Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas in the Fictional World

by Sandy Tritt
I visited the blog of a dear friend yesterday, and the blog included the question, What gifts would you give your characters for Christmas? Well, that got my rusty old brain churning. Even though we don't share with our readers everything we know about our characters, our personal knowledge of them will come through in our writing. Many years ago, I attended a workshop that included a list of questions about your character to help you think of your character in different ways. Here are some examples:
1. If your character were a dog, which breed would he or she be?
2. If your character were an animal, which animal would he or she be?
3. If your character were a piece of furniture, which piece would he or she be?
4. Which public figure would your character most like to meet? Why?
5. What music does your character listen to?

And so forth. Our Inspiration for Writers' Character Trait Chart gives prompts for various traits or preferences your character may possess. Please feel free to download it.

So, even though you may not have a holiday scene in your novel, give some thought to how your characters would celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. Would they attend religious services? What about community services, such as special music or theatre presentations? Would they host or attend holiday parties? What kind? How would they decorate? And what, above all else, would be the gift they would most cherish?

We at Inspiration for Writers, Inc., hope you have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

(c) copyright 2010 Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Makes a Writer?

by Roxanne Tritt Sutton

I’ve always had a hard time labeling myself as a writer. Considered writing one of my strong suits, yes. Done well on most written items in school, yes. Enjoyed expressing myself in similes, metaphors, and my preferred poetic pattern, alliteration, yes. Yet, somehow, stamping writer across my chest is hard for me.

It could be that I’ve always felt intimidated by the same people who made me feel like I could do anything. My mom is an amazing writer who has helped me on all things in the written world (and beyond). She was always there to praise, critique, and, of course, offer lots of suggestions on everything I wrote. In my mind, she’s the “true” writer. The one who can phrase something just right, tweak a few words to make a statement more powerful, and use words to paint an image that Da Vinci would have a hard time replicating. Who was I to call myself a writer?

Recently, I started a marketing/public relations internship for a shipping company. On my resume I listed “article writing” as one of my accomplishments, being that I recently published an article about George Mason University in a local paper. This still did not make me a writer. I was merely someone who had the skill to write articles. Little did I know, the first person I talked to at the career fair was looking for just that skill.

So, I’m almost two months into this internship now and things are going well. I’ve written and created an eNewsletter and am working on writing other things. As I was talking to my boss on the way out of the office yesterday, the second-in-command stopped me. “Wait. You’re the writer, right?”

As I fumbled and bumbled and wrung my hands, I took a deep breath. I looked right into her eyes, steadied myself, and said, “Yes.” I looked over my shoulder because surely the Writer Police would be on their way to arrest this imposter for calling herself a writer. But nothing happened. The second-in-command simply said, “Okay, good. I’ll send some things to you for copyediting.” I told her I’d be happy to do it and made my way out of the office.

It was such a simple exchange, and yet I find myself awake at the crack of dawn on my first day off in months writing. Not writing because it’s the end of the semester, but because something deep inside me is stirring and compelling me to put whispers into thoughts and thoughts into words. I’m writing because I am a writer.

So what makes a writer? A writer is anyone who feels the compulsion to put thoughts and emotions into words. A writer is someone who is attached to the finished product and is afraid (sometimes) to send it into the real world. A writer writes for his or herself and doesn’t worry about what others may think. Like my mom always said, “You can be anything you want to be.” And if you want to be writer, and if you write, then you are a writer.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Welcome author SARA ALWAY!

Please welcome author Sara Alway. Sara, will you please share a short bio with us?

I am originally from the Pacific Northwest where I grew up on a sheep ranch. Both my parents were creative in their own ways, my father with his garden and landscaping and my mother with her crafts and writing. From a young age I would write, illustrate and make my own books and have carried my love of books throughout my life. I studied graphic design in both undergraduate and graduate school and I now share that love of visual graphics through my teaching of design at Marietta College and running a letterpress and design business, justAjar Design Press (www.justajar.com), in Marietta, Ohio.

Tell us about your new book just released this month, “Soil Mates” and where it’s available.

“Soil Mates” is a dating guide for vegetables. Inspired by the organic form of gardening called companion planting, the book describes the ideal symbiotic relationships of certain vegetables and herbs that naturally ward off pests and disease from each other—they are each other’s ‘soil mate’. It is an informative, yet humorous and entertaining book that will entertain the new gardener, as well as the experienced.

“Soil Mates” is available at the Quirk Books website (http://irreference.com), Amazon, as well as specialty retailers like Anthropologie. Distribution is still expanding, so it just might show up in about any place that appreciates a good humorous gardening book.

How did you come about the idea for “Soil Mates”?

The book was conceptualized as a project in graduate school at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Many of my projects were driven by the desire to make an intimidating subject more approachable. As someone that watched her parents garden with confidence, I wasn’t necessarily a very confident gardener, myself. I was introduced to the technique of companion planting and thought it was an underrepresented way of harvesting an organic garden. In a society that is embracing everything “green,” I wanted to make sure people were reminded of this historical technique, but at the same time I didn’t want to intimidate or bore them with dry writing or content. Since companion planting is all about relationships, I thought ‘Hey–it could be a dating guide!’ It was a blast to write because there is nothing more entertaining than writing about why Celery is so flirtatious and a popular mate in the garden bed.

How long did it take from conception to publication for “Soil Mates” to become reality? Anything interesting happen along the way to publication?

It initially took three months to design, illustrate and write the original design of the book. This version only contained ten pairs of Soil Mates, as well as all the additional information about natural pesticides, fertilizers (aphrodisiacs) and planting schedules. I got a contract for the book, based on the initial project, about four months after I finished it. As I was busy finishing my graduate degree, I was asked to double the amount of content in only few weeks. It was challenging, but nice to just focus on one thing for that period of time.

After I finished, I handed it off to my editor. She is an avid gardener and took great interest in the content. She also contacted master gardener, Kelle Carter, to help review the book to check all the information to make sure it was clear and accurate.

Tell us how Quirk Publications became your publisher.

An employee of Quirk Books, a publishing firm in Philadelphia that specialized in fun and “quirky” books, saw my original version of Soil Mates at my graduate show. She asked if she could present it at her next meeting with her editor and they loved it!

Can you tell us why your book is unique in the world of gardening titles?

There is no other informative gardening book that will make you laugh. “Soil Mates” is the perfect book for a new gardener to learn how to proceed with their quest. It quickly informs the reader which Soil Mates get along, how to plant them, what finicky characteristics they might have, as well as a delicious recipe that features the pair. At the same time, it will teach an experienced gardener new things and keep them entertained in the process.

What’s next for you?

I have a great concept for a new book, but I don’t want to spill the beans until I talk with my editor. However, I will say it is not about gardening, but it will be fun to read and informative.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Any “Soil Mate” fan can check out my other projects at http://www.justajar.com/, as well as keep in touch for future news at sara@justajar.com
Thanks, SARA. Come back soon!


Monday, November 29, 2010

Self-Editing Tips

by Sherry Wilson

You can tighten your prose and make it more accurate by reducing modifiers and eliminating extraneous words. Let me show you how.

1. Start with your completed manuscript. Now delete every second adjective or adverb and re-read the story. Do you miss any of them? You can always put them back later but first, try to strengthen the noun or verb that it modifies. Is there a more active verb you can use? (eg. Strolled, sauntered, ambled, or shuffled instead of walked.) Is there a more concrete noun you can use? (eg. Runners, loafers, sandals, Nikes or army boots instead of shoes.) Think about the mental picture you are creating. Sauntered gives us a very different image than shuffled; someone wearing sandals would project a different image than someone wearing army boots. Every word you use must contribute to your story.

