Advice from Professional Writers (3)

Over the past four years or so, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice given from writers who have made their mark in the writing world.

Today, I’d like to share suggestions for self-editing. I know that not everyone can afford to take editing classes, but you can develop a routine to polish your work. Here is a framework to build on. (While these tips are written for polishing the novel, you can adapt them for writing the short story.)

12 Steps To Self-Editing

1. Read through

Print out your manuscript, make yourself a coffee, and grab a pencil. Read it from beginning to end as a dispassionate reader. If something glaring pops up, make the odd comment in the margin, but hold back from making detailed notes. The idea is to get an idea of the global story, the flow, and its feel.

Next – READ YOUR PROSE OUT LOUD

2. Plotline

Now it’s time to interrogate the plot and determine if there’s enough conflict in the story. Look at each scene and sequel to see if you’ve unpacked the central story question posed by the inciting incident. As Sol Stein suggests, compare your most vital scene with your weakest scene. Decide if the weaker one can be recycled or rewritten.

3. Hero in the spotlight

Here we pick apart the main character. A good idea is to create a character to start from the character wheel – write a paragraph under the headings of his psychological, physical, and socio-economic make-up. Make sure that every decision or behavior he displays in the story is consistent with these trait.

4. Rattle the cage for the antagonist

The next step is to do the same for the antagonist. Make sure that he is positioned to bring out the most conflict from your main character. Nothing destroys a story like unfair odds between the hero and his nemesis. Make sure he is equally strong, if not a bit more wily than your main character. If you need to plug more into your plot, go back to step two.

5. Dust off your supporting cast

To a lesser degree, you will do the same for the other characters in the story. While they may not need the same magnifying glass, you should make sure they’re fulfilling their roles in a vivid, lively, and engaging way. A tip is to spend just 10-20 minutes on each, freewriting or brainstorming ideas to make them pop. Feed these into the story.

6. Infuse your palette

Now it’s time to look at the setting. Try to put in setting detail where it’s lacking or unclear and to cull places where you’ve been overly descriptive. Make sure you’ve used as many senses as possible to bring these to life. Take time out to research areas you’re unfamiliar with so that these parts of your book hum with authenticity.

7. Talk it out

If step six asks you to look at the manuscript with a fresh eye, this one demands you bring a keen ear. Read your dialogue aloud or record it and play it back to yourself. Does it sound realistic? It should give us information about the characters – it must tease out their individuality, their background and, at the same time, move the story forward. Read plays or movie scripts for inspiration.

8. It’s a sprint, not a marathon

Now you should look at pacing. Does your manuscript have enough white space? Try to keep sentences and paragraphs as short as possible –keep in mind that some genres allow for a more leisurely pace than, say, a thriller. If you’re getting bored reading a page, be sure your reader will be too. Be merciless. A tip is to cut every second or third word and see if the story can survive these cuts.

9. Beginnings, middles, and ends

Look at your first and last page side by side. If you can, try to bring in symbols, images, or moods that echo or contrast each other. Find a way to create bookends that will resonate with the reader subliminally.  Now go to the middle of the book – the hinge – and see if this section is a powerful enough mid-point to drive the story towards its climax. It should be a falsely high or low point for the main character and reaffirm his commitment to the story goal.

10. Become a continuity editor

Put the manuscript away for at least eight weeks, longer if you can manage it. Print out a fresh copy and look for consistency and clarity on every page, every line, in every word. Look for gremlins – a character’s eye color changing from one chapter to the next or someone encountering a tiger in Africa. An excellent way to do this is to imagine each chapter is a stage play – have you signposted your stage directions in a clear but unobtrusive way.

11. Polish it till it shines

Now – and only now, we might add – do you do a linear edit of the manuscript. You check spelling, you check grammar, you check that your formatting is consistent. It’s like dressing your book up for a red-carpet event – it needs to be flawless. A sloppy manuscript – no matter how promising – is often passed over for a mediocre story well-presented when it crosses an editor’s desk.

12. Find another eye

If you have an objective friend, freelance editors, or an online community of beta readers, give them the manuscript to read over and encourage constructive feedback. This is the time to put your ego on the backburner and be open-minded. Listen to what they say, take notes, and see if their points are valid.

After this, it’s time to make final checks and changes and prepare your manuscript for its final journey – to an agent, editor or print if you’re self-publishing.

Think of your book as your 18-year old kid going off to college or varsity. You’ve done the best you can, given them warm clothes and a stern lecture – maybe even a flurry of good luck kisses. Now it’s up to your book to stand on its own.

Advice from Professional Writers (2)

Over the past four years, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice from writers whose work impacts the writing world. Over the next few posts, I’d like to share these with you. While every rule or suggestion might not apply to you and your writing – you, like me, should discover some gems.

