Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

May 15, 2014 10:00 am

Writing Tips: Avoiding Plagiarism

Research = Good. Plagiarizing?? Not so much!


The risk of plagiarism is a deep, dark fear in many writers’ hearts. After all, in the creative writing world, all depends on your reputation and ability for original thought and imaginative, inventive, expression.

And you never want to lose your good reputation for, “…. good opinion, once lost, is lost forever” And yes … we did copy that from a book! After all, who could say it better than Jane? Did we plagiarize it? No, Sirree. We quoted a short excerpt, are attributing it to Jane Austen and including the fact that it comes from Pride and Prejudice, although you already knew that.

In a world where many have claimed with justification that there are really only seven main basic plots, it might seem inevitable that the same old thing, written in the same old way would just keep on re-appearing, one author plagiarizing from the last.

Yet it does not. Every year, countless books are written with fresh variations on these themes, variations that are original, compelling and narrate a story in a unique way. Here’s the thing. If the words come from your own head, even when based on research from previously printed facts or fiction, you can relax. They’ll be original and you will be safe from criticism.

You can liken it to the infinite variety of faces we raise to the sun. Basically, we all have pretty much the same main features. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth. Yet those few features are reproduced in many billions of different ways that result in instantly recognizable unique faces.

We humans are a complex, infinitely variable lot and our thoughts and experiences are just as infinite. So relax. If you are not copying, you won’t be plagiarizing.


developing characters

It’s early morning, the beginning of the two hours uninterrupted writing time you had sworn to yourself to undertake. You are at your desk, eyes-wide, heart hammering, straight backed, a cup of tea in hand, a blank screen before you.  You are going to start developing characters for a new story for a creative writing competition.

Step No. 1

Do NOT get up to: make the beds, make sure the plants have been watered, phone your mother/best friend, wash the floors, go shopping, clear out cupboards, wash the car, or do any of the multitude of excellent other tasks that suddenly issue their siren calls to you.

That is procrastination. That is not a good thing.

Back to writing, then. Sigh. Writing is such a huge job. Where do I start?

Let’s, “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

Then let’s proceed from there, step by small step.

OK. Let’s think about options. What premise shall you choose? After all, you don’t have to pick something earth shattering. How about two women, strangers, sitting side-by-side in a train en route for New York?  Hmm. Might be interesting if you can flesh them out and make them intriguing. You just checked the Washington DC- New York time schedules online. The trip is three hours so that journey would give them time to chat, reveal their problems and backgrounds and reflect on life together.

Who are they? Hmm. As the all-powerful creator here, you can opt to make these women whatever you choose. Let’s make it interesting. Let’s make one a glamorous and still beautiful 60 year old Muslim Iranian woman who came to the US from the Middle East many years ago. No headscarf, she is not a practicing Muslim although she still identifies.  Let’s make her fellow passenger a Jewish woman, also clearly prosperous, not as beautiful, whose family came as immigrants from Russia a hundred years ago. They both cleave to their respective histories and ancestors.

Can they find middle ground? We-e-ll, they both live in Washington, that’s one thing. How about you make the Iranian a woman who married a non-religious Jewish husband? How about she has never really felt accepted by his family? That will introduce some tension! How about they are both going to New York to visit their respective sons? That will give you the chance to introduce the sons and make them part of the history if you want to.

Let’s make one son a conventional New York go-getter with a career in finance. Let’s make the other one a New World entrepreneur.  How about you give him a site selling shoes online? (Seems crazy, but those sites do very well).

What? They both have new, serious girlfriends who the mothers are going to meet for the first time over dinner that night?

Well, well, well, that’s an alluring premise, they really do have things in common. Both are nervous as can be at the prospect of meeting these important new women in their sons’ lives. Lots of readers will empathize with that.

You are starting to get interested in this story. Coffee time yet? No thanks. You are too busy creating. You are working step-by-step and you are enjoying it!




April 17, 2014 12:00 am

Writing Tips: Sharpen Email Messages

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

I have made this (letter) longer because I did not have the time to make it shorter.

Blaise Pascal, 1656*



Years ago, schoolchildren learned how to write letters by hand. You know, the kind where you folded the paper, popped the sheets in an envelope, wrote the recipient’s address and mailed the thing. Any postal worker will now tell you that the volume of first class mail has fallen through the floor. Nobody writes personal letters any more unless they are locked in a time warp. Indeed, nobody writes inter-office memos on paper anymore. We all get email.