2. Once you are confident that you need all of the remaining modifiers, use your word processor to search for fillers such as: began to, started to, going to, etc. You can generally delete these as they dilute your verbs and contribute little to the story.

For example:
She started to walk toward the door.
He began to gather wood for the fire.

Can be rewritten as:
She walked toward the door. Or better yet: She plodded to the door.
He gathered wood for the fire. Or: He gathered wood to build a fire.

3. Finally, do a search for “it was,” “there were,” “it is,” “there are,” etc. Try to eliminate as many of these as possible by restructuring the sentence.

For example:
There were several long tables filled with salads, fresh fruit, sandwiches, pies, cakes and other rich desserts.
This can be rewritten like this:
Long tables groaned under salads, fresh fruit, sandwiches, pies, cakes and other rich desserts.
Long tables overflowed with salads, fresh fruit, sandwiches, pies, cakes and other rich desserts.

Stronger verbs and fewer modifiers tighten your writing. What's more, they reduce the number of words used, so you have extra to "spend" on important things.

Following these steps with all of your manuscripts will result in crisper, clearer and more saleable writing.
(c) 2010 Sherry Wilson

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Being Brave

by Sandy Tritt

I learned the definition of brave in 1998, when my eight-year-old daughter was hit by a truck. As doctors and nurses swarmed around the trauma room doing a multitude of tests and assessments, Pam said, “Daddy, why does everyone say I’m so brave? Don’t they know how scared I am?” And my brilliant husband answered, “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. Being brave means you do what you have to do, even though you are scared.”

This has stuck with me for many years. I grew up believing that brave and fearless were synonymous. But if someone has no fear (and, obviously, no common sense), why is it a big deal to encounter danger? The brave person is the person who has lots of fear, but who still does the necessary or honorable thing.

I’ve seen that type of bravery this past month as our long-term editor and friend, Sandi Rog, has faced an aggressive stage 4 cancer with T-cell Lymphoma. Unbelievably, she was hospitalized for a brain tumor (the secondary cancer discovered first) on the very day DeWard Publishing released The Master’s Wall, her historical fiction. Sandi faces weeks of chemo, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. Still, this sweet and talented warrior keeps her faith--and her sense of humor. She passes out bookmarks from her hospital bed, and she’s even contemplating setting up a book-signing table there. Please keep our Sandi in your prayers. Better yet, support this mother of four by purchasing The Master’s Wall. In light of all that has transpired, her publisher has generously agreed to donate to Sandi's family an additional $1 per book above and beyond all scheduled royalties. You can order your copy—and copies to give as Christmas gifts—at Amazon.com, among other places.

Thank you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Slice of Writer's Life

Avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome With Exercise!
By Joy Held

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a nasty pain in the hand and wrist that often radiates up the arm.


It's an overuse injury commonly associated with repetitive activies such as keyboarding, and writers are prone to this condition. But some preventative actions may delay and alleviate mild symptoms. Simple exercises may help writers avoid this painful way of life. Start now!

STRESS BALL BREATHING You will need two inexpensive soft rubber stress balls.

Still tall in a chair with feet flat on the floor. Hold a stress ball in each hand and extend your arms to the sides at shoulder height.

As you slowly raise your arms overhead, inhale deeply and simultaneously squeeze the stress balls five times until both arms are straight up. Reverse the action by exhaling as you lower arms and squeeze the balls five more times. Repeat this for a total of ten repetitions. Relax and breathe normally. Do this daily at your desk adding sets of ten as long as you are comfortable (not winded) of up to five sets of ten reps.

Return to writing.

A 1998 study on yoga for carpal tunnel syndrome proved that exercises dedicated to extending, rotating, and increasing the circulation in the wrists noticeably improved the condition.


Regular exercise reduces and prevents many repetitive stress disorders and it's never too late to get started.

Coming soon! Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity, second edition in print AND digital from Who Dares Wins Publishing.


Included are chapters on Yoga for Writers. Stay tuned for release information.

Be well, write well,

copyright Joy Held 2010

"Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind." ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, 1897-1973, American writer

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Slice of Writer's Life

By Joy Held

JOURNAL: “I can’t think of anything to write!”

I'm really, really hooked right now on ART JOURNALING. You have got to try it. It's a no boundaries way to combine journaling and art of any kind. It's a blast. Here's a simple way to get started. It's great for spicing up any journal entries.

Check it out at http://www.stampington.com/ Click on Art Journaling magazine.

You’ve got old magazines don’t you? You’ve torn out and filed the articles you want to keep for future reference (I hope) and what’s left are inspiring words, pictures, and loads of ideas for journal writing. ANY magazine is jam packed with journal prompts and it’s a great recycling effort to use items from magazines to jumpstart your pages.

Take one or two magazines, scotch tape, scissors, your journal, and a pen and sit down with time to create. Flip through the magazine ripping out the pages with words, pictures, etc. that catch your eye. Just two days ago I ripped out a brightly colored gift, a stack of clean bath towels, several large words like ‘fun,’ ‘breathe,’ and ‘love,’ and a picture of a person sitting in a cross legged position meditating.

Now take the scissors and cut out the pictures and words that inspire you. Tape one picture somewhere on the current and blank-not-for-long journal page. Take a sip of the beverage I’m sure you have handy and look closely at the image on the page. Write about the first thing that pops into your head that is perhaps related to the photo. It doesn’t have to be, it can just be a place from which to leap into the wonder.

I wrote a whole page about how much I dislike doing laundry. Also on the page is the picture of a stack of clean towels. I seamlessly whined about how if there are disposable hand towels for the kitchen, why are there no disposable bath towels? Would save the world in water, soap, electricity, and toil! Paper bath towels could be recyclable! What do you think?

Be well, write well,


copyright 2010

"All books are either dreams of swords. You can cut or you can drug with words." ~Amy Lowell, American poet, 1874-1925

Monday, September 20, 2010

Parallel Structure

By Sherry Wilson

Parallel structure requires sentence parts of the same value to be expressed with the same grammatical structure. Doing this properly will help to make your writing clear and concise.

To find places in your manuscript where the parallelism might be strengthened, do a search for the coordinating conjunctions “and” and “or.” Then look on either side of the conjunction and determine if those words are in parallel.

Here are some examples:

1. Faulty Parallelism:
Katie likes writing, drawing, and to work with paints.

Katie likes writing, drawing and painting.

Katie likes to write, draw and paint.
(Ensure the actions are all the same tense.)

2. Faulty Parallelism:
She always ran quickly, deliberately and with a great deal of grace.

She always ran quickly, deliberately and gracefully.
(All are changed to adverbs here.)

3. Faulty Parallelism:
The coach told the players they should get a lot of sleep, they shouldn’t eat too much, and to do some warm-up exercises before the game.

The coach told the players they should get lots of sleep, they should not eat too much, and they should do some warm-up exercises before the game.

The coach told the players they should get lots of sleep, not eat too much and do some warm-up exercises before the game.

(The following was added by Sandy Tritt)

Note that bullet items and list items should also be parallel in construction and begin with the same part of speech.

Faulty Parallelism:
We offer many other writing tips:
- Within this blog
- Tips pages on our website
- Our Tips and Techniques Workbook has lots of tips not found elsewhere
- When we edit your manuscript.
- At our workshops

We offer many other writing tips:
- Within this blog
- On our website
- In our Tips and Techniques Workbook
- With an edit of your manuscript
- At our workshops

Making your sentences parallel in construction is one more way to strengthen your writing. And we can all use that.

