Writing… The Truth Shall Set You Free

Many writers ask me to help them improve and promote their work. However, when their actions contradict what they said they want to do with their writing, challenges arise.

Author A longed to publish a memoir that could become a Hollywood film but refused the suggestion to pare 20 character point of views down to two or three. Author B desired to produce a suspense novel but rejected advice to rework the plot line so the villain wasn’t revealed in Act I.

Author C expected to garner a network cooking show after indie-pubbing his roadkill cookbooks but rejected the fact that the subject matter and four-color before-and-after pics (including maggots and rotten flesh) would be a hard-sell. Author D hoped an agent would pick up her four-book fantasy series but dismissed the proposition to hone prose that read like an army field manual.

 

Every author is free to pursue their publishing ambitions however they wish.

However, they must also embrace a healthy dose of reality. Not only the reality of today’s publishing environment but also the reality of why they’re writing.

As a firm believer in Radical Honesty, I speak candidly and directly. My goal is not to hurt someone or shatter his or her dreams but to give a sincere opinion so the writer can choose the next action wisely and without clouds of fairy dust blinding his or her viewpoint. Am I a dream killer? Not, I’m a dream realist.

 

When a client pushes back, there’s usually more to the story than just wanting to be published.

After an in-depth discussion regarding what Author A wanted to with his writing, he finally admitted that he’d written his memoir as a way to explain to others why he’d turned out the way he did. Asking Author A to change how he’d written it suggested that his memories were wrong.

Author B revealed after a heated discussion that she wanted to be the next Agatha Christie. Her mother always said the Queen of Mystery was the greatest writer ever, and Author B wanted/needed her mother to say that about her. After ten years of struggling to write her novel, asking Author B to go back and refine it was unimaginable.

Growing up in rural Appalachian poverty, Author C’s family often hiked to I-64 to harvest roadkill that could be turned into meals for him and his six brothers and sisters. He eventually confessed that sharing what had been instilled in him about survival and family unity would validate how he upbringing. Suggesting that he rethink his presentation and publishing angle slighted his parents’ memory.

Author D left the U.S. Army last year after twenty-years’ service and now wanted to earn enough money with her writing to replace her husband’s salary so he could retire, too. Neither one was getting any younger, so going back to rework four entire books—despite three agents already suggesting that—was time Author D wasn’t willing to spend. She just needed to query more agents and find the one that “got her.”

 

Surviving today’s publishing environment demands knowing what you want to do with your writing.

Becoming an author is not an easy proposition. Becoming a successful one (however you wish to define that) is even harder.

You must be willing to:

Believe in your work and focus.
Be objective and humble.
Ask for feedback from outside your immediate family and friends.
Listen and accept criticism of your work.
Put in the hard work necessary to hone your craft.
Avoid letting your ambition, creativity, and/or ego sabotage your work.
Learn everything you can about your market (target audience, genre, and publishing industry at large).
Own up to your mistakes and • from them.
Escape the comparison trap.
Develop a definition of success that doesn’t rely solely on book sales.
Accept the realities of authorship and the publishing world.
Recognize and embrace the inner truth of why you’re writing what you’re writing (even if it hurts to admit aloud).

 

Becoming an author is not an easy proposition. Becoming a successful one is even harder.

Today’s publishing environment is competitive, challenging, and complex. But armed with the truth about yourself, your writing, and your commitment to fulfilling your dream, you’re miles ahead of those slogging their misguided and mistrustful way through the fairy dust.

By the way…

Author A published his memoir after rewriting it with one point of view (his) and is currently negotiating with a film agent to sell his story rights.

Author B signed with an agent after taking vacation and sick days to rework the plot (and develop an entirely different villain).

Author C parlayed his cookbook into a humorous, fictional account of his childhood adventures with roadkill recipes at the end of every chapter that he markets via a popular website and a million-plus-member Facebook group.

Author D took several months to learn how to hone her writing before finally reworking her series and signing with a well-known literary agent. The first book is due out January 2019 with each subsequent book releasing each month after.

Write on!

6 Ways to Avoid Neutralizing Your Writing

It.

What a cute little, two-letter word. Small but mighty, it can mean everything yet nothing at all. A go-to word for authors of every classification, genre, style, size, platform, etc. of writing, it shows up everywhere like your shadow.

Using it in a sentence isn’t necessarily grammatically incorrect or unacceptable by any seemingly formidable literary entity (usually referred to as “they”) that makes rules that, for some strange reason, authors blindly follow.

However, it is a blah word. Using it in your prose often and frivolously creates vague, feeble writing that renders your compositions less enjoyable and/or effective.

 

#1. The Nebulous It

Dammit! The click of Carolyn Waterton’s Louboutin heels echoed down the hundred-year-old courthouse hallway. It was never a good sign when both the backwoods judge and hayseed prosecutor were late. It could shred what little confidence this fresh-out-of-Yale-Law attorney had. They’re probably swapping stories and smoking stogies on a dilapidated back porch somewhere in this Godforsaken town.

Here, each it refers to something different. The first one is vague, referring to nothing concrete, which is an acceptable form, i.e., “used to represent an inanimate thing understood, previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context).* (Sometimes called a dummy pronoun.) The second it relates to how the men’s lateness affects Carolyn.

Now, to be fair, the author used it correctly in both cases. However, forcing it to carry the burden of conveying sentence meaning rather than looking for a superior word or rewriting the passage to read accurately is settling for hamburger when you could have filet mignon.

