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Sunday, 25 September 2011

The First Five Pages - (The Best Writing Guide Ever)

When I was in the middle of my book's first draft, I read a truly inspiring book. This book completely transformed me as a writer, and if I hadn't read it I don't know where I'd be now. The book is called The First Five Pages - A Writer's Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile.

I saw the book advertised in my monthly writing magazine and I thought that I'd have a look through it. It's written by Noah Lukeman, a New York literary agent. The book's objective is identifying the problems people have with their writing in chronological order - the most serious problems can be found in the first chapters. Lukeman identifies the preliminary problems, such as presentation, adjectives and adverbs, sound, comparison, and style. He then goes on to explore dialogue problems, and in the final part of the book, he explores the elements associated with the overall picture in writing.

In the middle of this book I found the most interesting chapter: Lukeman's take on vocabulary. I have always been aware that words are the life force to writers: without them we would have nothing. Lukeman describes words as writer's tools. He describes not having the best words to use is like a mechanic not having the correct tools. Just by reading those two sentences, I immediately knew what I had to do. For me and Lukeman, being a writer is saying as much as you can in few words possible. Expanding your vocab is the easiest way to do precisely that. Often a few words will say as much, if not more, as a whole paragraph. Writers often describe physical appearance in so much detail. Lukeman says he has read pages upon pages of this kind of detail when the writer could have just said the person looked like John Travolta.

So taking this advice on board, I immediately set about learning as many new words as I possibly could. I bought Roget's thesaurus, and noted down all the words I was unfamiliar with. I looked up the meaning of the words, making sure I cross referenced them as many times as possible. I also looked for them in sentences to get an idea of their context and tone. It took me several months to complete this but it was worth it, I now have all those words to hand.

Lukeman instructs writers to do exactly that. He says that under no terms should any writer use a word they are not absolutely sure of. Only when you know the word inside out, should you use it. Lukeman also warns you to learn the correct pronunciation of the word and if you wouldn't use it in speech, you shouldn't use it in text.

Another excellent point of advice Lukeman gives is the use of specificity. Writers must always train their minds to be exacting. Use exactly the right word for everything. Instead of saying fish swam in the river, say what type of fish they were.

So because I made a conscious effort with the points just talked about, my writing is better for it. Have you got any interesting points you'd like to share?


  1. When I'm writing, I always stress over word choice. I never want a word, for even a second, to distract the reader from the story. I can't wait to purchase this book and dust off my Thesaurus! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Glad I could help Lillie. It's a really great book. I hope you find it as beneficial as I have. I must have read it 20+ times and I still refer back to it.

  3. Sign up for the Word of the Day email... good way to learn a new word without having to search through a Thesaurus or something. I've been a subscriber of the Word of the Day for years and I've discovered many words through it.

  4. That's a good piece of advice there - thanks for sharing it.