Thanks for stopping by!
© 2010 Inspiration for Writers, Inc.

Monday, September 13, 2010



An editor is the captain of a ship of words. Sometimes the sailing is smooth and the captain enjoys a moment to get another cup of coffee or other source of caffeine. Most of the time, however, Captain Editor is “putting out fires” literally and figuratively.

So what does an editor do? She reads and reads and reads and reads, and then she thinks. Editors must read for work and for pleasure and to stay in touch with contemporary writing. They read manuscripts over and over. They read books on writing and works of fiction. They read the newspaper, magazines, billboards, signs, and telephone books to stay on top of the progress of the written word. This is how they guide a writer toward a concisely written story that makes good sense. And they have to know grammar. While most grammar rules are downright ancient, changes happen in the grammar world, albeit the changes happen about as fast as an iceberg melts. Editors stay current on grammatical issues by reading and studying constantly.

Editors respect the individuality and idiosyncrasies of the writer. Editors inspire writers to be the best they can be by offering honest praise and criticism. Editors help writers grow to understand that writing is a never ending attempt to get the words right. And they answer piles of emails and talk on the telephone. Somewhere they have to make time to think about how to reorganize a piece of writing to accommodate the reader and the writer while pleasing himself as an editor. Time to think is valuable to an editor.

They famous editor Max Perkins, who discovered and edited Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald among many other literary giants, was a great figure in the editing domain. He told writer Thomas Wolfe, “There could be nothing so important as a book can be.” All editors love books and writing and believe nothing else is more important than nurturing the written word even if some editing styles are a little rough around the edges. Perkins also said, “The book belongs to the author.” A model editor keeps this in mind as they work to help a writer’s words remain their own but display grammatical and literary clarity.

Like parenting, good editing sometimes requires tough love to get some writers to understand that although they wrote the words, the book is not a flesh and blood being that needs protected against all aggression. The book belongs to the author but the keen eye belongs to the editor. An editor sees beyond the emotional involvement of the writer and helps produce the best possible book while staying as true to the writer’s voice as possible. Not an easy task.

Send kindness to your editor this month with a handwritten thank you note saying you understand and you can be sure the editor will do their best to respect the writer in you. My editor cut 32,000 words from my latest novel and I didn’t need one bandage, just a drink or two, but I’m sending her a thank you card because the book ended up better for it. Thank an editor and a writer today!

Joy Held, copyright 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

O(de) to Be a Writer

by Charlotte Firbank-King

To be a writer is common place; to be so obsessed with writing that you have to write every day is a burden, surely? But those of us plagued by this malady don’t feel burdened. We feel deprived when we can’t write. Now is that warped or what? Yet there are those out there who will be nodding in agreement and most seriously, too.
Once we have written the great tome, we look at it and edit it again and again and again.

Eventually, we are absolutely certain every comma and period is in place. There is not one tiny little typo left. What can be rephrased brilliantly has been done. We sigh and caress it once more with a confident eye.

Just a quick glance, though.

There is a comma missing!

Panic sets in, and such is the paranoia of this breed of writer that we will edit all one hundred and twenty thousand words. Again.

Although we’re pretty sure it needs nothing more than a proofread, we send it out for an edit. We wait with bated breath for its return, consoling ourselves with the knowledge that there may be one or two little typos we may have missed.

It comes back and we open the file.

The margin is riddled with comments and the text is marked with additions and deletions. First there is disbelief. An idiot surely edited this. Then anger. Our brilliant moments are labelled wordy or just too much. Then astonishment.

But as we get into the edit, we begin to feel energized. The editor was right—our character does need a hobby. Coin-collecting adds a new dimension to his persona and makes him so much more real. And the plot was slow in the middle. Adding a subplot with the brother-in-law adds appeal and gives credence to the ending. And yes, the setting does need a bit more description to take us right there, and yes, the reading is so much more interesting when we tighten the dialogue.

And so it is. If we open our minds to instruction and if we study our craft, we will become much better writers and yes, eventually, we will succeed.

Winston Churchill said:
Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.

(c) copyright 2010 Charlotte Firbank-King. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Write a Book Proposal

by Sandy Tritt

So you have to write a book proposal. Okay, the first thing you should do is panic. That’s right. Panic. After all, writing a book proposal is akin to stepping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and praying you’ll have enough wits to pull your parachute release at the right moment. Or standing in front of 15,000 professionals to give a sixty-minute presentation—without knowing the subject you’re to have prepared. Or taking your fifteen-year-old out to drive for the first time—in rush hour traffic. In downtown Rome. Fear Factor has nothing on book professionals. Eating bugs is easy. Writing a proposal? Yikes! If that doesn’t get your heart pumping hard enough and long enough to count as your daily aerobic exercise, you just might be dead.

Assuming you’ve survived the panic step, it’s time to move to the next stage: Avoidance. This usually starts by playing computer solitaire or scrubbing the garbage disposal. It can last for weeks or even months. Once your garage is alphabetized, your basement sanitized, and every item in your closet starched, pressed, and color-coordinated, it’s time to move on to the third step: Actually Doing Something.

Now what? Sit down at your computer, sign onto your word processing program, open a new document, and save it as “manuscript name Book Proposal,” replacing manuscript name with the name of your manuscript. If you’ve already chosen the agent or publisher to whom you’ll be submitting your proposal, review the suggested proposal contents. Most will provide a list of what to include, which may or may not include a cover page, table of contents, sell sheet, biographical sketch, book description, chapter outline, sample chapters, market analysis, competitive analysis, marketing plan, and manuscript history. If you haven’t selected the recipients or if you want to create an all-purpose proposal, that’s fine; just include all the items in the above list. You’ve already panicked and you’ve already avoided, so breathe slowly into a paper bag and stay with me. In your open document, put the first requirement at the top of the page. Insert a page break and type the second requirement. Insert a page break and type the third. And so on, until you have one page for each part of the book proposal. Now, you are ready to move on to the next stage: Writing Your Proposal.

Start with the Cover Page. Type the name of your book, your name, your mailing address, your email address, and the genre and word count of your manuscript. Center it on the page and make it look nice. Insert a page break and go to the next page, Table of Contents. This means the table of contents of your book proposal, not your manuscript. List each of the remaining items in your book proposal and leave a space to fill in the page number later. Wow. You’ve already knocked off two of those empty pages. Now, take a look at the pages that are left. Which one is the easiest for you? Perhaps you know exactly which chapter or chapters you want to include for the Sample Chapters. Copy and paste them into your book proposal. Another page done. Perhaps you’ve already written a synopsis of your work. Copy and paste it into your Sell Sheet. Now, again, look at what pages you have left and pick the easiest one. If you need to write a bio, remember the agent or editor is looking for why you are the best person to write this specific book, so unless having spent six months in the hospital when you were eight directly affects your ability to write this book, don’t mention it. Likewise, don’t mention your parents or your siblings or your first grade teacher unless they directly affect your book. Instead, choose your education, professional experience, and writing history—awards, publications, and completions. Type this on the Biographical Sketch page.

Look again at your remaining pages. The Competitive Analysis. This is the part that scared me the most, but turned out to be the easiest. I’d suggest making a trip to a large bookstore or your local library. Find the place on the bookshelf where your book should appear, and look at the books that surround this space. Select the best known ones and write their title, author, publisher, and a sentence or two to describe the book. Then write another sentence or two on what your book offers that this one doesn’t. You only need four or five books. And you’re done with another blank page.

