Writing by the Numbers

Mar 26, 2006Write!

I thought I’d revisit some past posts about writing here. These small vignettes were taken from my RelevantProse newsletter. If you are a writer who is interested in receiving a monthly writing newsletter filled with tips like these, feel free to hop on over to my website here.

So, here we go. Ready?


  1. Become a columnist. Work for smaller magazines (regional) and newspapers. A weekly column may not bring in tons of money, but it is steady and will help you establish a weekly deadline.
  2. Edit. Hire yourself out for freelance editing projects. Start small. For the first few large projects, do them for free. And then branch out.
  3. Make friends with magazine editors. Next time you’re at a conference, sit at a magazine editor’s table and ask lots of questions. Meet with him/her. Establish rapport. Over the past four years, I’ve established good relationships with four or five editors. Sometimes, they approach ME for a story!!!
  4. Consider write-for-hire work. It’s a one-time shot and you get paid. If you do it well, perhaps a house will consider you in the future.


  1. Develop a thick skin. Realize you will receive a lot of criticism over the span of your career. Know the truth that criticism is much more useful BEFORE you turn something in than when it sits on a bookshelf. Learn to welcome criticism like trials: as welcomed friends to hone your words.
  2. Read it out loud. You’ll catch a lot of mistakes.
  3. Join a critique group, one that meets regularly, chock full of serious, publication-pursuing writers who aren’t afraid to tell the truth.
  4. Lose the love affair you have with high-falutin’ language. Just tell the story, say the idea, explain the concept. Flowery words convolute good sentences. Love your reader enough to be willing to disappear. You’re not loving your reader if your prose stops them, if he stumbles over your verbiage. A reader should forget about the author and be absorbed instead into the book.
  5. Don’t settle. If you know your manuscript isn’t ready, don’t just throw it out of editors hoping something will stick. Tough it out. Wrangle with your paragraphs. Make that puppy sing.
  6. Lean toward telling stories rather than preaching.
  7. Write so much your fingers hurt. The more you write, the more polished you’ll become. The key to good writing is discipline.
  8. Experience life in the midst of it all. Engage. Love. Cry. Laugh. Be with people. The more you experience others, the more authentic your prose.


  1. FICTION. Wanted: Strong characters. Must have realistic dialogue that shuns the mundane (No “Yeah, I know,” or “I would like to get raw hamburger from the fridge” or “Horses are animals.”). All characters within one book must sound different from each other. Protagonists must be over-the-top interesting, with surprising choices, outlandish thoughts, and yet possess an everyman (woman) sense. Villains should have some redeeming qualities, not Hitler-ish. Cliche characters need not apply. Neither should cardboard folks, anyone sounding like Jack Ryan or Anne of Green Gables (they’ve been taken, thanks), or the Fantastic Four cartoon characters (which, oddly, plays on French television in English…Ever hear their dialogue? “I’m going to de-activate the atom bomb right now and then I will be saving humanity.”) Plotlines must not be formulaic or predictable.
  2. NONFICTION. Wanted: Non-foofy (Mary DeMuth patented word) prose that rings of authenticity and grit. No knock-offs allowed. Taken from the soil of grief and life and experience, this prose not only needs to emanate from the author’s heart, but appeal to the reader’s head; in other words an author must not only master the English language, but have an ardent LOVE for it. Cool and innovative turns of phrases welcome. Stories (not stolen from sermon illustration books) essential. Adverbs and adjectives will be rejected outright in lieu of strong nouns and active, interesting verbs. The idea must be fresh, different, surprising. Finish well. No tacking on emails at the end of manuscript for filler.

There you go. Fourteen things to improve your writing and line your pocketbook!