Posted in Writing, Writing craft

Online Research: 5 tips for improving your skills

Every writer needs to do research at some point. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a blogger, a nonfiction magazine or book writer, a short story writer, an online content creator or a novelist―sooner or later, you’ll have to do some research. Sometimes, it might only be research to find an agent, publisher or online platform for your work. Whatever the reason, we can all improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our research skills as our writing careers progress. And in the twenty-first century, you’ll probably do most of it online.

When my first nonfiction book was published over thirty years ago, online research was nonexistent. I had to do my research in the library, spending hours in indices to find the right citations followed by more hours combing through books, articles, and microfiche readers. Unfamiliar with microfiche? Oh, what you have missed.

Depending on what you write, you have to do more or less research. And that research these days is often (probably mostly) online.

If you write any kind of nonfiction, unless you’re writing stream-of-consciousness my-new-idea-is-genius-and-doesn’t-need-any-support, you need to do a lot of research. Or perhaps you write fantasy and are creating your own worlds. You could do it without any research, but you’d be short-changing yourself. (Which colours work best with orange hair and purple skin? You get the idea.)

If you write contemporary fiction, you might think you don’t need to do any content research. What about ideas for character names, car models (what year did they start making the VW Beetle, for example), or the weather in a particular city at a specific time of year?

And if you write any content for the online world, you need excellent online research skills.

Sometimes the research isn’t for the pieces you’re writing. Often it’s for all those other activities that writers are required to do just to have a writing career. I’m talking about finding publishers, agents and online publishing platforms. All of those require you to do research. So, as far as I’m concerned, writers need to consider how and why they do online research.

I have come up with five tips that might help you to improve your skills.

As I move forward in any piece of writing, I find myself doing upfront research before I begin, but I also find myself researching on the fly if you like. I don’t always know that I’ll need to know what kind of camera was popular in the mid-1960s when I start writing.

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

Proofreading: 5 tips to improve the thing you hate the most

Maybe you’re one, but I don’t know a single writer who enjoys proofreading their work. It’s that absolute final step that comes hot on the heels of copyediting but is even pickier. And it’s so crucial to the final product.

What is it about proofreading that we all dislike so much? For me, it’ soften because it means that I can’t be writing somethgin new―exercising my imagination. It is true that proofreading isn’t all that creative, don’t you agree? Still, we have to do it.

Some writing gurus seem to think that we shouldn’t even try to edit our own work. While I agree that we do develop blinders, often failing to see a whole swath of errors that look right to us, I still think we have to do much of it ourselves. Of course, when it comes to a project like a book, you’ll need a final copyeditor and proofreader in the end. But what about all that other stuff you write? Book blurbs, your bio, your blog posts, query letters? You need to copyedit them yourself.

There’s hardly a news story, magazine article, blog post (!) or book these days that doesn’t bear at least one typo or punctuation error, and don’t we all hate them when we see them―especially in our own work. So, before you can send anything out to editors or readers, proofreading isn’t an option. And there are a few tips and tricks to make yours better (and maybe even easier) that I’ve learned over my thirty-plus years of writing.

So, proofreading is important no matter whether you write books, business reports, advertising copy, social media content, or magazine stories.

If you have five minutes, I have five tips that might help to improve your proofreading.

Posted in Nonfiction Writing, Writing, Writing craft, Writing Nonfiction

5 Tips for Writing Nonfiction Leads

Thirty years ago, I began my career as a nonfiction writer. The first time I pitched the story to the weekend features editor of a local newspaper, I realized that although I’d done a ton of academic writing at that point, had written lots of unpublished essays and had a passion for writing that went back to my pre-teen years, I didn’t know that much about the fine points of magazine writing.

My background was in health science, so what did I know about writing magazine articles?

What I had was a passion for writing, a knowledge base in the content area I had proposed, a willingness to learn, lots of research experience. The first thing I had to learn was how to write a solid lead. Three decades later and that knowledge has had a chance to be practised over and over, and now I’m sharing my five favourite approaches to a lead―a bit of help for nonfiction authors, magazine writers, bloggers and copywriters.

As I reviewed these tips for leads, it also occurred to me that fiction writers might find inspiration here for opening paragraphs for short stories or even book chapters. I’m a great believer in cross-genre learning.

Here’s today’s episode of WRITE. FIX. REPEAT. with the five approaches to leads.