On Writing Well: 6 Tips on a Successful Public Reading.

For a lot of writers, the idea of public speaking is terrifying. They are a lot more comfortable with being behind the scenes, writing and editing. But there are many advantages to reading your own work out loud to receptive strangers. You get to engage with an audience, your work is heard, and you might sell copies of your book.

But public readings have their own set of required skills. Here are my top six tips on how to conduct a successful public reading.

Speak clearly and loudly: This is really the only important piece of advice: Be heard! If you whisper, or speak so low that no one can hear, or garble your words so that they are incomprehensible, your reading will disappoint your audience. So speak up clearly into the microphone.

Use pace: Try to read slower than your normal speaking pace. Your audience is trying to follow all you say, and your material is unknown to them. Pace yourself so that your listeners have a chance to follow your words. But if there is an especially exciting section within your story, feel free to quicken your pace to reflect that feeling of excitement.

Use your voice: Dramatize your reading to make it more memorable. If you have dialogue in your piece, read those in the voices of the characters. If one of your characters has a foreign accent, use that accent. This is theater! Don’t be too shy to act the part.

Make eye contact: Look up from your reading once in a while to engage with your audience. Make eye contact with a couple of folks. Perhaps ask a friend or two to attend with you, so that you can look at them frequently while you read.

Practice: Practice your reading a few times at home, both before friends and family and in front of the mirror. Ask your friends to watch your body language and remember to smile after you have finished your reading.

But most importantly of all, remember to have fun! It’s your writing, your words, there’s no way you can get this wrong!

Good luck!

On Writing Well: Writing the Ending

For a lot of people, crafting conclusions is the hardest part of writing. Writers from all genres find endings harder to write than any other part of the work, and the dread is entirely understandable. After all, the conclusion is our last point of contact with the reader, and as writers, we strive to make that especially engaging and memorable.

Beyond the emotional implication of the endings, in the final section writers wish to leave a lasting impression on the reader. A good ending should also tie up the loose plot threads in a work of fiction, and evoke a sense of completeness in a non-fiction piece.

Here are some basic tips on writing the conclusive piece:

 

For fiction:

One of my favorite endings in fiction is from Gone with the Wind, where Scarlett O’Hara says: “Tara. Home. I’ll go home…. After all, tomorrow is another day.” In one short sentence, the author manages to say so much. In your fiction, don’t be afraid to end in a similar note, where you:

  • Evoke a larger image: Scarlett’s quote is larger than Scarlett herself. It brings up a sense of nostalgia, courage, optimism, and grace, all at once. It is an apt ending to a gorgeous novel.
  • End with dialogue or description: Using a quote or a description as an ending is extraordinarily satisfactory. Endings of these sorts are almost always charming and graceful, and leaves the reader feeling very fulfilled.

For non-fiction:

  • Point to larger implications: In a work of non-fiction, the conclusion is a great place to talk about the abiding influence of the thesis you present in your earlier text. This kind of ending is especially pertinent for academic writing.
  • Ask a question of the reader: Asking a provoking question of your reader is an engaging and memorable way to finish a piece.  It involves the reader in a non-threatening way, and often gets more response than other sorts of conclusions.  This form of ending is especially helpful for blogs, essays or online writings, where you’d like to get reader response by way of comments.

Image by shutterhacks on flickr

On Writing Well: How to Research Your Writing

Pia Chatterjee

One of the hardest things about writing is research.  Beyond creating polished writing, you also want to make sure that you know what you are writing about. And this can be hard work.

Sometimes the research is simple. If you are writing about a recipe, all you have to do is cook the meal again to estimate measurements and cooking times.

But some research is a lot harder. For example, if you are writing about a character who lives in London or San Francisco, and you’ve never been there, it’s impossible to spring for a ticket, just for the sake of your story. This is when knowing how to research  (for free!) becomes valuable.

