First Impressions

“You get only one chance to make a good first impression.” That statement is especially true when it comes to submitting your writing to a book or magazine editor.

You can do much, however, to shape that first impression, thereby increasing your chances of getting your work accepted and published. My experiences as both an author and an editor have taught me that making that good impression requires looking at your work on two different levels: a macro view and a micro view.

The Macro View

Looking at your work from the macro view means looking at it to get the “big picture.” Imagine it as using a telescope to view your writing. It involves asking yourself the following questions about your writing.

  • Does your manuscript deliver what your proposal or query promised?
  • Is it logically organized?
  • Does it adhere to the publication’s/publisher’s stated guidelines and style?
  • Does its message meet a clear need?
  • Does it have a clear focus?
  • Has it had the benefit of a second (or even a third or fourth) “set of eyes”? (Have you had others read and comment on it and suggest any changes?)

 

The Micro View

The micro view of your writing involves examining it for the details. Imagine it as using a microscope to view your writing to detect such characteristics as those listed here.

  • Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc. (Don’t rely on the spell-check feature of your software. It can be a big help, but it is not infallible!)
  • Style (Does it reflect the industry standard and the publication’s/publisher’s guidelines?)
  • Usage and vocabulary (Is it age appropriate for the intended audience? Is it precise?)
  • Reference citations, if any are necessary (Are they accurate and formatted correctly?)
  • Active versus passive voice (Does the subject of each sentence do the acting, or is it acted upon? Eliminate as many passive constructions as possible.)
  • Strong verbs and nouns (Are they precise? Ensure that you aren’t overly reliant on adjectives and adverbs to “carry the weight” of your message.)
  • Concise and precise vocabulary rather than needlessly verbose (Make every word count. When in doubt, take it out!)

Looking at your writing from these two levels and asking the appropriate questions will help you identify any weaknesses that would tend to give an editor a bad impression of your work. Correcting those weaknesses before submitting your work will take you several steps closer to your goal of acceptance and publication. The less work the editor must do on your submission, the greater your chances of acceptance.

So do your homework, ensuring that you make that good first impression and making it easier for the editor to say “Yes!” You will reap the benefits of not only acceptance of your work but also possibly a long-term relationship with that editor and publication!

 

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Word Man

One hundred ninety years ago today, a man was born who later published a book the influence of which stretched far beyond his own lifetime and has affected every generation since.

Born on October 16, 1758, in West Hartford, Connecticut, he was a descendant of two governors. A quick learner, he entered Yale College at age sixteen and graduated four years later. He became a school teacher because he didn’t have the money to become a lawyer.

While teaching, he developed a burden for both his students and fellow teachers, who had few good teaching materials. He also dreamed of Americans’ speaking one common language and pronouncing and spelling words consistently. He was convinced that those qualities were critical to their survival as a people and a nation. More importantly, he was burdened that American students learn ethics, morality, manners, and Christianity without which even otherwise well-educated people could not truly be successful.

To develop his students’ minds and enrich their souls, this man began writing books. He published his first work, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, in 1783, and George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other prominent leaders endorsed it. He gave copies to schools, and educators, realizing its value, ordered more copies of their students. More than 100 million copies of his book have been sold. It has never gone out of print. (How would you like such results for your books?!)

The man was Noah Webster. And the book that was so successful is better known as “The Blue-Backed Speller” because he printed it on poor-quality paper “held together by two broad strips of cloth, between thin wooden boards covered in plain blue paper.”

In 1806, Webster published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language and in 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language. The latter work, which took 27 years to complete, was his greatest effort toward developing a truly American language.

It included 70,000 entries, traced the etymology of each entry, and gave its precise definition. He added new words, especially words unique to American usage.

So strongly did Webster believe in what he was doing that he paid from his own pocket to print the first edition of his dictionary and mortgaged his own home to print the second edition. He later published abridged editions in 1841 and 1847 (posthumously), making his dictionary and the Bible accessible for practically every American home and school in the nation.