Okay, what’s left? The Book Description. Describe your book, including its purpose, its intended audience, and what the reader will take away when he or she reads the book. Include what makes your book unique or compelling. The Market Analysis. Identify your book or novel's audience—the specific type of person who will read your book, such as parents of newborns or young people who are preparing to join the military, and then describe your ability, if any, to sell books at speaking engagements, conferences, book signings, and other events. The Marketing Plan is simply reassuring the agent or editor there is a market for your book and you are able and willing to help market it. List ways in which you will assist in the marketing of your book: perhaps you will set up a website, create promotional giveaways such as bookmarks or postcards, arrange your own book signing, or attend conferences where people will be interested in this subject. If a Manuscript History is requested, list any editors or publishers who’ve reviewed your manuscript and the ensuing result.

Now, we have only one area left: Chapter Summary. Although this may take a bit more time, it shouldn’t be a difficult task. First, list your chapters by number and/or by name. Then, look over the chapter and write a paragraph that summarizes that chapter. Many times, the chapter’s opening and closing paragraphs will give you this information. If not, list the most important topics or ideas covered in this chapter. Now, go back and enter the page numbers on your table of contents. And guess what? You’re finished. Yep. Done. DO NOT bind it unless the editor or agent has requested you do so. All you have to do is proof it, send it out, and pray.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Oh, and if you can’t get past steps one and two (Panic and Avoidance), shoot off an email to us at IFWeditors@gmail.com. We offer a variety services to edit or write your submission package (which may include a query letter, synopsis, cover letter and/or book proposal). Do note that as a general rule, most agents or publishers will first request a query letter. For fiction, they will then often request a synopsis and the first three chapters. For nonfiction, they will often request a book proposal. Some will also request a book proposal for fiction. We do not usually recommend writing a book proposal for fiction queries unless requested by a specific agent or publisher. Regardless of what you need, we can take out the fear and add in some professionalism. Just give us a call!

For more great tips and expert advice, visit our website at www.InspirationForWriters.com.

(c)Copyright 2010 by Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Misplaced Modifiers

by Sherry Wilson

Many a joke has been made about misplaced modifiers. Here’s one of my favorites: Rugby is a game played by men with peculiarly shaped balls. I’m sure it’s the rugby balls that are being referred to but it certainly isn’t clear, is it? We must go back and put the modifier (a word or group of words which clarifies the meaning of another word or phrase) closer to the noun it modifies. Rugby is a game with peculiarly shaped balls played by men. Or: Rugby is a man’s game played with peculiarly shaped balls.

If the modifier is not near the noun or verb it modifies, the meaning of the sentence will be unclear or incorrect. Read the following sentences and rewrite them placing the modifier closer to the noun or verb it is intended to modify.
a) The teacher will explain why it was wrong to cheat on the test on Wednesday.
b) I took a bag on the train stuffed with my favorite books.
c) The teacher told her class to read the story in a strict tone of voice.
d) Mary threatened to leave him often.

Look for the modifiers in your own work and make sure they are placed properly. It will put you on the path to clearer prose.

(c) Copyright 2010 by Sherry Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Keep Writing

By Rhonda Browning White

The most ardent, self-disciplined taskmasters occasionally have weak moments when we find it hard to write, but it’s important to work through those feeble hours. How do we do it? How do we make writing a priority and encourage ourselves to put words on the page? These easy steps will keep you going through the driest days of writing drought (and doubt).

1. Give yourself permission to write. To whom does this dream, this life-goal, this road to success belong? It belongs to you! So why do you need anyone else’s permission to pursue it? Simply put, you don’t. You only need your permission. So what are you waiting for? Go write!

2. Beat your doubt into submission. Face it; you’re not going to wake up each morning eager to jump headlong into writing. In fact, most days you won’t even want to get out of bed without hitting the snooze button at least once. Don’t wait for the Muse to sit on your shoulder. She’s a fickle little witch, anyway. You don’t need her. Write without her, just to spite her!

3. Write down your dreams. Start big! New York Times Bestseller list? Fine. Now break it down. Might need to write a book first, right? That’ll mean finding an agent, as well. How will she know you’re any good? Ahhh, yes, she’ll see your list of bylines. Don’t have any? Time to write some short stories, articles or poems. Have you already written some good ones? Then send them out! Breaking your dreams into manageable pieces is the first thing to do. Then take one step toward completing those steps each week (or each day)! And keep writing.

4. Accept that you’ll never see the bottom of the laundry basket. There will always be clothes to wash, pots to scour, floors to mop and bathtubs to scrub. And they’ll be there after you’ve finished writing today. (Trust me; the housecleaning fairy doesn’t exist—I’ve set many traps for her, to no avail). If dinner isn’t started on time, order pizza, and keep writing. Ask your family to pitch in and help with chores. If they ignore your pleas, they’ll figure out that someone needs to go to the grocery store when the cupboards are bare. In the meantime, keep writing.

5. Learn to accept rejection. Realize that a rejection of your manuscript isn’t a rejection of you, as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer. It may simply mean that your work was too long, too short, too funny, too sad, or didn’t fit the space or theme of a particular magazine’s forthcoming subscription. Or it could be that the agent or editor simply doesn’t like the genre or style in which you write. The next agent might think it’s the best thing she’s ever read! Rejection happens. Get over it, and keep writing.

6. Submit your work. The best thing I know of to inspire more writing is publication. Of course, you have to take a moment to dance your way back from the mailbox, and you may have to crack open a bottle of champagne, or go out to dinner tonight to celebrate. But as soon as you return home, start writing. It’s important to feed the excitement of inspiration with words and more words. And more words. Your words. Build off your own momentum. Keep writing!

(c) 2010 Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 9, 2010


"A Few Classic Books For A Writer's Bookshelf"

"Writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they're quite different from people who must write."
~Harper Lee, author
from a 1964 interview

Writers must read. The mass of titles about writing available year after year make choosing suitable books daunting. The "good ones" never go out of style and the information is timeless, because there are writers who write and writers who MUST WRITE or life is unbearable. Either way, a writer will appreciate the kernels of knowledge found in the following classic books about writing.

BECOMING A WRITER, Dorothea Brande (J.P. Tarcher, Inc.)

Brande taught creative writing in the 1920's, but her guidance is still very aplicable to the writing life and process. She admits that writing "genius" cannot be taught but because it is a writer's magic that creates the good writing and not something more cerebral. Granted, the intellect must achieve a level of functional correctness such as grammar and punctuation, but the process of accessing the story is very teachable to anyone. Brande encourages reading "all the technical books on the writing of fiction that you can find," as well as tapping into honesty for the true source of a writer's originality. This book is considered a classic among writing texts and is available in reprinted versions regularly. I like that Brande recommends meditation as part of a writer's process but she calls it "Artistic Coma."

IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit, Brenda Ueland
(Graywolf Press)

Ueland refers to genius in her book as well, but, as the title infers, she challenges the foundations of people who think they want to write. Her goal is for the reader to understand conceptually that writing is art and real art, quoting Leo Tolstoi, "...is infection." It is something a writer notices about themselves and simply must infect others with and so he writes! I love the symbolism of art/writing as an infection and the only cure is to write the art down and share it with others. That is a great metaphor for the compulsion necessary to continue writing. Granted, some writing days are better than others, but the persistence never burns out for some writers, and Ueland provides a handy book of reinforcements or "medicine" for those infected by the writing bug. The best part is that Ueland believes that EVERYONE is a valuable writer on some level. Good book, also readily available as a classic reprint.

