Resources for crafting, editing, and publishing a story

As someone who’s explored everything from technical writing at Microsoft to feature writing at my university’s newspaper, I’m always reading about how to refine my writing process.

I decided to compile a list of resources I use to get inspired, craft a story, and edit a writing piece.

Articles

“Write a sentence as clean as a bone” and other advice from James Baldwin

In honor of literary visionary James Baldwin, this article features a range of advice from Baldwin that he has given in essays and interviews such as “Write with recklessness and “Trust the editing process.” My favorite piece of advice is the following: “Don’t describe a purple sunset, make me see that it’s purple.”

James Baldwin

How to design words — From a writer who hates to read

After writing your first draft, trim it down, again and again. Cut out details, use simpler words, and just get to the point. Be ruthless.

This article has a series of tips for technical writing, but the tips apply to every genre of writing. This piece reminds me to prune every excess word, create a sense of hierarchy, and remember that words are an important part of the user experience.

Don’t forget to add a dash of visual relief (Source: https://medium.com/@jsaito/how-to-design-words-63d6965051e9)

How to Write a Killer Blog Post at Lightning Speed by Frank McKinley Once you’ve identified what topic you want to write about, this article has some actionable strategies for how to approach the writing process. Some of my favorite lessons include 1) separate editing from writing, 2) drive home a point with stories, facts, and statistics, and 3) leave in the edgy stuff.

Writing good text alternatives by Amy Leak

Alt text and captions make sure everyone gets the full experience. Only sometimes should you use them both.

It’s important to include alt text and captions to ensure that your content is accessible, and Leak’s article provides background on how to write effective captions and alt text that communicate images through language and provide context.

Photo by Edward Castro from Pexels (Source: https://medium.com/@amyalexandraleak/should-you-use-alt-text-or-a-caption-48311e259ded?_lrsc=17b93011-b887-44cb-8526-c8f990100d97)

Bad Alt Text: Couple on a beach
Good Alt Text: Couple smiling and embracing on a beach

Why Writing Every Day is Important from The Writing Cooperative

Those who write every day have their life in order.

This post is a good source of motivation to write every single day.

6 tips for catching your writing mistakes (and protecting your credibility) from NPR Training

These types of mistakes — grammar, spelling, missing/incorrect context, style — make readers doubt the professionalism of your work … Yet in many newsrooms, the layers of editing that stories used to go through are disappearing.

Taking a few extra minutes to clean up your story is critical to maintaining your credibility with readers.

This article is a guide for fact-checking your story to ensure that it’s been proofread and fact-checked. Although this guide was created for journalists, I think everyone benefits from the tips, which include 1) change the format of the story or read it out loud and 2) recheck the first and last paragraph for mistakes.

Here’s the checklist they use at NPR:

NPR Accuracy Checklist

Tools

  • Read Aloud: A Text to Voice Reader: This Chrome extension reads the current web page out loud, which is great for hearing if your piece sounds like a story. I usually do this by creating a new draft in Medium or my blog and then turning on the extension. As I listen, I ask myself, “Are there jumps in the narrative? Are there sections that need to connect more explicitly?” It’s also helpful for catching grammar errors.
  • Grammarly: This is a great browser extension for catching grammar errors or missing words, and I use it to proofread all of my emails and blog posts— it’s much more comprehensive than Spell Check on Microsoft Word, and they even have an app that you can download to your device and scan Word documents!
  • ZenPen: This is a great web tool that enables you to write and edit your stories in an aesthetically pleasing environment — I even used it for this story!
ZenPen is a writing environment that minimizes distractions so you can focus on your content
  • FutureMe: This is a fun tool that lets you send a letter to your future self via email. It can be delivered at any time interval (1 year, 3 years, 5 years from now, or on a specific date)
FutureMe.org interface, which allows you to deliver letters to your future self

Writing Inspiration

For your writing to spark fire in the minds of readers, ask these questions by Alex Mathers

What is something that I think about a lot, that no one talks about?

What do I know that has helped me tremendously, that could improve someone else’s life?

What is weird about me that would fascinate someone?

This article has a series of guiding questions to keep in mind when you’re looking for writing inspiration. My favorite one is, “What is something I think about a lot that no one talks about?” which prompted me to write “I need more than pride flags and rainbow pins to feel represented,” an article about the need for greater intersectionality in corporate pride.

These Are the Indispensable Elements of Good Writing

I always try to get right to the point: this is the topic at hand, and this is the challenge we face, and here’s what we’re going to do about it. And I think that plays well with any audience and really with any speech.

This article is an interview with former presidential speechwriter Kasey Pipes. It goes through some best practices for speech writing that can be applied to every discipline such as 1) writing in a voice/tone that appeals to your audience, 2) writing for the ear, and 3) matching your words to a personal brand.

15 Podcasts Playing in IDEO Ears Right Now

My favorite podcast is Modern Love, which features true stories of love, loss, and redemption, but I’m always on the lookout for new ones. This list features podcast recommendations that will inspire any storyteller.

Podcast art for Ear Hustle, How I Built This, and Switched on Pop

46 Books By Women of Color to Read in 2018

Inspiration for writing often comes from reading, and I’ve committed to reading more books by authors of color. I’ve been working through this list, which introduced me to my favorite book of all time, “Song of a Captive Bird” by Jasmine Darznik. It follows the life of an influential Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, who rebelled against societal expectations and people’s efforts to silence her voice.

Cover of “Song of a Captive Board” by Jasmin Darznik

This book inspires me to be a more vulnerable poet and writer. I’m reminded that it’s important to write about the tough stuff and recognize that writing to keep someone’s story alive is a form of resilience.

“I wrote to discover myself and to become myself. And I believed in being a poet in all moments, because to me being a poet meant being fully human” (Darznik, 384).

Top 25 Killer Opening Lines by Jerry Nelson

Call me Ishmael.

Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

What better way to get inspired for the opening line of your memoir than to see how other literary figures have done it?

The first page of a novel!

Highlights and learnings of 2017 by Jane Shin

Raising our voices as women is incredibly important. Our stories matter, our voices matter, and we must make space and remind women that they belong, even in spaces that are heavily male-dominated.

I think writing to reflect and express gratitude is one of the best ways to stay grounded. I love Jane Shin’s blog and the way she reflects on her relationship with music, identity, and community, and this post exemplifies all of this.

Tidbits and Lessons

These are largely anecdotal, they’re the sentiments that I keep in mind whenever I’m on a mission to put some words on paper.

  1. You must keep writing — and always remember what motivates you to do it.
  2. Do the story right the first time, for that is often the only time there is.
  3. We don’t get to rewind self-awareness. Honesty is linear.
  4. Automatically delete anything that isn’t vibrant enough to be remembered.
  5. Sometimes big writing occurs on tiny paper.
  6. Our work is a mirror.
  7. Out of chaos, something will emerge.
  8. No good story is ever told once.
  9. Have one main idea. Drive it home with three support devices — stories, facts, statistics.
  10. When interviewing for writing roles, prove your passion for reading, writing, and working with words. Show the interviewer that writing isn’t *just* a desk job, but something to believe in.
  11. Good reporting starts with getting out of the way and allowing people to share their perspective.
  12. Good storytellers are curious and self-aware — they ask good questions. If something looks out of place, there’s probably a story — you need to have an instinct for what makes a good story

I love that everything I do is characterized by writing, music, and stories — there is no other way to approach a problem. I hope these resources help you with the process of creating your own stories!

Thanks for reading! To read more of my stories, check out my Medium profile here.

Writer at Microsoft | Human Centered Design and Engineering Alumna | Lifting as I climb | www.aleenahansari.com