Following Webster’s death in 1843, George and Charles Merriam purchased rights to Webster’s dictionary and published in 1847 the first Merriam-Webster dictionary. That book became the nation’s standard authority on American English. (Although many dictionaries call themselves “Webster’s,” only a Merriam-Webster is truly a Webster’s dictionary.)

Today, even dictionaries that carry Webster’s name are far removed from his original. Political correctness, multiculturalism, and moral relativism dominate those volumes. Christianity and morality are no longer central to their purpose.

Yet, Noah Webster’s influence is still felt throughout the English-speaking world. We see it in our rules of spelling, pronunciation, and usage. And his original dictionary and the Blue-Backed Speller are worthy of our attention.

 

Put the Cookies on the Bottom Shelf!

I don’t know where I first heard that statement: “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf.” It certainly didn’t originate with me, but I have claimed it as my own because it’s a good rule of thumb for anyone who is trying to communicate. The gist of its meaning is, Whether speaking or writing, do so in such a way that the youngest, simplest person can understand what you’re trying to say.

Too many people don’t do that. For whatever reason, they make things complicated and difficult to understand when there’s no need for it. Sometimes I guess they do it to impress the readers or listeners with their supposedly greater “smarts.” Well, people aren’t stupid; they get the message. Such a writer or speaker is a blowhard who thinks he’s a know-it-all. In reality, there are no know-it-alls. As Will Rogers often said, “We’re all ignorant–just on different subjects.” And even on the subjects we do know more about, we’ll never know it all.

When I was a little kid, I always wanted something (especially sweets) to eat between meals, but my mother had a way of redirecting (maybe I should say “forcing”) my appetite into different directions. For some reason that I couldn’t understand, she didn’t like my getting into the chocolate drops that she bought in bulk at Miller’s Department Store in Knoxville and put in the freezer. (I used to sneak into the freezer, get one drop from each of the many boxes, and think that she’d never notice. But when I did that time after time, she did notice!) But she never complained when I dug up a turnip from the garden, washed it off at the pump house, peeled it with my pocket knife, and ate it raw.

Another ploy she had was to store the healthful bananas in a drawer beneath the refrigerator. I could get those easily. But she put the chocolate chip cookies in a jar on top of the refrigerator! Only after I grew taller and a little smarter did I learn that I could climb onto the stool she kept beside the refrigerator and, by tiptoeing and stretching as high as I could, tip the cookie jar toward me, and get that sugary treat.

It might work (for a while) to put the cookies on the highest shelf or atop the refrigerator if you’re trying to keep junk food from the kids, but it just doesn’t work if your goal is to communicate. To communicate effectively, you have to keep things simple. If it’s complicated and complex, write or say it in a way that everyone can understand. If the most simple-minded person can understand it, then you know you’ve reached everyone. But if you use terms and phrases and sentence structures that are complex and convoluted, you lose all but the smartest. In fact, you might not even communicate to the one smartie in the crowd.

You put the cookies on the bottom shelf by using simple words, short sentences, and simple sentence structure. Make every word count. Say the most you can with the fewest words and the simplest words. And when you have to decide whether to use a short word or a long word, opt for the shorter one.

Consider, for example, some of the greatest writing in history. Seventy-three percent of the words used in Psalm 23 are one-syllable words. In the Lord’s Prayer, it’s 76 percent. In the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, an amazing 80 percent of the words are of one syllable. The same holds true for the greatest of the secular writers. For example, analyse the Gettysburg Address some time. In fact, as Haddon Robinson pointed out, the biggest things in life are one-syllable words: “life, death, peace, war, dawn, day, night, hope, love, home.”

So if you want to communicate effectively with the greatest number of people (rather than confuse or impress), “put the cookies on the bottom shelf.”

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Revise, Resize, Recycle!