BIRD BY BIRD, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott
(Anchor Books)

If you are a 21st century writer and haven't read this wonderful book, you are missing an important piece of the writer's tool kit: acceptance. "The only constant is change" says the Greek proverb and that is sometimes harder to cope with than others. Lamott has come through the fires as a person and a writer and even though this too is an older book, its messages are timeless. Once you read this one, you will understand that writing is a process that requires certain steps performed in a particular order over and over and one at a time. Still in print and should never go out in my opinion.

Right now I'm reading THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ROMANTIC LOVE, ROMANTIC LOVE IN AN ANTI-ROMANTIC AGE, by Nathaniel Branden, Tarcher/Penguin.

Check out my recent book reviews online:
THE DAUGHTERS, Joanna Philbin




Be well, write well,

Copyright Joy Held 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Empower Your Sentences

By Jessica Murphy

Our writing needs not only to hook our readers, but also allow them to understand and remember its information. To do so, we need to write clear, powerful sentences. Four tips will help you write readable sentences:
  1. Put the main idea in the independent clause
  2. Put the subject and verb at the beginning of the sentence
  3. Vary sentence length
  4. Avoid double negatives

Put the Main Idea in the Independent Clause

The independent clause is the strongest part of a sentence because it is complete by itself. Along the same lines, the subject and verb are the strongest parts of the independent clause. Therefore, the most important information (the main idea) belongs here.

Take the following sentence: “If you touch that wire, it will electrocute you.” The most important information is that the wire will electrocute anyone who touches it, hence why it is in the independent clause. If we buried it in the dependent clause, then the sentence structure would not properly emphasize the important information.

Also, avoid introducing sentences with passive phrases (such as “there are” or “it is”), which delay the main idea and waste space. After all, which of the following sentences conveys the important information better:

“There is a wire that will electrocute you.”
Active: “That wire will electrocute you.”

Put the Subject and Verb at the Beginning of the Sentence

The beginning of a sentence establishes the sentence's topic. By putting the subject and verb at the beginning, you can let your readers know what to expect in the rest of the sentence. Otherwise, the delay will prevent readers from understanding the sentence and may force them to waste their time and energy rereading it:

Delayed information: “From my driveway to my front door, I was chased by wasps.”
Immediate information: “Wasps chased me from my driveway to my front door.”

This does not mean you should cut introductory phrases, which provide context: “When I mowed over their nest, the wasps chased me from my driveway to my front door.”

Vary Sentence Length

If several sentences are the same length, the monotonous rhythm will lull your readers to sleep. To fix this, vary sentence length. You can also do this to emphasize key points; following a long sentence with a short one emphasizes the latter: “As I groped in the dark, my fingertips touched something wet and hot, and the reek of copper filled my nose. Blood.” This also works with paragraph length.

Avoid Double Negatives

A double negative (e.g., "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee") forces your readers to waste their time and effort interpreting its meaning. Instead of saying "I don't dislike vegetables," just say "I like vegetables." It saves time and effort, which will keep your readers reading.

By following these tips, you will help your readers understand and remember what you write. And that's the point of writing.

Rude, Carolyn. Technical Editing. 4th ed. Longman, 2006. 254-258, 260.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Sound Edit

One of the most important self-editing tips I can give writers is to read your work aloud.

Writing is not a visual art. It is more like a symphony than an oil painting. Words make sounds—even when read silently--and it is the way you string these sounds together that satisfies or irritates the reader.

Think about it. You probably hear many grammatical errors in conversation. You might not know the grammatical rule that defines it, but you know it sounds wrong. You have developed an ear for grammar. The same holds true for writing. Reading your work aloud will help you to develop your writer’s ear. It is a quick way to identify any problem areas.

When something doesn’t sound right, there are several things that you can try to make it work.

a) Vary the length of sentences. Short sentences can increase urgency and excitement or build tension. Long sentences will slow down the story and create a particular mood. Your ear will tell you when you need more sentence variety.

E.g. The sun had already set. He went around to the back of the house. Everything was quiet. He got his gun from the cabinet. He headed for the woods. It had to be here somewhere. He just had to keep looking. His breathing was ragged. The gun slipped in his sweaty hands.
Do you see how this rhythm is annoying after awhile? You’d better hope that something exciting happens fast or you will lose your reader. Variety is the key. Save the short sentences for a really exciting part. Even then you will only want to use a few in a row and you’ll want to vary the length a bit among them.

b) Vary sentence construction. It keeps the reader from becoming bored by the monotonous drone of several sentences with the same construction strung together.

E.g. Mike thought about what he had to do. He couldn’t do anything about the past. He could do something about now. He picked up his instrument. He walked onto the stage.

These sentences are somewhat varied in length but they all have the same simple sentence construction. The rhythm is annoying. The one caution here is to avoid starting sentences with gerunds (ing verbs) just for the sake of variety. When a sentence begins with a gerund, it means that two actions are occurring simultaneously. Eg. Singing Jingle Bells, she stirred the soup slowly. This is correct because she can sing and stir soup at the same time. Slamming the truck door, she ran to the house. These actions do not occur at the same time. She slams the door and then runs for the house.

c) Try to use complete sentences. Used sparingly, sentence fragments make writing sound more natural and can add emphasis. If overused, they become ineffective. Don’t let rules inhibit your writing but break them only if there’s a reason to do so.

d) Repetition. If used properly repetition can be powerful, but don’t fall into repetition because you are too lazy to find a synonym. Be equally wary of overusing an unusual word. Uncommon words stand out and if you repeat one of these, even with a couple of paragraphs separating them, the reader will notice.

e)Listen. Make a habit of listening to your words the way you would listen to a band rehearsal. Is something out of tune, off the beat? A sound can be inappropriate--just as laughter is a good sound in the school yard but not so good in a math test--or it can simply interrupt the rhythm of the story. Listen for things that are out of place as you read your work aloud.

It is always helpful to have another person read your work, aloud if possible. If they stumble over words, or you find them going back to re-read something because they don’t understand it, you will know there is a problem. But when you don’t have someone to share your work with or you are pressed for time, reading aloud can give you the emotional distance that it takes to find awkward spots. Taping your story and playing it back is an excellent way to find inconsistencies in your text, repeated words, dialogue confusion, switched subjects and so on that the eye misses.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


"Ten Things You Can Do To Support Your Favorite Book or Blog"

1. TALK ABOUT THE BOOK/BLOG with friends, colleagues, and contacts. Are you part of a reading group? Suggest the book be read and discussed.

2. CREATE AN EMAIL SIGNATURE with comments and a link to the book/blog. People who get your emails are apt to check out the link especially if you have known the person for a while. They will trust your suggestions.

3. WRITE A FAVORABLE REVIEW for the book at Amazon.com and any of the other online book seller's sites you frequent. Link this in an email signature and your own blog or enewsletter.

4. WRITE A LETTER TO THE EDITOR of the local paper or for any newsletters you receive from the groups and organizations you belong to.

5. CARRY YOUR COPY OF THE BOOK WITH YOU to the places you go. Take the opportunity to strike up a conversation about the book with people.

6. GIVE THE BOOK AS A GIFT to people you think might enjoy it.


8. ADD A LINK TO THE BOOK/BLOG WEBSITE as part of your blog or newsletters.

9. ASK THE AUTHOR FOR EXTRA POST CARDS OR BUSINESS CARDS OR BOOKMARKS and give them to friends. You can also drop them in the bills you pay.

