Tips for New Writers
By Jill Joines Christensen
WomenHunters gives each member a chance to publish her hunting stories. Writing experience is not required. Why? Because it is your story. We want you to tell it your way. Sure, we will help you with spelling and such, and we might contact you if we have a question. Other than that, well, it is your story.
Before you send your story, read it out loud. Why?
Writing is speaking.
Reading is listening.
When we write, we say something. When we read what we have written out loud, we can hear it as others will, but while we can still change it!
There is more to telling a story than what actually happened. Think of the teachers whose classes put you to sleep. Then think of your favorite teachers. You loved their classes because they loved what they were doing. They surprised and delighted you. You can write like they taught--it just takes a little thought.
Suppose your first draft reads--
I woke up on the ground and saw the buck. I sat up and hurt my neck and I remembered what happened. I sat up too fast and my neck hurt. It was cold, too. And then I remembered the buck and saw him on the ground ten feet away.
All the facts seem to be there. So do a couple of cut and paste errors I left in to show you how easy it is to miss them, especially in a long article. The easiest way to catch these, and other problems, is to read your article out loud. You will be amazed at what you "hear" that you didn't see. You will catch logic disconnects, misspellings, missing words (even sentences), repetition, grammar errors, and more, all in an article you thought was ready to rock! After you clean up what you find, read it out loud again.
I woke up on the ground and it was cold. I sat up fast and hurt my neck. I remembered what happened and looked around. The buck was dead on the ground ten feet away.
Now ask yourself if you are fascinated by what you have written? If not, no one else will be, either. Read it one last time, and keep in mind the words of Paul McCartney in “Michelle”: "...these are words that go together well..."
When I woke on the ground, I was cold; very cold. I remembered what had happened and jerked upward.
I paid in pain for my quick move, but had to know...and there it was. Unmoving, obviously dead,
he lay, ten feet away, antler tips sparkling in the soft morning light.
Dazzle us, baby!
Feel The Victory
by Jill Joines Christensen
When writing a narrative article for WomenHunters, think back. Narratives are you "narrating" your own story. So walk in your boots again. Think what made the hunt you are describing unique--feel the woods, the weapon in your hand, smell the trees just as if you were there right now--feel the victory!
Remember the doe’s expression before she hid an eye behind a sapling, thinking you could not see her, but leaving her kill zone exposed?
Remember forgetting your safety harness before you cut the limbs that were in the way of your climb, realizing as you regrouped that you were looking at a buck who was staring back at you, and whom you killed with a perfect shot the next day?
Remember the last time you squeezed as the target blurred, let the shot surprise you, and learned afterward that you not killed one gobbler, but two?
Remember the peacock that strutted in front of your stand, spooking the buck that then decided to come in anyway? the squeal of a piglet and the thundering of heavy hooves when you bust a sounder out of a swamp? the thunk of your arrow in your quarry?
Remember your close calls in the last archery competition? The sportsmanship of your competitors? The wind flipping your target up just as you shot? And your ultimate win?
Remember the swamp water coming over your rubber boots, your decision to invest in waders at last, and your heart jumping as your massive quarry exploded from the marsh grasses, watching his antlers rise and disappear as he leaped from hillock to hillock? Do you remember what you considered as
you planned your strategy, and ultimately outsmarted him?
Many of our best stories are in our hunting past, but if they are really great stories, they need telling. For example, what is the cleverest thing you have done that resulted in harvesting game? The luckiest? What buck took the longest to beat? Which required the most grueling effort?
Let’s inspire our readers. Let's tell them why we hunt by sharing our victories!
Thank you to my friend and skilled professional writer and editor Niki Mitchell.
She nipped here and tucked there, always with a light, elegant touch.
Thank you, Niki.
Some of nature’s most skilled hunters are women. Female lions, hyenas, and black widow spiders are examples. Some of the most dynamic and commanding writers are women. Here at WomenHunters, you can combine these to tell powerful stories about your hunting adventures.
I am so excited that you are reading this, because it means that you are not only a woman hunter, but also you want to make your readers feel the power and beauty in your stories!
Some of us write all the time, or we might write only when it is time to turn in an article to WomenHunters. THAT DOES NOT MATTER. 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 have been a professional nonfiction writer and editor for 27 years—and I still read articles, take courses, and study other writers' techniques, because I want to keep improving.
Also, I write all the time on many topics to keep my "ear." Note the choice of word: Whereas an artist practices to keep her "hand," and a photographer to keep her "eye," a writer develops her "ear."
I. THE WRITING PROCESS
For best results, find someone to care for the baby, children, or pets. Ask not to be disturbed for a set period of time, close the door, and sit at your computer. If you have voice input, hook up your mike and get comfy. Remember to speak clearly and add punctuation to avoid doing it later.
A. BRAIN DUMP. The method for writing articles varies most depending on the type of article you are writing. Some describe (tell about something), others prescribe (tell you how to do something), and some, like this one, do both.
1) Descriptive Articles. These tell about something: a hunt, a person, or event. Field staff can also write about products and organizations. Most articles at WomenHunters.com are descriptive.
a. If you know what you want to write about, go to the next paragraph. If not, but you want or need to write an article, then pick a hunt, person, or event and start listing or sketching what you remember about it. Once you choose what to write, go to the next paragraph.
b. Once you know what you want to write, just do it. Let your facts and feelings flow out onto the screen without reordering or correcting them. Keep moving! What you are writing now is a brain dump. It should be raw. Note ideas for other articles, but keep the energy going on this one. Get it all out in one sitting if you can.
