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Completing Your Nonfiction Writing - How to Identify and Overcome the Obstacles that Prevent You from Finishing Your Work
 
 
Tips on Finishing Your Nonfiction Writing

As an editor, one of the questions I am most often asked is, How do I get my work finished? This question is common, especially among new or first time writers. Many people have lots of good information or ideas rolling in their heads and then when it's time to write it all down, they disconnect or hit a block. Sometimes people will write 50 or 100 pages and not know how to finish it out so they can present it for publication.

As a serious nonfiction writer, you will want to learn how to overcome these obstacles because your success depends upon conquering them. You should never deceive yourself into thinking that you will cause these common writer's concerns to completely subside. Disconnects, writer's block, and paragraph hooks are with you to stay. The key to finishing what you start is to know how to handle each one effectively.


DISCONNECTS
A disconnect is a spot in your writing where the subject changes sharply with no transitional material or transition sentences. A disconnect is not where the subject changes from the previous paragraph to the next when the new paragraph has a new heading or subheading. For example, the content of this paragraph is not "a disconnect" from the last one. In addition to having a subtitle, the content of this paragraph is hooked to the last paragraph (more about hooks later).

A disconnect is any place where your writing makes a sharp change in direction with no apparent or logical sequence or connection. The best thing a nonfiction writer can do to overcome disconnects is to study the linguistic laws of logic as I recommended in an earlier article. In these linguistic laws, you will learn proper use and the logical flow of words such as: "If, then"; "If and only if", "Except"; "Regardless"; "All"; "Nothing"; "Always"; "Never"; and more.

Although these are small words with seemingly little significance, they are words that if properly used, will make your work flow well and read in a connected fashion. These are words which if used improperly will make your work read in a very rough and disconnected manner. Aside from restructuring your work to solve the disconnect problem, a proper use of logic phrases is the best solution to disconnects.
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Nonfiction Writing.

WRITER'S BLOCK
Most nonfiction writers stop working on their material when they disconnect or hit a writer's block. A writer's block is far more serious than a disconnect and can take longer for the writer to fix. A writer's block occurs when the writer hits a place in the content where he cannot figure out where to go. It is more common in creative works than in nonfiction, but it can happen in nonfiction when the writer has a considerable amount of latitude on the subject matter. It can also happen when the writer creates a nonfiction work from scratch for submission rather than working under an assignment with a rigid outline.

The nonfiction writer that writes from scratch for submission writes from a more creative vein and is thus open for creative setbacks. Regardless of what type of writing you engage in, you will fare better when you confront your writer's block and own it as part of the job. Remember, we are all finite beings, with finite minds and each mind has a limit; each writer discovers the limits of their own mind in the process of writing. As you develop, you will notice a decrease in writer's block. Your writer's block decreases and your writing skills increase as you engage yourself more and more in the writing process and you become more and more refined in what you are able to produce.

For those who find themselves regularly hitting a writer's block, here is a short list of things that can work to help you move past it. Keep in mind that these suggestions are not a cure-all for all writers and what works for you may vary according to your natural disposition, likes, and habits.

BLOCK BREAKERS

  • An afternoon off of your writing project; watch a movie with your family.
  • Running around the block; or any other exercise that you enjoy.
  • Sex, endorphins feed the creative mind.
  • Writer's clubs, engage the minds of your colleagues, a play, a concert, or expose yourself to other creative talents. Creativity feeds creativity.
  • A good night's sleep; sometimes you're just tired.
  • A religious service, prayer, or meditation. Get your mind off of yourself.
  • Say, "I'm sorry." to anyone you may be at odds with or anyone who is offended by you. Strife has a way of killing your creative energy.

PARAGRAPH HOOKS

Paragraph hooks are not frequently discussed in the common bookstore books that you can find on the art of writing. They are somewhat of a writer's secret if you will. Among seasoned writers, hooks are considered one of the refining points of the art and rarely discussed with novices.

So, to help you understand more about the art of writing, I will discuss paragraph hooks here. My hope is that you take it for what it is, a polishing tool, and a tool you can use when your writing style is undeveloped or lacking for flow. When you first begin to use this tool, take care not to overdo it. A paragraph hook is like a strong seasoning, you must first learn how to master its use for it to be good. If you overdo it, then you come across as simple minded, redundant, or a poor writer. The idea here is to avoid all of those and to give you a tool that can help you get to the finish line of your manuscript with some finesse.