Here are some rules from one of my favorite writers:

Jodi Picoult is a best-selling American author who was born May 19, 1966.

She has written 25 novels, including My Sister’s KeeperNineteen Minutes, and Sing Me HomeMy Sister’s Keeper was made into a feature film of the same name. A Spark Of Light, published on October 2, 2018, was her tenth consecutive instant #1 New York Times bestseller. There are approximately 14 million copies of her books in print. They have been translated into 34 languages.

Picoult is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit, and the Sarah Josepha Hale Award. She holds an honorary doctor of letters degree from Dartmouth College and the University of New Haven.

In 2016, she joined the advisory board of Vida: Women in Literary Arts, which is a “non-profit feminist organization committed to creating transparency around the lack of gender parity in the literary landscape and to amplifying historically-marginalized voices, including people of color; writers with disabilities; and queer, trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.”

She was also a member of the inaugural Writers Council of the National Writing Project in 2013.

Jodi Picoult’s Top 3 Writing Tips

  1. Read a ton. Reading will inspire you. It will also help you find out where you belong as a writer.
  2. Write every day. Treat writing as a job. There is no such thing as waiting for the muse. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, take writing seriously.
  3. Do not stop in the middle of your first book. Finish it. No matter what. All writers go through this. It’s more of a fear of not being good enough that makes you stop. You think, ‘What if I’m not as good as I thought I was?’ Please do not allow it to stop you. If you don’t finish that first book, you’re making life difficult for yourself.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Advice from Professional Writers (1)

Over the past four years, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice from writers whose work impacts the writing world. Over the next few posts, I’d like to share these with you. While every rule or suggestion might not apply to you and your writing – you, like me, should discover some gems.

(If you aren’t working on your grammar now, we will be getting to some easy lessons in grammar in July. And, please, do  not tell yourself that ‘the editor’ will correct all of your errors. A piece full of grammatical errors will never make it to the people who could possibly publish your work.)

Today’s BLOG deals with a writer who greatly influenced my writing career. He has created his ‘Ten Rules for Writing.’ I want to share them with you because we can all use inspiration from a well-known author.

Roddy Doyle is an Irish novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter who was born 8 May 1958. Several of his books have been made into films, including The Commitments in 1991.

He is perhaps the novelist most closely identified with the emergence of Ireland as a modern European nation. According to Britannica, he is “known for his unvarnished depiction of the working class in Ireland. Doyle’s distinctively Irish settings, style, mood, and phrasing made him a favorite fiction writer in his own country as well as overseas.”

He won the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke ha ha ha. His children’s book A Greyhound of a Girl was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2013.

Roddy Doyle’s 10 Rules for Writing

  1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
  • Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph –
  • Until you get to Page 50, then calm down and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.
  • Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
  • Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.
  • Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, e.g., “horse,” “ran,” “said.”
  • Do occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.
  • Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
  • Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.

Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover bio – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.

Common Errors in Writing

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been blogging about the Parts of Speech, but I feel I need to change direction for a bit.

As submissions for my latest Anthology came in, and I read and evaluated stories, I found a lot of common errors – and so, I will be addressing those over the next few weeks.

Everybody wants to know the secret to success, and writers are no exception.

While there are a number of writers, who merely want to use writing as a vehicle to express their feelings, and then share them with friends and relatives – there isn’t a need to understand a lot of the basic concepts needed to submit work for professional publication.

Additionally, with the advent of self-publishing, many writers are slapping together shoddy work, putting into a novel, and calling it good. (After all, they are published – right?)

When I realized there were very few opportunities of being published by some big house, I realized that the only editor I would have was ME – or someone I paid. I then started taking classes on the editing process. It is amazing how much I now self-edit while I’m writing and I do my best to put my best work into a self-published novel.

Here are some tips to help writers turn out something that is polished and professional.


We often talk about all the things one must do in order to become a successful writer. From studying grammar to working through multiple revisions, from sending out submissions to building a platform, writers must wear many hats if they hope to succeed.

However, most of those tasks are irrelevant (and success is impossible) if a writer hasn’t acquired the basic skills necessary for doing the work. There’s no reason to worry about submissions, readers, and marketing if your writing habits and skills aren’t up to the task of getting the project done.

You might have a great premise for a story, but if you don’t know how to write a story—or if you don’t have the discipline to finish a story—you’ll never be able to bring that premise to life, at least not in a way that is effective or meaningful.

So it’s essential for young and new writers to develop beneficial writing practices to ensure not only that the writing gets done—but that it gets done well.