2) Prescriptive (How-To) Articles. These tell (how) to do something. Choose something you do well, maybe even better than anyone else. You will need to write this twice. You can write about how to convert, renovate, or build something from scratch. Be sure to give an idea about costs, and suggest ways to save on materials.
a. Photograph the tools, equipment, or supplies needed.
b. If this is a conversion or renovation, take a "Before" photograph. This can be just the object or you holding or using it, or even making fun of it.
c. List equipment and tools needed.
d. List the steps in the correct order. Limit each to a single action or simple set of actions. Take close-ups of tricky steps.
e. Reread from the reader's point of view and clarify to ensure they will understand what you already know.
f. Show the finished product and say something about it. Best of all, show yourself using it!
3) Hybrid Articles. This article is an example of a hybrid article, because it both describes different aspects of writing, it also prescribes how to write.
B. INCUBATION. Have you ever wondered why US presidents golf or fish during the worst crises? They do it because midcast or midswing is when they figure out what they need to do. The same is true for us. For example, I know this article is long, so every six months or so, I come back to it to see if I can shorten it without reducing its effectiveness. During this time, I think about everything BUT the article. I forget it exists and just live my life. It works. The first two versions of this article were much longer than this one.
C. ORGANIZATION. The subject matter dictates the organization. Once I organize the information, I add suitable transitions and correct errors of logic as I find them.
Time (order of occurrence)
Priority or Cost
D. WRAP-UP. 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? Then 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 ideally to both inform and entertain you.
II. COMMON ISSUES
Now let's look at some specific areas where I have to watch myself and where I see other writers sometimes run into trouble:
A. PARAGRAPHS. Start paragraph by stating what the rest of the paragraph will support and the final sentence conclude. Break up long paragraphs at logical transition points such as when the person or speaker, location, time, scene, or content focus changes.
B. SENTENCES. Here are some tips:
1. Keep sentences under 30 words.
2. Alternate sentence length to add punch and keep the reader's attention from straying.
3. Avoid run-on sentences. That is, break up any sentence containing more than one complete thought.
4. 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.
C. CASE. Rules change. We as a society learn better techniques for communication. For example, my teachers said not to use "I," and instead to use "one" (stuck up) or "you" (who is the listener, not the speaker, so how can you be the one in my story?)
Guess that leaves me. After all, I'm the only person who can tell you what happened to me, and I am the only person who knows what I know or did.
Wrong: "One believes in one shot one kill" or
Wrong: "You believe in one shot one kill" (how would I know that?), but
Right: "I believe in one shot one kill."
But we can mix it up:
I picked up my round and watched as he did the same.
I raised my rifle slowly, but the deer saw me and crawled off.
D. 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)
Right: Bowsights are [plural] critical. They are [plural] the means… (consistent)
Exception: Most bowsights adjust with screws, but my bowsight… (comparing many to one)
E. 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 ...
Wrong: I picked up my gun [past] and then I see the buck [present]
Right: I picked up my gun [past] and then I saw the buck [past]
F. 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. 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.
Powerful: I LOVE HUNTING.
Fluffy: On the other hand, at that point in time, WE DID THIS.
Powerful: Then, WE DID THIS.
G. 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.
Then I have cheated you of a story. But what if I remember what really happened, walk through it, picture it as it happened, and describe that to you...
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, so 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. I was still legal, but not for long. The shadows were lengthening into solid gray, darker and darker.
The buck showed no signs of relocating for my convenience. It was the last day of the hunt, so I decided I had nothing to lose by risking cautious movement—other than the fact that I was in a ridiculously high, narrower than believable, aluminum ladder stand. I eased to a standing position, turned to the tree (you can imagine how slowly), and then I climbed up and stood 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. There he stood, within range and at a perfect angle—had I kept my seat.
Did I take the shot? You bet! I missed him, but it was close. But like the saying goes, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. Still, it was an exhilarating hunt.
"Style over substance" – I imagine I have to pay for every word I write, but I still have to tell my story. What words should I keep?
"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.
I. 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.
J. 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.
K. HUMOR. Never try to be funny, but if you are, great! Humor can be very effective, provided it does not sound forced.
L. THE PERFECT WORDS. It is probably a good time to say this: All writers assembled groups of 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.
Kathleen Kalina’s article about making a bowfishing boat jumped to the top ten articles--out of over a thousand articles--within a month of publication. Why? Because Kathleen told people how to do something valuable. So what makes a great how-to article? What makes Kathleen's article a great how-to article?
People want or need to know what is in it.
It is well organized.
It is easy to read and understand.
It is generously and clearly illustrated.
The materials are affordable and easily obtainable.
VISUAL HOW-TO ARTICLE
by Jill Christensen
These are instructions for building a Whatsit from inexpensive materials and using tools you probably already have in your toolbox. You can use your Whatsit in your garage (Steps 1 through 3) or weatherize it for outdoor use (Step 4).
[This article illustrates a visual means of presenting lists and steps as an alternative to a series of paragraphs punctuated by illustrations. Both styles are effective. The choice is the writer's.]
When you finish, you will have a sturdy whatsit that will do this or that, depending on which method you choose to build it. In the first section, we will tell you what materials you will need to build a whatsit. In the second, we will provide the steps for building a Whatsit.
1 Round trash can with lid
2 Nuts, bolts, and washers (brass)
1 Caulk gun
2 Tubes of cheap acrylic caulk (fresh)
4 Building grade pine 2 x 4 x 10s
1 2 foot square piece of plywood
Note: Avoid any wood with excessive knots as these will reduce the load the wood can handle.
If you are going to use your Whatsit in your garage, then you only need to follow Steps 1 through 3. However, if you want to use your Whatsit outdoors, you must also do Step 4, Weatherize.
1. Do this…
2. Do that…
3. Do the other…