Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Ernest Hemingway to Make You a Better Writer


Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) was the world-famous author of The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea.

Here are six of his wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything.

There’s something to be said for writing every day and even writing a long, long time every day if you want, but eventually you do need to step away from the desk and do something else, anything else. This is especially true if you want to be a successful writer.

On the occasional day I don’t go for a run or head to the gym after a long morning and afternoon of writing, my body hurts long into the night. I’ll get a headache. I won’t feel my best, and I’ll especially feel a bit down the next day when I try to write again.

It’s in your best interest as a writer to leave the writing room occasionally. Burn some calories exercising or doing, you know, other things. Go outside. Go on an adventure and live a little! Let writing be a small part of your day, but don’t forget about all the other things that make up a successful life.

2. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

One of the best tips for success in fiction writing, especially novel writing, I tell writers all the time is you should step away from the writing desk when you know what the next scene is going to be, not when you have no idea what the next scene is going to be.

It might make sense to you to write, write, write until you eventually don’t have a handle on the next scene, the next chapter. But the problem with that is you’ll sit down at your writing desk the next day and then ponder awhile and stare out the window and twirl a pen around. You won’t know what to write next, and so you’ll lose precious time you could have been writing instead.

Stop writing when you know exactly what the next scene is going to be. Even better, be excited to write that next scene, but force yourself to step away from the desk, do other things, enjoy the rest of your day and night… and then come back the next day refreshed and ready to put some new awesome prose down on the page.

3. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

I set a lot of goals for myself with each new writing day, and one of them is always to write one really great sentence. One superb, true sentence in 2,000 words of drafting is always a strong goal to be had.

When I’m working on the first draft of a new novel, I know that much of the work is going to be flat, awkward, possibly dreadful. And I’m okay with that, because I know I’ll come back later in revisions to fix what isn’t working.

But as silly as it sounds, it really does make me feel good in each writing session to write at least one fantastic sentence. One sentence that makes me sit back for a moment and say, wow, where did that come from?

Often these sentences happen when I’m deep into our writing session. It’s a thrill every time it happens, it really is!

4. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

You might struggle coming up with new story ideas. I certainly do, especially when it comes to short fiction. I have friends writing one short story after another, and I’m lucky to write two of them in a given year, partly because I focus more on novels, but also because ideas for short stories don’t come to me often.

So if you want to write shorter pieces and have no idea where to start, Ernest Hemingway is right — think of everything you know about and write one story about each thing! Think of what compels you. What interests you. What have you studied before? What experiences have you had?

It absolutely doesn’t hurt as a writer to start with what you know and then go from there. Writing what you know is a great way to learn the basics of writing and start mastering the craft before you get into more unknown territory later that might lead to a piece of writing that’s truly extraordinary.

5. My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.

This might seem obvious to most of you, but just in case it’s not, I feel like it’s worth being said — don’t drink alcohol before or during a writing session. Particularly when it comes to fiction writing.

You want your head to be clear. You want your head to be able to go to surprising places when you’re deep into a writing session. Let the drinking come later. Let the drinking commence as soon as you’ve reached the end of your writing for the day.

Most people write their fiction in the morning, so this shouldn’t be of concern, but what if you write your fiction late at night? I don’t know what to tell you. One glass of wine with dinner is probably okay, but if you write late, don’t go crazy with alcohol. Your drafting won’t be as top notch as it could be, and you’ll probably find yourself falling asleep at the desk too.

6. When I had to write it, then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. Let the pressure build.

One of the most exciting aspects to being a writer is finding that story you’re super passionate about, that you simply have to write, and then let the pressure build before you eventually get started on it.

Sure, you can start writing that story right away if you want, but there’s something special about delaying the writing of it. To let the pressure build as you work out the story and characters in your mind as you go about your days. One of my favorite parts of writing is this, just thinking about the story. And knowing you’ll get to it one day down the road.

I tell writers this all the time — the mediocre ideas you have for stories will fall by the wayside if you wait long enough, and the ones you’re absolutely meant to write will stay with you forever. No matter how long you wait to write that fantastic story — a few weeks, a few months, even a few years — eventually you’ll put your butt in the chair and begin the work you were meant to do.

And who knows? This story might be the one that kick-starts your prolific and successful writing career. The Sun Also Rises is the one that did it for Ernest Hemingway. What’s it going to be for you?

