A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘words’


Your first draft is done, and you may want to start sending it out or letting people read it straight away. You shouldn’t. Let it sit, let it rest, and then after a few weeks (or months, or whatever), come back to the desk and look at it afresh. You will see bits and pieces that don’t fit, rocks among your gems, and you will get to work editing.*

So how does one go about self-editing? It’s a tricky business, I’ll tell you that. It’s tricky because you know what you’ve written, and you may either be sentimentally attached to certain parts of the story that need to be seriously changed (or deleted altogether) or you may skim over your writing and miss things that need to be fixed. If you are like me, you may intentionally gloss over something that you know is wrong, but you aren’t sure how to fix it yet.

Thus the first step in self-editing is to READ CAREFULLY. In fact, read out loud, slowly. When you do this, you will catch things that you would likely not catch reading silently (think awkward word pairings, misspelled words, horrifyingly long sentences). Read once through without changing anything.** Doing this will give you a good sense of your story, how it flows (or doesn’t) and what places need work. Once you’ve read through, go back to the beginning and get started editing with the following tips:

1.Get rid of your “catch phrases”

We all have certain words or phrases that we tend to use more frequently than others. You’ll notice them as you read, and you will remember them. A few times through the book is okay, because your reader may or may not remember that the phrase you used on page 238 is the same as on page 24. HOWEVER I will advise to use particularly “pretty” phrases or words (think quiescence) only once. A word that your reader has to look up or a phrase that they will linger on WILL be remembered. Go ahead and rework these phrases, choose different words, and go on from there. You may have to do this several times.

2. Cut “very”

Do you remember the scene from The Dead Poet’s Society where Mr. Keating talks about “very”? He warns the boys to pick stronger words. And now I’m warning you. If you are using “very” to beef up your verbs or adverbs, you need to work harder. And I know it’s tough. Sometimes you just can’t think of the perfect word. That’s why we edit more than once, and why when we are writing the first draft, we don’t worry so much about “verys.” But to make your novel as strong as it an be, pick “crucial” instead of “very important.”

3.Check your POV

No matter if you are writing in first or third, point of view is crucial to your story. (See what I did there? Huh, huh?) First of all, you should pick a point of view and stick with it. If you pick to follow two characters, alternating between them, don’t all of a sudden drop one (unless they die – which in that case I hope it’s a mystery and we know something the protagonist doesn’t!) or add a third. I’ll give you an example. If you’ve been a follower here for a long time, you know that I LOVE Robin Hobb. This is probably the only complaint I will ever have against her. In one of her recent novels, she changed perspectives and started following a different character – without any indication that this is what she was doing. It was confusing and, to be honest, it took me a couple pages to understand. I did understand, but for those few moments I was not immersed in the story – and our goal as writers is to keep the reader immersed.

When you are writing a single character, try to make sure that every word you write reflects that character. If your own biases or stylistic word choices slip in, cut them. Be careful about consistency. Your novel will shine when you are consistent.

4.Grammar, typos, and formatting

The general stuff, right? Make sure you use correct grammar (or stylistically consistent grammar). Correct misspellings and repeat words. Make sure that your formatting is consistent throughout the manuscript. It’s tedious stuff, but important. Publishers and agents expect a level of expertise when it comes to writing.

I hope these tips will help you as you begin self-editing, and if you have more, please feel free to share them in the comments below!

Take care,


*You may also need to rewrite huge swaths of your story. This is fine. This is expected. This is probably needed.

**Mark places that you feel need work, if you must. But try your best to refrain from changing things! You want to come into the work with “fresh” eyes – as a reader not a writer. It will help in the long-run, I promise.

Being Inspired

Yesterday, I had a conversation about reading and writing (among other things). One thing that stuck out to me was the need for motivation (though I like the term inspiration better – motivation makes me think of working out and dieting). Whether a person is working on a college paper, a painting, some sort of building project, or writing, being motivated/inspired is key.

I’ve had a problem with this inspiration/motivation lately. I’ve had great ideas for what I want to write about, how I want to rework QFS so that I’m satisfied with it (though let’s face it – having a completed manuscript is pretty satisfying on its own), but whenever I have the time and desire to work, I get stuck. Part of that is because it isn’t new and exciting anymore – but that isn’t all. If it were, my other new fragments of stories would be holding my attention. More than anything else, I have been stuck because I’ve not been talking to people about it.*

I’ve been working full-time with people who don’t do much reading or writing (as far as I am aware) and the friends I used to talk to are busy (not to mention far away after  the end of college). I’ve been busy trying to get my life in order, to learn new things (gosh, I miss school!), and to get involved in the community. That doesn’t leave much inspiration for writing.

So here is my advice to you, if you are stuck. Talk to someone about it. Not online, (preferably) not by texting or any sort of electronic communication.** Talk to someone, in person, about writing. You don’t have to talk about your specific project, just talk about writing and you’ll be itching to dive back in, to feel the flow of words on your skin.