Dammit! The click of Carolyn Waterton’s Louboutin heels echoed down the hundred-year-old courthouse hallway. Not good. Both the backwoods judge and hayseed prosecutor were late. Why not shred what little confidence this fresh-out-of-Yale-Law attorney has? They’re probably swapping stories and smoking stogies on a dilapidated back porch somewhere in this Godforsaken town.

See?

 

#2. The Because-It’s-There It

How does it wind up in writing over and over again? Because we like to use the ambiguous little pronoun in speech all the time. However, it doesn’t always translate well in written pose. (Tee-hee. See what I did there?)

 When Paula and Jade hid the wrecked car, it meant they hid evidence. 

vs.

 By hiding the wrecked car, Paula and Jade concealed evidence.

Much better.

 

#3. The Lazy It

Authors often forget readers are novel readers not mind readers. Writers assume their readers will know exactly who or what they’re referring to in the sentence (or the next one). “Yeah, I could rewrite it,” the I’d-Rather-Settle-For-Good-Instead-Of-Great Author said, shrugging her shoulders, “but why?”

The jury reached an agreement on the teacher’s penalty, but it took a long time.

Does it refer to the jury, agreement, or the decision-making process?

 The jury reached an agreement on the teacher’s penalty, but the process took a long time.

Much better.

 

#4. The Grammar No-No It

Connie was shy, but she kept it well-hidden.

The sentence doesn’t “sound” incorrect and isn’t confusing, right? However, if your work falls into the hands of a Grammar Nazi, you’re busted. It must refer to a noun, and shy is an adjective. Pronouns can only refer to nouns.

Connie kept her shyness well-hidden.

Take that, Grammar Nazis!

 

#5. The One-Is-Good, Many-Must-Be-Great It

A comprehensive, complicated benefit package encourages employees to ignore offerings no matter how rewarding as confusion breeds avoidance. However, it only takes a minute to ask your department head to clarify the company’s position on it before it is implemented into company policy and you enforce it (should you feel it your duty to do so).

Yes, this is an actual passage recently published in a non-fiction book on Human Resource policies. Wow! Five its in only one l-o-n-g sentence. Two serve as vague references (dummy pronouns), and three allude to the company’s benefit package (I think.). Yeah, it goes without saying: rewrite, Rewrite, REWRITE!

Confusing breeds avoidance. A comprehensive, complicated benefit package only encourages employees to ignore offerings, no matter how rewarding. Ask your department head to clarify the company’s position on the bundle before implementation and enforcement.

Honestly, I don’t know if we fixed any of the inherent perplexity, but we did get rid of the confusing its. Let’s call it a victory.

 

#6. The Dull It

It combined with is, was, or were at the beginning of a sentence is a pet peeve of mine.

It was dark as Victor stepped into the street and waited.

By placing the important information toward the end of the sentence, an author strips his/her prose of energy.

Victor stepped into the dark street and waited.

 

What its are acceptable?

The First-Draft It… Use the word whenever you want to ensure you keep your mind burning and churning to throw down your creative thoughts. You can go back later and fix the its up.

The Dialogue It… Use the word in there because that’s how we speak. One caveat: If your character is well-educated and/or a snotty person, he or she would probably not use it in their speech.

The Don’t-Bother It… Use the word when rewriting the sentence to eliminate it creates confusing instead of clarification.

Got it? (Sorry, I couldn’t control myself.)

Write on!

*Www.Dictionary.com

How To Write For 20 Miles

Motivation is an ongoing struggle for authors. Fiction and nonfiction… traditional and indie… Bestsellers and busters… all authors—at one time or another—have trouble kindling the creativity fire, including me.

“If I waited to be inspired, I would be screwed.”— Srinivas Rao

Host and founder of the popular podcast the Unmistakable Creative, Srini Rao, shared how he took his writing to the next level by focusing on a daily creative habit.

There was only one way I was going to be able to pull this off: write 1,000 a day. It had to go from being a task on my to-do list to a habit. What I didn’t realize is just how much that would change my life.

It wasn’t long before I figured out the necessary elements to easily write 1,000 words a day. I would wake up every morning, and I would just put my fingers on the keyboard. Sometimes I wrote garbage. Sometimes I didn’t.

But when I powered through the garbage (sometimes the first 200 words), I ended up with gold. I figured if I was willing to produce enough garbage, I would come with just enough gold to meet all my deadlines and expectations. In his book Unthink, Erik Wahl calls this creating for the trash can: “If you create for the trash can, some of what you create will probably be worthy of being in a museum.”

Interesting, huh? Thought-provoking, but not enough to set my butt ablaze.

A few months later, during a l-o-n-g, l-o-n-g period of extinguished creativity, I stumbled across another inspirational article. Rao’s plain-Jane honesty sparked my curiosity, so I researched the benefits of daily, consistent, measured goals. An article about an expedition race to the South Pole in 1911 not only ignited my creative fire but transformed it into a wildfire.

“Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck some people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”—Roald Amundsen, South Pole.

Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott led separate teams to cover a journey of 1,400 miles. Both teams would march the same distance, but their leaders had different approaches to the task.

Scott planned to push hard on good-weather days and rest up on bad days. Amundsen’s strategy was to march 20 miles every day, no matter the weather. Amundsen beat Scott to the Pole by several days, and he and his men returned to Norway safe and sound. Unfortunately, Scott and four of his men perished on the way back to Great Britain.