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Posted in Writing

5 Phrases to Look For When You’re Editing Your Writing


You can revise your latest manuscript to your heart’s content, but before you query your novel to literary agents or submit your short fiction to journals, trust me, you’re going to want to spend a few extra minutes looking for words and phrases that shouldn’t necessarily be there.

Last week I discussed five words you should always look for in your writing when you reach the final stages of your revision process. I would say the words “that” and “just” are the two big ones. I don’t know about you, but I write “just” all the time. If you cut out most of these words, your writing will improve considerably.

Another way to make your writing better? Beyond those five words, you should also look for awkward and empty phrases in your writing that don’t do you any favors.

Here are five painful phrases you should always be looking for…

1. For a few seconds / for a moment

I write phrases like these two all the time in a first draft in a work of fiction. They’re all over the place. Sometimes they pop up more than once on the same page!

The big problem with phrases like these is that they don’t mean much to your readers. Seriously, what does “for a moment” even mean? It tells the reader the character is taking a beat, but this isn’t a movie. How much time that moment lasts isn’t exactly clear.

Writing “for a few seconds” or “for a moment” is lazy ultimately because you should instead be writing something more unique and dynamic to demonstrate that your character is taking a necessary beat.

Example: He stared at her for a few seconds, scratching the bottom of his chin.

This whole sentence is lazy, honestly, but it’s made even worse with “for a few seconds.” What happens to the sentence when you take that phrase out? Nothing. The meaning comes across exactly the same. It’s clear a beat is being taken, so why add “for a few seconds?”

There might be one or two places in a work of fiction where “for a moment” or something similar can stay, but for the most part, stay clear of phrases like these always.

2. She knows / thinks / hopes / wonders / feels / believes

Did you know your writing improves considerably when you remove sentences that have words like “knows” and “thinks” and “hopes” and “wonders” and “feels” and “believes?”

Why? Because it’s telling, not showing.

A few years ago I learned writing gets infinitely better when you stay away from merely telling the reader things about your character. Sentences that begin with a character thinking something or hoping something or feeling something. Especially feeling.

Any schmuck can write a sentence like the following…

Example: She felt embarrassed by the incident in the cafeteria yesterday.

Again, this is lazy writing. It’s an author telling the reader something rather than showing it in an interesting way.

Don’t simply tell us she’s embarrassed about something that happened yesterday. Show us in her behavior how she’s embarrassed by it.

Same thing goes for a character hoping for something to come, or wondering what might happen next. Show us this, don’t tell us.

3. For the most part / after all / at the end of the day

I go nuts with phrases like these in my writing. Often I find that these phrases help with the rhythm of my sentences and paragraphs. But there’s one big problem with phrases like “for the most part” and “at the end of the day.”

They’re empty. They mean nothing. And they don’t need to be there.

Example: She turned away from Billy. She had no more desire to see him, after all. Their friendship was over.

See how the sentence doesn’t really change if you drop “after all?” It can be dropped because it’s empty. It’s there for rhythm, nothing else.

Whenever you’re stuck deciding whether or not a phrase needs to go, ask yourself this: does the meaning of the sentence stay the same if I cut the phrase?

In the cases of these three phrases, the answer is almost always a hard yes.

4. There was / it was

My MA thesis advisor was the first person to teach me why sentences that begin with either of these phrases should be rewritten. Like the previous example, “there was” and “it was” can often be empty.

If “it” refers to a subject from the previous sentence, that might be okay, but when you write a sentence like the following, you’re in trouble.

Example: It was the middle of the night, and Jimmy was still awake.

What does the “it” refer to in that sentence? Nothing. It’s empty.

Now, as my MA thesis advisor did also say, sometimes you simply have to open a sentence with “there was” or “it was” when referring to something like time of day. Occasionally there’s not another way to say “it was 10:30 P.M.” that to say “it was 10:30 P.M.”

But whenever possible, try not to open a sentence with “there was” or “it was.” Open sentences with those phrases as seldomly as possible, and your writing will improve in the long run.

5. She nods / shrugs / smiles / grins

Finally, phrases like these are fine, they’re acceptable, I certainly write them in my fiction from time to time.

But it will serve you well to search for phrases like these in your work and delete some of them and punch up a few others.

Again, any schmuck can write “She nods” before a line of dialogue. It’s so basic and boring. So empty.

Example: She shrugged, then turned her head toward Tiffany and smiled.

