Posted in Writing

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

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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

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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.

Want to take your writing to the next level?

Click here to find out about my Editorial Services.

Posted in Writing

Why You Need to Stop Calling Yourself an Aspiring Writer

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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.

Want to take your writing to the next level?

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Posted in Writing

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

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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

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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!

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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).

Pricing

SMALLER SERVICES

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.

BIGGER SERVICES

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.

Posted in Writing

A Dozen Quotes by Neil Gaiman to Help You Write Your Novel

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Neil Gaiman (born in 1960) is the bestselling author of such wonderful novels as American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and Stardust.

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

1. Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.

This quote should be plastered to the corner of your laptop or computer screen. It should be plastered to every corner of your screen. It should be plastered to every corner of the your writing room, honestly! Because this is one of the big truths about writing. You can talk about it all you want, you can dream about your stories, but nothing will happen until you put your butt in the chair and write. Remember that!

2. Know safely what the rules are, and then break them with joy.

This quote is amazing because, again, it’s absolutely true. It’s critical that you learn the basics of writing. The rules. The genres. The markets. The word counts. All that good stuff. You can’t ignore these things as a writer if you want to be successful, it’s as simple as that. But you’re also never going to get anywhere as a writer if you just constantly play it safe. Yes, at times, it’s important that you break a few rules, especially if doing so serves your story well.

3. Whenever I did something where the only reason for doing it was money, normally something would go terribly wrong. And I normally wouldn’t get the money and then I wouldn’t have anything. Whereas, whenever I did anything where what prompted my doing it was being interested, being excited, caring, thinking this is going to be fun, even if things went wrong and I didn’t get the money, I had something I was proud of.

Whenever you sit down to write something strictly to make a lot of money, you lose sight of why you got into writing in the first place, and you’re probably not going to make the kind of money you want anyway. Yes, money plays a factor in your writing life and it should, but you’ll be better off in the long run if you turn to writing for love of your characters and genre and story and world, not for the desire to make money.

4. Everything is driven by characters wanting different things, and by those different things colliding. Every moment that one character wants something, and another character wants something mutually exclusive, and they collide — every time that happens, you have a story. If you get stuck, ask yourself what your characters want — and that is like a flashlight. It shines a light on the road ahead and lets you move forward. It’s the only question that opens the door to ‘What do you do next?’

No matter what genre you’re writing in, take the time always to think deeply about your characters. Think about who they are, what they want, what’s going to prevent them from getting what they want. I always believe no matter what story I’m telling that it’s character, not the plot, that builds the tension and suspense and excitement. Come up with a group of fascinating, conflicted characters, and there’s no telling how great your writing can be.

5. I think that the joy of world building in fiction is honestly the joy of getting to play God. Because as an author, you get to build the world.

Again, no matter what genre you write in, world building is there. Even if you’re writing a story about only a few characters set in a real city that many people know, you’re building the world around those characters. You’re choosing what part of that city to use and how the setting interacts with your characters. Don’t think world building is only for fantasy and science fiction authors. Whatever story you’re telling, you’re building the world that houses that story, so think deeply about this element before you get started.

6. You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.

I haven’t written a major success yet so I guess I’m still waiting to find out if this is true, but the reason it quite simply has to be true is that finishing a failure in your writing life teaches you so much about what to do better and differently the next time. I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and every single one has taught me so much. Every one has given me a little bit of necessary guidance toward the next one. And I wouldn’t be the strong writer I am today without all those failures!

7. I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

There are a thousand books you can read that teach you how to write and hundreds of MFA programs around the world you can attend that do the same thing, but at the end of the day, the best way to learn how to write… is to write. Read books, watch films, and write every day. Write in different genres. Write fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Write whatever makes the process feel like an adventure, and stay away from the kind of writing that feels like work. Write a little bit every day if you can, and write for joy, always!

8. ‘And then what happened?’ Those words, I think, are the most important words there are for a storyteller. Anything you can do to keep people turning the pages is legitimate.”

Keeping readers turning pages is always my goal as a storyteller. I learned a lot about writing in two different Masters program, and I’ve definitely improved as a stylist in the last five years and have started paying more attention to literary aspects of writing, but nothing will ever be more important in the story I’m telling than having the reader hopefully ask “And then what happened?” I want the reader to want to keep going and find out what happens next. I want the reader to always be flipping through pages, that’s my goal!

9. Dialogue is character. The way that somebody talks, what they say, how they say it is character. And dialogue has to show character. It also has to show plot. And maybe it can be funny along the way.

Dialogue is so tricky in novel writing because it can’t just be there to fill up space. It can’t just be there because you thought of a funny scene, and so there it is. No, even though you have lots and lots of white space to work with when you write a novel, every scene of dialogue, and every line of dialogue, should be there for a reason. Your dialogue should constantly be showing character at the same time it furthers along the story. If it’s not doing both of these things, often you need to cut the dialogue way down. Every line should serve a purpose, remember that.

10. You always have to remember, when people tell you that something doesn’t work for them, that they’re right. It doesn’t work for them. And that is incredibly important information. You also have to remember that when people tell you what they think is wrong and how you should fix it, that they’re almost always wrong.

This quote is kind of hilarious, but it’s also true. It’s vital to have other people look at your work and give you feedback, and you need to remember that what those people are telling you is absolutely correct… to them. At the same time though, when people not only tell you what’s wrong with your writing but also tell you exactly how you should fix it, it’s in your best interest to take that feedback with a grain of salt. If five people all agree that one specific thing is wrong with your manuscript, listen closely to what they have to say. But one opinion shouldn’t make you completely alter your novel either. Remember that your book is ultimately yours. Don’t change it all around to suit the needs of another person.

11. When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into: ‘House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.

Writing consumes you, it really does. Sometimes when you’re having a super productive writing day, you’re going to forget things. You’ll forget to do the laundry or go to the grocery store. You’ll forget about lunch. You’ll forget about your friend’s birthday. When you’re deep into a story that means the world to you, other aspects of your life are going to fall by the wayside, and you know what? That’s okay! Let the writing consume you as much as possible. Let the writing be as important as everything else.

12. People ask me, ‘How do you cope with rejection?’ And there are only two ways to do it — one of which is you go down. You get sad. You put the thing away. You stop writing. You go and get a real job, go and do something else. And the other is a kind of crazed attitude that actually the most important thing now is to write something so brilliant, so powerful, so good nobody could ever reject it.

Rejection is a necessary evil in our writing lives, and the truth of the matter is that you’ll never get anywhere as a writer if you let rejection swallow you whole. Your work’s going to be rejected often. Your short stories will get a thousand form letters. Many of your novels won’t go anywhere, and the ones that do might get you a literary agent and then still not go anywhere, and you might have a novel published one day that doesn’t break out the way you hope. There’s no guarantee of anything. All you can do, really, is ignore rejection, believe in yourself as much as you can, and keep improving in your craft. Write something so incredible that nobody can reject it. As long as you constantly push forward and never go backward, you absolutely will have what it takes to be a successful and accomplished writer in the years to come!