Perhaps you’re familiar with the adage “Don’t work harder; work smarter.” Although writing is always hard work (because it requires a lot of serious thought, organization, and precise word choice), we writers can save ourselves a little bit of unnecessary work if we learn to do what the title of this blog post says: Revise, resize, and recycle. Another way of saying it might be “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

It took me a while to learn this important lesson, but it’s one that I’m reminded of quite often. Here’s what I mean by “revise, resize, and recycle.”

For quite some time after my first published article appeared in May 1981, I labored to turn out completely new articles, every one of them researched from scratch and freshly written. After numerous rejections and a few isolated acceptances, I became aware of something called “rights.” (Yes, I know. I’m a slow learner, a late bloomer, or just plain dense!) I learned that if I sold only first rights to a newly created article, I could later market the same article to a second publication after it had appeared in the first publication. I began to submit some of my previously published articles to other publications, offering reprint rights. And they, too, began to sell.

The work required to sell reprints was still tough. It required that I study the possible markets to determine which publications published the types of articles I was offering, match the length and scope of each article reprint with each prospect, and, if the original article didn’t meet those qualification, revise and/or resize it until it did meet the editor’s specifications. That usually meant cutting, sometimes reorganizing a little, providing references and/or photographs, or doing something else until the original article met the standard. Even at that, it required less work than I had put into the original. The benefit, however, was that I could sell and resell essentially the same article over and over ad infinitum. That’s working smarter rather than harder.

I was reminded of this important lesson by some of the mail that arrived in my box as recently as yesterday. I received contributor’s copies and a check (an important matter for any serious writer!) of a publication that included my article “Spiritual Anorexia Nervosa,” which was originally published in the March 1985 issue of Good News Broadcaster. (That article proved to be a foot in the door, leading to the sale, five years later, of two other articles to Confident Living, the successor publication to GNB.) Since its original publication, I have been able to resell essentially the same article, usually with a few tweeks or updating of statistics and with the editors giving it slightly different titles, at least three or four times. All told, that’s not a bad return on my original investment of time researching and writing! (Incidentally, or perhaps I should say providentially, a few days after the original print publication reached readers, broadcaster Ken Boone read it over his national Family Radio Network program–and I just happened to be listening at the time!)

I have several other articles I could use as examples of this sell-then-resell lesson, but I think you get the point. Sometimes, I haven’t even had to do the marketing; editors contacted me after having read the original and asked permission to reprint the articles in their publication. Always for another fee. Although that fee is usually less than that received for the original, it’s still money in the bank! The gift that keeps on giving!

So when you’re preparing an article, don’t think only of the first publication to which you’re submitting it. Think of other potential markets to which you can submit the same article later. Just be sure that you sell only first rights to the original publication and then offer reprint rights to all subsequent publications to which you submit it. Also, be sure to check each publication’s guidelines and adjust your original to meet those requirements, if they are different. It also helps to think of topics that are “evergreens,” that is, subjects that can be used year after year over a long period of time. (My original “Spiritual Anorexia Nervosa” article was published in 1985, and it’s still being published in 2018, more than thirty years later!)

Now, get busy digging through your tearsheet file, and begin identifying possible articles you can market as reprints. Then revise, resize, and recycle!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Dealing with Rejection

Okay, let’s be perfectly clear from the start about this: I’m referring to rejection of your writing submissions, not of your personality or requests for dates or any other nonwriting-related issues. With that disclaimer out of the way, we look today at how one should react when something he or she has written, laboring long and hard over it, and submitted (after carefully studying the markets) for publication gets turned down. What can we learn about this issue from the words of success expert Napoleon Hill?

  1. “It isn’t defeat, but rather your mental attitude toward it, that whips you.”