Ugh, am I right? That sentence reeks of amateur hour. What other behavior might you come up with? What’s something more unique to the character?

Sure, sometimes for rhythm, you can get away with an occasional “he grins” or “she nods” but try to be better. Try to come up with behavior that enlivens the scene, that develops the character, that shows in more detail the character’s emotions.

Avoid phrases like these in your writing, and your work will strengthen considerably.

As I said before, it’s perfectly fine to include examples of these phrases in your first draft, even your second or third draft. In the beginning you want to focus on telling your story the best you can. Get the story right first. Focus on character development and theme and pacing.

But later in the process you want to seek out empty and awkward phrases like these above examples. What makes it so easy is that all you have to do is type any one of these phrases in the search function on Microsoft Word and every example of the phrase will pop up in your manuscript in seconds.

If you have ten examples of “for a moment” or “after all” or “he nods,” you can find them quickly and fix, delete, or change as many of them as you can!

So do it. Please. You have no excuses.

Take a little time before you start querying your novel or submitting your short fiction to seek out these phrases in your work. You’ll be glad you did!

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Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by John Grisham to Make You a Better Writer


John Grisham (born in 1955) is the bestselling author of The Firm, The Client, The Runaway Jury, and A Time to Kill.

Here are six of his wonderful quotes that will help inspire your writing!

1. I seriously doubt I would ever have written the first story had I not been a lawyer. I never dreamed of being a writer. I wrote only after witnessing a trial.

Some writers write because they feel compelled to. Because to not write is like death to the soul. They simple have to write to survive, to stay a sane person, to engage in the world in a way that makes sense to them.

I am one of those people. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. And for ten years now I’ve written almost every day. Fiction. Non-fiction. Poetry. Screenplays. I love to create. I love going to bed at night knowing I created something new today, and there’s a huge level of excitement for what I’m going to create tomorrow.

But some people come to writing from a different angle, the way John Grisham did. Some don’t necessarily think of themselves as writers for many, many years but experience something so extraordinary or devastating or life-altering that the blank page feels like the best way to get their thoughts down. That kind of writing is just as valid as any other.

And if your talent shines through, you’ll likely be writing lots more in the years to come!

2. It’s hard to read good fiction when I am writing, because if it is really good I catch myself sort of inadvertently imitating a great writer.

This is an interesting perspective I haven’t really thought deeply about before, but in a way, he’s right. If I’m in the middle of drafting my latest novel, it doesn’t really help me to read a work of literary genius during that time because it might do one of two things.

  • Reading that masterpiece might depress me in knowing if I live to be 1,000 I’ll never be able to write something that amazing, and hell, I might even lose my enthusiasm for the story I’m writing or possibly stop writing it completely.
  • Reading that masterpiece might make me start imitating the author’s voice on the page of my latest novel, whether I want to imitate it or not.

The truth is that with everything you write, you want your own voice to come through, not anyone else’s. As soon as you start imitating someone else, your work dies a little.

I prefer to read non-fiction when I’m writing my latest work of fiction. I won’t ever find myself imitating that kind of writing, and I’ll still be able to get lost in a really cool story without worrying about it having a negative effect on the manuscript I’m currently drafting.

3. I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.

There’s something to be said about recognizing your shortcoming as a writer. It’s not the end of the world if you recognize early on that you are not, and never will be, a literary genius.

I’ve written twenty novels in ten years. I have lots more novels in me I’m excited to write. And I’m perfectly content knowing I’m in no way, shape, or form a literary genius. I’ll likely never write a novel in my lifetime I feel is even close to a level of genius or a masterwork or anything like that.

You can work really hard and love what you do while recognizing that your talent and skill can only take you so far.

At the same though it’s important to remember you can always get better at writing, you can always be reading and studying, you can try to get more literary in your work year after year. You can get better.

I read my first three novels now and think, yikes. I read my newest novel, which I’ve been hard at work on for three years, and think, much better. I’ve improved considerably. I want to improve with every new novel.

As long as you’re growing, and want to keep learning, there’s no telling how stellar your work can get after awhile.

4. Nobody wants to read about the honest lawyer down the street who does real estate loans and wills. If you want to sell books, you have to write about the interesting lawyers — the guys who steal all the money and take off. That’s the fun stuff.

Grisham makes an interesting point here about character. About how most readers have no interest in reading about the nice, honest guy who does everything right and is happy and is successful, nothing bad or corrupt ever happening to him. That story’s going to get old for your readers real fast.