Talk about an Aha moment…

Usually, I take the Scott approach to life. Get excited about something new, throw myself at it like a maniac, and burn out quickly, get sidetracked, or give up. On the few occasions I channeled Amundsen, like running daily to prepare for a marathon, packing five boxes a day to prepare for a move, finishing my first book after struggling for 10 years, I succeeded.

So, with blogs and books to write, websites to launch, writing and editing classes to prepare, and weekend editing seminars to develop, I needed an infallible method to get my writing done. I analyzed Rao’s and Amundsen’s efforts and came up with guidelines for an experiment I named Project Write My Ass Off:

• Commit to a minimum daily effort that’s hard enough to achieve when your day is going great but still doable when it’s not.

I commit to writing 1,000 words a day.

• Determine self-imposed constraints to ensure you don’t push too hard and lose sight of the purpose of long-term steady progress. Even on good days filled with energy, stick with your daily commitment to avoid burn out.

I commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less.

• Tailor your plan to your personality and situation. Be brutally honest with yourself about how you will achieve your goal. What works for someone else may not work for you.

I commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less.
I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.

• Buy-in to your commitment is key. Don’t attempt the effort for your spouse, your significant other, your critique partner, your friend, etc.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.

• Adapt a concrete timeframe that’s not too short (that the tangible deadline snaps at your heels) but not too long (to deal with unforeseen setbacks) but just right.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met.

• Ensure your outcome is within your control. If achieving your goal depends on the behavior and/or decision of others, failure is a possibility.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met. I will not do any guest blogs or send work to my critique partners until this effort is done.

• Dedicate yourself to consistency. Good intentions do not get the job done.

I unequivocally commit to writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days whether I feel like it or not. No more. No less. I will put off all other work and personal tasks until the 1,000-world daily threshold has been met. I will not do any guest blogs or send work to my critique partners until this effort is done.

 

The experiment kicked off on February 1, 2018. In the first week, I nailed my 1,000 words a day every day.

In the second week, laptop issues frustrated me for a couple days. Alphasmart Neo to the rescue! The routine change threw me a bit, but writing prompts helped get the creativity flowing, and I hit my daily total every day.

Third week? The flu. Yeah, bucket by the bed and MacBook Pro on my lap. (You’re welcome for the visual.) Calling off the experiment would have been easy and justifiable. However, that’s what I always do when the going got tough. Not this time.

 

I had to prove to myself that I had what it takes to reach to the South Pole.

For four days each, those thousand words took me all day to write. They weren’t pretty or great, but they were written. Whoo-hoo!

In the final stretch (on Day 25), I had to pick someone up from the airport during my usual writing time. Out of my newfound routine, I felt withdrawal. Weird, huh? Not to worry. I had tossed my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my purse. Weather delays handed me two hours in baggage claim, and I got my 1,000 words in! Yes!

At midnight on March 2, Project Write My Ass Off ended. Calling the experiment a success is an understatement. Just as Rao discussed in his article, momentum kicked in around the second week and never waned. Ideas flowed… creativity gushed… writing surged. In those 30 days, I:

• Wrote 15 blog articles.
• Wrote four chapters for my WIP.
• Wrote two conference workshops.
• Write three online writing lessons.
• Wrote copy for two websites.
• Started writing a giveaway for one of my websites.
• Learned that a distraction-free desk and Scrivener desktop made writing easier.
• Realized that without days between writing, ideas and content direction remained fresh.
• Discovered that sometimes the work was crap and sometimes it wasn’t.
• Proved that I can reach the South Pole.

Project Write My Ass Off… Take Two is in progress with the same guidelines as before except two: (1) The new timeframe is 60 days. (2) A burning desire to help others discover how to reach their South Poles is now a mission.

Please join me in April for the 1,000-Word Marcher Challenge. For more information, sign up here and then go join the 1KWMC Facebook page.

Give it a try! You’ve nothing to lose except your creative fire.

Keep Your Train of Thought On Track

Keeping your readers moving seamlessly through your book is a challenge every author faces. One element that helps ensure Joe and Jane Public stay with your story and logically connect to your ideas is transitions.

 

Transitions are the connectors, the bridges, the stepping stones that tell your readers what to do with the information you’re presenting.

They must be planned and relevant, or they stick out like files on a birthday cake.

Within a paragraph, transitions provide coherence: the sense that a paragraph has only one main idea.

Gene ordered his favorite meal at the taco stand. He grabbed the bag of food and took it home. He ate the tacos.

Although Jane Public could understand what is going on in Gene’s world, painting an engaging mental picture is difficult with the choppy, vague prose. This kind of writing encourages a reader to put the book down and never return. Not good. Not good at all.

With a few transitions and some beefed-up writing, Jane Public reads on.

Once the street vendor passed him the sack of tacos, Gene headed for his car. The first thing he did at home was plop the sack down on the coffee table and turn on the football game. His stomach growled. Unwrapping his favorite beef-and-bean fare, he then ate all five before the kickoff.

Transitions ensure Joe Public clearly understand your information and instruction.

Now what? Getting ahead and staying ahead of the game. Planning a strategy for managing your critical people is imperative. That includes both the project cheerleader and the project adversary. The project manager needs to plan for communication breakdowns, a significant activity. General guidelines suggest most of your time is spent in some form of communication.
vs.
Now what? First, getting ahead, and then staying ahead of the game. After all, planning a strategy for managing your critical people is imperative. Frequently, that includes both the project cheerleader and the project adversary. And finally, the project manager needs to plan for communication breakdowns, a singularly significant activity since general guidelines suggest most of your time is spent in some form of communication.