Social media: Say your story requires you to know how much a pound of rice costs in India, or the name of the best school in Israel. These sorts of small factoids are best researched via social media. Once, in the pre-Facebook era, when I wanted to know how much an underage illegal worker could earn in Calcutta in the early ‘90s, I asked my mother who then interviewed someone who might know the answer. Today, I would spare her the trouble, and ask my friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, to essentially crowdsource my query.

Internet: The Internet has made life incredibly easy for researchers. Wikipedia is a gold mine of information that I hope every writer employs. For writers who are working on events that occurred several years ago, newspapers like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal also have archives that can offer details of daily news as far back as ten years ago, and maybe used as a resource. If you are writing about a far away place, and want to know a bit more about the topography or street details of the place, you could easily employ Google’s very helpful Google earth or Google street view.

Libraries and librarians: While a lot of people believe that librarians only check out and shelve books, librarians are actually trained to answer complicated questions and help you find the resources for research. The local librarian is possibly the best free resource that many writers overlook.

Trying it yourself: There are certain things that you have to actually experience before you can write about it. To write effectively on recipes, DIY projects, sports, etc., you do have to actually cook the meal, finish the project, or engage in the sport. Without experiencing these, your writing will sound superficial and not engage  your readers in the way you’d like it to.

On Writing Well: An Interview with Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords

As a part of our On Writing Well series we reached out to Mark Coker, the CEO and founder of Smashwords, an eBook publishing company. As so many of our Hubbers have literary ambitions and given the growing success of eBooks, I believe that Mark’s advice on writing well will be very valuable to our community.  His advice on editing, writing, and publishing are very accurate and wise. Thanks Mark for sharing your story with HubPages’ writers!

1. What would the best advice you’d offer writers about the writing process?
Writing is the easy part.  Editing and revision is the difficult part, because that’s where masterpieces are made.  Writers should strive for masterpiece, in the sense that you must honor the reader with a great story.  When my wife and I wrote our novel, Boob Tube, the first draft was nearly 200,000 words.  It took us three years and nearly a dozen major revisions to trim it down to its current svelte 86,000 words.  Each revision was grueling and painful, but the new draft that emerged each time was better.

2. How important is it for a writer to have community support?
Without community, writers are writing in a vacuum.  It’s more important than ever for writers to work together to share knowledge and experience.  Writing is a craft and a skill you will hone your entire lifetime.  Surround yourself with writers greater than yourself.  Be a sponge and learn from them, and then return the favor by sharing your knowledge with your fellow writers.  When writers work to contribute to their fellow writers’ success, new doors of opportunity open for everyone.

3. Tell us about Smashwords and why you started it.
Smashwords is probably the largest eBook publishing and distribution platform for indie authors.  In the last three years, we’ve helped over 22,000 authors from around the world publish and distribute over 55,000 eBooks.  Most of the biggest names in indie publishing are Smashwords authors.

The idea for Smashwords grew out of my experience as an author.  My wife and I were fortunate enough to have representation by one of New York’s most respected literary agencies, yet after two years they were unable to sell our book to a New York publisher.  Our book explores the wild and wacky world of daytime television soap operas (my wife is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly Magazine).  Publishers questioned whether there was a large enough commercial market for a book targeting soap opera fans.  Previous soap opera-themed novels had fared poorly.  They all rejected us.

As you might imagine, it was a disappointing experience.  My wife and I had put our lives on hold to spend four years on this novel. We pour our hearts and souls into it. Our beta readers loved it.  Yet publishers had the power to deny us a chance to reach readers.

After much contemplation, I came to the conclusion that the business of New York book publishing was broken.  Publishers are unable to take a risk on every author.  They say no to most authors.  They reject great authors.  They look at what sold well yesterday then acquire imitation titles today that they’ll then publish 12-18 months from tomorrow.  It’s a backward looking business that stifles creativity and limits reader choice.

With Smashwords, I saw an opportunity to create an online publishing platform that would allow any author, anywhere in the world, to professionally publish an eBook. We launched the business in 2008, and then in the following year we expanded into distribution.  We now distribute our books to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and several others.