The protagonist of your story doesn’t always have to be a total mess of a person. It can be someone who’s honest and kind and always wanting to do the right thing. You can totally write a main character who is a decent person with honest intentions.

But the readers will abandon you if that character never gets into trouble or finds a major compelling conflict. Something horrible needs to happen. Something exciting or surprising needs to take place that prevents your protagonist from getting what they want.

Your readers are always desperate for good conflict. You want suspense and tension on the page. You want readers to be engaged from sentence one.

And at the end of the day, the more complicated your protagonist is, the better.

5. I always try to tell a good story, one with a compelling plot that will keep the pages turning. That is my first and primary goal. Sometimes I can tackle an issue-homelessness, tobacco litigation, insurance fraud, the death penalty-and wrap a good story around it.

Especially when you’re in the business of writing fiction, your goal first and foremost should be to tell a good story. You shouldn’t have a message you’re trying to shove down the reader’s throat. No matter genre it is, no matter what topics are dealt with, tell a good story.

Often you can tackle a major issue in your fiction that affects millions of people around the world, and do it in a way that makes your readers think differently about the issue. You can totally get away with doing that if you have a considerable amount of skill and talent.

The important thing to remember is that if your readers don’t involved with the story itself, they’re not ever going to care. They’re never going to make it to page 78 or page 150 or page 220 where you tackle that issue. If the reader gives up on your story, you haven’t done your job right.

So tell a good story first, and then present issues worth exploring around that good story. Doing so will bring you more success in the long run when it comes to your fiction writing.

6. I used to walk in a bookstore and see all these books on the walls. And I would say, ‘Who wants to hear from me? What do I have to add to all of this?’

We’ve all had that moment at the bookstore. I’ve certainly had my share of them. I remember walking around a Barnes & Noble in early 2010 thinking about maybe writing my first novel and yet wondering who in the world is going to care what I have to say about anything.

There are so many books in the world. So many writers who have succeeded, and so many who have failed. I was scared to write my first novel because I wasn’t sure anyone would give it the time of day.

And you know what? Nobody really did give it the time of day. Because the story had problems. And it wasn’t well written.

But I’ve improved in my writing skills considerably ten years later, and now I write every day without that constant voice in my ear telling me nobody wants to hear from me, that I have nothing to add to the conversation.

You know what? Here’s the honest truth — some people might not care to hear from you, but many people will. If you speak from your heart, if you speak truthfully, if you put a spin on a story we’ve never really seen before, people will sit up and take notice.

You have to be ready for lots of rejection. Lots of people who won’t give a shit about you or your writing.

But if you stick with it long enough, eventually enough people will care about what you have to say. And then you can really get to work.

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Posted in Writing

Why You Need to Stop Calling Yourself an Aspiring Writer


You want to hear a sad, dirty secret?

On many days I still consider myself an aspiring writer.

Even though I’ve been writing pretty much every day for ten years now, I have two Masters degrees in English, I’ve written twenty novels, I’ve had many short stories published, I’ve written more than 1,000 articles for Medium, I’ve taught writing for seven years.

I still, after all this time, sometimes consider myself an aspiring writer. Why?

Because I haven’t had a novel traditionally published yet.

And since that’s been the number one goal from day one, since the middle of April 2010 when I decided I wanted to be a published novelist, part of me still feels like I’m aspiring because that hasn’t happened yet.

Sure, I’ve gotten close. I signed with a literary agent in 2017, we worked on my middle grade horror novel Monster Movie for a year, and then it went out to editors at major publishing houses for a year and a half. A lot of editors really liked it. We got close with a couple of them.

But it didn’t happen. And I’m starting the querying process over again with a new manuscript I believe in with my whole heart.

So today? After all that time and effort I’ve put into writing in the past decade? Part of me continues to feel like an aspiring writer. Someone who’s done a lot of great work but is not fully accomplished yet, since my main goal hasn’t been met.

But you know what? We all need to nix that damn word from our vocabulary once and for all.

Calling ourselves aspiring writers is the same way of thinking as telling people what our real jobs are when they ask what we do. Since I’ve been teaching for seven years, I often will tell people I’m a teacher, not a writer. The writing thing won’t even come up.

Again, why? Because teaching helps pays the bills more than writing does. Even though I made $8,000 on Medium last year. Even though I made a really nice side income on this site in the last twelve months, I still feel weird telling people I’m a writer.