Between paragraphs, transitions let an author allude to the idea in the previous paragraph and then change or further enhance the idea in the next one. Again, with no paragraphs, the change appears abrupt or unrelated.

Many times, she’d thought about the legend of the ghost in the old inn. Charlotte didn’t believe in ghosts.
She jumped at the unexpected cold touch on her shoulder.

Not bad, but a minor rework—including a couple transitions—adds major oomph to the passage.

Although the legend of the ghost that lived in the old inn was creepy, Charlotte shrugged it off. She didn’t believe in ghosts.
Until she turned down the dusty hall and felt a cold touch on her shoulder.

Wow!

 

Does the same hold true for non-fiction paragraphs? You betcha!

Your business plan is the blueprint for how you plan to build a successful enterprise. Consider which people will have the greatest impact on your success.
If you need capital investment, investors will be your primary audience.
vs.
Your business plan is the blueprint for how you plan to build a successful enterprise. Consider which people will have the greatest impact on your success.
For example, if you need capital investment, investors will be your primary audience.

One more for kicks and giggles? Okay, if you insist…

Grady was sure he’d seen the suspect duck behind a BMW double-parked next to a UPS truck. No way was the jerk getting away.
Grady dodged several street barriers and delivery trucks to come up behind the man. The guy was gone. A bullet whizzed into the metal garbage can next to him. Grady ran for the safety of a doorway, searching the rooftops for the shooter. He stumbled into a pothole, twisting his ankle.
Great. Some detective I am. Glad his partner wasn’t here to see Grady trip over his two left feet.

Again, not bad but kind of snoozy. Enter transitions!

At first, Grady was sure he’d seen the suspect duck behind a BMW double-parked next to a UPS truck. No way was the jerk getting away.
But by the time Grady dodged several street barriers and delivery trucks to come up behind the man, the guy was gone. A bullet whizzed into the metal garbage can next to him. Grady ran for the safety of a doorway, searching the rooftops for the shooter. That’s when he stumbled into a pothole, twisting his ankle.
Great. Some detective I am. Certainly glad his partner wasn’t here to see Grady trip over his two left feet.

Click here for a printable list of transitions you can use to ensure readers follow your train of thought.

Write on!?

Energize Your Writing With Active Sentences

An editing pet peeve of mine is reading a sentence that could have been great, but the author settled for good enough. For example:

It was very dark as Victor stepped into the street and waited.
There are four types of alcoholics.
It was there that I stayed stretched out and longing for some time.
There were dangerous people milling around Red Square.
It is possible that Hope’s capture at the undercover exchange was inevitable.
This was obviously the tastefully decorated living room of a wealthy lawyer, banker, or CEO.
There will be millions of victims if the premier refuses to take a stand.
There could have been doubt before, but that was gone now.
It was worth the wait to see Slayer’s final show.
There wasn’t enough to prove Gabriel was in imminent danger.
There will be more suffering and death unless someone steps in to fund the program.

Nothing is grammatically wrong, but can you feel the weakness of each sentence? No? Compare it to an improved version.

Victor stepped into the dark street and waited.
I remained stretched out and longing for some time.
Four types of alcoholics exist.
Dangerous people milled about Red Square.
Hope’s capture at the undercover exchange was inevitable.
Obviously, a wealthy lawyer, banker, or CEO lived in the tastefully decorated living room.
If the premier refuses to take a stand, millions of victims may pay the ultimate price.
Any doubt had disappeared.
Slayer’s final show was well-worth the wait.
Gabriel was never in imminent danger.
Suffering and death will continue until someone steps in to fund the program.

See what I mean?

By placing the important information toward the end of the sentence, the author robbed the prose of energy.

Also, these beginnings are so vague and nebulous that you risk leaving your readers scratching their heads, doing the mental “huh?”

Expletive construction is fine during your first-draft effort.* Whatever it takes to get ideas out of your head and into the world. But once you type “The End,” engage your search function and look for these bad boys:

[table id=3 /]

When you find one, experiment with the sentence it contains to make a strong string of prose. Sometimes the fix is as easy as deleting the expletive and the relative pronoun that.

It was Jacob’s last statement that finally piqued Ann’s interest.
Jacob’s last statement that finally piqued Ann’s interest.

Other times, eliminate the expletive and that before beginning the sentence with the subject.

There are thousands of people across the globe that could launch nuclear war.
Thousands of people across the globe could launch nuclear war.

Often, after performing either fix, you can add intensity to the sentence by pumping up the verb and tightening the prose.

There were more than ten dozen roses in Alexandra’s office.
Over ten dozen roses blanketed Alexandra’s office.

“But, Annie, I just read a NYT bestseller author’s latest novel, and he starts a lot of his sentences like that. Why can’t I?”

He’s earned his writing chops. When you hit the bestseller lists with your books, you can start a lot of your sentences like that, too. Until then, let’s write energetically, shall we?

Write on!

 

*Expletive construction is acceptable in dialogue because most people speak that way.

Easy Ways to Remember Difficult Words

You’re kicking butt, editing your latest piece of writing excellence, when everything comes to a screeching halt. Affect? Effect? Hmm… Affect? Effect? Argh!!!

Instead of stopping your writing flow to jump on the Internet (for the fiftieth time) to look up which one it is, here’s an easy way to remember: RAVEN: Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun

Affect is an action verb that means to influence something. Effect is usually a noun that means something that was influenced. (It can also be used as a verb meaning to bring about, but that usage is rare.)

The dampness of the moors affected Cameron’s health.
The damaging effect of Kartooth’s close orbit around the sun meant death to all.