Essential Writing Practices

There are many writing practices that you can cultivate. Some will make you a better writer. Some will help you write more or write faster. It would be impossible to incorporate all of them into your writing habits, so you’ll need to choose which ones are best for you and your goals. However, some practices are more useful—and more essential—than others. Below are the writing practices that I have found to be most important for improving one’s writing and producing good work—the practices that are essential for all writers:

 Regular Reading

I’m always surprised by aspiring writers who don’t read. I mean, if you don’t read, then why would you want to be a writer? Reading is, in many ways, even more important than writing. It lays the groundwork for everything you’ll write. You’ll learn a tremendous amount of the craft from reading, and if you don’t read, it will show in your work, which will never move past a beginner’s level.

 Daily Writing

It should go without saying that if you want to be a writer, you need to do the writing. But many writers spend more time talking and thinking about writing than actually writing. Force yourself to do your writing, even when you don’t feel like it. Allow yourself to write badly and accept that sometimes you’ll write garbage. Even a short, twenty-minute writing session each day will keep your skills sharp and your writing muscles strong.

Study the Craft

You can learn a lot by reading and practicing your writing, but you can’t learn everything. There are aspects of the craft that you’ll only learn through more formal study. That doesn’t mean you have to run off to a university and take college courses, although doing so will certainly help.

You can learn the craft through local or online classes and workshops, by reading books and articles on the craft, and working with other writers (or an editor or writing coach). There is a lot to learn, and the sooner you start, the better.

 Revise and Polish Your Work

As you make your way through the writing world, you’ll hear this advice over and over: Writing is rewriting, or writing is revising. A lot of people have the misconception that we writers sit down, place our fingers on the keyboard, and the words magically flow out perfectly. That’s not how it works. The first few sentences or paragraphs are often a mess. The first draft is garbage. But with each revision, everything gets better. That’s how you produce polished work.

Get Feedback

Getting feedback can be emotionally challenging to young and new writers, who have a tendency to take it personally. Harsh criticism, no matter how constructive, can be a bruise to the ego. But you are not your writing. The criticism is not about you; it’s about your work. And without feedback, it’s almost impossible to get an objective view of your skills and the work you’re producing. Separate yourself from your writing. Take the feedback seriously and be appreciative, because it will help you become a better writer. Apply it to your work.

I’m posting this blog entry because I felt awful when I had to tell someone that their work wasn’t up to par and couldn’t be included in my Anthology. Most of these folks were self-published, and they thought their work was awesome.

They had wonderful ideas – but they didn’t have the writing skills to bring their idea to life.

Until tomorrow,

~Mustang Patty~

Parts of Speech: The Adverb

My favorite author, Stephen King, discusses the use of adverbs in his book, ‘On Writing.’ He says, and I quote, ‘Adverbs are not your friends.’

He goes on to say that the use of adverbs is for lazy writers. Too many adverbs will weaken your sentences and have you falling into passive voice. (We will address passive versus active voice in another blog.)

But there are places in your writing for using adverbs, so we will study how and when to use them.

By Definition:

Adverbs are descriptive words used to qualify (mostly) verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

Example:

The frazzled mother screamed loudly (how did she scream?) at her children while they played in the street. (Please note that this adverb isn’t really needed – aren’t most screams loud? So, it causes redundancy.)

Most adverbs usually end in ‘–ly.’ They tell you how something happened.  Then there are the other adverbs describing adjectives or other adverbs, or adding information about the place, time, degree, and frequency.

Examples:

  1. I don’t want to go there (place). It’s not any fun without my hubby.
  2. After all, I called her yesterday (time).
  3. He looks extremely (degree) handsome in it, which is seldom (frequency) the case with most casual clothing.
  4. I always (frequency) carry my calendar with me.

Nine Types Of Adverbs

TimeWhen something happened
PlaceWhere something happened
MannerHow something happened
DegreeExtent to which something occurs
FrequencyHow often something occurs
ProbabilityThe chance something will occur
DurationHow long something lasts
EmphasisAccentuates an action
InterrogativeAsks questions

Writing Tip: Great writing relies on verbs and nouns, not adverbs, for strength and color. Too many adverbs create clumsy writing and detract from the impact of a good verb.

This covers the basics of adverbs. If you wish to learn more about them, you COULD sign up for one of my courses in writing – see my Class page on my website: https://wordpress.com/page/mustangpatty1029.wordpress.com/1131

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Parts of Speech: The Verb

All About Verbs

I think that most of us are more than aware that ‘Verbs are ‘doing’ words.’ They show action, a state of being, or express time. We have present, past, and future tense.

For most of us, we covered the basics in our grammar classes.

  • He eats. (Present tense)
  • He ate. (Past tense)
  • He will eat. (Future tense)

Tip: The trend is to use the simple tense in writing. It’s clean, clear, and uncomplicated. It’s also user-friendly.