It’s something that needs to stop, for me, and for all of you. If writing is your passion, if it’s your jam, tell people you’re a writer when they ask you what you do. And if they ask a follow-up about how you make money doing that, or make a snide comment suggesting what you do is worthless, ignore that person and move along.

Tell people you’re a writer, and not an aspiring writer. Toss that terrible word in the trash, I’m telling you.

The definition of aspiring is simply this: directing one’s hopes or ambitions toward becoming a specified type of person.

You know why this word is stupid, especially in this case?

Because you’re already that type of person. You’re already a writer if you’re doing the actual writing.

Sure, you can have hopes and ambitions for your writing career. You can have big hopes and ambitions that haven’t been met yet. They haven’t been met for me after ten years of hard work, and I’m OK with that.

But just because you haven’t reached the ultimate dream doesn’t mean you or I should call ourselves aspiring writers.

Drop that dumb word, I mean it. Call yourself a writer. Because you already are.

The writing life is hard enough without thinking of yourself as less than. As a person who’s working toward something always and not as a person who’s already accomplished and special, which you are.

It takes guts just to write at all. It takes confidence and resilience to sit in front of a computer every day and pour your heart out on the page.

So many people talk about writing. About what they want to write in the future. About the novel that’s in their heart.

That’s not writing. That’s not even aspirational writing. That’s just conversation.

If you’re actually putting your butt in the chair every day and writing? Whether or not it makes you money?

Then you’re a writer. You’re not an aspiring writer. You’re doing the work. You’re learning. You’re getting better. You’re honing your skills. You’re improving your craft. You’re having fun. You’re doing well. And you’re going places, I’m telling you.

You’re a writer.

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Posted in Writing

A Dozen Quotes by John Green to Help You Write Your Novel


John Green (born in 1977) is the beloved author of The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down, and Looking for Alaska.

Here are a dozen of his wonderful quotes to help you write your novel!

1. Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who wanna tell you a story but don’t wanna make eye contact while telling it.

John Green is exactly right. This profession is perfect for introverts because we love to tell stories, are desperate to tell stories, and yet have no desire to actually tell any of them directly to your face. I would be mortified to tell one of my stories to someone in person. But to tell a story to many, many people on the page? That’s the dream. That’s the passion, always.

2. I really think that reading is just as important as writing when you’re trying to be a writer because it’s the only apprenticeship we have, it’s the only way of learning how to write a story.

He’s absolutely right about this one too. You can take a hundred classes about how to be a writer, and you can talk to your friends about writing until the end of time, but there are really only two ways to become a good writer. Write every day. And read every day. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read in every genre possible. Read good and bad fiction. Reading is truly the best way to learn how to write a story.

3. I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90 percent of my first drafts, so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90 percent chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.

One of the best things you can do as a writer is give yourself permission to suck. Because not every writing day is going to go well. In my experience, only a few writing days ever go well. Most of them suck, and you know what? That’s okay. The important thing is that you write every day and reach THE END of any project you start. Writing is a long process that doesn’t end with a first draft. Many writers never finish things because they’re scared to suck, but the best thing you can do is give yourself permission to suck and keep going no matter what.

4. When I think about characters, I like to think of them in their relationships to each other. In the same way, I think that’s how humans are ultimately defined. We are our relationships to one another. And a lot of what’s interesting about us happens in the context of other people.

One of the most exciting parts of writing a novel is putting your characters in a room together. Is coming up with complex, three-dimensional characters who often want different things and then toss them into a scene together and see what happens. It’s especially a thrill to have two characters with the complete opposite of desires and motivations share a scene together. How does your main character interact with a teacher he hates, a friend he adores, his parents, his siblings? Relationships in fiction tell us so much about your characters, and they’re sure fun to write about.

5. Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed and when I’m writing, there are no bees to sting me out of my sentimentality. For me at least, fiction is the only way I can even begin to twist my lying memories into something true.

One of the best things about fiction is to take elements from your life you wish had happened and then turn them into reality on the page. Often what doesn’t happen to me in my own life will turn itself into a really nifty story idea, and that idea will build a bridge to more exciting possibilities. Stephen King has often said that a great place to start when it comes with novel ideas is ask yourself, “What if?” What if this had happened instead of that? What if I had chosen this path instead of that one? Think about what could have happened to you in a pivotal time in your life, and who knows? Your next amazing novel idea might be waiting.