This goes back to what an earlier post said about the attitude of the writer. It’s all a matter of perspective. Instead of looking at a rejection slip as failure or defeat, view it as simply the revelation of one publication that didn’t want what you wrote right now. You’ve eliminated one potential market, which means you are that much closer to finding the right market and the right readers for your work. And it’s only one editor’s opinion. A different editor with the same publication at a different time might have accepted it. Keep searching until you find that editor.

2. “No man is ever whipped, until he quits–in his own mind. . . . Failure seems to be nature’s plan for preparing us for great responsibilities.”

This statement, too, takes us back to the earlier statement on attitude. It’s all a matter of perspective. View a rejection as bringing you one step closer to finding the right publication and the right editor. Edison was not discouraged when an experiment with a particular filament material failed; he said that it just proved one more material that would not work, bringing him that much closer to finding the material that would.

3. “If the thing you wish to do is right, and you believe in it, go ahead and do it! Put your dream across, and never mind what ‘they’ say if you meet with temporary defeat, for ‘they,’ perhaps, do not know that every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.”

If one of your manuscripts gets rejected, don’t give up on it. If you’ve done your best writing, chosen your markets carefully, and otherwise done “due diligence” in seeking a publisher, send it back out to a second publisher. Or, if necessary, a third or fourth or. . . . Never give up on it. Even if it’s never published, you haven’t wasted time; the experience will have made you a better, wiser writer.

4. “The greatest cure known is work. . . . [Emotions] do not always respond to logic and reason. They do, however, respond to action.”

A rejection slip naturally produces disappointment, discouragement, perhaps even an intense feeling as though you might just quit. Those emotions are real and natural. If you didn’t feel those emotions and instead reacted gleefully to the rejection, something would surely be wrong! But the best way to kill those negative emotions is to work them to death. Seldom is anything as bad as it might at first seem. So immediately send the manuscript out to another editor. I try to follow a 24-hour rule: If I have an article manuscript rejected on Tuesday, I make it a point to find another potential market and submit it to that editor within 24 hours of receiving the rejection notice. Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs or feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, get busy working on another manuscript. Before you know it, the sting of the earlier rejection will have disappeared, and you’ll be excited about the prospects of an acceptance from the resubmission of the article or the beginning of the new project.

5. “There is a vast difference between failure and temporary defeat. There is no such thing as failure, unless it is accepted as such. . . . When you view adversity as nothing more than a learning experience, your successes in life will far outnumber your failures.”

One rejection does not a failure make. Was Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) a failure? Certainly not, but his first book was rejected by 42 publishers before being accepted by the 43rd. You are a failed writer only if you quit. Don’t give up! Keep plugging away. Even “successful” writers get rejections, just as batting champs fail to get hits about 65-70 percent of the time.

6. “The average person would have quit at the first failure. That’s why there have been many average men and only one Edison. . . . [A]nything worthwhile never comes easily; if it were easy, anyone could do it.”

Writing is hard work. Good writing is even harder. Getting good writing published is harder yet. It is the writer who perseveres, who keeps writing and submitting even after having his or her work rejected time after time who is the real success. Be that person! What matters is that you don’t take the rejection personally; it’s not you but your words that have been rejected. What matters is the you keep writing and keep submitting. What matters is that you, true to your calling, enjoy your work. Put your thoughts on your next project, not on the last one.

7. “Failure is not a disgrace if you have sincerely done your best. . . . [I]f you are satisfied that you’ve done your best, don’t waste time reliving the past. . . . If you consistently do your best, your temporary failures will take care of themselves.”

Ultimately, the judge of the quality of your writing is not an editor somewhere. It’s your own estimation of your work because you know, deep inside your heart, if you’ve done your best. It’s the Judge of the Universe, the God who has given you your writing gift, who makes the ultimate rating of your work. I suspect that there will be writers in heaven whose work on this earth was rejected innumerable times by multiple editors who will hear the most important words of acceptance, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If you do your writing for Him, rather than for a fallible human, your work is accepted.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Initiative and Action and Your Writing

We’ve seen already how Napoleon Hill offered some good advice that writers can apply to the attitude they take toward their work. That’s the starting point. But to be successful as writers, we must convert that positive attitude into published writing by taking the initiative, taking action! Here are a few things that Hill said about this topic. How can you turn his advice into actionable steps with your writing?