But then, we had to learn the more intricate verbs

Such as:

Finite Verbs:

  1. Stand on their own.
  2. Have a subject.
  3. Have a number.
  4. Have a tense.

A finite verb makes a complete sentence with a subject. It can be in past, present, or future tense.

Examples:

She works.

In this sentence:  The Subject = She,  and the number = One person, and the Tense = Present

They negotiated.

Subject = They
Number = Many people
Tense = Past 

Infinite Verbs: 

  1. Do not show tense, person or number.
  2. Have a ‘to’ that comes before the verb.
  3. Must have a finite verb before the ‘to’.

It is preferred that you do not split the infinitive. Don’t say: ‘She wants to definitely work.’ You will split the infinitive.

Example:

She tiptoed so as not to wake anyone.

‘To wake’ does not show tense, person, or number.
‘to’ comes before the verb, wake
Tiptoed is a finite verb that comes before the word ‘to’

Strong Verbs

Try to use strong, precise verbs. This helps you to say what you mean, reduce adverbs, and avoid the passive voice versus active voice.

Examples: 

stride, grab, analyse, resolve, tiptoe, instruct, wobble, revise, scan

Avoid Nominalisation Of Verbs

This is also known as ‘nouning’. A nominalisation occurs when a verb (or other part of speech) is used as (or transformed into) a noun. 

Example:

argue becomes argument

‘A nominalisation is a type of abstract noun. An abstract noun denotes an idea, quality, emotion, or state. It is something that is not concrete. It takes the power away from the original verb.

Phrasal Verbs

‘Phrasal verbs’ are a combination of words with a meaning beyond the individual words. They are verbs that are followed by a preposition or an adverb.  

Examples: give up, put off, pass out

Phrasal verbs are mainly used in spoken English and informal texts. We should avoid using them in formal and academic writing, where it is better to use a verb like ‘postpone’ than a phrasal verb like ‘put off’.

There is a lot more we can learn about verbs. In my Creative Writing Classes, I will be discussing verbs, adverbs, and adjectives at length.

Until next week,

~Mustang Patty~

Parts of Speech: The Adjective

First, let’s cover an adjective the way most of us learned it in school.

All About Adjectives

An adjective is a word that describes a noun. There are two kinds of adjectives: attributive and predicative.

Attributive

The attributive stands next to a noun and describes it.  The usual place of the adjective is in front of the noun.

Example: The black cat climbed a tree.
Sometimes, for dramatic effect, the adjective can come after the noun.
Example: This is the jungle dark.

Predicative

The predicative is when a verb separates it from the noun or pronoun it describes.

Examples:

  1. The crowd was happy.
  2. The driver was furious.
  3. This bread tastes stale.

Types Of Adjectives

  1. qualitative: good, French
  2. possessive: my, your, their
  3. relative and interrogative: which, what, whatever
  4. numeral: one, two, second
  5. indefinite: some, any, much
  6. demonstrative: this, that, the

Top Tip: Do not use too many adjectives in your writing. Choose nouns that do most of the work for you.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Parts of Speech: the Pronoun

Here is the definition we were given back in the 5th Grade:

Pronouns are substitutes for nouns, taking the place of nouns that precede or follow them.
Examples: I, hers, myself, who.

Now, that we are using these words in our writing, we need to have a deeper understanding.

There are four types of pronouns:

Personal pronouns indicate a person or group.

Examples: he, she, they

Possessive pronouns indicate ownership.

Examples: his, hers, theirs

Relative pronouns introduces dependent clauses in sentences.

Examples: who, whoever, that, which, when, where, whose

Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject of the sentence.

Examples: himself, herself, myself

I hope this review of grammar is helping you understand the proper way to use pronouns.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Parts of Speech: The Noun

All About Nouns

Most of us can remember the basic definition we learned in early Grammar classes.

A noun is a naming word. It identifies people, places, or things.

However, we may not always remember that there are four types of nouns:

1.   Common Nouns

Common nouns are names given to ordinary objects.
They can be identified by ‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’.
Examples: the shoe, a kitchen, an apple.

2.   Proper Nouns

Proper nouns are names given to people, places, days, months, ideologies, subjects or titles.
They always begin with capital letters.
Examples: July, China, Friday.

3. Abstract or Concrete Nouns

Abstract nouns name a quality, a characteristic, or an idea.

Examples: beauty, strength, love, courage.

Conversely, concrete nouns name an object that can be perceived by the senses.

Examples: hat, desk, book, box.

4. Collective Nouns:

Collective nouns name a group: crowd, team, class.

I hope this little walk down memory lane helps you understand the structure of your sentences.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

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