6. There is a lot of talk in publishing these days that we need to become more like the Internet: We need to make books for short attention spans with bells and whistles — books, in short, that are as much like ‘Angry Birds’ as possible. But I think that’s a terrible idea.

Agreed! A terrible idea! Oh my God, if we ever reach the point where all the new books are filled with bells and whistles to accommodate those with low attention spans, then we’re in trouble. There’s a time for Twitter and Facebook and all things Internet, and there’s a time for big, beautiful, ambitious novels that transport us to another time and place. I actually prefer longer novels to anything else, and I certainly have zero interest in anything published that’s geared toward people with low attention spans. I think this kind of future is still far away, thank God. I still think books are in very good hands.

7. We’re professional worriers. You’re constantly imagining things that could go wrong and then writing about them.

The same way we like to imagine things going a bit differently in our past and then potentially writing about that, we also tend to imagine things that could go wrong in our future, am I right? We’re standing in line at a bank, imagining ten different things that could go horribly wrong, and often one of those ideas can make for a great story. No matter what your day is like — good, bad, indifferent — imagine the worst thing that could happen and then write about that. Come up with something too fantastical to happen in real life… and then write about that.

8. I’m a big believer in pairing classics with contemporary literature, so students have the opportunity to see that literature is not a cold, dead thing that happened once but instead a vibrant mode of storytelling that’s been with us a long time — and will be with us, I hope, for a long time to come.

One thing many aspiring writers forget to do is read the classics as well as the new shiny novels that are recently published. I do think it’s important to always be reading new books to see what editors are looking for and to get at least a feel for what the current marketplace is like, but to improve your writing, it’s essential to read at least a few classics every year. Sure, some of the language and style might have changed in fifty years or a hundred years, but to see how the masters told stories will absolutely help you in the long run.

9. My interest as a writer is not in reflecting actual human speech, which, of course, does not occur in sentences and is totally undiagrammable. My interest is in trying to reflect the reality of experience — how we feel when we talk to each other, how we feel when we’re engaging with questions that interest us.

Dialogue is a tricky thing. You can’t actually write dialogue that’s copied over from real human speech. Have you ever sat down in a coffee shop for ten minutes and transcribed every word of what the two people next to you are saying to each other? Half the time it’s jibberish. Lots of uhhs, ohhhs, likes, and the rest. You don’t want to write all that in your fiction, but at the same time you want your dialogue to sound realistic, help develop your characters, and move your story forward. Like with everything else in writing, lots and lots of practice will help you fine tune your dialogue skills, as well as help you capture the reality of experience always.

10. What I eventually realized is that the real business of books is not done by awards committees or people who turn trees into paper or editors or agents or even writers. We’re all just facilitators. The real business is done by readers.

When you’re writing a novel, you really have to keep your head out of the business of things and not think about awards and New York Times bestseller lists. The best thing you can do when you’re writing a novel is write the best story you can. You want to finish the story, and revise it, and revise it again. You don’t want anything less than your best to be put into the world. And remember at the end of the day that readers get the final say. Once your work is done, then the real business is done by readers. Your novel will one day belong to them. Be comfortable with that. Be excited about that.

11. I enjoy writing about people falling in love, probably because I think the first time you fall in love is the first time that you have to figure out how you’re going to orient your life. What are you going to value? What’s going to be most important to you? And I think that’s really interesting to write about.

A million times, yes! This is one of the things that pulls me back to YA fiction time and time again. Your time in high school is such an important, vibrant, scary, funny, memorable experience. It’s such a fantastic time of life to write about, and I still love doing it. As a gay person, I’ve also been pulled to writing about LGBTQ characters falling in love for the first time because I remember what it was like to fall in love with another guy around that time, and boy, I’ll never forget that feeling as long as I live.

12. When you’re writing a novel, you spend four years sitting in your basement and a year waiting for the book to come out and then you get the feedback.

What non-writers don’t realize about writing novels is how much intensive work is done for years on every project. I think non-writers assume you write a first draft of a book, and then six months later it’s in bookstores around the world. Many people have no clue what it takes to write a book, how long the journey is from your inception of the idea to the book actually reaching bookstores. How many tears are shed as you revise, revise, revise, and work with beta readers and literary agents and editors, and how very often along the way the novel never gets published at all.

If you want to be a writer, you have to be in it for the long haul. Through the good times and the bad. And if you stick with it long enough, eventually you’ll have a book in the world, and you’ll get the feedback from readers you’ve been waiting to receive for years.