 

Here are a few more…

Farther vs. Further… Farther refers to physical distance. Further designates metaphorical or figurative distance.

“I can’t walk any farther in these heels!” Arianna groaned.
Without further proof, the DA had to dismiss the case.

Easy way to remember?  Far (physical distance) is in Farther.

 

Lay vs. Lie… Lay refers to someone or something being acted upon, such as being moved or being put down, by someone or something. Lie is used when someone or something is doing something.

[table id=2 /]

“Just lay the money on the end table and shove off, okay?”
“The doctor recommended I lie down after the procedure.”

Easy ways to remember?  If the verb place or put can be used in the sentence, use lay. For lie? “Rec-lie-n.”

 

Fewer vs. Less… Fewer is for items that can be counted—dresses, ideas, Reese’s Pieces. Less is for stuff that can’t be counted—love, time, furniture.

Fewer than fifty people voted against Jose.
Ann would settle for nothing less than unconditional love.

Easy ways to remember?  If you can make a plural of the item—dress vs. dresses—it’s countable. Use fewer. If not, use less.

 

Than vs. Then… Than is a conjunction used for comparison. Then is an adverb used for time.

Myra was lovelier today than yesterday.
First comes marriage, then comes seduction.

Easy way to remember? Comparisons are made using Than. Than and comparison both have the letter “a” in them. Then often shows time. Then and time both have the letter “e” in them.

 

Beside vs. Besides… Beside refers to being next to someone or something. Besides means in addition to or apart from. Also, as well or furthermore.

He rested beside the stream before heading out again.
“Who was at the party besides you and Frank,” Ann demanded.
Kent had more work to do. Besides, he wasn’t in the mood to party anyway.

Easy way to remember? If something is near the bed, it’s be[d]side it. (Remove the “d” and you have beside.)

 

Born vs. Borne… Born and borne are past tense forms of the verb to bear. Use born when referring to someone or something entering the world or as an activity. Use borne in every other instance.

Margaret was born in the back seat of their Chevy.
Born deaf, Alaina possessed astonishing musical talents.
Borne aloft by the winds, the balloon traveled for ten miles.

Easy way to remember? Babies and ideas enter the word small, and born is smaller than borne. Get it?

 

Which vs. That vs. Who… Which refers to things. That may refer to either things or people. Who refers to people but can be used for animals.

Kevin never watches movies which have subtitles.
The Outrageous Debutante is the book that he recommended.
Bailey, who always wants to play catch, brought Connie the ball.

Easy way to remember? If you can eliminate the word which and not change the sentence, use which (or leave it out). If throwing which out changes the meaning, use that instead. Also, use who when writing about people and that when writing about things.

 

Assure vs. Ensure vs. Insure… Assure is done to a person, group of people, or animal to remove doubt or anxiety. Ensure is done to guarantee an event or condition. Insure can be done to a person or thing but is reserved for limiting financial liability.

Thomas assured Paulina that he still loved her.
To ensure she’d be ready on time, Georgette did her makeup an hour earlier.
Fabio had no idea if he was insured against vampire damage.

Easy way to remember? Assure is for things that are alive. (Both begin with an a.)  Ensure and guarantee both end in e.

 

Irregardless vs. Regardless… People believe irregardless means regardless, but it doesn’t. In fact, irregardless isn’t a word. Don’t use it. Use regardless.

Regardless of her feelings toward him, Corrine knew she had to end the relationship.

Easy way to remember? Irregardless isn’t a word. Simple, eh?

 

Write on!

The Easy-Peasy, Lemon-Squeezy Guide to Types of Editing

Confused by all the names and types of editing out there? Me, too! So, to be helpful (and clear up the confusion in my head), here are the nitty-gritty basics about editing stages for fiction and non-fiction books alike.

 

Developmental Editing addresses a manuscript’s soul.

What is it? Developmental Editing (also known as structural editing, project editing, chapter-level editing, or book doctoring) focuses on big-picture items like organization, flow, market suitability, subject or plot execution, reading ease, pacing, characterization, point of view, and dialogue.

Who needs Developmental Editing? Writers that are:
• New to writing.
• Unfamiliar with the development of book-length works.
• Unsure if their idea is evolving correctly.
• Tired of critique partners and/or beta readers telling them the book/story isn’t working for them.
• Trying a new genre.
• Looking to develop a specific, signature style.
• Serious about succeeding as an author.

What does a Developmental Editor look for? Things like:
• Logical order, flow, and consistency
• Balanced structure and pacing
• Clear subject or plot development, i.e., ensure a compelling exposition, development, and resolution
• Interesting characters with clear and believable goals, motivations, and conflicts (GMCs)
• Effective content, organization, and presentation
• Overall marketability based on similar works

Best time to use a Developmental Editor? Upon completion of first draft.

How to save money on Developmental Editing? Have Developmental Editor review a book outline before first draft is completed.

Timing? Developmental Editing is extensive, encompassing, and time-intensive. Don’t be surprised if an editor requires four to six weeks for initial manuscript review. Timing after that depends upon subsequent drafts and reviews.

What to prepare for?
• Ego bruising
• Subject, story and/or plot thread redevelopment
• Additional research
• Character(s) redevelopment
• Rewriting, rewriting, and more rewriting
• Writing a whole new draft

Caution… Beware of a Developmental Editor that:
• Only gives positive feedback. Nobody’s writing is perfect. Nobody’s .
• Doesn’t offer to brainstorm and/or contribute to manuscript solutions.
• Rewrites large sections of manuscript themselves.