Try it.*** Trust me, you will thank me! (And if you don’t, well, sorry! What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all.)

*Well, that and my apartment is NOT conducive to writing.

**Of course, electronic communication is better than no communication. But in my experience it doesn’t have the same effect.

***Another thing to try is getting out of your normal writing space. Sometimes, for me, if I’m stuck for too long and I keep trying to write in the same place, it sets me up for failure. Go to a library, a coffee shop, or even a restaurant.

Take care!

Poetry Corner – Feelings

Today I feel…

I feel

I feel.

I don’t know what I feel.

Discomfort and unease

War for my attention –

A roiling, boiling


In the pit of my stomach

And a tightening

In my chest.

I don’t know the words

To put to these things

I feel.

“I feel” is like a lie –

“Happy,” “sad,” “angry,” “Glad” –

These are thoughts but we

Do not feel them.

We feel lumps in the throat

And tingling hands,

A sob building up in our chest

And behind our eyes.

Labeling thoughts and abstract ideas

As “feelings”

Is a disservice we’ve done ourselves.

Acknowledge the things we feel,

Connect them to our thoughts

But let them not be ruled by words –

Feelings are so much


Than how we describe them.


I feel.

I feel them in my core,

Deep down in my soul –

Not as musings in my mind,

But as sensations

In my body.

I feel.

I feel.

I remind myself of that –

That despite everything,

I feel.


NEOPHYTE – 1)a new convert. 2)one just beginning a new kind of life, work, etc.

OBFUSCATE – 1)to cloud over; obscure; make dark or unclear. 2)to muddle; confuse; bewilder/

PHLEGMATIC – sluggish, dull, apathetic.

SOPORIFIC – causing or tending to cause sleep

Take care, fellow travelers.

Words for Wednesday

Hey! (Is for horses, I know, but that’s spelled HAY, so let’s not have that joke (btw, I’m feeling silly).)

It’s been a while since I posted any vocab, so I have a few new words for you all!

LACONIC – brief or terse in speech or expression; using few words.

NEOTERIC – 1)recent, new, newly invented. 2) a modern person; one accepting new ideas and practices.

SEDULOUS – 1)working hard and steadily; diligent. 2)constant, persistent.

Also, I would like you to know that these definitions come from an actual dictionary (Meriam-Webster Collegiate, I believe), not like some of those words that float around the internet and are not actually in the dictionary (that drives me nuts…).

Take care, fellow travelers!

Wednesday Words

Quite a while back I said that I would start posting weekly vocabulary words. Well, that hasn’t gone very well.* Then a couple weeks ago I posted about how writing poetry forces a person to expand their vocabulary. This reignited my interest in sharing words, and so here are some!

ALLAY – to put (fears, etc.) to rest; to lessen or alleviate pain, grief, etc.

BELLICOSE – of quarrelsome or hostile nature; eager to fight or quarrel.

CIRCUMLOCUTION – a roundabout, indirect, or lengthy way of expressing something.

DELETERIOUS – harmful to health or well-being

Take care, fellow travelers.


Words and Numbers

I am studying to take the GRE for grad-school applications. I opened the book and the first part is all about reading comprehension – words. Can you imagine my reaction? Needless to say I thought studying (and the test) would be a breeze if it started with words. Then I got to the math section. I am STILL studying for the math section.

Math has never been my thing. Maybe that’s because it was never explained well to me, maybe it’s because I never thought there was room for both words and numbers in my brain.* I can see how logical numbers are, even though I don’t understand WHY they are logical. (If someone can explain that to me, with WORDS, they would probably be my hero.)

But here is the big question: How is it that we have a system of numbers that works so efficiently and so consistently when our words keep changing? My gut reaction is “because words allow for more creativity” but I know that math and numbers can create beautiful architecture and keep our cities organized. At the same time, I know that the math is the math. It doesn’t evolve, it doesn’t change. Sure, the mathematicians of the world can come up with new and scary TYPES of math, but 5×5 is always going to be 25. Words aren’t like that.

Words change all the time. We come up with new words all the time – just think of all those words that Shakespeare coined, or the words that are added to the dictionary every year (remember when unfriended was added?) Icelandic is an excellent example of adding new words – they don’t borrow terms like so many other languages. (Admittedly, this has not always been the case. The government there started regulating the language and what is added when they gained sovereignty in 1918.) An example, “telephone” is called (approximately) “long thread.” It was an old word that was brought back with new meaning.

People are infinitely creative when it comes to language. We change old words, we make new words. Numbers are always going to be the same. So maybe it’s true that words leave room for more creativity than numbers do. After all, look at all the languages on earth, look at all the made up languages that are linguistically sound. Words are beautiful.

What are some of your favorite words?

Take care, fellow travelers.

*Just one note: After my college math class (the easiest one there was – Math in our World) I thought that maybe there is room for numbers and words – as long as the numbers are practical (things like basic arithmetic and even some geometry). Now studying for the GRE, I’ve got to throw out the “practical” bit and just make room. It’s hard work.

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