Have patience. Keep going. Your time will come.

Want to take your writing to the next level?

Click here to find out about my Editorial Services.

Posted in Writing

5 Words to Look For When You’re Editing Your Writing


There’s a lot to think about when you’re editing your own work.

Whether it’s your second revision or your fifteenth, you’re always hard at work on making your book better. You want your characters to come more alive, you want the story to make sense, you want the writing to have strong pacing, you want to write something spectacular!

When you’re in the early revising stages, you should pay attention to larger story issues, not words and sentences. Before you get to the smaller details, you want to make sure the story works as best as it can.

But later on, once your story is solid and your characters are as rich and complex as you can make them, then you should start paying attention to the specific words that make up your story.

I’m currently hard at work on the twelfth draft of my MFA thesis novel which I first wrote way back in the summer of 2017, and later this month I’m finally going to query it to literary agents. And the last thing I’m doing in this final draft is cleaning up some of the awkward phrasing and, yes, paying attention to every single word. I’m studying each sentence to see what words need to be there, what words can be changed… and what words should be deleted entirely.

As I slowly make my way through my manuscript chapter by chapter, these are five words I’m looking for to be changed or deleted. And you know what? You should be looking for these words too!

1. That

My MFA thesis advisor taught me a lot when she worked with me on my novel, but you know what one of the greatest things she taught me was?

The word “that” can often be removed from your writing. The word “that” is often an unnecessary placeholder!

I started looking for “that” in my fiction and soon realized she was absolutely right. About 90% or so of the time, “that” can be removed without changing anything about the sentence itself. I had written it into so many sentences for twenty years, and it almost always never needed to be there, holy cow!

Example: She walked faster so that she could arrive at the party on time.

The sentence is perfectly fine, but what happens when you remove “that” from it? Nothing. The sentence stays the same, and in some way it sounds even better.

2. Just

This word will be the death of me. I use it all the time. I often use it three to five times on every single page of my fiction writing without even realizing it.

My MA thesis advisor (yes, I have two Masters degrees) was the first to teach me how the word “just” should always go. He didn’t say almost always. He said always.

Even today I have to push back on that a little bit. I do think occasionally the word “just” helps a sentence. Not only with the pacing of it but also to tell the reader something about time and place.

But I agree that 95% of the time, you should remove “just” from your writing. You’ll be shocked to see how much your work strengthens in time.

Example: She just left to arrive at the party on time.

Here’s a case of a sentence where “just” is definitely not needed. Take it out, and the sentence stays basically the same. Now if a character says this line in dialogue? Then the “just” can stay possibly. But otherwise, take it out.

3. Start/Begin

This one a writer friend pointed out to me once. I’d never put much thought into it, but it makes sense. And I didn’t realize how much I was using this one too.

So often in my fiction I’ll write “she began to walk to her car” instead of “she walked to her car.” I’ll say “she started to walk to her” too, if I already used “began” earlier on the page. I go back and forth between those two goddamn words like it’s nobody’s business.

At least I don’t write “she was starting to walk to her car” anymore. Another thing I learned from a writer friend was how important it is to avoid “-ing” verbs in your fiction whenever possible. So keep an eye out for those as well.

But I suggest before you completely finish a short story or novel you should go through your sentences and search out every “start” and “begin.” Try to cut 90% or more of them, and your writing will improve considerably.

Example: She began to walk to her car to get to the party on time.

Ugh, am I right? It sounds incredibly awkward. Why is she beginning to walk to her car? Why can’t she walk to her car without a beginning or ending? Remove “began to” to make the sentence more palatable to the reader.

4. Really/Very

My high school journalism teacher pulled me aside once to tell me to stop using the word “very” in my writing. He said it meant nothing.

This confused me at the time. I didn’t understand how it could mean nothing. It meant extra. It meant extremely. How dare he hate so much on the word, honestly!

But, of course, the man was right. The words “very” and “really” don’t add anything to your sentences. They’re placeholders for something better.

Again, if a character says “very” or “really” in a line of dialogue, then fine. But if you’re describing something in your fiction, or if you’re trying to express a feeling from one of the characters, ask yourself if you need “very” or “really.” What do these words add? Like my journalism teacher said, they add nothing.

Example: She walked to her car really fast to get to the party on time.