The problem with email is the volume. Each of us has a stack to go through every day even after we’ve sent the junk to the trash.  How can you be sure that people will take your email messages seriously?

Let’s not worry about email written for marketing purposes. Let’s focus on email that’s the equivalent of an inter-office memo. Here’s a simple three-step approach to ensure your messages are read and understood.

1. First write your email.

Subject: Please Fix Australian Shipment

Hi Joe,

I just want to let you know that the shipment you sent to Australia is trapped in customs. For some reason – and it seems to be random checking – the customs agents have decided to do a special inspection of the crates of engine parts you sent over. Sunnyvale Aircraft Engineering called me to complain about the late delivery which is how I got wind of the situation. Can you phone the customs agents in Sydney to try and get the shipment out of there? While the shipment is sitting in the warehouse, we’re incurring heavy storage charges. Can you also call Francine Jones at Sunnyvale to let her know what’s happening? I think it’s bad luck on our part but we’ve got to do our best to keep the customer happy. Please let me know how you get on.



2. Highlight the important parts.

writing tips

3. Edit, focusing on the highlights

Subject: Fix Australian Shipment

Hi Joe,

The shipment of engine parts sent to Australia is trapped in customs. Sunnyvalr Aircraft Engineering has complained about the late delivery.

Can you phone the customs agents in Sydney to get the shipment released? We’re incurring heavy storage charges.

Please call Francine Jones at Sunnyvale to let her know what’s happening.

Let me know how you get on.



Note that the text is much shorter and almost in point form. Joe should easily understand what he has to do.

This may seem like a tedious approach but with practice, you’ll very quickly be able to write the short, point-form version as a matter of course.

Do you have any tips of your own for writing short, concise emails? Share them in the comments!


April 11, 2014 10:00 am

Writing Tips: Thinking a Year Ahead

Writing for newspapers, magazines and the Internet

writing tips

Yes. You may be busy creating the greatest novel of the 21st Century. That’s great. However, you should consider the advantages of helping to pay your everyday bills with simple “filler” pieces for newspapers and magazines too. You just have to think ahead.

Newspapers, magazines and the whole world of electronic sites are hungry, available markets for writers.  Remember, they need lots of “stuff” on a daily basis to fill their pages. And submissions do not all have to be high-powered articles that offer great political and philosophical insight. You just have to think ahead. 

Remember. The bigger the publication, the longer the timeline.

Here we are in April 2014. Think like it’s April 2015, Baby! You should now be planning, writing and submitting your terrific piece on the history of April Fool’s Day for next year. Have you got your article on the extravagant Easter Bonnets of the 1920s ready for publication at Easter next year?

What about that story about the most extravagant Hallowe’en parties in your area? You’ve been meaning to write it for a long time. The event planners all have their photos from last year. They’d be delighted to share them with you for a piece about Hallowe’en  this year. It’s never too early.

And finally, how about Christmas? You could be just in the nick of time for submission this year if you check in with the big industry buyers to see what the decorating trends for Christmas 2014 will be. After all, they made all their buying decisions more than a year ago!

Do you have any writing tips to add? Share them in the comments!


writing tips

Gene Fowler, the American journalist, and dramatist said it best, “Writing is easy. You just sit staring at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

We all know that feeling. If Gene were writing today, he’d have us all staring at a blank screen instead of that awful piece of paper, but we’re still all sitting there, trying our best. Good writing, after all, does not come easily. Mostly, it’s hard work. Mostly it’s a lonely business.

Even the best writers sometimes have to go even further than Gene suggested. Blood, and sweat and tears may help to achieve that compelling prose.

When you are at your lowest and think you will never get there, it can be helpful to see how others do it.

A mentor is a great help. At Winghill, we give you the structure of a course as well as  a mentor to support you.

In blogs, many other writers are generous with their time and knowledge. Look around online, you’ll find thousands of blogs covering many thousands of creative topics. Find the ones that you feel best support you in your work.

Here are some free ones that we really like. Some deal with specific topics or specialty writing tips. Others are more general in nature. They’ll all take you by the hand and help you to realize that you are not alone.

John August is a highly successful scriptwriter with credits like the Charley’s Angels movies, Corpse Bride and Big Fish to his name.  His blog is full of how-to information and up-to-the-minute trade news. If you are interested in screen writing, John’s a great guy to read.