FYI: Don’t be afraid to question an editor’s judgment. Listen to what she/he has to say based on his/her professional expertise, consider the suggestion(s), and discuss it with the editor.  However, if the recommendation(s) chafes your creative juices, disregard it. Your manuscript is your story, and the final decision on any changes is yours.

 

Content Editing fine-tunes a manuscript’s soul.

What is it? Content Editing (also known as substantive editing) seeks to tweak a manuscript after an author finishes what she/he believes is the final draft.

Who needs Content Editing? Writers that are:
• Finished with a final draft.
• Confident that their story didn’t need a developmental editor.
• Ready to submit their manuscript to an agent or publishing house or begin the independent publishing process.
• Working with an agent or publisher interested in the manuscript but doesn’t feel it’s ready yet.
• Dealing with rejection by several agents and/or publishers.
• Independently published but are only receiving bad reviews.
• Competent with the development of book-length works.
• Looking for a second opinion or second pair of eyes after a Developmental Edit.
• Serious about succeeding as an author.

What does a Content Editor look for? Some same things a Developmental Editor does and a few more, like:
• Logical order, flow, and consistency
• Clear subject or plot development, i.e., ensure a compelling exposition, development, and resolution
• Balanced structure and pacing
• Content relevancy an
• Well-developed arguments
• Accurate and sensible presentation
Readability
• Story-thread resolution
• Resonating character arcs
• Carry-thru and fulfillment of goals, motivations, and conflicts (GMCs)
• Strong secondary characters
• Logic errors
• Head-hopping confusion
• Romance satisfaction (if applicable)
• Consistent world-building (if applicable)
• Red herrings and mystery satisfaction (if applicable)

Best time to use a Content Editor? After completing the final author draft (and if you haven’t used a Developmental Editor).

How to save money on Content Editing? Work closely with a Developmental Editor to produce a strong manuscript.

Timing? If you invested in Developmental Editing, the Content Editing stage should take two to three weeks. If you skipped Developmental Editing, count on four to six weeks for this stage.

What to prepare for?
• Ego bruising
• Scene and chapter reworks
• Order, flow, and/or presentation readjustments
• Main- and secondary-character fine-tuning
• Additional research

Caution… Beware of a Content Editor that:
• Suggests significant story changes that contradict the Developmental Editor (if used or if using a different editor for Content Editing).
• Only gives positive feedback. Nobody’s writing is perfect. Nobody’s.
• Rewrites large sections of manuscript.

FYI: Don’t be afraid to question an editor’s judgment. Listen to what she/he has to say based on his/her professional expertise, consider the suggestion(s), and discuss it with the editor.  However, if the recommendation(s) chafes your creative juices, disregard it. Your manuscript is your story, and the final decision on any changes is yours.

 

Line Editing improves a manuscript’s readability.

What is it? Line Editing (also known as stylistic editing or paragraph-level editing) strives to ensure things like syntax, word choice, phrasing, sentence structure, and showing vs. telling doesn’t prompt a reader to stop, question, and/or leave a manuscript before he or she wants to.

Who needs Line Editing? Writers that are:
• Interested in having a professional correct these types of items.
• Pursuing independent publishing. (Most traditional publishers prefer handling Line Editing in-house.)
• Serious about succeeding as an author.

What does a Line Editor look for? Things like:
• Preservation of author voice
• Effective rhythm and pulse of prose
• Clarity and flow of sentences and paragraphs
• Consistent style and format
• Awkward phrasing
• Word and phrase overuse
• Weak sentence construction and variety
• Odd word choices
• Ambiguities
• Too much telling and not enough showing
• Odd dialogue
• Clichés
• Copyrighted material permissions
• Information errors or inconsistencies
• Incorrect text references with in-book exhibits
• Incorrect historical expressions or references (if applicable)
• Lack of strong scene-ending hooks

Best time to use a Line Editor? After the Content Editing stage.

How to save money on Line Editing? Fix as many of these items before submitting manuscript to Line Editor.

Timing? Two to three weeks.

What to prepare for?
• Paragraph and sentence reworks
• Homework if copyrighted material permissions are missing
• Issues that can only be resolved by author

Caution… Beware of a Line Editor that:
• Doesn’t fix anything. Nobody’s writing is perfect. Nobody’s.
• Steps all over the author’s voice and/or style.
• Encourages a major rewrite.

FYI: Don’t be afraid to question an editor’s judgment. Listen to what she/he has to say based on his/her professional expertise, consider the suggestion(s), and discuss it with the editor.  However, if the recommendation(s) chafes your creative juices, disregard it. Your manuscript is your story, and the final decision on any changes is yours.

 

Copyediting targets a manuscript’s correctness and consistency.

What is it? Copyediting (also known as sentence-level editing) concentrates on fixing words and sentences instead of delving into the author’s expression. Sometimes, line editing and copyediting are combined into the same stage.

Who needs Copyediting? Writers that are:
• Interested in having a professional correct these types of items.
• Pursuing independent publishing. (Most traditional publishers prefer handling Copyediting in-house.)
• Serious about succeeding as an author.

What does a Copyeditor look for?
• Detail, description, and timeline consistency
• Correct grammar and punctuation
• Correct facts
• Typos

Best time to use a Copyeditor? After the Line Editing stage or after the Content Editing stage (if combining Line Editing and Copyediting into one stage).

How to save money on Copyediting? Fix as many of these items before submitting manuscript to Copyeditor.

Timing? One to two weeks.