This sentence isn’t a great one to begin with, but it gets a whole lot better when you eliminate “really.” Fast is fast. Really fast doesn’t give the reader any kind of unique image. Find something else to make the sentence stand out. How does she walk fast? Add more description.

5. Immediately

Finally, this is a word nobody specifically has taught me to remove from my fiction. It was actually during this latest revision of my MFA thesis novel I realized I wrote the word everywhere.

I found it three times in the first chapter, and a lightbulb went off in my head that maybe I should keep looking for it throughout the chapters. Lo and behold it’s popped up at least once in almost every chapter since.

This word doesn’t add anything to the sentence. Sure, it seems like it might add a level of urgency, but it doesn’t. It’s long and ugly and brings nothing of note to any of your sentences.

Example: She immediately walked to her car to get to the party on time.

Okay, so this tells me she walked to her car right away than, what, five or ten seconds from now? Again, it’s lazy. It doesn’t give me an image. It’s yet another placeholder for something else.

There are plenty more words you might want to look for when you’re editing, but start with these.

The truth is that your writing will soar when you change or delete specific words like these ones.

You might not feel it’s true when you’re slowly working through your manuscript sentence by sentence. You might think to yourself, nobody’s going to pay attention to specific words, are they?

The truth is they will, especially those gatekeepers who have the power to say yes to your work and get it published. You don’t want to give them any reasons to say no. You want your writing to be its very best.

So every time you edit your manuscript, look for these words, and try to delete most of them if you can. Trust me — you’ll be glad you did!

Want to take your writing to the next level? Click here to find out about my Editorial Services.

Posted in Writing

I Am Now Open to Freelance Editing!


I’ve been a working writer for ten years, and I’m very excited to announce I’m now open to freelance editing!

Strong editors give your work a much needed boost. They help find inconsistencies, pacing problems, plot holes, and grammar mistakes. They help you turn weak writing into great writing!

My Qualifications

  • I received my MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno.
  • I have written twenty novels and more than thirty short stories.
  • My short fiction has been published in more than a dozen literary journals, including Bosque, Fox Cry Review, and The Saturday Evening Post.
  • My novels have received awards, including first runner-up for the Quill Prose Award at Red Hen Press.
  • I have received awards of my own, including Outstanding Creative Writer from the Graduate Student Association at the University of Nevada, Reno.
  • I signed with a literary agent in 2017 and worked with her for more than two years on various novel projects.
  • I am a top writer on Medium, where I have published more than 1,000 articles in the last two years about writing.
  • I have been an English instructor at the college level for seven years, where I have taught courses in composition, research writing, fiction writing, and screenwriting.

Overall, I am passionate about helping writers better their work and achieve their dreams, and I am here to help!

What I Edit

Query Letters, Synopses, Short Fiction, Memoirs, Screenplays, and Novels (of any genre).



Query Letters: $20. Includes line edits, a detailed 1-paragraph response, and 1 additional pass.

Synopsis: $40. Includes line edits, a detailed 1-paragraph response, and 1 additional pass.

Short Fiction: $50 (up to 5,000 words). $75 (5,001 to 10,000 words). $100 (10,001 to 15,000 words). Includes line edits and a 1-page single space response.


Novels / Memoirs / Screenplays Basic Service: .005 cents per word (ex. 50k manuscript = $250). I will proofread your manuscript for grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes to make your writing shine its brightest. In addition I will provide a 1-page single spaced response about ways to improve as a writer and what you should focus on in the next draft.

Novels / Memoirs / Screenplays Deluxe Service: .010 cents per word (ex. 50k manuscript = $500). I will read your manuscript and give you a 3-4 page single spaced critique that discusses the story, characters, setting, and theme, and what you can do to improve in the next draft. In addition, I will provide line edits within the document assessing any grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes, as well as inconsistencies, pacing problems, plot holes, and general questions and concerns I may have about the manuscript. I am a very detailed line editor, and you can guarantee every page will have notes!

Writing Mentorship: Contact me for pricing. If you’d like to work with me at a deeper level and have me read more than one draft of your manuscript, this is the option for you. Includes multiple critiques, line edits, query passes, and synopsis passes. I’ll be in touch by e-mail at all times, and we’ll be able to set up Skype conferences as well!

Want to Work with Me?

To schedule a service or ask me questions, please use my Contact Page.

All payments are done through Paypal. For Bigger Services, payments can be done half in advance and the other half on the date we begin working together. Anything else requires full payment in advance.