At Make a Living Writing, Carol Trice offers, “practical advice for hungry writers.” You’ll find lots of solid, practical tips here on how to get by in the competitive writing world.

At Writers Helping Writers, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi do just that. A recent blog post contains a fabulous article on how to give your fictional characters terrible emotional wounds – from which you can help them to recover, or… lacerate them remorselessly forever. Who said you have no power!?

Jon Bard’s blog is a fabulous compilation of tips and advice on the creative process AND the business end of writing in an important specialty area – writing for children.

An excellent blog to visit daily just as its name implies. Put your bum on your chair. Open up dailywriting Spend a pleasant fifteen minutes browsing about how other writers do it. Then start the hard work yourself…until the blood drips from your forehead! And talking of horror…..

Keith Pyeatt can evoke shudders with the best of ‘em. At his Horror With Heart blog, he reminds us that anti-heros can still be worthy of sympathy and feel, as Keith says, “like old friends.” And there’s the true heart of horror. It could happen to any of us. Aaaaaaaagghh!


March 20, 2014 12:00 am

Writing Tips: Get the Engine Rolling!

Perspiration? Inspiration? What gets your writing work accomplished??

Writers all need creativity, that spark of an idea that sets you on the path to writing something worthwhile. Yes. Inspiration is important. Unfortunately, you have to be able to get from the gem of an idea to the fully written text. That’s not so easy. That’s hard work.

How do you get through the agony of writing to the ecstasy of having written?

Here are some tried and true writing tips to help you through that hard graft.  Do you have some good tips to share? Let us know. We all want to share and hear.

1. Remember: Planning and Preparation are crucial parts of writing. Pre-write before you actually write.

You would not plan a dinner party without thinking about who to invite, considering if they will get on well together, then developing your menu carefully, and going out to buy the necessary ingredients. In the same way, don’t expect simply to be able to sit down in front of your computer, get hit with an idea out of the blue, and be able to start writing effectively.

Spend time in the pre-writing stage. Develop your ideas. Reflect on what you want to say. Once you have clarified this in your mind, you’ll be able to set the ideas down much more readily. Some of our best writing is done while relaxed in a hot bathtub!

2. Introduce some schedules into your daily writing.

We humans are creatures of habit. We like to be scheduled. That’s why we divide our lives into weeks, months, years. It’s why we recognize birthdays and anniversaries. It’s why we set up timetables. You don’t have to be crazily officious about it, but do establish a more or less regular daily writing schedule for yourself at whatever time of day suits you best. Then stick to your schedule even on days when the words just won’t come easily.  If 7am to 11am is your designated writing time, those four hours should find you sitting at your computer most days. Regular scheduling oils the wheels of creativity and turns your writing into a serious proposition.

3. Learn from Others. Read, Read, And Read Some More.

If you consider yourself a writer, you should also consider yourself (and be) an avid reader. Read your most beloved authors. Read them with a professional eye and ear. Read them as a writer. You have teachers all around you. Use them. Keep their books close at hand. Read them for stimulation and motivation. Why do you – enjoy, learn from, lose yourself in, respect – each author’s work? How can you learn from their styles to improve your own writing?

4. Don’t Worry About the Huge Task Ahead.

Do not get so concerned about the massive project you have undertaken that you cannot get started on it. Worry just about the next few steps. Nail Gaiman says it best in an article he wrote for the Guardian, “Write one word. Then write the next word.” What will you accomplish in today’s scheduled work? That’s enough to worry about for today.  After all, in a year of worrying about the next word, you’ll find you have worried through a whole book! Right?? Write!

5. Editing Works. Never Imagine that Your First Draft Will be Your Last Draft.

Write. Leave some time to allow yourself to fall out of love with what you have written. Go back. Read it again. Edit it.  Most good writers use this process. Stick with the process.

What gets your writing engine rolling?

Let us know some of your favorite writing tips and tricks in the comments!


Creative writing, we all know, requires a bit more than creativity to design and invent characters that are three-dimensional and anything but transient. Though it often seems like work, proper drafting and creating of these characters can be, and should be, an adventure worth the daily grind. To help you in this venture, here are a few foolproof ways to flesh out your characters and write a story that everyone will want to read:

1. Figure out the role each character plays in your piece.

Imagine you are a journalist about to interview someone for a story. To do so, you must know, ahead of time, some outline of how this person will help shape your story. Do they exist as a firsthand witness to an event or are they the victim or principal part of the story? Ask yourself what makes each of your characters important to the story and what part they have to play. This basic information will shape the remainder of your exercises.


