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Tips For Writers


Study What You Love    Posted 7/11/16

A writer in my group recently reminded me that one of the most valuable tips I’d given her was to reread her favorite novel and study it.

Like so many other beginning writers, she had spent a fortune buying how to write books and countless hours reading them. As I recall, her bookshelf—measuring up to any in your local library in height and width—had multiple shelves devoted to the art of writing fiction. Not surprising, she was still struggling to finish her first novel when we met.

    The books on her shelf ran the gambit: The elements of writing, character verses plot, plotting your book, writing the query, synopsis made easy, English punctuation…yada, yada, yada. The titles were endless.

For Pete’s sake, if you read all those books, you will never finish your own novel. Get real!

    Useful Tip: Many books on writing cover the same topics. You may end up paying ten times for the same advice.

So…Stop if only for a while, and think of the one novel you admire, respect and love dearly because the plot, the characters and the writing suck you into the pages and you forget to pick up your kids at the daycare, burn dinner and tell your husband you have a headache. Read it again. Only this time have a box of colored pencils and a notepad by your side.

Study it. Turn it into a workbook by breaking it down—chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. Yes, even word by word. Every word counts when you are writing a novel. Become a student of your favorite novel. Asking yourself, what does this writer do that makes you love the characters? Why do some of the sentences make you weep? (I once cried after reading a sentence Pat Conroy wrote.) How and when does the author ramp up the suspense, romance or intrigue?

Assign a color to each item below , so later, when you need to, you can flip back through the book (looking for the associated color) and find the information you are seeking.

        1. Underline dialogue tags.

        2. Underline sentences that demonstrate what makes the characters so vivid, so likable, or loathsome?

        3. Underline sentences revealing character backstory.

        4. Underline words and sentences used to show the characters hearing, smelling, seeing and feeling.

        5. Underline facial expressions caused by emotions.

        6. Underline body language.

        7. Underline areas introducing obstacles the protagonist must overcome?

        8. Underline various sentence structure used to improve flow?

        9. Underline anything that doesn’t work? If so, make a note not to do it.

Using the notepad:

        1. Make a list of powerful, beautiful or useful words. Many words have, perhaps, escaped your vocabulary. Homework: Reread the list often.

        2. Write down the first and last sentence of each chapter. Study them. They are extremely important. Ask yourself how sentences hook you and keep you reading at midnight when you have to get up at 6 am and go to work?

        3. Study the first page. Highlight sentences and words the writer used to pull you into the story on the first page?

The questions are endless, but so are the answers. You may gain volumes of writer’s tips free by doing this and will enjoy it so much more than reading dry English books and writer how to books. If you have already spent a fortune on these, go through them and save only those pertaining to plotting, synopsis, marketing, anything you can’t highlight in your favorite book. Throw the rest out with anything dating prior to 2000* (publishing has changed) in a pile in the backyard. Then burn them. The size of your bonfire might get you into the Guinness book of records.

—Just kidding about the bonfire—Think green.

Simple, huh? Actually this is how I started writing. I fell in love with a Kathleen Woodiwiss historical romance and dissected it, asking myself all the questions above and more. It got me a call from a New York publisher.

* Note: I’ve had writers relay information they read in old books that no longer apply to submissions, marketing etc. So try to buy recently published “how to” books with up to date information about writing, agents and publishing.



 Killing the First Few Chapters    Posted 6/17/16

    Last night I was working on a story and realized I’d done the very thing I warn writers in my critique groups not to do—I’d slipped back to the beginning and was polishing the first few chapters…again. This isn’t uncommon but beware—it’s tempting, almost addictive.

    I’d never given it much thought as to why writers do this but we do, especially beginning writers. But there I was, back at Chapter One, and I suddenly realized we do it out of fear. Fear of having to actually write and finish a complete novel. Scary. Yes, and as I said, most of us have done this, polishing and revising, rewriting those first chapters until we’ve done our finest work and the words flow with a beauty, grace and style paralleling that of an old southern Antebellum plantation home. But…no one is going to live there…you’re writing a novel! And your readers want a complete novel, not just two or three beautifully crafted chapters. So stop already!