  1. “Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action and directed to a definite end.”

You could read all the books in print about how to write, but if you don’t sit down and write, and then submit what you’ve written, you’ll never get published. There’s a limit to how much you need to know before you begin to submit. Keep learning, but begin submitting!

2. “Willpower is the outgrowth of definiteness of purpose expressed through persistent action, based on personal initiative.”

If your goal is to become a published author, you’ll have to take action by submitting what you’ve written. Wishing won’t make it so. And don’t expect luck to help you. Darryl Royal said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” You must act; make the opportunity. But to submit, you must have the self-discipline to produce the best writing of which you’re capable and the courage to submit it. That takes willpower. Do you have it?

3. “When you have talked yourself into what you want, stop talking and begin saying it with your actions.”

The first step is to plan how you will turn desires into actions. Then put the plan into play. Don’t delay. Do it now. Taking that first step will provide energy and initiative for the next step and the next. Write your piece. Identify potential markets. Submit!

4. “The person who complains that he or she never had a chance probably hasn’t the courage to take a chance.”

Every time you submit something you’ve written, you take a chance. It might be rejected. On the other hand, there’s a chance that it’ll be accepted for publication. You never know, but you have to take that chance. Don’t complain that you can’t get published if you aren’t doing something to make your work publishable. That means going out on a limb and taking a risk, submitting you work! Sure, it takes a lot of work and is risky. But it’s worth all that. Thomas Edison said that most people don’t recognize opportunity when it is in front of them because it’s often dressed in work clothes.

5. “Good intentions are useless until they are expressed in appropriate action.”

You say you intend to submit your work. Someday. But you never do so. Having the intention is fine, but if that’s as far as you get, you’re wasting your efforts in thinking about it. Nothing counts until you act on those intentions. Don’t be content to be a wannabe; make it happen by taking action. Submit your best writing to an appropriate market. It won’t happen if you don’t act to make it happen.

6. “Just what are you waiting for and why are you waiting?”

Writing success won’t just suddenly arrive on your doorstep looking for you. You have to send out the products of your writing to find where it is hiding. What manuscripts do you have hidden away in some drawer, closet, or file cabinet that you can polish up and submit today? Take the initiative and send it out!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Attitude and Your Writing

In my last post, I mentioned that Napoleon Hill offered words of wisdom that could be applied to one’s writing. Among the quotations from Hill that I have accumulated to date I’ve noticed four recurring themes: attitude, initiative and action, dealing with defeat, and purpose and goals. Today, I’d like to share several of his thoughts on attitude.

  1. “You come finally to believe anything you tell yourself often enough, even if it is not true.”

When your subconscious mind accepts something as truth, it will work overtime to transform the idea into physical reality. Don’t say, “I can’t.” Say, “I will.” And then get busy making it so. You can become the writer you want to be, but you’ll have to take action to make that happen. It won’t come to you as you sit passively. Get busy writing, studying potential markets for your work, and submitting.

2. “Your progress in life begins in your own mind and ends in the same place.”

You won’t make any progress in your writing career by sitting passively and dreaming of being a writer. Make your mind fertile ground for writing ideas through constant study and learning. Then discipline yourself to follow through on those ideas by producing written products from them.

3. “Remember, your mental limitations are of your own making.”

Most of us never really reach our optimum level of achievement because we don’t challenge ourselves to do so. Too often, we get a rejection slip from an editor and conclude that we are failures as writers. In doing so, we have set up that editor as the limit of our potential. Don’t let a rejection stop you. Submit again. And again. And yet again. If an editor offers suggestions for improving the piece, work on it. But keep submitting. Remember that Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) submitted his first book, And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, to forty-two publishers before the forty-third one published it. (If he were a baseball player, his batting average would have been .023!) Don’t limit yourself; keep submitting your best stuff.