I will give you a concrete example of the use of paragraph hooks by sending you back to the beginning of this article. You will notice in the first two paragraphs of this article I used the word "writer(s)" and highlighted its occurrence in green. This will show you a subtle repetition of a single word between paragraph 1 and paragraph 2. This is a paragraph hook at its best. It is not overdone or boring.

In those first two paragraphs as well as the following three, I also used the word "dis-connect" and for our article I have highlighted its variations in blue. You will notice a heavy repetition here because disconnect is the subject of this subsection. You will also notice that I included the word connect in the highlighted sections. Generally speaking, be careful making paragraph hooks out of broken words. For example, the word highlighted in the previous sentence could not be thought of, or function as, a hook if in the next paragraph I used the word high. Why not? Because it does not flow logically.

The word connect functions as a hook because the subject of the section is disconnect and the point of the paragraph is to prevent a disconnect. By definition, if you are successful in preventing a disconnect, then you have created a connection in the flow of your content. This logical flow helps to make the word connect also function as a paragraph hook.

Again, the paragraph hook is something that you must practice with in order to successfully use it as a tool that will help you to finish a work. It is also a tool that if you do not learn to use it as you write, then you will rewrite your material later in order to use it to correct something. So, if you are trying to fix something you wrote that has a rough flow to it, then you can expect to do a minor rewrite to insert corrective hooks that help to polish out your work. As a novice writer, you can use paragraph hooks and minor rewrites to correct a work your editor bounces back to you IF you get the hang of it. If you have an editor who is working with you, and someone you have relationship with, then correcting your work with the proper use of hooks may make the difference between the editor's acceptance or rejection of your work.

WORDS TO KNOW

  1. Disconnect. A place in your writing where the subject changes sharply with no transitional material.
  2. Writer's block. When the writer hits a place in the content where he cannot continue to create material.
  3. Paragraph hooks. Connecting words that help to weave your manuscript together.
Rewriting and Rhythm; Polishing for Your Audience
As an editor, one of the first things I tell writers is to consider your audience. Always consider your reading audience. There is nothing more disturbing than reading an article or book that jumps from subject to subject or makes huge leaps in logic without considering the reader's point of reference. Equally disgruntling is a writer who jumps right into a train of thought or a social reference that applies to a fairly large portion of the reading population, but discounts the possibility of drawing in additional readers outside of the book's target market.

As a writer, you will do well to consider these things. While it is not necessary to make elementary explanations of ideas or subjects that are common knowledge to a large portion of the readers, you must make it easy enough for the unexpected reader to catch onto. In thisarticle, we will discuss how to make your manuscript better so that your editor gives it a warm reception. The biggest step in making your editor receptive of your work is to write in a manner that demonstrates a consideration for the reader. You will want to rewrite to get the bumps out, give thought to your sentence rhythm, and polish your manuscript as much as is reasonably possible in order to gain favor with your editor.

Rewriting and Rhythm

Rewriting is something that you, as the writer, should do before you submit your material to your editor. It is essential in creating a publishable work. Often dismissed or disregarded by those who think they are extremely talented, rewriting your material is something that will serve you well in the long run because it has little to do with talent and more to do with excellence. When you rewrite your material, you are looking to correct or redesign a sentence, paragraph, or segment so that it has a greater appeal and flow to its reading audience.

There is a technical side to rewriting that includes the mechanics of sentence structure and grammar, but that is work more commonly addressed by the editor than by the writer. What I want to do here is to emphasize to the novice writer that you have a responsibility to take your material and rewrite it to its best form before submitting it. The editor does not expect you to have an editor's skills, nor does every editor edit in the same manner if handed the exact same material. The idea is to go through your article, story, or book and make an honest effort to refine it before submitting it to your editor or client.

It is important to communicate to you that you should not attempt a rewrite or refinement before you have completed the entire content of your manuscript. Many novice writers throw themselves into a writer's block by trying to perfect every thought, topic and sentence before moving on to the next segment or chapter of their writing. If you try to perfect as you go, then you will never complete your book or story. Editors generally earn their pay even if you do an excellent job of rewriting and refining before submission. But you will never get to the editor's desk if you think you should or could write perfectly as you go.