10. WRITE SOMETHING ABOUT THE BOOK ON YOUR BLOG and provide a link to the author's website and online sources for buying the book.

These are also great ways to promote your own books!



I have way too many romance novels and other goodies collected recently at the Romantic Times Booklover's Convention in Columbus, OH in April and I'm sending them to one lucky IFW blog reader! That lucky reader could be you. All you have to do is respond to this blog or send me an email and tell me briefly why you love to read romance novels and you will be entered into the drawing for a super tote bag, novels, and goodies. DEADLINE IS JULY 31, 2010 AT MIDNIGHT. Good luck! Winner will be announced in my next blog 8/9/10.

Be well, write well,
Joy Held
"Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity", New Leaf Books, 2003.

My email: Joy@InspirationForWriters.com

What I'm reading right now (just finished!)
Read my review at kidsreads.com

What are you reading???

Copyright Joy Held 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Top Ten Writing Tips

by Sandy Tritt

1. Get it on paper. Once you’ve written it, you can edit it. But until your story is on paper, in black and white, you have nothing.

2. Focus. Write one sentence—yes, one sentence—that states what this manuscript is about. Once you have that, you can refer to it to know if a scene belongs in this manuscript. If a scene doesn’t support the focus statement in some way, it doesn’t belong.

3. Ground your reader at the beginning of each scene. Make sure your reader knows where the scene takes place, when the scene takes place, and who is present in the scene. If you’re using a controlled third person point of view, the first character mentioned should be the viewpoint character for that scene.

4. Know who your narrator is. If you are using the omniscient point of view, your narrator will be an invisible character who is present in every scene, but will not be any one character (although your narrator will have the ability to pop into any character’s head). If you are using a first person point of view, your narrator will be the “I” character. If you are using a controlled third person point of view, your narrator will be standing right next to your viewpoint character and will only be able to see, hear, smell, etc. what that character sees, hears, smells, etc.

5. Act it out. Yes, it’s been said over and over, but it’s still the first rule of writing. Don’t tell your reader what is happening—allow your reader to experience it through action and dialogue.

6. Use active voice. Don’t start a sentence with “there is” or “there are” or “there were” or “there was.” Doing so automatically puts you in passive voice. Instead of saying “there were seven cheerleaders at the mall,” say “Seven cheerleaders shopped at the mall.”

7. Use the strongest verbs possible. Replace “was” with “moved.” Replace “moved” with “walked.” Replace “walked” with “strolled.” Constantly search for stronger and stronger verbs. For truly, it is verbs that give a manuscript its power. Avoid adverbs—instead of saying “He walked slowly,” say “He strolled.”

8. Use an action or body language instead of dialogue tags. Challenge yourself to replace EVERY dialogue tag with an action by the character speaking. You’ll be surprised at how your story comes to life.

9. Never name an emotion. If you say, “He was angry,” you’re telling, not showing. Let us see him slam his fist on the counter. Let us feel the breeze as he storms by.

10. When in doubt, leave it out. If a sentence makes sense without “that” or “of,” leave it out. Leave out any word or phrase or paragraph or scene that is optional.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

When Characters Won't Behave

by Sandy Tritt

What if your character won't behave?

Have you ever had that problem? You've sat down and created a character, giving him or her just the right eye color, height, and family background, and then he simply refuses to do and say the things you need him to do and say. What has happened?

I'll tell you what has happened. You have achieved the ultimate success as a writer: you've brought your character to life. Not only has your character become multi-dimensional, he is exercising free will.

So, what can you do? One of two things. You'll either need to "fire" this character and move him to your "Characters for Hire" file, or you'll need to accommodate his desires and allow him to take on a different role in your story. This means you need to open your mind to the possibilities--and you may very well discover your story will take on a new dimension.

When characters mature, they become so real to us we know how they will react in any given situation--or, if they would avoid a situation altogether. "Real" characters are what make a reader stay glued to the page and want to read more. "Real" characters are what make us laugh and cry and become angry. "Real characters" are why we write--and for what we strive.

The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer's Workbook includes a section on breathing life into characters. In it, we discuss ways to bring a character to life, from the point of conception to the breath of life to emotional maturity, and offer a variety of worksheets to help you discover all the nuances of your character's personality. If you don't yet have a copy of this workbook, be sure to order it at PLAIN-ENGLISH-Writers-Workbook Even better, send your manuscript for a free sample edit. We're here for you.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gawking Characters

By Jessica Murphy

A "gawking character" is a narrator who tells the reader what happens in a scene instead of letting the reader experience the action directly. This is called narrator intrusion, and it robs the reader of the full experience, thus distancing him from the story. A gawking character looks like this:

Gawking: "Adam saw the orange glow and the black smoke rolling into the sky from where he stood on the corner of the block. As he jogged down the sidewalk toward it, he felt a cool breeze and smelled burning wood. As he ducked under the branch of a tree, he saw the burning house. From where he stood, he felt the intense heat and heard the flames roar and pop. Adam stepped forward toward the open front door but felt the searing heat from the sidewalk drive him back."

The words in red show you where the narrator steps between the reader and the action and tells the reader what happens. This detracts from the reader’s experience. A scene must allow readers to experience the action directly in order to grab them. Would you prefer to watch a friend eat a hot fudge sundae and tell you how sweet it tastes, or would you want to eat it yourself?

A gawking character is also redundant. The scene is told from the viewpoint character's perspective, so we already know that we are reading his or her experience. Telling the reader that the character is experiencing the scene is redundant.

Here is the same sentence without the gawking character:

Direct: "Adam glanced up from the corner of Kingwood and Beechurst. The starlit sky glowed orange, and thick smoke rolled across it. He spun on one heel, crunching grit on the sidewalk beneath his shoes, and ran down the street. The cool autumn breeze carried sparks and the smell of burning wood past him. As he brushed the branches of a tree out of his face, the burning house appeared.

A rushing roar filled Adam’s ears, and a wave of heat lifted the hairs on his tan arms. Shading his blue eyes with his hand, he squinted against the blinding light. Flames engulfed every inch of the house and licked at the cloudless sky. They popped and crackled from inside the house, the sounds echoing down the empty street. Adam rushed toward the front porch, but the heat seared his face. He fell back."

This time, the narrator does not water down the scene. We see no "Adam felt," "Adam saw," "Adam heard." Instead, the reader is the one standing on the sidewalk, seeing the flames, feeling their heat, hearing their roar. This direct experience captivates readers and keeps them interested.

Nonphysical Gawking

A gawking character can also filter internal experiences, such as thoughts or emotions. Again, if the scene is being told from the viewpoint character's perspective, we can assume that any thoughts belong to that character (unless he or she can read others' thoughts or sense emotions).

Gawking: "Blood soaked through the fabric, and Preston realized he had plunged the blade into Jack’s side."

Since this scene is told from Preston’s point of view, he can be the only one who realizes something. We don’t need to state the obvious.

Direct: "A red stain spread across Jack's gut, matting the shirt to his skin. The silver blade glinted from where Preston had plunged it in Jack’s side."

The same holds true for emotions:

Gawking: "I felt worried, but a breeze made me feel a little better."

This is told in first person point of view, so the narrator must be the one who felt worried. After all, he cannot feel another character’s emotions. So, stating what the narrator felt is redundant.