2. Ask questions of your characters.

You’ve already narrowed down their position in your piece. Now you need to investigate who they are as people. Your object should be to understand not only their history, but how they think and interact with themselves and others. Are they introverted? Where did they go to high school? How do they decorate their bedroom? Think of it, almost, as creating a social media profile for your character. What would this person share about his/her life? How do they react to being in their hometown after a long absence?

Ask them the questions and pretend they are talking to you. That’s right. Have a conversation with your fictional characters. Doing so will allow you to better understand how they respond to the people around them. There are a number of great questionnaires online which can help with the process.

3. Develop your characters through exercises.

Before even beginning to write your story, take time to develop your characters through a variety of exercises. These should be more than simply asking questions. Now is the time to find out how they react to various situations by putting them through some extreme circumstances. How would your main character react to the unexpected death of a loved one? Have each of your characters speak about the one thing they are most passionate about. What do they know of the subject and how do they know it? Create these fictional pieces outside of your main transcript, and you’ll find that writing the actual thing becomes quite a bit easier.

Writing solid, believable characters in fictional works is incredibly important. If you want your story to last, be believable and worth repeating, your characters cannot be stagnant. By putting together these exercises and taking the time to investigate your characters, you’ll be providing your reader with characters they can relate to and view as real people.

Adrienne is a freelance writer and designer who loves learning and sharing new techniques for improving the quality of your writing. Get in touch by following @adrienneerin on Twitter or checking out her design blog.


February 20, 2014 8:19 am

Grammar Lessons with Winghill

I have a confession to make – I love grammar. And because I want you to love grammar as much as I do, I’m going to regularly talk about the most common grammar errors…and most importantly, how to avoid them.

Grammar matters. A grammatical error in your manuscript will give an editor the excuse they were looking for to toss it aside. As writers, you should be constantly brushing up on your grammar and improving your skills. So give it a try! Get started with these quick grammar lessons.

Avoid these common grammatical errors

Fewer versus Less

Fewer than half the English speaking world knows the proper way to use these confusing counters. That might be an exaggeration (we hope!), but here’s how to get it right:

Use “fewer” for things you can physically count, like oranges.  I ate fewer oranges than you.

Use “less” for things that are abstract or uncountable, like time, or grains of sand. The less time we spend at the beach, the less sand we’ll get in our shoes!

Your versus You’re

Your great grammar skills mean you’re never going to get this one wrong, right? For me, this is one of those nails on the chalkboard kind of mistakes, but it’s oh so easy to make (especially now with texting culture!).

“Your” is a possessive pronoun; use it when referring to something you own or have. Your grammar is impeccable!

“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”. You’re not going to believe the grammar mistake I saw today!

They’re versus Their versus There

The triple threat. Nothing will make the grammar fanatic angrier than seeing these used improperly. Here’s a quick breakdown of the rules:

“They’re” is a contraction of “they are”. They’re always misusing the word “there”!

“Their” is a possessive pronoun; use it when referring to something they own or have. Their grammar could use some work.

“There” refers to a place, or the existence of something (used with the verb “to be”). There are a lot of seagulls over there.

What grammar mistake drives you crazy? Leave it in a comment!


February 14, 2014 8:01 am

Writing Tips: How to Write a Memoir

The memoir is an increasingly popular form. Three parts history, one part imagination, a well-written memoir can be a window into experience that many would never otherwise have. A well-written memoir is a tricky thing, and so in this post, we’re going to tell you how to write a memoir.

Read how to write a memoir

Memoir Versus Autobiography

First thing’s first – a memoir is not an autobiography. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. Yes, you’re telling your life story in both but here’s the difference: an autobiography is an historical look at an entire life; a memoir is more concerned with theme and emotion, and can focus on one particular time or event. A memoir is not necessarily as concerned with precise facts, dates, or events. Because of that, it can sometimes read like fiction.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely read a few memoirs that I didn’t even realize were memoirs at first! I thought they were just works of fiction, and was shocked (and impressed) to learn that it was actually a true story. Now that’s good writing. Side note: I just had this experience with A Wolf at the Table, a memoir by Augusten Burroughs. Great read!

