6 Ways to Avoid Neutralizing Your Writing

It.

What a cute little, two-letter word. Small but mighty, it can mean everything yet nothing at all. A go-to word for authors of every classification, genre, style, size, platform, etc. of writing, it shows up everywhere like your shadow.

Using it in a sentence isn’t necessarily grammatically incorrect or unacceptable by any seemingly formidable literary entity (usually referred to as “they”) that makes rules that, for some strange reason, authors blindly follow.

However, it is a blah word. Using it in your prose often and frivolously creates vague, feeble writing that renders your compositions less enjoyable and/or effective.

 

#1. The Nebulous It

Dammit! The click of Carolyn Waterton’s Louboutin heels echoed down the hundred-year-old courthouse hallway. It was never a good sign when both the backwoods judge and hayseed prosecutor were late. It could shred what little confidence this fresh-out-of-Yale-Law attorney had. They’re probably swapping stories and smoking stogies on a dilapidated back porch somewhere in this Godforsaken town.

Here, each it refers to something different. The first one is vague, referring to nothing concrete, which is an acceptable form, i.e., “used to represent an inanimate thing understood, previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context).* (Sometimes called a dummy pronoun.) The second it relates to how the men’s lateness affects Carolyn.

Now, to be fair, the author used it correctly in both cases. However, forcing it to carry the burden of conveying sentence meaning rather than looking for a superior word or rewriting the passage to read accurately is settling for hamburger when you could have filet mignon.

Dammit! The click of Carolyn Waterton’s Louboutin heels echoed down the hundred-year-old courthouse hallway. Not good. Both the backwoods judge and hayseed prosecutor were late. Why not shred what little confidence this fresh-out-of-Yale-Law attorney has? They’re probably swapping stories and smoking stogies on a dilapidated back porch somewhere in this Godforsaken town.

See?

 

#2. The Because-It’s-There It

How does it wind up in writing over and over again? Because we like to use the ambiguous little pronoun in speech all the time. However, it doesn’t always translate well in written pose. (Tee-hee. See what I did there?)

 When Paula and Jade hid the wrecked car, it meant they hid evidence. 

vs.

 By hiding the wrecked car, Paula and Jade concealed evidence.

Much better.

 

#3. The Lazy It

Authors often forget readers are novel readers not mind readers. Writers assume their readers will know exactly who or what they’re referring to in the sentence (or the next one). “Yeah, I could rewrite it,” the I’d-Rather-Settle-For-Good-Instead-Of-Great Author said, shrugging her shoulders, “but why?”

The jury reached an agreement on the teacher’s penalty, but it took a long time.

Does it refer to the jury, agreement, or the decision-making process?

 The jury reached an agreement on the teacher’s penalty, but the process took a long time.

Much better.

 

#4. The Grammar No-No It

Connie was shy, but she kept it well-hidden.

The sentence doesn’t “sound” incorrect and isn’t confusing, right? However, if your work falls into the hands of a Grammar Nazi, you’re busted. It must refer to a noun, and shy is an adjective. Pronouns can only refer to nouns.

Connie kept her shyness well-hidden.

Take that, Grammar Nazis!

 

#5. The One-Is-Good, Many-Must-Be-Great It

A comprehensive, complicated benefit package encourages employees to ignore offerings no matter how rewarding as confusion breeds avoidance. However, it only takes a minute to ask your department head to clarify the company’s position on it before it is implemented into company policy and you enforce it (should you feel it your duty to do so).

Yes, this is an actual passage recently published in a non-fiction book on Human Resource policies. Wow! Five its in only one l-o-n-g sentence. Two serve as vague references (dummy pronouns), and three allude to the company’s benefit package (I think.). Yeah, it goes without saying: rewrite, Rewrite, REWRITE!

Confusing breeds avoidance. A comprehensive, complicated benefit package only encourages employees to ignore offerings, no matter how rewarding. Ask your department head to clarify the company’s position on the bundle before implementation and enforcement.

Honestly, I don’t know if we fixed any of the inherent perplexity, but we did get rid of the confusing its. Let’s call it a victory.

 

#6. The Dull It

It combined with is, was, or were at the beginning of a sentence is a pet peeve of mine.

It was dark as Victor stepped into the street and waited.

By placing the important information toward the end of the sentence, an author strips his/her prose of energy.

Victor stepped into the dark street and waited.

 

What its are acceptable?

The First-Draft It… Use the word whenever you want to ensure you keep your mind burning and churning to throw down your creative thoughts. You can go back later and fix the its up.

The Dialogue It… Use the word in there because that’s how we speak. One caveat: If your character is well-educated and/or a snotty person, he or she would probably not use it in their speech.

The Don’t-Bother It… Use the word when rewriting the sentence to eliminate it creates confusing instead of clarification.

Got it? (Sorry, I couldn’t control myself.)

Write on!

