Guide to Writing & How to Write Clearly

October 19, 2015 in Articles, Writing & Publishing

The art of writing is to appeal to your audience and the larger the audience the better. Using jargon will reduce your audience and alienate you as a writer.

How And When To Strip Out Jargon From Your Writing

Most children adore secrets. And secrets not shared with adults, especially parents, gave us our first taste of power: for once we knew something they didn’t.

Adults play similar games. All of us do. We are proprietorial about our knowledge and often use words that obfuscate; that obscure or cast less light on the subject matter in question than they should do. The word ‘obfuscate’ itself shows that I, too, can play this game. But as I have added a definition at least I’m trying to keep you with me. To share our ideas you must ‘join the club’, ‘pass our tests’, and . . . ‘learn our language’ – a language that delights in inventing words only we can play with. We are superior beings. Or so we kid ourselves.

The truly superior – those who have mastered their subject and are empathetic to the needs of those less fortunate (or able) – are happy to communicate in words most people understand. They know the jargon, but their minds are above it. And there’s good reason for this: jargon restricts progress and the acquisition of new ideas because, by its nature, it excludes contributions from the world at large; from ‘free-range’ thinkers not ring-fenced by the certainties, language and accepted ways of doing things that hamper those inside the ring. The truly superior cast their web widely, sharing their knowledge openly. In return they are rewarded with further insights from others and consolidate their supremacy in their chosen field.

How to Write Clearly, It’s Simple Really

How to write clearlyBlimey! How does all this affect me, I hear you say. Simple. In your writing, both personal and professional, avoid the use of words and phrases that mark you out as one the chosen few. Use them, and you’ll stay that way. Communicate to the world with words in everyday use and you’ll be astonished at the response. More people will get your message – and understand it. This is true for fiction writers, too. Bestselling writers know instinctively what top journalists have thrashed into them: keep things simple, use short words everyone understands – and get on with the story. That’s how to write clearly in a nutshell.

Business websites aimed at consumers and business customers alike often fail because the copy, the words, are dotted with terms and jargon that mean little or nothing to the visitor. And worse – because much of the software has been written by pimple-headed illiterates in faraway places who have no communication skills whatsoever – the effectiveness of the appeal to visitors is nothing but negative.

On your website, in your business literature, decide in advance what you want to say, and where, and then write it, using commonplace words. Assume nothing about your readers, other than that they might be interested to find out more about your product or service. And in particular, ignore most if not all the words and phrases that have crept into common use on websites and are supposedly there to guide you. The majority do nothing of the sort. An example, commonly found on millions of websites, FAQ’s – frequently asked questions. Fine you might think. Think again! If your important opening pages are failing to tackle the most ‘frequently asked questions’ and you are shuffling visitors off to another page to find things for themselves the structure of the whole website is awry. But like topsy, the use of FAQ’s has just grown and grown – because herd-followers see others doing it.

Examine every word in your commercial writing and make sure it’s relevant to you, and readily understood by non-computer-literate laypersons – in other words, 99.99% of the world’s population.Believe in yourself, in your service, and appeal to others directly so they can discover in seconds precisely what your message is. They will thank you for it, but often won’t know why. Don’t explain. Your competitors might follow your example and then you’ll lose your advantage.

Professional website designers know that the most effective sites are ones where both graphics and content focus unerringly on a common objective. This means each and every word should be treated as carefully as a painter regards every brushstroke: one slip and the Mona Lisa has the beginnings of a moustache! One word out of place or inappropriate can have a similar devastating effect. Ensure your copy is polished by a professional editor and you’ll be delighted by the results. And the cost is negligible. Copywriting and editing can be quoted for by the page.

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Getting a Book Published & Avoiding the Bear Traps

October 5, 2015 in Articles, Writing & Publishing

Getting a Book Published is Knowing What Not To Do

getting a book publishedThere are three easy steps to sink your book’s prospects

And there are many more. But let’s be charitable and assume your book is the bee’s knees. It’s beautifully written; readers are lapping up books covering your chosen theme, and you are bringing something new to the table. Publishers and agents will be delighted to hear from you.