Find Your Theme

Now that we understand what a memoir is, it’s time to start writing, right? Not so fast. As with any writing, you’re going to have to do some leg-work beforehand. Specifically: determine what event or aspect of your life you want to be the focus of your memoir. Perhaps you had a difficult childhood that you would like to explore through your writing, or maybe the story of your school days is interesting or humorous. The more focused your story, the better it will be.

Because this is a personal, true story, the pre-writing process might be difficult. You’re going to have to bring up old memories that could be painful. Let yourself feel the emotions – analyze your memories, and try to see them from a perspective other than your own. Your memoir will be richer for it.

Cast Your Characters

Just like in a work of fiction, you must create engaging, dynamic, and realistic characters. Just because your characters represent real people in your life doesn’t mean they will automatically seem interesting – that’s your job as the writer. Don’t write boring characters – people aren’t boring in real life, no matter what they may seem at first. Also, don’t include every Tom, Dick, or Harry you’ve ever come across in your life. Try to stay as focused as you can.

I suggest doing a character sketch of each person you want to include in your story – figure out what makes them tick, what their defining characteristics are, what are their strengths, and what are their faults. Try to be as objective as you can, and pepper these little details throughout your story for more three-dimensional characters.


Depending on how you’re writing your memoir, your research will probably include talking to family members or other people who were in your life at the time of your story. Look through old photographs, read old letters and journals, and anything else you can get your hands on. Go through the newspapers from the time to put your life into context of major world events.

Research is an important step, and not one to be passed over. It can help trigger memories you didn’t even know you had, and fill in gaps in your narrative.

Take a Course

When it comes to writing, guidance is always a plus. It gives your writing structure, and is also a great motivator to get words on paper.

Winghill Writing School offers an entire course in Memoir Writing, which will take you through the writing process with the help of your very own personal tutor. Learn more about the course here.

Classic Memoirs to Add to Your Reading List

Read a few of these great memoirs, and learn from the best! As you’re reading, determine what you find engaging about their stories, and where you lose interest.

–          Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
–          Night, Elie Wiesel
–          Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
–          A Million Little Pieces, James Frey
–          Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen
–          The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
–          A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
–          I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou


February 6, 2014 8:44 am

Essential Tips for Great Writing

A great writer can be working on their craft even when they’re not writing. How so? It’s all about making simple changes to your day to live a writing lifestyle. Read on for some essential tips for great writing.

Essential tips for writing

Read daily

A good writer must be a good reader. Reading ensures that you expand your mind as well as generate new techniques that are used in the field of writing. Reading must not necessarily be narrowed down to your area of interest, but should cover a diverse range of fields.

Write daily

To be a good writer, your greatest companions should be a pen and a piece of paper (or a laptop for the technological among us). Write anything – be it a shopping list, a to-do list, or a weekly diary (or blog). This will motivate you to write something constructive and keep your interest in writing peaked.

Expand your vocabulary and grammar

Vocabulary and grammar go hand-in-hand and they can be easily mastered by completing the first two tips.

Be well informed

Your desire to write might not translate into a good piece of work if you do not possess the right information and know-how on your subject. Research as much as you can at the beginning so you are well armed for the future. You might need some inspiration in the middle of writing. If so, just check your brainstorming session notes again.

Never plagiarize

You must acknowledge every source that you have based your writing on. You must not directly copy another writer’s ideas, words, and/or sentences without using proper citation.

Speed it up

A good writer must be able to write his or hers ideas quickly, because ideas start to fade away as your body and brain get tired. The faster you can write it down, the more you will get done in one sitting… simple!

Be specific to your audience

If your writing is intended for adults, make sure it stays on point. If it is for students, start-up professionals, or any other group, let your language and tone target them specifically.

Readers should learn something useful from your writing

Your writing should not be ambiguous. You need to make sure that your readers have something to read that benefits them in some way. A boring piece of writing is not only a snooze fest but is also a waste of time, so educate your readers!

Make it easy to understand and summarize

It should be easy to summarize your work or be able point out a general theme or thought from your work. Try and make your writing ‘have a statement’ that your readers will take away and remember.

Love your work

If you want people to appreciate your writing, you must remember that charity begins at home, so love your work. If you don’t love your work, then find out why and get back on track. If you love it, they will!

Student writing help and writing guides brought to you by Jacob Jennings.


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