What to prepare for?
• Minor reworks
• Issues that can only be resolved by author

Caution… Beware of a Copyeditor that:
• Doesn’t fix anything. Nobody’s writing is perfect. Nobody’s .
• Encourages a major rewrite.

 

Proofreading double-checks a manuscript’s publication-ready status.

What is it? Proofreading (also known as word-level editing and mechanical editing) examines some same items a Copyeditor does, but a Proofreader looks for hard-and-fast mistakes overlooked during the Copyedit.

Who needs Proofreading? Writers that are:
• Ready to publish their manuscript.
• Pursuing independent publishing. (Most traditional publishers prefer handling Proofreading in-house.)
• Serious about succeeding as an author.
• What does a Proofreader look for? Things like:
• Accurate table of contents
• Accurate index
• Accurate artwork placement
• Accurate cross-references
• Accurate and consistent headers, footers, page numbers, etc.
• Typos
• Repeated words next to each other
• Punctuation errors
• Capitalization errors
• Abbreviation errors
• Formatting errors

Best time to use a Proofreader? Before uploading manuscript to typesetter and/or book publishing site.

How to save money on Proofreading? Fix as many of these items before submitting manuscript to Proofreader.

Timing? One week.

What to be prepared for?
• Minor reworks
• Phrase, word, and punctuation changes

Caution… Beware of a Proofreader that:
• Doesn’t fix anything. Nobody’s manuscript is perfect. Nobody’s .
• Encourages rewrites.

Still not sure which type of editing is appropriate for your current work in progress? Drop me an email, and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Into? In To? Onto? On To? Argh!

Prepositions like into, in to, onto, and on to can drive writers crazy. Don’t worry. Correct usage is easy if you remember a few simple things.

Into, in to, onto, and on to are prepositions of direction, answering the question “where.” But not always.

 

Into starts a prepositional phrase that shows direction, movement, position, or transformation from one thing into another.

Cinderella stepped into her carriage.

Movement is to the interior of the carriage.

Cinderella’s carriage turned into a pumpkin after midnight.

The carriage transformed.

The remodeling project turned into a big mess.
Glynnis threw diced tomatoes into the salad.
Snow lingers well into June in the mountains.

Snow lingers how long? Well into June.

She went into business with her friend.

A phrasal verb… the meaning is not literal.

Jerry ran into an old friend at the auction.

A phrasal verb… the meaning is not literal.)

Often, into is interchangeable with in.

Put the old magazines in/intothe recycle bin.
The dog jumped in/into the pool.

Sometimes, into and in are not interchangeable. While in shows direction, it does not always mean movement from one thing to another as into does.

Is the dog still swimming in the pool?
Why was there more champagne in Lynette’s glass?

 

In + To act as a phrase. In is an adverb and to is a preposition. In is part of a phrasal verb, i.e., you need an adverb to complete the verb’s meaning.

Rachel dived in to rescue the struggling child.

Context suggests Rachel dived into water.

Rachel dived into the water to rescue the struggling child.
He walked in to the sound of applause.

Context suggests that he walked into a location.

He walked into the sound of applause.

 

Everyone at work chipped in to the fund for Donna’s baby shower.

But not

Everyone at work chipped into the fund for Donna’s baby shower.

 

Unsure whether to use in to or into? Say the sentence aloud. Hear which spelling/usage you need.

 

As a preposition, onto shows moving or placing “on top of.” Use it if you can add the word up before onto.

Dad climbed (up) onto the roof to retrieve the kitten.
Rodney shoved blame (up) his brother for not fixing the lawnmower.

 

Onto and the preposition on are often interchangeable.

Harry stepped on/onto the grass.
Crumbs fell on/onto the new carpet.

 

Sometimes, onto and on are not interchangeable because on means more than “on top of.”

She wrote on the book.

Meaning “in contact with,” but not

She wrote onto the book.

Meaning “wait”.

 

Hold on!

Meaning “wait”.

 

Onto and on to are not interchangeable.

She tossed the book onto (on) the desk.

But not

She tossed the book on to the desk.

 

The rain fell onto (on) the parched earth.

But not

The rain fell on to the parched earth.

 

The restaurant adds the tip onto the bill.

But not

The restaurant adds the tip on to the bill.

 

On + to act as a phrase. On is an adverb and to is a preposition. On is part of a phrasal verb. On to is casual in usage.

Pass the information about tax law changes on to your clients.

Or

Pass the information about the tax law changes to your clients.

 

We moved on to other matters.

But not

We moved onto other matters.

 

We’re having cocktails in the garden and moving on to the house for dinner.

But not

We’re having cocktails in the garden and moving onto the house for dinner.

Better

We’re having cocktails in the garden, and then we’ll have dinner in the house.

 

Sometimes context determines whether you should use onto or on to.

We drove onto the highway in the old truck.

Context suggests they got on the highway.

We drove on to the highway in the old truck.

Context suggests they drove until arriving at the highway. Then they did a different thing, e.g., pulled over for a rest stop, ate a meal, or checked the map and discovered they lost.

Unsure whether to use onto or on to? Say the sentence aloud. Hear which spelling/usage you need.

Easy peasy… lemon squeezy…

Write on!

How to Make Your Fictional Characters Seem Real

You overhear two people on a blind date, and the first few minutes of your conversation goes something like this…

“Hi, I’m Bubba.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Whitney. Where are you originally from?”

“Birmingham, Alabama.”