Direct: "My stomach churned, but the crisp air cooled my feverish skin and the nausea settled for the moment."

If you take out the gawking character, your readers can experience every scene directly. Any less cheats them out of the story and, in the end, loses them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ellipsis vs. Dash Usage in Fiction

by Sherry Wilson

The question I get asked most often by writers is whether they should use a dash or an ellipsis. This is also something that I often see misused in fiction—sometimes even in published fiction. Once it is explained, you’ll find it a relatively simple concept.

The Dash

The dash is a very useful tool when writing fiction. It can replace commas, parentheses or colon and is more informal in its usage. The dash can be written as two hyphens in a row--like this or as an em dash—like this. Your word processor might convert the two hyphens to the em dash automatically as you type. There are no spaces before or after the dash.

A dash can show a shift in thought or to set off an important element in a sentence.

She laughed—a knowing sound—and leaned back in her chair.
For the most part I’m happy with it—or at least I was.

You can also use a dash in place of a colon to make the text less formal.

Example: He liked to play instruments—guitar, violin, piano, and trumpet.

A dash can be used in place of parentheses.

Example: The whole class—about thirty students—received brand new instruments.

The dash is a very useful tool in your writing, but should be used sparingly. It draws the eye and thus emphasizes a phrase in a statement. But if there’s a dash in every sentence, then it loses its effect.


I often see ellipses misused in fiction—sometimes even in published fiction. The ellipsis does not show a break in thought. It is used to show a thought that trails off and is left unfinished.

Example: I remember that day back in May… Well, it isn’t really important.

There are no spaces before the ellipsis. You leave a space after the ellipsis when it begins a new sentence.

The other use for the ellipsis is in quoting from something and you only want to use part of the source. If you leave out something in the middle, you use the ellipsis to show that something has been left out.

Example: “To be, or not to be: that is the question … Be all my sins remember’d.”

Ellipses are rarely used in fiction. If your character’s words trail off as he notices the tornado heading straight for him, then you’ll need to use an ellipsis. It is a useful tool when used sparingly.

Okay, grammar lesson is over. Back to work . . .

Monday, May 24, 2010


Rhonda Browning White

As professional editors, we hear it all the time.

“I paid Editor X four hundred dollars, (or a thousand dollars, or fifty bucks) to edit my manuscript, and I’m still getting rejections. The agents are telling me it still needs a lot of work. Have I been scammed?”

It breaks our hearts, but we have to answer, “Yes. You have.”

A professional edit of your work is an investment. It’s an investment in your manuscript, in your reputation as a writer of excellence, and in your career as a published (or soon-to-be-published) author. Hence, you want to select the best editor possible for your work. But in a world of scam artists, or even well-meaning acquaintances who offer to edit your work for a few bucks, how do you decide which editor to trust with your manuscript?

In this two-part essay series, I’ll address some of the questions you should ask of potential editors and the answers to seek before you hand over your manuscript (and your money).

  • Determine what kind of editing your manuscript (book, novel, novella, short story, chapbook, etc.) needs. Do you need simple proofreading by a qualified professional? Do you need a full edit with feedback on active voice, characterization, plotting, pacing, and other important story elements? Do you need more in-depth assistance, such as a complete re-write to restructure or round-out your story, or to act out (show) the scenes that are written in a telling fashion? Do you have a basic outline and completed research, but you need a professional writer to ghostwrite your story? In addition to the edit, do you want post-edit assistance, such as help preparing a proposal, query letter or synopsis? Or do you simply need a professional read-through analysis where a qualified editor will study your manuscript and make overall suggestions or offer direction for improvements you can make on your own? Once you know what you need, you can search with confidence for the right candidate for the job.
  • Research the editor or editing firm thoroughly on the Internet. Search both company name and the individual editor’s name. Check to see what is said about them outside of their own website, and see how active they are in the writing community. Are they listed as workshop presenters or speakers at writing conferences? Are they mentioned on author websites with a note of thanks for what they've done? Look for an editing company that provides excellent references and testimonials from clients.

  • Check to make sure the editing company has two or more editors. If one has a family emergency, you’ll want a back-up contingency plan to ensure your work is finished before the deadline you were given. Another benefit of a company with multiple editors is that, while one editor may thrive on editing doctorate dissertations, another may detest them, yet love to edit romances or horror stories. Choose a company with multi-talented editors, so you can ensure you’ll have a long-term relationship with the group, no matter which direction your muse may lead you.

  • Ask for a free sample edit. Reputable editors will be happy to ediT a few pages (250-500 words) of your novel or book. Of course, if you’ve written a two-page short story or brief article, don’t expect a free sample—that’s unfair to the editor. It’s important to see if the editor can supply the exact assistance you need and if you two are compatible as a team. Your relationship with your editor is a marriage, of sorts, so make sure honesty and communication are part of the equation. Can you email your editor and expect a response within one business day? (If your free sample edit is returned within one business day, you can expect the same prompt response to your questions and concerns). Will you editor agree to conference call (telephone) meetings? Will there be an additional fee for such phone conferences? Were you provided a phone number at which to contact your editor, free of charge, with questions regarding your edit?
  • Expect to pay fair wages for professional work. There’s an old adage that says, “If you pay with peanuts, you’ll end up working with monkeys.” The so-called editor who offers to edit your manuscript in exchange for nail salon services, babysitting, or auto repair is not a professional. Professional editors are highly skilled, college-educated, published experts who accept only real money for real work. Editors pay taxes on their wages (no “under the table” business), they carry business insurance, and they will provide you with a legal contract prepared by an attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry.
  • Settle on an exact fee—in writing. Be certain how much the professional editing service you request will cost. What is the exact fee for the service provided? Will you be billed by-the-hour (typically only for ghostwriting or writing that requires research, which can’t always be quantified by a word-count); or will you be charged a per-word fee? Expect to pay less for small services, such as professional proofreading or for a read-through analysis, and more for ghost-editing (a service that’s more detailed than a full edit, but less involved than ghostwriting). Typical full-edit fees range from three cents per word to ten cents per word, depending on the company and the editor. Ghostwriting fees may range from thirty cents to fifty cents per word. Proofreading fees may range from one to three cents per word. In addition to the basics, make sure you seek value-added services, such as frequent communication, a multi-page written analysis of the work completed on your manuscript, or perhaps even your name listed on the editor’s web site as a free marketing tool for your published book.
  • Ask about payment options. Does the editor or editing company accept credit cards, or are they strictly cash-and-carry? (Many credit cards offer free cardholder protection services). Will the editor accept your work piecemeal (a chapter at a time as you can afford to pay)? Do they offer gift certificates? Will they accept international payments? Professional editing companies will offer a variety of options to make doing business with them convenient and affordable.
  • Ask for an editing contract. Make sure specifics are spelled out for you, particularly, two things: First, that the writer retains all rights to his manuscript, including suggestions made by the editor pertaining to his manuscript. Second, the editor will keep confidential all information about the writer and the submitted manuscript. The contract should also spell out exactly how much the edit will cost, what it will include (one edit, multiple edits, rewrites, follow-up services, phone conferences, and an estimated date of completion).
Check back this fall for more tips on selecting the right editor for your manuscript. Remember, you and your editor are a team! Choose one who will be with you through many manuscripts to come!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing for an Online Audience

by Jessica Murphy, Inspiration for Writers, Inc. intern.

When writing for an online audience, you must meet different needs than you normally would. People read online text 25 percent more slowly than they read text in print. As a result, they become less patient: up to 80 percent of online readers scan the page for what they need instead of actually reading its contents.