If only. The truth is best faced sooner than later. Publishing is a cut-throat business, and one that is seldom as professional as you might imagine. For every intelligent, benevolent adviser assessing drafts from writers there are hundreds of low-paid, over-worked staff who all imagine they are God’s gift to literature and view submissions from new writers as fodder to be disposed of in record time. Offer these people the slightest opportunity to reject your work and they’ll take it – before they’ve read a word of the book itself.

Getting a book published therefore requires careful consideration of how to avoid the bear traps!

Getting Published – The Rules

1. Horses for Courses.

Don’t enter your horse for a race it can’t win. Mills and Boon are highly successful, but are unlikely to give your non-fiction survey -‘Sparrows of the Kalahari’ a moment’s thought. The better focused and businesslike publishers are, the more likely they are to know precisely what they will consider or reject. Homework, e-mails and phone calls must identify who are in the market for your future book. You must first know which market you are aiming at (not as easy as it appears) then ensure your draft is aimed at the right target.

2. Leap one hurdle at a time.

The majority of works submitted to publishers are not read. Why? Because the e-mails, letters, proposals and synopses that accompany them reveal the shoddiness of what must surely follow – in the book proper. Why should a publisher overlook woolly descriptions and amateurish summaries of an author’s work? If someone is incapable of describing the merits of their own handiwork why should others find it fruitful? One in a thousand writers may be congenitally incapable of succinctly describing their own masterpiece; no publisher or agent worth his salt can spare the time to burrow through a thousand drafts to find it. Have one objective in mind at this submission stage: to get your book or extracts at least read. Nothing more – nothing less.

3. Be economical with the truth.

A short introductory letter, accompanied by a one page synopsis and a paragraph or two describing the readership you seek to reach should be more than enough to entice a publisher to request/read extracts of your work. The letter is purely a courtesy – simply introduce yourself and your work; the synopsis should reveal the bones of your book so that the reader can instantly appreciate its essence – but don’t flesh out these bones: the extracts will do that. The few paragraphs about your intended readership will indicate to publishers that you understand what their readers wish to read.

You will not receive any Brownie points for length or literary ability; quite the reverse. The more concise, brief and businesslike you are, the more likely the reader will thank you and request sight of extracts. Remember, all you want is someone to taste the book itself, not hand out gongs for writing menus.

A book editing service can help you tune these preparatory stages. The synopsis is the most difficult, and the most important. Writing these is a business skill rather than a literary one and, where authors find it a task too far, look for editors who will do the job for you. An independent, outside view of your work usually ensures your work is read. Then it’s up to the merits of your writing to carry the day.

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Writing a Book Synopsis for an Agent or Publisher

September 28, 2015 in Articles, Writing & Publishing

A book synopsis is your first tool in the book publishing process. Without a synopsis forget approaching a publisher, they will not want to know you.

What is a Book Synopsis

writing a book synopsisThe business side of book writing is often overlooked by would-be authors. But a business it is, and the moment you contact agents or publishers with a view to writing and publishing a book they will request a synopsis. A synopsis is a summary of your project; no more, no less, but writing a book synopsis is an important step on the traditional publishing route .

Paradoxically, the ideal time to prepare a synopsis is at the ‘back of an envelope’ stage of a book: that moment when the idea for your work first arises. This spark was unadorned and caught your breath at the time. A synopsis should never lose that vital element. The version you eventually send to a publisher will cover more ground and may have changes of emphasis and treatment, but the clarity of the message you send should be preserved.

The ability to write brilliant synopses passes most people by. It requires special skills and a disciplined, calm brain. That rules me out. I still believe, however, that writers should be the author of their synopses.

The Book Synopsis

The synopsis you submit to a literary agent or publisher should do no more than ensure a chapter or three of your book are subsequently read by them.

Include, therefore, only details most likely to make this happen. Anything else is just wasting everyone’s time.