“Oh, a gun-toting, God-fearing redneck that hates anybody that isn’t exactly like you, believes the War of Northern Aggression never ended, and is currently going through a divorce from your cousin. Let me guess… you’re gonna order country-fried steak. Am I right?”

“Right on all fronts, Karen! And where are you from?”

“New York City.”

“Ah… So, you’ll be ordering pizza or a bagel. I’m assuming you live on a trust fund your daddy set up so you can shop seven days a week, right? What’s more… You don’t know how to drive because you’ve taken cabs all your life.”

“Wow! It’s like you know me already!”

Talk about two boring, boring, BORING characters…

Adding depth to your characters adds depth to your story.

When you rely on the surface-layer of a stereotype to say what you need, the approach falls flat and readers get bored. For example, a protagonist that’s a control freak and a Republican and an antagonist that’s a hippie and a Democrat will only take your story so far.

Stereotypes exist, and they’re easy to use because they’re familiar and recognizable. But they aren’t interesting. No surprise. No mystery. Blah.

Don’t paint yourself into a corner by relying on stereotype. 

Too often, after establishing your formulaic character, you drop the stereotype (without a believable and compelling reason) to fulfill what you need your characters to do to move the story forward.

For example: Carolyn is a Republican control freak who likes her world clean and organized. But when she foregoes a boutique hotel stay (where things are guaranteed to be clean and organized) to stay with Peace, a Democrat hippie and in his mess of an apartment filled with 15 rescued dogs, cats, and birds, Carolyn loses creditability with the author and the reader.

Don’t confuse stereotypes and archetypes. 

The term stereotype denotes a societal-accepted generalization about a specific collection of people that oversimplifies their qualities into predictable or clichéd types. Think jocks (stupid), redneck (gun-lovers) and Germans (Nazis).

An archetype is an original pattern or model for a type. Think willing hero (Lee Child’s Jack Reacher), seductress (Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara), and free spirit (Jane Austen’s Emma).

An archetype uses the type of person as a starting place for a memorable character. A stereotype uses it as the end point.

Know your characters inside and out.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, knowing your characters—main, secondary, and tertiary—inside and out aids the writing process immensely.

Once you’ve set on a character and have a basis for his/her existence, i.e., hero, villain, antihero, sidekick, mentor, etc., time to add the bells and whistles.

  • Physical Description: A basic mental picture of each character gives you a handle of how you want him/her to appear to your readers and can help you develop character attractions and interactions.
  • Personality Type: Cardboard characters are boring. Add spice and flavor to your characters by giving them interesting traits and mindsets that make your readers care.
  • Strengths and Weaknesses:  These attributes ensure your story arc has somewhere to go that’s semi-realistic (We’re writing fiction, after all.), believable, and endearing. These simple answers help you challenge your characters and make them shine.
  • Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC): Goal… What must he/she have or be? This drives your story forward. Motivation… Why does he/she want that? This depends on her goal. Conflict… What/who blocks him/her from him/her goal? What’s his/her skin in the game? (Hint: Don’t settle for the first answer to each question. Dig deeper.)
  • Backstory: Each of us are who we are because of where we’re from, how we’ve lived, what we’ve seen, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve gained, what we’ve lost, etc. 90% of the information you develop for each character will not directly become part of the story you tell your readers, but knowing these elements makes writing your characters and their thoughts and actions easier.
  • Tics, expressions, rituals, habits, quirks, etc.: Items like these make your characters appear human and give them their own voices and personalities. But don’t overload a character with too many. Pick one and run with it.

Now, go forth and envision some incredibly interesting characters.

Write on!

Diagramming Sentences: Grammar’s X-Ray Machine

Yeah… I hear the booing and hissing. I see the eyes rolling. Sentence diagramming? Are you kidding, Annie?

No. I’m. Not.

Diagramming is essential to writing better fiction.

Complain all you want, but diagramming can improve your writing immensely.

Just like the ER X-ray taken of my foot to see if I broke it tripping over a rattlesnake on a hiking trail (Okay, it turned out to be a stick, but it was a huge stick, and I saw it move… twice.), a sentence diagram helps you see the structure of what you wrote.

By placing the various parts in relation to the basic subject-verb relationship, you can see how the parts fit together and how the meaning of your sentence branches out. You get a clear understanding of how your sentence is working or why it’s not.

If you can’t see something is broken, you can’t fix it. If you can’t diagram a sentence to see if something is broken, you can’t fix it. Simple, huh?

You don’t have to diagram every sentence.

Sometimes you know something is wrong with a sentence, but you can’t quite figure it out. That’s when to have fun with diagramming.

Yes. Fun.

When you diagram a sentence, you know everything about each word in that sentence, how each word functions, and how each part interacts or doesn’t.Like my foot X-ray, a sentence diagram is an intimate look at your sentence. You see each word and how it functions within that sentence. You can do things like:

  • SPOT too many adjectives or adverbs.
  • CATCH passive voice.
  • DOUBLE-CHECK subject-verb agreement.
  • FIX incorrect pronoun reference.
  • DISCOVER you’re using too many words.

Often, if you can’t figure out how to diagram your sentence, you have a problem sentence.

The more you diagram, the better you get at seeing common writing problems.

Ergo, the more you diagram, the better your writing becomes. Become a better writer, and you could stop diagramming.

But you won’t stop. It’s addicting.

Contrary to popular belief, diagramming isn’t difficult. See for yourself. I have a handy, dandy booklet called “Diagramming Fiction Sentences for Fun… Yes, Fun!” I can send you. Email me at annie@annieedits.com to request yours.

Then, have fun. Yes, fun.

Write on!