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Sunday, May 9, 2010

5 Ways To Enthrall Your Readers

Ah, the beginning of May. May, when the grass grows back its emerald bloom from the days and weeks buried in its white coffin of snow, from the goopy mud that swamps the earth and when the worms come out to play. May, when the air, hinted with the fragrance of fresh rain and lilacs that only Spring can bring, clings to your skin; when sneakers and sweatshirts are traded in for sandals and sundresses.

And if you’re like me, May is when you’re shut into a stuffy room, armed with pens and pencils, taking an AP (Advanced Placement) exam, with a clock ticking down the time. Only a mere few hours to impress strangers with your words—strangers who have to sift through hundreds of papers and stamp them with a grade.

I don’t claim to be perfect, I’m not asking you to take my words as holy commandments, but I figured that I could share my tips on how to give your piece that extra oomf, that extra edge that makes it stand out over the sea of other works.
Everybody wants to come away from writing something—whether it be an essay for an AP exam, a poem for your Mom on Mother's Day, something to post to your blog, a story to get published—feeling good. So here are 5 tidbits of advice that I've come to realize through my journey as a writer.

1. Confidence Is Key

Okay. Before your heart starts skipping like a jumping bean, take a deep breath. If you have a deadline to make, you won't go anywhere if the stress seeps into your bones and clouds your mind—especially if your insecurities are steering your thoughts. You only have so much time, and that time will pass—use it to do something towards your goal; do not pass the time stealing peaks at the clock, drumming nervous fingers against your desk. And if you don't have a deadline—don't lose it, because then you have more of a chance to get writer's block. Writer's block is far from fun; it's easy to get into, hard to get out of. And when you get bit by the writer's block bug, inspiration is that much harder to grab when you write. So take a few deep breaths.

Think of this!

Or whatever else makes you happy.

Be confident with your words. Eradicate your mind of those insecurities as a writer, those pesky parasites that poison your mind. Instead of thinking, "Um...I think this is what they're looking for...hopefully this all works out for the best!" or "I don't know if anybody will like this, I should change it," think, "Okay. I know I'm a good writer. I can do this! They will like it! I am worth it!" If you're confident with your writing, people can tell that you know exactly what you're doing, that you have credibility as an author, and they will trust you for that.

2. Quality NOT Quantity

I know, I know, it's such an elementary point—but it's a valid point. When people study for their AP exams and see the tiny, cramped handwriting of past students who took the exam, they think that they need to reach a minimum of two pages. You see it with writing stories too. People think the bigger, the better, the more impressive. This could not be further from the truth.

Substance, substance, substance. You're always bound to be received better by educated audiences if you write something that isn't quite as long as Gone With the Wind, but is a feast of knowledge, instead of pages and pages of absolute vapidity. Like Twilight. So don't fret about length! Say what you need to say; let your knowledge glow off the page; let your story be told.

3. Be Yourself; Be Sincere

As a writer, you have an innate voice to your written work. A distinct style. Don't be afraid of people and lose that natural stamp that makes your work yours! They're not monsters. They're not the creepy-crawlies that lurk in the shadows beneath your bed. They're just people, like you and me. So write as you would write anything else. And mean it. Don't pretend to be something you're not.

4. Set the Scene

You're drawing your readers in, letting them hang on to each and every word; you want to get them hooked from the start. Make it intriguing. Make it mysterious. Make it a treat for readers to read through, leaving them thirsting for more. Whether you use anaphora, rhetorical questions, or any other literary techniques, you want to lure your readers in, and once you get into the thick of your piece, you'll have them ensnared. Razzle dazzle them!

5. Make it Clear; Make it Flow

When you write, you have to make sure that what you say is crystal clear. There's nothing more jarring than getting caught up in writing, and the next thing you realize, those sentences have turned into coiled snakes that people have to stop and read through again to get the picture. The reader's experience should be all smooth sailing
, sentences light like air—not clunky and heavy as bricks.

So perhaps this month of May won't be so stressful with these tips. And when you finish that last word, you'll sit back, gaze at the clock, and smile.


NCK said...

Great post! Well thought out and useful! Can't wait to read more from you...

Lydia said...

Hey Kristen!
tickticktick...time for another post. I miss ya. :)