    Yes, of course, it’s easier to pop back to chapter one and polish it over and over again, but there is an even greater fear lurking behind this compulsive madness. If you continue to do this, you will never finish the novel. Everyone wants to write a book, but few who start actually finish.

So you must decide now whether you are going to finish a book or waste your time bouncing back to rework the first three chapters.

If writer’s block is the problem, you have so many other choices.

  1. Get away from your computer and take a long walk.
  2. Go pick a fight with your neighbor because her cat pooped in your bushes.
  3. (My favorite) Have a beer or glass of wine on the back porch and watch the clouds turn into bunnies and chessmen—whatever—but only have one beer, one glass of wine or you may forget your writing goals altogether and end up with a hangover or worse, spending the night in jail.
  4. Drastic alternative: Handcuff yourself far from the computer before allowing yourself to fall back into the killing the first few chapters zone.

    Do anything that will take your mind off your writing and, no doubt, by the time you return to your computer an idea will have miraculously popped into your head and you can sit down and start writing.

Fight the urge and keep writing until you have typed The End, then start over and polish your heart out. You’ll thank me later for this advice.



  Writer’s Tips    Posted 4/24/16

    So you’ve sold your first book and you’re thinking, Well, that’s done. I’ll just move on to the next novel. It occurred to me, despite attending many writer’s conferences, critique groups, even being mentored by a well-known published author, I’d never heard much said about the actual editing process once the book is sold to a publisher. The details lurked out there like some great taboo secret, a conversation that would never be spoken. Almost Voldemort-ish, don’t you think? I’d heard about galleys and editors, but nothing about the actual editing process. I had no idea what to expect. Until…the pre-edit editing list showed up in my e-mail.

    The date my publisher, kNight Romance Publishing, set to begin editing had finally arrived. No call, no e-mail contact other than a list—two pages of pre-edits I was expected to make before we could begin true editing. Whether or not this is standard procedure at most publishers, I don’t know, but I do know the list can help those of you who haven’t finished your manuscript. Use it, and look at it as a challenge, and I guarantee the final result is a better book.

     I know all publishers are different; some don’t care about commas, words are strung together like beads on a necklace, while others will crucify you for omitting one. Better safe than sorry.

     For starters:

Minimize Usage of the words below……
A good way to do this is to use the edit, find menu, then click highlight all.  Each word will highlight in a different color. Don’t panic and tear your manuscript up when you see all the words in this list jump off the page in glaring colors. Remember, it’s just an exercise. A good one. Changing a word is up to you, and there will be times when it’s best to leave it as is, or the sentence sounds awkward.

               Saw, heard, wore, wearing, felt, it, that, out of, like, took, turn, return,
          walk, began to, started to, making, causing, as, then, and then, which,  
          to be, had, went, put

Using when and as
: Change these from mid-sentence to the beginning of the sentence.

Was and Were:
When followed by an –ing verb form  (were running), change the verb to one stronger verb (raced).   

Check below
to see if any of these words connect two sentences. If so, add a comma.

               For, and, nor, but, or, yet

When using “if,”
the sentence must have a comma.

Toward (not towards)

Backward (not backwards)
Forward (not forwards)

Delete semi-colons.

Limit adverb usage
for a stronger verb if possible: ran quickly = sprinted.

Delete as many -ly
adverbs as possible.

Check for frequent usage
of the words below and change word or sentence:
                only, really, suddenly, finally, uncomfortably, probably

Check character’s movement
inside other character’s dialog. Should be different paragraphs.

Limit the use of similes
to 2, no more than 3 per book and make certain they are original—your own. Make it worthy of the text around it. So many similes are clichés, bad cliches, so heed the caution, although, I must confess I used one in this blog…I couldn’t resist.

After highlighting everything above, I almost fainted, sobbed into a couch pillow until my best friend called me a wimp. I dreaded working on this, but pulled myself together and dove into the challenge. I came out the other side thankful for the worthwhile exercise.

Try it…Good Luck!