Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Guest Post: Exercise and Be Fit for any Writing Problem

I once knew a woman who was famous in her local gym. This lady was reminiscent of a female Ironman.  She is whom you want to know when you need to open a stubborn pickle jar.  She works out four times a week.  So I asked her one-day for advice on my abs.  In reality, I was just making conversation.  I anticipated that she would tell me to do a couple hundred crunches and to stop eating so much Taco Bell.

I will never forget her reply.  She said, and I quote:  “Do you want to work on your obliques, or your abdominus muscles? “  Apparently, there are six different muscles that make up the stomach region.  Each muscle has a specific function.  In order to target the desired region, I would need to alter my exercise regimen to concentrate my efforts.  Well, in just you were wondering, it was my rectus abdominus that I wanted to tone.   However, to get the chiseled look that I was hoping for, it would take a daily routine of consistent effort.

Writing is much the same.  It takes a concentrated, regular effort.  In the course of my duties at Grammarly, I have been able to talk to many successful writers.  They have shared some writing exercises that have helped them to overcome writing problem areas.  Here are a few exercises that will have you metaphorically opening pickle jars with the best of them.

Problem 1: Flabby Phrases
Target Exercises:  On the website of The Purdue Online Writing Lab, three activities are featured that are designed to help you to identify and eliminate wordiness from writing.   The previous sentence is wordy, right?  After practicing with the activities, I am more aware of unnecessary and redundant information.  A better sentence:  The Purdue Online Writing Lab features three activities designed to help you eliminate wordiness.  Try your hand: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/exercises/6/9/

Problem 2: Zits and Imperfections
Target Exercises:  Spelling and grammar errors do more than detract from a document.  These small errors can cost time and money.  If you send a manuscript full of errors to a publisher, it will decrease its chances of being accepted.   If you become aware of errors that you regularly make, you can seek to avoid these negative habits.  Use this free proofreading service.   Cut and paste a paragraph or two into the box.  The free version provides a list of probable errors that have been detected in your document.  For example, it may suggest that a subject and verb agreement error exists.   Check each sentence in the paragraph until you find the problem.  As after a workout, you can reward yourself to a banana.  I am sure potassium is good for writers, too.                                                 
Problem 3: Flat characters
Target Exercise:  The Writer’s Craft offers seventeen ways to get in touch with your characters.  They cheated a bit, because the first four are really the same: Read, read, read, and reread books.  When you choose a few books to focus on for this activity, include a couple that you did not like or did not finish.  By doing character sketches, you will notice what characteristics attract and repel you. Once you have researched the characters in several published novels, you will have a better idea of what types of characters maintain and repel the interest of the reader.  Jodi Cushing posted a list of one hundred questions.  After 100 questions, you will probably know your character better than you know your partner!

If you are willing to do the work, you can tone your writing muscles.  These are only a few of the most common problems that writers face.   Do not suffer through rejections without investigating whether a little exercise might not help you.   Consult with a developmental editor and ask them to make suggestions for improvement.   Equipped with the knowledge of your flaws, you can target each one with the appropriate exercises.  You won’t even need to buy a gym membership!

Bio: Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.

A guest post from Grammarly.
All images courtesy of Fotolia

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