writers tips

Writers Tip #67: Three Tips from Carl Zimmer

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Comes from Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses, The Tangled Bank, and Brain Cuttings. He writes a regular column about science for the New York Times and a blog for Discover Magazine, where he is also a contributing editor and columnist. He is the author of ten books, the most recent  A Planet of Viruses. Since I love writing about science (even have my own rarely-visited science blog), I’m drawn to people like Edward O. Wilson and John McPhee and…

Carl Zimmer.

Here are three of his pithiest thoughts about writing:

  1. Do as much research as possible away from the Internet — with living people, in real places.
  2. Be ready to organize vast amounts of data. Use a wall, or software like Scrivener.
  3. Be ready to amputate entire chapters. It will be painful.

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Questions you want answered? Leave a comment and I’ll answer it within the next thirty days.

More author tips:

Writers Tip #61: Advice From Elmore Leonard

Writer’s Tips #64: From Kurt Vonnegut

25 Take-aways from the Richard Bausch workshop


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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20 thoughts on “Writers Tip #67: Three Tips from Carl Zimmer

  1. I love the fact that we do have the internet available, but I fear that we are all becoming too dependent on it. We’re losing our ability to communicate one on one. There’s nothing to compare with a face to face conversation.

    • 1:1 provides so much more information than the written word–body language, facial expressions, scent. I don’t think this internet toothpaste can be put back in the tube, though.

  2. The internet has taught me so much and it’s quick, available at the click of a key. I can’t imagine driving all over the place, even to a library to collect data anymore. I’d enjoy interviewing people but not much else about researching offline. :-(

    • It puts all sorts of people on an equal footing with everyone else. That’s a double-edged sword, though–it leaves to the reader to make decisions about those people.

      • Double-edged because it does provide equity, but people could be less than truthful in their profiles and shared information. They can say anything and who’s going to doubt it? The usual cues–body language–aren’t available.

        Wait till Google Glass takes over, though. Then, when we meet someone new, we’ll do a quick facial recognition and find out all about whatever they’ve shared through their digital footprint. Yikes! I hope to be gone by then.

  3. Another good one Jacqui. I especially like tip # 3. I’ve had to perform that surgery many times. Actually I believe I learned it from a tip on your blog a few years ago.

      • I save them too. I might not use the entire chapter, but many times I’ll find a spot for a great sentence, or if I need to establish a context the deleted chapter removed, I can usually condense it into one or more useful paragraphs. In my novel Deadeye I cut the entire first chapter and used portions of it later on. The new opening was much better.

  4. In my own research it is never either or. I use the internet for a great deal of information, but when it comes to characterization, or the feel of a particular weapon, how for example a cop or soldier or fireman might feel or respond to a set of circumstances, nothing takes the place of a person to person interview. Sometimes I’ll interview a personal friend or acquaintance who’ve experienced the circumstances I’m writing about, but if I don’t know such a person, I’ll go find some other live person to interview.

  5. Great advice, Jacqui. Until I learn to time travel to talk with those who have long expired, I’ll have to rely on Internet more than face to face with real bonafide people! And, one person whom I did interview for her firsthand info about an event provided a great deal of wonderful personal info and perspective – but had the date wrong! Not out of malice, just incorrectly remembered. So even info gathered from a reliable source must be checked – probably on the Internet!
    I’ve done the amputations, kept the pain down by saving my cast off limbs in a computer file. So it’s not like they’re gone forever – just a bit lost.
    BTW: what so you mean by “use a wall”?

  6. All solid tips. We are using the internet so much. I’m leaving the house this summer to use the library.

    To answer your question, I like NetGalley and they have all sorts of books, indie too.

  7. Pingback: Writer’s Tip #73: Tips From Cliff | WordDreams...

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