4. “When you close the door of your mind to negative thoughts, the door of opportunity opens to you.”

Approach every writing project with a positive mental attitude. In doing so, you will discover ideas and ways of stating things that others have overlooked. Recall those discoveries when you get discouraged. And remember, you can do it if you think you can!

5. “No one is ready for a thing until he believes he can acquire it. The state of mind must be belief, not mere hope or wish.”

Many people wish to be writers or hope one day to become writers, but few people are willing to act on their dreams or to take steps toward making them reality. Too many people don’t want to do the hard work of writing; they want to be known as writers without putting forth the effort that qualifies them to be called writers. Believe that your writing is good enough to be published, and then work to make it so! Stop wishing and start acting.

6. “Individuals with positive mental attitudes are never found in a rut.”

Always be on the lookout for new ideas or topics for your writing efforts. Keep an idea file. Writers who have a positive attitude somehow always manage to find something new and interesting to write about even in the most mundane tasks.

7. “No one can keep you down but yourself.”

Only you can determine your failure or success.  Not an editor. Not a self-appointed critic.  Take a good hard look at yourself, your abilities, and your opportunities, and then accept yourself for the person you are. Then take the actions necessary to become the person you wish to be. If you want to be a writer, assess where you are now, and then take whatever steps are necessary to become the writer you want to be. (See quotation No. 3 above.)

These quotations from Napoleon Hill (http://www.naphill.org ) helped me. I hope they are of encouragement to you in your writing, too.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Napoleon Hill Sayings Applied to Writing

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve discovered that I have gained a great deal of value from the writings of a couple of successful businessmen, W. Clement Stone and his frequent co-author Napoleon Hill. Although I was privileged to meet only one of them (Stone) in person, their practical wisdom has been of help to me many times during my careers in education and writing/publishing.

In fact, I get a daily e-mail “thought for the day” from the Napoleon Hill Foundation http://www.naphill.org that has included numerous offerings  helpful to me in my writing. Perhaps you would find some gems that will help you, too. (You can subscribe to the same “thought for the day” at the above link.) In subsequent posts, I will share a few of the quotations that have been of greatest inspiration to me.

I copy and paste into a Word document the Napoleon Hill posts that seem most applicable to my situation. Occasionally, I look over those accumulated statements for reaffirmation of my purpose and inspiration and encouragement to continue in my efforts. While doing that recently,  I realized that certain topics among the quotations recurred repeatedly. The most frequently mentioned subjects were

  1. attitude,
  2. initiative and action,
  3. dealing with defeat, and
  4. purpose and goals.

One’s attitude and outlook determine whether he or she will take actions toward fulfilling the primary purpose and the several goals for achieving that purpose. Anytime one takes the initiative and steps out in action, of course, he or she risks suffering defeat or rejection. How one deals with those setbacks often determines whether he or she is able to achieve success. So all four of these categories of thought work together for either success or failure.

In future blog posts, I will share several of Hill’s statements on each of these categories and apply them to the writing process. I hope that they will reveal ways that you can apply them to your own writing efforts.

Here’s a little teaser dealing with the need to continue looking for opportunities to learn and improve in our craft.

Don’t be satisfied with being good at your job. Be the best. . . . One of the surest ways to climb the ladder of success is to choose a job that you would do even if you didn’t earn much at it. (Napoleon Hill)

Now if that doesn’t describe writing, I don’t know what does! Periodicals are paying today about the same as they were when Mark Twain was writing–if you can get even that much. But if you’re called to write, then write, even when the money doesn’t follow immediately. But keep learning your craft, always improving your knowledge and skills and striving to be the best writer you can be. If you do, success will come eventually. Perhaps not in monetary terms, but in many other ways.