5. What is your favorite thing about HubPages?
I like the democratic aspect of HubPages.  HubPages is doing for web content what Smashwords is doing for eBooks.  You’re providing a free publishing platform that helps connect writers with readers.  The best writers who honor their readers with words worth reading will float to the top, attract more readers and earn more income.  I see services such as HubPages and Smashwords as mutually complementary tools to help writers build readership and grow their platforms.

[Thanks, Mark Coker!]

On Writing Well: Becoming an Interesting Writer

Very often, while I am reading articles on similar topics, I find myself drawn strongly to one, while skimming through or getting bored with others. While these articles often deal with identical topics that I am inherently interested in, there are writers whose voice, treatment of a topic, way of involving the reader are so well-done, that I read their articles right to the end, recommend them on facebook, and tweet them to my friends.

Many Hubbers share my feelings. Cagsil says, “The only thing that matters to me is how the article flows. If it is disjointed in the first few paragraphs, then regardless of the rest, I won’t continue reading.” RebekahELLE says “ I think the most interesting Hubs can be about any topic, but the ones that grab my attention are written with the author’s own unique style. I can almost ‘hear’ the author as I read.”

To belong to this memorable group of scribes, here are a few tactics that I think work well –

  • Use conversation and anecdotes as well as statistics: We are more prone to believe numbers and statistics. Yet, ironically, we are bored by them. Anecdotes on the other hand are less credible, but somehow we land up reading them to the end, and remembering them a lot longer than we remember statistics. To be interesting, use both sets of points – numbers to lend yourself authority, and anecdotes to make yourself memorable.
  • Use stories to prove your point: It’s a part of our human nature to love to be told stories. The driest of details can be perked up if they are presented in the form of a story. Instead of giving more and more information, try to offer your point of view in the form of narratives.
  • Don’t use confusing words: Precipitation and rain mean the same thing. But saying “It’s precipitating ” puts every off, even geologists say “It’s raining” when talking of bad weather. Stick to simple words and a strong voice.
  • Develop your writer’s voice: This is the hardest one and therefore has been reserved until the end. Try to develop a voice worth listening to. As RebekahELLE points out an author’s unique voice goes a long way in creating interest.

On Writing Well: The Importance of Structure in Writing

Pia Chatterjee

I am an incorrigible planner. I plan everything, down to the last detail. Yet when I am writing, I forget my planning ways, and try to write spontaneously. “I’ll be creative today!” I tell myself. “Structure is for construction, not for writing.” Yet inevitably, I run out of steam and give up on my piece. But when I structure my work in advance, such a thing never happens, and both my fiction and non-fiction articles read better, are more interesting, and most importantly, I don’t put it off until another time.

Some popular ways of structuring your writing:

Inverted Pyramid approach: Most commonly used in journalism, this approach quickly gets to the most important information first, describing who, what, when, where and why in the first paragraph. The later paragraphs include less important information, with the background and general information appearing last. The reader is immediately involved, but does not have to read up until the end, if they are short on time. It’s also very easy to edit.

The AIDA approach: This technique is popular with copywriters and is wonderful when you are describing something that requires an action in the end. Within this structure, you first grab the readers ATTENTION, create an INTEREST, inspire DESIRE, and then call for an ACTION. This is wonderful when you want your readers to actually do something at the end of the piece, whether it is to buy a product, get more exercise, or try a recipe, this form really works

The Dramatic approach: Shakespeare did it and so can you! Try structuring your writing into 3 acts, with the first act offering the set-up, the second act creating the conflict, and the third act involving the resolution. Every good novel or short story is structured in this way. It’s pleasant to read, involving an arc of action, and leaves the reader very satisfied

The Essay approach: Most popular in academic writing, this form offers an introduction, moves to the thesis which describes an assumption (for example: the earth is round) goes on to discuss proof points and arguments for an against this assumption, and then goes on to create a conclusion, based on the value of the proof. This is a very logical process and is wonderful when you are arguing your case.

So now, I’ve run out of excuses! Whether I want to write fiction, persuade readers to action, argue my case, or write a news item, I have some actionable structures on hand! So, now I actually have to write J But that’s another blog post!