Ask the Editor™
Volume 10, Issue 1

In this issue:

Get Inspired

A college freshman once said that the great thing about Shakespeare is his writing is filled with so many famous quotes. Here's one of my favorites: "Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention."

And it relates to this issue’s topic: finding inspiration. How do we become inspired? How do we find that muse? If only we could bottle and sell the answer...

The author of Harvey was once asked how she came up with the idea, to which she replied, "I looked up from the breakfast table one morning, and there he was." Most of us, however, can't simply wait for a Muse of Fire, or Harvey in this case, to magically appear. We need to write this proposal or that report right now.

This issue offers some practical tips to get the creative juices flowing.

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“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” Saul Bellow

Orfield Communications

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Ten Ways to Become Inspired

Here are ten "Inspiration Points":

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

We all know this is how the violin player gets to Carnegie Hall. It's also the best way to prepare yourself to tackle any subject, even one that doesn't exactly get the blood pumping. The more you practice, the better prepared you are for any situation. Write habitually.

2. Be There But Not in the Way

When writing, be in the moment, but stay the heck out of the way! Just let the writing happen. Or as a famous cellist once put it, "Learn the notes, then forget about 'em."

3. Goof Off

Have a report due in an hour and can't seem to find a single thing to say? What better solution than to practice putting, shoot free throws at your waste basket, go for a walk or read the comics - really! Writing is a mysterious process, and sometimes the words come easier when you give your mind a break and just let it wander.

4. Brainstorm

It's the perfect first step in any writing project because it allows us to get our ideas down without turning on the internal censor. Once you have ideas on the page, go back and determine which ones you want to use and see if any patterns emerge that give you ideas on how to structure your draft.

5. Freewrite

Often times, our fear of something not sounding right or making a mistake prevents us from writing. Or we simply may not know where to start. To freewrite, just write anything that comes to mind without thinking about how it sounds or punctuation. This often gives you the raw material for a draft that you can go back and refine.

6. Just Do It

This is especially useful when you are uninspired about a topic or don't feel like you have anything to say, but are faced with deadlines. If possible, walk away from it and edit what you did at a later time. Often, you'll surprise yourself at how well it came out.

7. Throw Your Usual Process Out the Window

Don't feel you have to use the same process for every project. Sometimes I'll brainstorm headlines first. Sometimes I'll do this last. Sometimes I'll write the easiest section first. Sometimes I'll start with the most difficult section. Trying something different often provides the spark to keep writing.

8. Write When You Normally Don't

Try writing at times you normally don't write, while laying in bed, driving your car, or in the shower. Mind you, you're not physically writing (other drivers will thank you for that), but you're composing in your head. It's amazing what you can do when your mind is freely wandering and isn't encumbered by too many thoughts or the act of putting words to the page.

9. Face Your Fears

Even the greatest writers experience self-doubt and fear of failure. Why? Because writing is hard. So, accept this as part of the human condition and get on with it. And get back to your keyboard and keep writing!

10. Trust Yourself

Norman Mailer once said that he had the most trouble writing when he thought he had to write like Norman Mailer, that is, the public's expectation of him. Trust yourself. Trust that you know what needs to be said and how to say it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay, Self-Reliance, that we should "learn to detect that gleam of light which flashes across [our minds] from within." Sound advice indeed!

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“I listen to the voices. ” William Faulkner

Writing Without Fear

- Don’t hide behind words. Your own feelings and experiences will draw your reader in like nothing else can. As Ray Bradbury put it, “There is only one type of story in the world—your story.”  

- Include your opinion. Don’t worry about whether readers agree with you. The most important thing is to get readers thinking and talking about what you’ve written.  

- Use anecdotes. They are a great way to personalize your writing and keep your readers’ attention. They also help to illustrate general or complex issues. 

- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Even if the topic you are writing about is serious, try to affect a conversational and natural tone. You’ll often find your writing will be much more engaging.  

- Give yourself permission to write the worst junk you’ve ever written. Freeing yourself will liven up your writing and give you raw material you can work with.  

- Write down the first thoughts about a subject, which are often filled with great energy. Turn off your internal censor.  

- Lose control. Try not to get too logical during your first draft, as this often shuts off the flow of ideas. Don’t forget you can go back and revise later to add the right phrasing and transitions.

- Allow yourself to get swept away. If some feeling resides in you, it also resides in your readers. As Emerson said, “To believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius.”

- Become absorbed. A Hindu sage once remarked that the secret of contentment lies in absorption. Often we do our best work when we completely lose ourselves and our writing becomes the product of a deep inner discussion we have with a topic.  

- Write in your own style. Don’t adopt one voice to fit one topic, another voice to fit another topic. Find a voice that readers will instantly recognize as you.  

- Don’t become too rigid. Having the courage to write well means trying new things. Whatever process you used the last time to produce great writing will not necessarily work every time. Vary the time, place, and process.  

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“When they come, I write them; when they don't, I don't. ” Jack Kerouac

Ask the Editor™ Question

How do you know which style book to use?

William Baugh

Most journalists and business communicators abide by AP style, while scientific and book publishers swear by The Chicago Manual.


What do you do, however, if you encounter a style issue that your style manual doesn't address? Here are a couple of ideas:


- First, check your organization's "house" style manual, if one exists. House style manuals range from a laundry list of how to abbreviate or capitalize common words specific to a business or industry to comprehensive manuals that address every aspect of style. If your organization has a house style manual, house style supersedes the reference book that has been selected, although the two likely complement each other.


- If the issue isn't addressed in either the house style manual or the preferred style manual, check an alternate style manual. For example, if your organization uses Chicago but it doesn't provide a reasonable answer, check AP.


- Ask yourself whether you are asking the right question. You may find it difficult, for example, to find an answer to a question you have about capitalizing a certain kind of word in a heading. But you may be able to address your issue by following the individual rules for capitalization and headings.


- Be consistent. If you can't find a rule that exactly matches your needs, just make sure you address it consistently throughout your publication. You may want to consider adding the issue to your house style manual.


- Above all, consider your reader. Whichever style rules you follow, make sure they contribute to the uniformity of reading ease.


- And don't forget to get the latest editions of style manuals, which are updated to address the current needs of writers and editors, for example, citing a Web page.

“The Editor”

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