Check back for similar gems of Napoleon Hill’s wisdom, and find ways of applying them to your writing.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

 

The Evolving Writer, Part IV–Cut the Fat!

The next stage for a writer who continues to evolve in his or her skills is learning to “cut the fat.” First drafts are enveloped and permeated by streaks of fat, things that do not really help to carry the essential message. But the evolving writer can learn how to streamline that message and get quickly to its various points, to “cut the fat,” just like a butcher might do.

I’ve already discussed how to “speed your lead,” cutting out nonessentials to get to your point quickly in your opening paragraph(s) https://dlpedit.wordpress.com/2018/05/22/the-evolving-writer-part-iii-speed-your-lead/ . One of my earliest lessons in cutting fat in the body of my writing occurred when the editor of The Christian Writer (now out of print) replied to one of my submissions that he would accept my manuscript–but only if I cut it by half! Those were the days before personal computers and clip-and-paste, so I literally cut my manuscript apart using scissors and taped the pieces together. I then inserted transitions to link those somewhat isolated points. After retyping the whole thing, I resubmitted it, and it was accepted and published.

More recently, the editor of The Writer accepted one of my submissions but asked me to reduce it by two-thirds! It took a lot of work, but I was able to do so, and it was published https://www.writermag.com/2016/04/11/dennis-l-peterson/ .

More was involved in my cutting the fat for both of those projects than I can explain here, but here are a few of the ways I trimmed my writing to produce exactly what the editors wanted. These actions seldom will hurt your writing but always will help in communicating your message.

  • Eliminate needless repetition and redundancies.
  • Give only the number of examples, quotations, or Bible references needed to get your point across; don’t pile them up like cordwood.
  • Don’t use a long, complicated word when a simple one will do.
  • Avoid “Pauline” writing (i.e., a long series of complex sentences). Instead, use a variety of sentence structures: simple, compound, and a few complex sentences.

These are only a few of the many ways you can trim the fat from your writing. Begin practicing them and you’ll soon discover many others.

How badly do you want to get published? Be willing to put in the work necessary to cut the fat, radically if necessary (as in the two examples I’ve given), and you’ll begin seeing more progress in your publication record.

What are some ways that you’ve discovered to cut the fat in your writing? Share a few of them with us.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

The Evolving Writer, Part III–Speed Your Lead

When I submitted my first article for consideration, I knew next to nothing about writing for publication. But Paul Poirot, the editor of the journal to which I submitted that piece, taught me a valuable lesson about writing that I’ve tried to apply ever since: Speed your lead.

The lead, of course, is what the professionals call the first paragraph (sometimes a little more) of your piece. It is supposed to pull the reader into the body of your article, to make him want to keep reading.

I no longer remember what my lead paragraph for that first article was, but it obviously wasn’t good enough for the editor. He accepted my submission for publication, but the second paragraph of his letter declared, “I’ve suggested a slight rephrasing to speed the opening paragraph, but believe you’d approve. We can check it further when we send galleys.” (Emphasis added.)

He was gently telling me that my original version had rambled, said more than it needed to say, was verbose. He was telling me that I needed to get to the point quickly rather than beating around the bush or delaying it with nonessential information.

One can create a good lead using many different techniques, including these:

  • a thought-provoking question (but not question answerable with a mere yes or no),
  • an interest-capturing quotation,
  • a startling statement or statistic, or
  • an exciting or amusing anecdote (but not long and involved; keep it short).

But whichever method you decide to use, get with it! Don’t dally or delay or pile on the verbosity. Get quickly to the meat of your article and begin introducing your successive points. Your editor, and your readers, will appreciate it. And your writing will be better.

I framed Paul Poirot’s letter accepting my first-ever submission. It hangs on my office wall today, fulfilling two purposes: it encourages me when I am discouraged with my writing progress, but it also is a reminder to speed the lead of everything I write. Maybe Poirot’s advice to me will be a good lesson for you, too.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson