|Teaching/Tips - Power Writing|
By Jill Joines Christensen
I am so excited that you are reading this, because it means you are not only a woman hunter, but also a woman writer - a woman who wants to share her experience and stories with other women. It also says that you want to make what you write both informative and exciting. What is cooler than that!
Some of us read and write throughout our lives. Others, who also have great stories, might have thought of ourselves as writers before. We might not have enjoyed writing in school or written on our own, or we might have been writers throughout our lives, with varying degrees of commitment to doing so. We might write all the time, or we might write only when it is time to turn in an article to WomenHunters. It doesn't matter. Even accomplished writers can benefit by flipping through a grammar book occasionally. I have been a professional nonfiction writer and editor for 23 years and still read every article I can find about my craft in an effort to continue to improve. In addition, I write constantly on many topics to keep my "ear." By the way, note the term I just used: "ear." Whereas an artist practices to keep her "hand," and a photographer to keep her "eye," a writer develops her "ear."
This article is for writers at all levels: it provides some basics for new or rusty writers, and serves as a quick review for more accomplished, even widely published, writers.
I. THE WRITING PROCESS
1) Descriptive Articles. These articles tell us what happened. Technical information is just a part of the story. Most of the articles at WomenHunters.com fall into this category, which can include accounts of hunts and harvests, product or outfitter reviews, overviews of organizations or events, or instructional content such as this article provides (although this article is an example of a hybrid because it includes both descriptive and prescriptive content).
For best results, find someone to care for the baby, children, or pets for a set period of time, ask not to be disturbed, and then close the door.
A descriptive article begins with a "brain dump." This is not the time to think about what should stay or go. This phase is the equivalent of brainstorming, except you are doing it alone. No idea is bad or out of order, and grammar and spelling do not matter. Just let the words out. Keep your fingers moving on the keyboard. Don't let anything stop this "flow" because once the inspiration comes, you need to take advantage of it. If you do not know where to start, pick any hunt, a favorite weapon, a challenge overcome, a hunting mentor, your hunting ethics--whatever. All muscles require a warm-up. The brain is no different. Whatever you do, keep typing until you have said everything you could possibly want to say. In many cases, this kind of let-it-all-hang-out session can produce the seeds of several articles, so avoid self-editing and do not worry about staying on topic. All that comes later.
2) Prescriptive (How-To) Articles. When we sit down to write a how-to article, we already know what we want to write about. The first step is to outline the article and to take or assemble photos of the product and process:
Introduction: Why should we do or make this? What will we need and how much will it cost? Are we likely to have the materials on hand? Will we be converting something for a different use? renovating something for its original use? or building something brand new?
Recipe: What do we need, and what do with it?
B. Incubation. When I get my first draft or all the steps and photos done, I need a break. Sometimes the break is a few minutes, sometimes I just save what I have written and come back to it whenever. I think about everything BUT what I have written. Presidents go fishing at times of great crisis for the same reason. The point of pushing away is to be able to "see the forest from the trees."
C. Organization. After a while, I might return to my "brain dump" (manuscript). At a glance I can see what belongs in another article or story, so I cut and paste that into fresh documents, name them appropriately, and save them. Sometimes one of these "tangents" will interest me more than my original topic, and if so, I go with it. You have to listen to your "muse" on this. Or, after I remove all the material that does not relate to my original topic, I return to that and look at what I am left with. The subject matter will dictate the organization.
Chronological (in order of occurrence)
Priority or Cost
How-To or Recipe (Equipment then Steps)
1. Cut one 2x4x8 into eight 1' lengths
D. Conclusion. Inevitably when I organize my "chunks" of information, I see steps or topics I have left out or duplicated, and I fix them. The rest is just cleanup and refinement. The first question I ask is, does it make sense? I read it out loud. Wow. You wouldn't believe all the stuff I find that way. Is the content ordered logically? Have I used language most readers can understand? Do I need to define any of the terms I used? Are my descriptions clear? Have I eliminated most use of slang, except for specific effect? Have I done my best to ensure that any humor is tasteful, and that at all times my words reflect the respect I have for others and for the animals we hunt? We understand language and humor based on personal experience. I try to identify any diplomatic "landmines"--not only because I don't want to offend you, but also because doing so would interfere with my goal, which is to inform or entertain you or, ideally, both.
II. COMMON ISSUES. Now let's look at some specific areas where I have to watch myself and where I see other writers run into trouble sometimes:
A. PARAGRAPHS AND SENTENCES - Break up long paragraphs at logical transition points such as when the person or speaker, location, or the direction of the story changes. I try to avoid run-on sentences. These are sentences that go on forever. Most can be logically divided. Also, avoid sentence. Fragments. Every sentence must have a subject and a verb. Exception to the latter: If you are talking directly to the reader, then you can start with the verb.
B. CASE – Some of us may remember the saying, "Speak for yourself, Charlie." When I was growing up, I was instructed by my English teacher to avoid using "I," and instead to use the awkward "one" or worse yet, "you," even though you may have had nothing to do with what I write. Writing styles have changed. Use of "one" or "you" where "I" am the actor is considered old-fashioned. So all that said, here, simply, are the cases (persons):
First person singular: I/we shot three rounds -- I DID IT
(Note that "one" is nowhere around)
Mix it up when you need to:
Example: I picked up my round and watched as he did the same.
C. NUMBER – If you are writing about a thing, decide if you are going to refer to one or more things, and be consistent where you can. For example, suppose you are writing about bowsights.
Wrong: The bowsight is [singular] critical. They are [plural] the means… (inconsistent)
Right: The bowsight is [singular] critical. It is [singular] the means… (consistent)
D. TENSE - Decide if you are telling a story in the present or past. Most hunting stories are told after the fact, so lend themselves to past tense. Also, use “-ing” verbs only to indicate something that is or was continuing:
Example: He picked up my rifle and was handing it to me when ...
Right: I picked up my gun [past] and then I saw the buck [past]
Wrong: Then the buck run away
Right: Then the buck ran away
E. FLUFF: I remember padding my term papers to meet minimum word counts. Here at WomenHunters, we have no minimum word count. We just have to write about something of interest to other women hunters, that is, we have to organize, introduce, discuss, and conclude a relevant topic, and we have to include one clear, relevant photo. I want to encourage you to do the opposite of what I did with my term papers: De-pad. Eliminate fluff. Fluff (a real term in the field of editing) is boring. Lean and mean is POWERFUL:
Fluffy: At this time I would like to say how much I LOVE HUNTING.
Fluffy: On the other hand, at that point in time, WE DID THIS.
F. IMAGINATION: Granted, these examples are extreme. Certainly an article would be cold if the facts lay this naked. If I tell you--
I turned around in my stand and missed the shot.
I have told you nothing. I have only given you a sound bite, and a boring one at that. But what if I remember back to what really happened, and bring you into my story...
It was a women's bowhunt in Alabama. The guides dropped me off at a green field about 1:30 pm. I followed the path the guides pointed out and soon was settled safely in the 20-foot ladderstand, harness fastened securely between two limbs that I knew were left to provide cover from the spot where the guides said the deer would emerge. They had told me to wait for the dominant buck, and to let the eight-pointer go. I pulled up my bow and waited. As the shadows lengthened, a doe came out with her fawns and fed. She left the same way she had come, and two spikes replaced her. They were followed by three four-pointers and then one eight-pointer. After the eight-pointer left, a large-bodied buck with more points than I could count stepped out. He had that prance big bucks get because they have to balance all that hardware on their heads. Although the guides had told me the buck might come out onto the field in front of me, I checked the time and the light. The buck showed no signs of relocating for my convenience. It was the last day of the hunt, so I decided to do more than wait. Very carefully, to avoid falling; and very slowly, to avoid alerting the buck, I eased to a standing position facing the tree, climbed up on my seat. Once up I had to hunch down a bit since the harness was as high as I could get it without removing it from the tree--which I certainly was not going to do!
With my left hand, I lifted my bow over the top cover limb and, I can't even remember how, managed to pull the string and sight in on the buck -- just as he chose to move swiftly to a point immediately in front of my stand where he stood, looking in my direction and chewing thoughtfully, until dark.
G. MUSIC. And then there is the sound of the words themselves. Here are some quotes that help me:
"Pretty is as pretty does" - Suppose I write the perfect paragraph. Not only is it beautiful, but it perfectly introduces, frames, or advances my story line. I keep it. On the other hand, if I can't decide where to put it, as soon as I feel myself trying to find a place to put my perfect paragraph, I realize that it is probably perfect for another article, but not for this one, so I save it elsewhere.
"Style over substance" - I imagine I have to pay for every word I write, but I still have to tell my story.
"If in doubt, don't" - My mother taught me this rule for clothes shopping. It was at the top of a list that included things like checking to see how pants "sat" and whether a shirt pulled across my bust when I moved my arms. Yet I have found that simple phrase applies to many things. I use it for writing. It helps me detach from my author's pride (also an official editing term) and to let go of content I love, but that does not contribute to my story.
H. SENSES - Always search for the word that best describes how an intense moment or victory or scare looked, smelled, or felt. It is the senses that bring readers into a story. Did you have to reach for something to pull yourself back into your stand when you fell out? What was it? Did you, as Linda did in her Pajama story, prompt an excited outburst by a companion? Did you get the shot even after losing your footing? Did you raise your head to shoot a gobbler only to see yourself facing a nervous timber rattler? You have been there. Dig those out of your long-term memory. They make a story great. But why was something great or awesome? What works on Facebook does not necessarily engage and hold a reader. Superlatives like "great," "awesome," or "brilliant" do not help. Instead of using an empty superlative, take a second and put yourself back into the event you are describing. WHY was it great or awesome? Read your story and sound it out--"listen" to it. Out loud is best. Rather than blowing off your reader with superlatives, get real. To the best of your ability, say--exactly--what you mean.
I. FINAL CHECKS - It is one thing to click Send on an email quickly composed and not reviewed. That is bad enough, depending on the errors missed in haste. Many of us also know what happens when you rely on text-recognition software in our cell phones. A WomenHunters article will be online for a long time and the good ones will receive thousands of views. Think about that before you submit a hastily written article. Before you submit your article, read it out loud at least one time.
J. HUMOR - Never try to be funny, but if you are, great! Humor can be very effective, provided it does not sound forced.
K. THE PERFECT WORDS - It is probably a good time to say this: All writers have written words we thought were so beautiful, so perfect, that they could not bear to delete it. When I can't bear to part with my "precious prose," I paste it into a Notepad file and save it into a folder called WRITING IDEAS.
One day I will go back and look in that folder.