The English language has hundreds of thousands of words, and learning how to pick the right one for the occasion is an art. Like every art form, word choice is also partly subjective, depending on the context, and overall often frustrating to “get right.”
Have you ever revisited your older texts, perhaps some early attempts from many years ago? Did you have a slightly odd, cringey feeling of barely recognizing yourself as the author? If so, I can relate! This feeling of perplexed embarrassment is partly caused by the different word choices made by your old self compared to your current one.
As inexperienced authors, our vocabulary is not very evolved—that’s certainly one aspect of it. In other … words, we might not be aware that there is a more accurate, more specific word for what we try to convey. As a young author, I saw no problem with using nice in every other sentence.
The issue, however, goes far beyond not knowing a certain word.Continue reading
Using a pen name (also known as a pseudonym, literary double, or nom de plume) is a writing tradition that is both old and widespread. Many of the classic authors we are familiar with wrote and published using a pen name—Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) being one characteristic example.
The reasons behind using a pen name can vary. Sometimes, one’s real name might be considered too long or too difficult to pronounce. “Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum” would’ve been a challenge for a publisher (and a nightmare for a cover designer), so “Ayn Rand” was preferred.
Moreover, some famous female authors have opted for a pen name to hide their gender, in order to be taken more seriously. Examples include George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Currer and Ellis Bell (Charlotte and Emily Brontë), and James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon).
Using a pen name can have some important benefits regarding marketing and publishing. Plus, using a pen name can help your writing—for reasons you might not readily appreciate, as I’ll explain later in the post.
However, here’s a crucial question: Can using a pen name also hurt your writing?Continue reading
Developing a skill invariably requires learning from others with more experience. Writing is no exception. Improving as a writer involves reading others’ work and—at least at first—emulating it. Put simply, emulating other authors helps you learn what works and what doesn’t.
“Hey, hang on,” you might say indignantly, “are you asking me to copy other writers?”
I know why you may feel that way. Few things are more upsetting to a writer than to be accused of plagiarism. Judging by discussions I’ve had with fellow authors, it probably hurts less to have your own work plagiarized than to be wrongfully accused of plagiarism yourself. So, why am I suggesting that you become a better writer by emulating others?
And so, here comes a giant flashing red light..
Plagiarism, imitation, and emulation are three entirely different concepts. Their meaning, motivation, and results have nothing to do with one another. Whereas one can lead you into muddy waters, both legally and ethically, another can make the difference between a competent author and a great author.Continue reading
Few of us enjoy working with someone over our head, constantly scrutinizing our every move. This is particularly true for creative endeavors, like writing. Broadly defined, a writing supervisor is a person who has a stake in the text someone else is writing, and as a result tries to direct the process.
Since writing is an inherently solitary activity—as a writer, you spend long stretches of time working alone in front of a screen, often remotely—a writing supervisor can’t physically supervise you the way one would a factory worker.
However, this also means that writing supervision can be more insidious. In other words, it’s easier to detect and defend against direct supervision; it’s far harder to do so against a subtle one.
This presents clear dangers to a writer. Put simply, you might end up losing control of your text, and nothing good ever comes out of that. But on the other hand, having a writing supervisor can also be an important asset if you know how to deal with it.Continue reading