You must therefore write even more clearly and persuasively for an online audience. To do so, you can either persuade your readers to read your entire document or - more likely - make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they need. The following guidelines will help you achieve your purpose:

1. Put the most important information first. This way, readers can immediately access the information they need.

2. Use headings and subheadings. Headings help the reader scan the document for what they need by identifying topics.

3. Limit each paragraph to three or four sentences. This breaks up large blocks of text, which makes the document look less daunting.

4. Use a short line length. Limiting it to half the width of the screen helps reduce eye movement.

5. Write concisely. Short, simple sentences with concrete nouns and active verbs work well.

6. Make bulleted or numbered lists. Doing so breaks up paragraphs, shortens line length, and highlights important information. Bulleted lists show items of equal importance, while numbered lists show items in descending order of importance or in chronological order.

7. Use sufficient contrast. Make sure your audience can read your document by testing it at Juicy Studio's Luminosity Color Contrast Ratio Analyzer. This site will tell you if your contrast passes or fails a readability test.

8. Use sans serif fonts. Sans serif fonts lack the little feet on each character. Times New Roman is a serif font, while Helvetica is a sans serif font. I wrote this post in Verdana, a sans serif font created specifically for online use.

9. Avoid italics. They are harder to read on a screen than in print.

Online readers need clear, concise information when reading documents on the Internet. These guidelines should help you both meet their needs and achieve your own goals.


Oliu, Walter E., Charles T. Brusaw, and Gerald J Alred. Writing That Works: Communicating Effectively on the Job. 9th edition. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, 2007. 515-528.

Rude, Carolyn D. Technical Editing. 4th edition. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 119, 399.

(c) 2010, Inspiration for Writers, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Slice of Writer's Life

Tips for surviving a writer's conference.

Darwin was right when he coined, "Survival of the fittest." You have to be in good shape to survive a writer's conference. The travel, the workshops, the food, the smiling, the walking, and the parties are enough to bring the healthiest of writers to their tender knees. The hours, the reading, the listening, and the networking can make a writer's conference fun or a big fat flop.

Most cons for writer folk are pretty well organized. Honestly, how easy can it be herding a bunch of people who spend most of their "productive" time sitting still and perched on the edge of a rolling office chair from Office Depot? They are not in the habit of moving at light speed for much of anything unless it's the mail to collect acceptance letters, checks, and of course, letters of rejection. Even though they should, most writers "forget" to exercise on a daily basis and that makes the exercise of attending conference workshops a challenge for some.

However, you may be one of the few writers I met in the fitness center of the Hyatt hotel two weeks ago as I was exercising while attending the Romantic Times Booklover's Convention 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. Wait. The only other people on the equipment with me were male romance cover models keeping their pecs in working order for the pageant and the picture sessions. I took my yoga mat with me, but when I saw the parade of cover models taking the elevators to the basement, I followed and was not disappointed. The scenery was great but the exercise allowed me to function and come home from the con only a little worn out and able to rejoin the normal household pace without much more than a two-hour nap. Most of the other writers I know who attend this conference need three days to recover. I don't have that luxury.

Besides taking your yoga mat, what else should you do to "survive" a writer's conference? Here are my ideas:

1. Prepare. Start early on preparations including getting eight hours of sleep several nights before going to the conference.

2. Food. Pack any particular foods you must eat. Don't rely on local food availabilities to provide what you're used to eating. I limit the amount of white flour and high fructose corn syrup I eat, so I packed a loaf of white spelt bread and took a six-pack of bottled water to save money. I even called the hotel restaurant ahead of time so I could plan my meals around what they serve that I can eat.

3. Exercise. Committ to exercise at least once (should exercise a few minutes a day) while at the conference. That's why I packed my yoga mat. Ten minutes of yoga in the morning before the workshops made a huge difference to my energy levels and my attitude all day.

4. Water. Drink water and lots of it. No matter what everyone else is drinking, you should drink more water than usual while at conferences. Water is cleansing and calming. For every glass of wine or beer you deposit, drink two of water.

5. Advance planning. Plan your workshops in advance. Even if you do not get the workshop schedule until you arrive, take fifteen minutes to make a list of the sessions you want to attend. Check the maps (if one is provided) and be reasonable about how much distance you can cover between sessions. The walking at con does not count as exercise it only contributes to exhaustion. And wear reasonable shoes.

6. Pamper yourself. Take pampering tools with you. A few drops of lavender oil in the bath water will revitalize and even your temperament so you can cope with the hectic pace and crowds of conferences. Driving? Pack the motorized foot bath and soak your feet every night!

So many great things normally happen at a writer's conference no matter what level or type of writer you are. Pack your patience, your best attitude, and your yoga mat and you will come home with good information and perhaps a new book contract like I did!

You get out of a writer's con what you put in to it. Stuff it with positivity and that's what you'll get in return.

Get thee to the nearest writer's con soon, but be smart and healthy about it!

Be well, write well,
Joy Held
copyright 2010

Right now I'm reading Vengeance Road, by Rick Mofina, www.rickmofina.com.
Love it! Action, mystery, suspense and really well written. Met him at RT con! Check it out!
What are YOU reading?

Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity
Joy Held
New Leaf Books, 2003

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Showing versus Telling

Show and tell. This is one of the most important rules in writing fiction. Always “show” the story, never “tell” it. Of course, there are times when passages of “telling” are necessary (i.e. in narrative summary). There are some incidences where it’s acceptable, such as in transitions. Or perhaps there’s a jump in time that needs to be conveyed. But for the most part, the more a writer “shows,” the better.

What is showing? Showing takes place in real time; we see things unfold as they happen. Showing shows us where we are, gives us a location we can picture. Then there’s action, something that happens, and with that comes dialogue.

Ever hear the saying: Actions speak louder than words? The same rule applies to writing. Actions bring characters to life, it makes your characters believable, and it makes us a part of the story and a part of them. We’ll learn more about a character and become more connected to them by what they do, rather than by what the narrator “tells” us they do. It also brings in the five senses: touch, taste, see, smell, and feel.

Here’s a brief example below. Both lines are saying the same thing, only one is “telling” and the other is “showing:”

TELLING: Michael was scared. But he tried to hide it.

SHOWING: Michael took a deep breath and puffed up his chest. But his hand trembled when he reached for the doorknob. He stuffed it in his pocket, then turned to his companion and chuckled.

Which lines engage you more as a reader? Notice the second lines show “action,” whereas the first lines “tell” what he’s feeling.

One tip I always give to clients on how to show and not tell is to start with the object and have it "do something." Another key is to cut the "was" phrases.

BEFORE: It was early in the morning. The sun was coming up over the horizon and shining on the crops of flax.

Here, the object is the sun. In the second sentence we begin with the "object," but we have that troublesome "was" phrase, which makes this passage "telling."

AFTER: The morning sun cast lances of light over the blue and purple valleys. A breeze carried the scent of flaxen crops and manure to the early risers.

Notice the deleted "was" phrases and how we start with the object and we have that object "do something." Also, notice how we had room to add more from the five senses, such as smell.

That example was a bit complicated, so let's break it down into something more simple.

BEFORE: The breeze was cold.

AFTER: The Canadian breeze sliced through his coat and nipped his skin.

Now, I'm not saying these can't be worded better, but the idea is to have the breeze "do something." In this case, the breeze is slicing and nipping.

Hope this has been helpful, and if anyone has something to add, please do!

Happy writing!