and from anything.

Paint the picture you want seen with your words.

Thanks Nick!


7:20 AM  
Anonymous Casey Quinn said...

How to catch one error every time you write

In Microsoft we trust is a rule many writers come to follow. In doing so we leave ourselves open to sneaky writing errors that slip by Microsoft’s editing. As a result, your writing looks, well, unedited. These simple mistakes happen to everyone and are the reason why you cannot trust your word processing software to do what only human eyes can. Next time you finish your writing and smile from clearing all underlined errors the editing gods determined are your only issues, comb over your writing in search of the following errors.

Right spelling, wrong form: While “there” is spelled correctly, did you mean “their”? “See” instead of “sea”? “Write” instead of “Right”? Make sure the correct forms of the words are being used.

Right spelling, wrong word: It happens. We meant to say “he had bent down to pick something up” and instead we typed “he had been down to pick something up.” Why did we do it? Who knows, but it is up to you to catch it!

Tenses: If only! If only they were smart enough to tell you that in one sentence your character took actions in the past but was currently in the present.

While the editing list is endless (plot, structure, dialogue, etc) if you run through your writing at the end look for these three things. I bet you make at least one more change just when you thought you were done!

3:04 PM  

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