By sticking to the theme and essential elements of your draft, your synopsis should race through the development of your story – leaving the reader informed, but not fulfilled; only the book can do that. If it has, at its heart, a fresh theme, well treated, then once you have conveyed this, your work is done. This really is how to publish a book, by following the publishers’ rules.

Over-egg the synopsis and with each dollop you will be in danger of losing the reader’s attention – or worse.

Some Tips for Writing a Book Synopsis

One page, single-spaced, should do the job (500 words). Two pages is stretching the attention span, unless your subject matter has to be detail- driven. This is often the case with non-fiction. But for fiction, keep it short.

Remember, this is supposed to be a business document, not great literature. Make your essential points in a few short words – then stop.

The synopsis is not the place to sell the book. Stick to unveiling aspects of the book which will prompt the reader to examine your work further.

If this particular chore is an exercise too far, there are independent book editing services that have editors who will write a synopsis for you. Not everyone is a born editor/summariser with an understanding of the business aspects of publishing. If you have confidence in your manuscript it really makes sense to ensure you submit it professionally. A poor or inadequate synopsis will scupper your chances of a deal, often without a word of your book being read. Invest a little time in getting this right, and be one step ahead of the competition.

Should You Be Honest When Writing Fiction?

October 18, 2014 in Articles, Writing & Publishing

Writing honestly works. Think of the stand up comedian and note how the most successful really only tell you what you already know. It is the recognition of  something you see in everyday life, caricatured, that is funny. Writing is no different, connect with the reader and they will want to read more.

Honesty When WritingWhat Has Honesty Got to Do With Writing Fiction?

What a strange thought, I hear you say. What has honesty to do with invented, fictional characters, places and events? Actually more than you imagine.

Literary critics delight in using words and phrases that turn the milk and bore the pants off ordinary folk (but then most critics can’t write fiction well enough to make a living). They chunter on about ‘voice’ and ‘point of view’ but rarely mention the one feature that makes prose stand out from the page – honesty. Writers of humour – rare beasts – do it; the guffaw is the response that means ‘Got you. I know what you mean.’ We laugh because we recognise the truth of the unique observation these wits have written.

When writers ‘release the brakes’ and express precisely what they are thinking the impact is stronger. No equivocation: ‘That dog stinks.’ Not, ‘That dog has an unpleasant odour,’ or ‘that dog’s scent wouldn’t sell well at Harrods’. In polite company few would shout out the word ‘stink’; but fictional prose isn’t polite company. You and your reader are intimately connected – unless the work is being read out aloud for some unearthly reason!

How to Write Fiction Honestly

When writing fiction, prudent authors rarely name their characters after people they know, or locate the action in places they are fond of. Why? Because the mind plays tricks when in ‘muse mode’ and tends to pull punches rather than hit out when recognising friends and places. In other words it is deceiving itself, and in turn, you, and your readers. I can write more bitingly about a hockey player in Manchester than a golfer in London because hockey and Manchester are foreign countries to me. London and golf, however, are too close for comfort.

New writers often sprinkle their prose with a surfeit of adverbs and adjectives. What they are doing is being polite, well behaved, cautious even, not wishing to rock the boat. Now this is fine for behaviour in company; few like the idiot who shouts out ‘Cobblers!’ in the middle of a convention of bishops. But in fiction, if you want to make an impact, cause a stir, be remembered, is it really wise to behave like a wimp? No, it’s counter-productive.

Leave nouns and verbs alone and they will sing off the page. Clothe them with qualifying adverbs and adjectives and they will lose their impact and have a deadly effect on the pace of your story – and it is the story that matters, which should always ‘get on with it’.

A few examples. ‘The plane landed at Heathrow.’ Not bad, but unless you travelled by helicopter – or are a bird – you could just say ‘we landed at Heathrow. Short and to the point; all that’s needed, unless the action of your novel revolves around the plane and Heathrow. But do new novelists exercise such restraint. Oh dear me, no. For them the plane is more than plane, it becomes a twin-jetted, silver-winged Boeing; it doesn’t land, it gently touches down and Heathrow isn’t enough, it has arrived at London’s invariably busy primary airport, Heathrow.