*Www.Dictionary.com

How To Write For 20 Miles

Motivation is an ongoing struggle for authors. Fiction and nonfiction… traditional and indie… Bestsellers and busters… all authors—at one time or another—have trouble kindling the creativity fire, including me.

“If I waited to be inspired, I would be screwed.”— Srinivas Rao

Host and founder of the popular podcast the Unmistakable Creative, Srini Rao, shared how he took his writing to the next level by focusing on a daily creative habit.

There was only one way I was going to be able to pull this off: write 1,000 a day. It had to go from being a task on my to-do list to a habit. What I didn’t realize is just how much that would change my life.

It wasn’t long before I figured out the necessary elements to easily write 1,000 words a day. I would wake up every morning, and I would just put my fingers on the keyboard. Sometimes I wrote garbage. Sometimes I didn’t.

But when I powered through the garbage (sometimes the first 200 words), I ended up with gold. I figured if I was willing to produce enough garbage, I would come with just enough gold to meet all my deadlines and expectations. In his book Unthink, Erik Wahl calls this creating for the trash can: “If you create for the trash can, some of what you create will probably be worthy of being in a museum.”

Interesting, huh? Thought-provoking, but not enough to set my butt ablaze.

A few months later, during a l-o-n-g, l-o-n-g period of extinguished creativity, I stumbled across another inspirational article. Rao’s plain-Jane honesty sparked my curiosity, so I researched the benefits of daily, consistent, measured goals. An article about an expedition race to the South Pole in 1911 not only ignited my creative fire but transformed it into a wildfire.

“Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck some people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”—Roald Amundsen, South Pole.

Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott led separate teams to cover a journey of 1,400 miles. Both teams would march the same distance, but their leaders had different approaches to the task.

Scott planned to push hard on good-weather days and rest up on bad days. Amundsen’s strategy was to march 20 miles every day, no matter the weather. Amundsen beat Scott to the Pole by several days, and he and his men returned to Norway safe and sound. Unfortunately, Scott and four of his men perished on the way back to Great Britain.

Talk about an Aha moment…

Usually, I take the Scott approach to life. Get excited about something new, throw myself at it like a maniac, and burn out quickly, get sidetracked, or give up. On the few occasions I channeled Amundsen, like running daily to prepare for a marathon, packing five boxes a day to prepare for a move, finishing my first book after struggling for 10 years, I succeeded.

So, with blogs and books to write, websites to launch, writing and editing classes to prepare, and weekend editing seminars to develop, I needed an infallible method to get my writing done. I analyzed Rao’s and Amundsen’s efforts and came up with guidelines for an experiment I named Project Write My Ass Off:

• Commit to a minimum daily effort that’s hard enough to achieve when your day is going great but still doable when it’s not.

I commit to writing 1,000 words a day.

• Determine self-imposed constraints to ensure you don’t push too hard and lose sight of the purpose of long-term steady progress. Even on good days filled with energy, stick with your daily commitment to avoid burn out.

I commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less.

• Tailor your plan to your personality and situation. Be brutally honest with yourself about how you will achieve your goal. What works for someone else may not work for you.

I commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less.
I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.

• Buy-in to your commitment is key. Don’t attempt the effort for your spouse, your significant other, your critique partner, your friend, etc.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.

• Adapt a concrete timeframe that’s not too short (that the tangible deadline snaps at your heels) but not too long (to deal with unforeseen setbacks) but just right.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.

• Ensure your outcome is within your control. If achieving your goal depends on the behavior and/or decision of others, failure is a possibility.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met. I will not do any guest blogs or send work to my critique partners until this effort is done.

• Dedicate yourself to consistency. Good intentions do not get the job done.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days whether I feel like it or not. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met. I will not do any guest blogs or send work to my critique partners until this effort is done.

 

The experiment kicked off on February 1, 2018. In the first week, I nailed my 1,000 words a day every day.

In the second week, laptop issues frustrated me for a couple days. Alphasmart Neo to the rescue! The routine change threw me a bit, but writing prompts helped get the creativity flowing, and I hit my daily total every day.

Third week? The flu. Yeah, bucket by the bed and MacBook Pro on my lap. (You’re welcome for the visual.) Calling off the experiment would have been easy and justifiable. However, that’s what I always do when the going got tough. Not this time.

 

I had to prove to myself that I had what it takes to reach to the South Pole.

For four days each, those thousand words took me all day to write. They weren’t pretty or great, but they were written. Whoo-hoo!

In the final stretch (on Day 25), I had to pick someone up from the airport during my usual writing time. Out of my newfound routine, I felt withdrawal. Weird, huh? Not to worry. I had tossed my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my purse. Weather delays handed me two hours in baggage claim, and I got my 1,000 words in! Yes!

