Natalia's Writing Tips:

1. Spellcheck and then re-read for inappropriate words that Spellcheck may have substituted in eros.

2. Even if you think you are way past this, make sure your sentences all have a subject and a verb. Not texting.

3. If you use more than five words in succession that someone put on Wikipedia or that you overheard in a cafe, credit that person, book or site. Credit everything. This makes you look intelligent and thorough and willing to play in the writing playpen. Stealing is an end to your career as a writer. We have to trust you. (Unless you're an old Postmodernist but nobody remembers the "untrustworthy narrator" at this point, so forget I said it.)

4. Read your writing aloud to your partner or to the dog. Don't let either critique your work--particularly the dog--but listen to yourself. Where there are pauses, there should be commas. Where you get bored with the drone of your own voice, take out those words. Where you are tempted to say "yadda, yadda," eliminate that idea. Real writing flows like spoken language. So turn on the tap.

5. Trash your thesaurus and promise to never use it again. Thesaurus-writing is obvious to a real reader, often featuring words in places where their exact meaning is a shade off and doesn't fit. Trust yourself and use the words that come to your mind.

6. Avoid cliches, stuffers, boring extra words, acronyms, text-lingo and dumb pseudo-words that mean nothing in a sentence. Oscar Wilde said, "If you've ever heard a word, don't use it."

7. Don't pretend you and your reader are just lying around in robes watching TV and eating caramel corn. Sit up straight and act like your intelligent Aunt Josephine is visiting. Too sloppy, too familiar writing is unappealing: It is a pose.

8. Avoid using the verb "to be:" He was, I am, she is, they were. Instead, substitute an active verb: she saw, he ate, we sniffled.

9. Chances are you are not a Doctor of Philosophy. Chances are you are not a big-time liberal arts academic. So do not feel that you must puff up and prance around with big words and phrases. The smartest things are said in the fewest words. It takes guts to write short words and sentences.

10. Every time you make an assertion back it up with a fact. "The landscapers in my neighborhood are tri-lingual. Florence Dosono, my gardener, speaks Japanese, English and Spanish every day." Back up assertions with facts every time, don't just float on and on asserting yourself into the clouds. That's what my Russian grandfather called "heavenly biscuits." Including examples gives the reader a toe on the ground.

11. Don't try to figure out what you are trying to say while you are trying to say it. Don't have a couple beers and suddenly decide you are Dylan Thomas and let it all out on the page. You are not Dylan Thomas or any other Dylan so stick with sobriety. No one wants to read along as you chase around with a butterfly net hoping you'll find an idea. Find the idea. Write the idea. Go on to the next idea. Build them all up to a nice little idea-pile in which they all relate, and then let the reader go home for lunch. It is juvenile to expect your readers to keep reading to sort out your nonexistent thinking for you. They'll just stop reading.