If you want your fiction to hit submission editors, or even better…. a paying public, between the eyes, cut the waffle. Tell it as it is. Be brutal with your prose. Reserve your colouring-in for picture books. In your fiction, tell your story with words that focus on the plot and the those aspects of your characters that drive the book onwards. When your child is about to stick its fingers in the barbecue, how many words do you use – if you are ten foot away? One, two, ten? I bet just the one. His or her name, at the top of your voice. No waffle. Just an honest, animal call to catch the attention. Do that with your prose, and your readers will thank you. But often they won’t know why.

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How to Write A BookHow to Write a Book or Novel by Jonathan Veale

This is an article by Jonathan Veale the author of How to Write a Book or Novel. Jonathan has worked as a professional editor and has successfully published several books. If you like his style and want to know more then his book on the subject of writing is where you need to be.

It is a concise, no nonsense account of what you should and shouldn’t do when writing a book with some great insider tips on the best way to get your book published, whether that is taking the traditional publisher route or if you prefer to be an independent author and publisher.

Still not sure? Then you can find out more about Jonathan and his books on his author page.

Writers’ Block – like Global Warming – An Excuse for Waffle Time

September 14, 2014 in Articles, Writing & Publishing


Image courtesy of

Ever heard of Talker’s Block. Always keen for fame, just by writing this I’ve copyrighted the phrase. But could such a thing exist? Yes – so I gather, but it’s invariably a medical condition prompted by either physical or mental trauma. So, pull yourself together, writers, and forget about writers’ block. If all you are doing is waiting for ‘spontaneous combustion’ in the form of great literature transferring itself effortlessly from your brain to the keyboard, think again. It’s not going to happen.

Think about it! Did Mr Hoover (the ‘keep carpets clean’ campaigner) come up with the idea for his vacuum cleaner ‘out of the blue’ – a notion that just flew in through the window one morning – and had he never previously entertained a thought about dust, brushes and machinery that could make his wife’s life easier. He was a doer as well as a thinker; a man constantly imagining how to improve machines and through them, make life better for us all. Not for him, countless hours sitting in front of a drawing board praying for inspiration. His mind was always full of projects. And so should yours be!

Of course there are days, and sometimes months, when writing is just not on the cards; not something that suits, for a variety of reasons. But this isn’t writers’ block, it’s the human condition that conspires occasionally to make us apathetic. In such times, it’s pointless to sit in front of a keyboard. In fact, I’d go further and say it borders on the insane. If ones’ mind and body are at a low ebb, what could possibly be worse than sitting before a blank screen awaiting salvation. Even idiots have more sense – and walk around talking to themselves. Perhaps that’s a better answer. At least some words are coming out. If you want to write and publish a book, you will, but first, release your mind and get on with something else, anything else, if you are currently going through a ‘can’t think of anything’ stage.

No – the solution to this ludicrous notion of writers’ block is to come at the problem from an oblique angle. Set yourself a task, or a series of tasks that will have the effect of releasing energy rather than damming it up. Take on physically draining tasks, even if it’s only cleaning the bath, and release your mind to think about themes you feel passionate about. Any theme, any passion. If you are down in the dumps you have to climb out of them – perhaps by kidding your brain that the worst is over, and soon you will be OK again. A clean and sparkling bath is a great improvement on a still-empty screen or blank sheet of paper. And while you are scrubbing away as though your life depends on it, let the mind wander abroad. It will. They always do.

I remember as a boy, riding to school on my bike, (yes – I’m that ancient) and passing an old horse that stood motionless in a paddock. Week after week I swear it never moved more than a foot from the spot. And it was getting progressively thinner and weaker, too, staring into the distance, taking nothing in. And yes, I’m afraid, there was no happy ending. It was seeing life out – literally – and one day all that remained was a bare patch in the middle of an otherwise fertile field. Don’t be a donkey – get on with life. A writer you will be, once your mind is released.

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