At midnight on March 2, Project Write My Ass Off ended. Calling the experiment a success is an understatement. Just as Rao discussed in his article, momentum kicked in around the second week and never waned. Ideas flowed… creativity gushed… writing surged. In those 30 days, I:

• Wrote 15 blog articles.
• Wrote four chapters for my WIP.
• Wrote two conference workshops.
• Write three online writing lessons.
• Wrote copy for two websites.
• Started writing a giveaway for one of my websites.
• Learned that a distraction-free desk and Scrivener desktop made writing easier.
• Realized that without days between writing, ideas and content direction remained fresh.
• Discovered that sometimes the work was crap and sometimes it wasn’t.
• Proved that I can reach the South Pole.

Project Write My Ass Off… Take Two is in progress with the same guidelines as before except two: (1) The new timeframe is 60 days. (2) A burning desire to help others discover how to reach their South Poles is now a mission.

Please join me in April for the 1,000-Word Marcher Challenge. For more information, sign up here and then go join the 1KWMC Facebook page.

Give it a try! You’ve nothing to lose except your creative fire.

Keep Your Train of Thought On Track

Keeping your readers moving seamlessly through your book is a challenge every author faces. One element that helps ensure Joe and Jane Public stay with your story and logically connect to your ideas is transitions.

 

Transitions are the connectors, the bridges, the stepping stones that tell your readers what to do with the information you’re presenting.

They must be planned and relevant, or they stick out like files on a birthday cake.

Within a paragraph, transitions provide coherence: the sense that a paragraph has only one main idea.

Gene ordered his favorite meal at the taco stand. He grabbed the bag of food and took it home. He ate the tacos.

Although Jane Public could understand what is going on in Gene’s world, painting an engaging mental picture is difficult with the choppy, vague prose. This kind of writing encourages a reader to put the book down and never return. Not good. Not good at all.

With a few transitions and some beefed-up writing, Jane Public reads on.

Once the street vendor passed him the sack of tacos, Gene headed for his car. The first thing he did at home was plop the sack down on the coffee table and turn on the football game. His stomach growled. Unwrapping his favorite beef-and-bean fare, he then ate all five before the kickoff.

Transitions ensure Joe Public clearly understand your information and instruction.

Now what? Getting ahead and staying ahead of the game. Planning a strategy for managing your critical people is imperative. That includes both the project cheerleader and the project adversary. The project manager needs to plan for communication breakdowns, a significant activity. General guidelines suggest most of your time is spent in some form of communication.
vs.
Now what? First, getting ahead, and then staying ahead of the game. After all, planning a strategy for managing your critical people is imperative. Frequently, that includes both the project cheerleader and the project adversary. And finally, the project manager needs to plan for communication breakdowns, a singularly significant activity since general guidelines suggest most of your time is spent in some form of communication.

Between paragraphs, transitions let an author allude to the idea in the previous paragraph and then change or further enhance the idea in the next one. Again, with no paragraphs, the change appears abrupt or unrelated.

Many times, she’d thought about the legend of the ghost in the old inn. Charlotte didn’t believe in ghosts.
She jumped at the unexpected cold touch on her shoulder.

Not bad, but a minor rework—including a couple transitions—adds major oomph to the passage.

Although the legend of the ghost that lived in the old inn was creepy, Charlotte shrugged it off. She didn’t believe in ghosts.
Until she turned down the dusty hall and felt a cold touch on her shoulder.

Wow!

 

Does the same hold true for non-fiction paragraphs? You betcha!

Your business plan is the blueprint for how you plan to build a successful enterprise. Consider which people will have the greatest impact on your success.
If you need capital investment, investors will be your primary audience.
vs.
Your business plan is the blueprint for how you plan to build a successful enterprise. Consider which people will have the greatest impact on your success.
For example, if you need capital investment, investors will be your primary audience.

One more for kicks and giggles? Okay, if you insist…

Grady was sure he’d seen the suspect duck behind a BMW double-parked next to a UPS truck. No way was the jerk getting away.
Grady dodged several street barriers and delivery trucks to come up behind the man. The guy was gone. A bullet whizzed into the metal garbage can next to him. Grady ran for the safety of a doorway, searching the rooftops for the shooter. He stumbled into a pothole, twisting his ankle.
Great. Some detective I am. Glad his partner wasn’t here to see Grady trip over his two left feet.

Again, not bad but kind of snoozy. Enter transitions!

At first, Grady was sure he’d seen the suspect duck behind a BMW double-parked next to a UPS truck. No way was the jerk getting away.
But by the time Grady dodged several street barriers and delivery trucks to come up behind the man, the guy was gone. A bullet whizzed into the metal garbage can next to him. Grady ran for the safety of a doorway, searching the rooftops for the shooter. That’s when he stumbled into a pothole, twisting his ankle.
Great. Some detective I am. Certainly glad his partner wasn’t here to see Grady trip over his two left feet.

Click here for a printable list of transitions you can use to ensure readers follow your train of thought.

Write on!?