Learn four key skills to get you started in writing.

How to Be a Writer: Lesson 4 – Develop Your Own Style

How to Be a Writer: Lesson 4 - Develop Your Own StyleThink about your favorite author. What is it that keeps you coming back to that person’s books? Perhaps you enjoy the type of stories the author tells. Or the books feature a recurring character you like. Perhaps you like the way the author uses language or the types of scenes that appear in that person’s stories. In short, you like the author’s style.

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How to Be a Writer: Lesson 3 – Write Clear Descriptions

Lesson 3 of The How to Be a Writer SeriesTo be a good writer, I had to unlearn some habits I developed when I started. One of them was how I used imagery in my writing.

In high school, I was into similes and metaphors. These are typically the first tools people learn in creative writing. I was also influenced by the singer-songwriters I listened to in the 1970s. The best of them, like Carole King, Kenny Loggins, and Dan Fogelberg, knew how to use similes and metaphors to pack meaning into brief song lyrics. Consider “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The title alone evokes images of a sensual woman whose love for someone makes her feel free and whole.

When similes and metaphors work, they are powerful and effective. When they don’t, they sound clumsy and cliche. They also don’t translate into different cultures and languages, and they can become dated. You can’t depend solely on similes and metaphors in your writing. You have to learn how to write clear descriptions.

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The night I protested against Joan Rivers

Protest Flyer I made in 1982Although I’ve lived in the Los Angeles/Orange County area all my life, I’ve only had a few encounters with celebrities. But one night in 1982, I protested against Joan Rivers.

I was heavily into politics when I was younger because I was scared about my future and angry at the world. My friend Gino and I got involved in different political campaigns and protests. One of our targets was a measure on the 1982 California ballot, Proposition 9. This measure would have built the Peripheral Canal that would divert water from the Sacramento River to Central and Southern California. This would have been destructive to the environment. (It also wouldn’t have done us any good these days when there is no water to be had anywhere in California.)

Joan Rivers did several TV ads in favor of the proposition. When she performed at the L.A. Cabaret in Encino, Gino and I decided this was the perfect opportunity to make our opinions known. I created the flyer you see to your left. While Joan was doing her act, we placed the flyer on every car in the parking lot.

Why do I bring up this story while the world is mourning her death?

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How to Be a Writer: Lesson 2 – Become a Keen Observer

Lesson 2: Become a Keen ObserverOne of my first lessons in creative writing at Reseda High School was partly a trust exercise. It took place in the horticulture area that used to be at the back of the school. We were paired with a partner. One of us was blindfolded, and the other led the blindfolded person to various plants, buildings, and other items. We had to learn how to sense and describe items without seeing them. We focused on how they felt and smelled and what kind of sound they made. We would then trade off, and the other person was blindfolded and led around.

As lawsuit-sensitive as we Americans are now, such an exercise couldn’t be done in a public school today. However, this exercise gave us an important lesson about observation. You have to observe with all of your senses.

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How to Be a Writer: Lesson 1 – Develop Intellectual Curiosity

htbaw1Intellectual curiosity is the most important skill you can develop as a writer. When you dig for the truth, you’ll uncover information that will make your writing more informative and interesting. You can challenge established (but untrue) assumptions. People will want to read your work because they can learn something new and see things differently. Intellectual curiosity will make you a better writer — and a better person overall.

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