Here are some tips I often give new writers for rewriting and refinement:

  1. First and foremost, finish your writing; don't rewrite before your article or book is completed.
  2. When you rewrite your manuscript, you want to check for the obvious faux pas and correct them to the best of your ability; don't focus on issues of style or editorial tastes because that is the editor's work.
  3. Make sure that your logic and the flow of your content work well for the subject that you have written on and for the finished material as well.
  4. Check your flow and if you are bumpy, then use hooks or paragraph add-ins to smooth out the flow. Make sure your reader does not have to work to read your material or to follow your points.
  5. A rewrite is primarily to check for bumpy logic and issues of flow; only these problems require minor or significant rewrites. Find them, address them, rewrite them, and do your best to smooth things out because you will not want your editor to do it for you. When an editor handles a partial rewrite, entire segments of your material can be deleted or you can run the risk of losing your meaning in the rewritten segment.


Rhythm is also important when handling a rewrite because it is an element of writing that you will want to address while dealing with logic and flow issues. To simplify the idea of linguistic rhythm, think of brush strokes in a painting or the pace at which you jog. The rhythm of your writing is very similar. Rhythm deals with both the length and cadence of the words in your sentence structure and with the length and cadence of your sentences inside of each paragraph.

Another way to think of rhythm is to think of nursery rhymes or poetry.

"Hickory, dickory, dock. The mouse ran up the clock." Has a very staccato rhythm to it; one that sticks in the minds of preschoolers. The purpose of rhythm in your writing is to make it memorable. Good writing doesn't need to be like a child's rhyme or elementary poetry in order to be memorable; after all, the goal is not memorization, but impression. Good writing is made better by mindfulness toward the linguistic rhythm of the words.

In thinking of your writing's rhythm, you want to structure your sentences in a memorable way and you want to use both short and long sentences in your manuscript. In alternating your sentence length, you will give it an unspoken cadence. Ideally, short sentences are five to eight words in length; long sentences are three to five lines in length. Unless you become a sophisticated writer, such as Proust, avoid sentences longer than five typewritten lines.

Polishing for Your Audience

Polishing for your audience entails a certain amount of catering to the reader; it is a mindful approach as to how the reader will interpret your writing. For example, if you are writing to high school students, then you likely do not want to make technical references in your material unless you know the readers will be technical students. In a similar way, you do not want to write using inner city or ghetto slang if you are writing to a group of farmers.

So, when you polish your manuscript, you will want to take out the slang or technical language and change the wording to better fit your audience. Part of the retro-fitting of your content language, that is, rewording after it is written, includes taking care to correctly use common expressions. It is extremely common for new writers to improperly use or misuse certain phrases or expressions in the content of their writing.

Here is an abbreviated list of commonly misused words:

  • Aggravate/Irritate.
  • All right.
  • Allusion/Illusion.
  • Alternate/Alternative.
  • As to whether.
  • Comprise.
  • Disinterested.
  • Due to.
  • Effect/Affect.
  • Enormity.
  • Farther/Further.
  • Fix.
  • However.
  • Importantly.
  • Irregardless.
  • Kind of.
  • Line, Along these lines.
  • Literally.
  • Nice.
  • Nor.
  • Offputting/Ongoing.
  • Oriented.
  • People.
  • Prestigious.
  • Regretful.
  • Respective.
  • Secondly, thirdly, and so on.
  • Split infinitives. Placing an adverb between to and its infinitive.
  • Thanking you in advance.
  • They/He/She. Mixing singular and plural pronouns.
  • Unique.
  • While.
  • Whether/Rather.

To get a greater detail of how and why these are misused phrases, pick up a copy of The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. You will want to check out Chapter 4 which gives a complete list of the most commonly misused terms and an appropriate explanation of each. This book is published by Penguin Books and is in its Fourth Edition. It is considered one of the writer's and publisher's bibles on style and every writer should be well acquainted with its content.

WORDS TO KNOW

  1. Rewriting. A reworking of a sentence, paragraph, or section of your writing.
  2. Rhythm. A linguistic pace or cadence in which the words flow with a music like beat.
 
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