Friday, December 14, 2018

Semicolon, my new love

This post was first published on June 11, 2009

My knowledge of all things punctuation-y is flimsy. In the past, I’ve thought- “Okay now I’ve got it” but, sadly, I didn’t, and when someone pointed it out I felt a bit embarrassed about my proclamation made firmly from Dunderhead Land. I bought Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (ESL) and somehow feel I’ve made a breakthrough. I think I now understand the scariest punctuation mark of them all: the semicolon.

Before ESL, I avoided the semicolon. I just accepted it was a punctuation mark out of my league. It was for writers who really got it; people who know what a non-defining participle clause is, for example. Those people do not include me. I just accepted that I would make my way through the writing world with the comma and the full stop. I would manage. If I needed more, I might resort to a dash, but that was moving toward shaky ground. It was okay. It was a smaller life, but still a life.

But after ESL, I feel I can now use the semicolon with a bit of authority. And doesn’t writing look so nice with a semicolon? It is one of the handsome punctuation marks, not the most handsome though; I still love a question mark, but frankly, who doesn’t?

Semicolons alleviate your reader from that timeless question all readers battle with-“Did I pause long enough there?” The writer who is adept with the semicolon allows the reader to rest at ease, literally. She takes the reader by the hand and says, “I don’t want you to pause as long as a full stop or rush off in a comma-like sort of way. I want you to wait for that in-between length; a semicolon length”. It makes the reader believe that you know what you are doing, that you know why an intermediate length pause is needed at that particular spot. It is a reason quite highbrow and literary, and it will be very difficult for the reader to figure it out. They must just accept that you know what is best for them. And that’s good; readers like that- being bossed around. Of course, the side benefit is you come off looking far smarter than you actually are. It’s win-win.

So use that semicolon; there is nothing to be afraid of. (Unless you use it incorrectly on your blog and some smarty pants points it out. That is not a threat. Really.)

Lauri Kubuitsile is the author of The Scattering and Signed, Hopelessly in Love, which was recognised by South Africa's O Magazine as one of the best reads of 2011. Lauri has won or been shortlisted for numerous awards. She twice won Africa's premier prize for children's writing, The Golden Baobab. She also won the creative writing prize sponsored by Botswana's Department of Youth and Culture. In 2011, she was shortlisted for Africa's most prestigious short story prize, The Caine Prize. Lauri blogs at Thoughts from Botswana

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Pomodoro Technique and Productive Writing Time

This post was first published on January 2, 2017.

Photo by Paul Downey, via Flickr
A lot of the writers I work with struggle with keeping up a productive writing schedule. And if I’m being honest, I sometimes struggle with the same time management difficulties when I’m faced with a big editing project. It can be hard to sit down and write when you have a million other pressing obligations, when you’re facing writer’s block, or when you’d just rather do something else. Procrastination happens to the best of us.

So when I’m finding it hard to be a productive writer or editor, I turn to the Pomodoro Technique to get me back on track.

But what even is the Pomodoro Technique?

In the late 1980s Francesco Cirillo developed a time management technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks. So, twenty-five minutes of working followed by five minutes of play. Rinse and repeat until the work is done. Cirillo named his technique and the intervals after the Italian word for “tomato” because of the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to time his intervals. And it’s really that simple.

The idea is that frequent breaks improve mental agility. So while you can use the Pomodoro Technique for just about any kind of work, it’s especially useful for writing and editing because it keeps your imagination from getting stagnant and your mind from burning out. Plus, if you know that you only “have” to write for a short period of time before you can do something else, you’re more likely to just sit your ass down and get it over with.

There are also proven health benefits associated with getting up and moving around every once in awhile instead of sitting in a chair typing for hours on end. A lot of the time I use my break pomodoros to do squats, tricep dips, or lunges around my office. It gets my blood flowing, freaks out my interns, and makes me feel smug about my physical fitness while still making progress on my nerdy indoor goals.

You can choose the length of your working and playing pomodoros according to what works for your schedule and workload. I usually stick to the traditional twenty-five minutes of editing interspersed with five minutes of reading for fun, exercising, doing laundry, or playing fetch with my dog, but you can break it down into even smaller or larger pomodoros. An hour on, ten minutes off. Thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off. Assess your scheduling needs and pomodoro accordingly!

I recommend the Pomodoro Technique to authors who are struggling with procrastination, buried under other obligations, or just overwhelmed with the amount of writing they need to get done. Breaking writing and editing down into manageable chunks will help to make the work go by faster and keep track of your progress. And I often find that within a few pomodoros, I hit my stride and don’t want to stop for breaks anymore. Once the writing is flowing, you don’t have to force yourself to stop for break pomodoros anymore. Just ride out the productivity as long as it lasts, and then start cycling through breaks and working pomodoros again.

You can even pair the Pomodoro Technique with a site blocker for maximum focus. I personally use this free browser plug-in, Strict Workflow, to make it easier to stick to my writing or editing while on my computer. The site blocker makes it so you literally can’t access particular websites during your writing pomodoro. If you try to visit Facebook, for example (that black hole of wasted time and energy that is the enemy of any productive visit to the Internet), the site blocker will instead reroute you to a message that tells you to get your lazy ass back to work. It makes it so you literally can’t procrastinate during a working pomodoro.

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t for every writer and editor, but I highly suggest you try it, especially if you’re easily distracted, if you live with ADD, if you have a hard time staying motivated, or if you’re overwhelmed by your to-do list. I used it to write this blog post, and got the whole thing done within two working pomodoros with a break in the middle to walk my dog for ten minutes. Now I have a complete, polished blog post and a happy dog. Everybody wins!

Jessica d’Arbonne is an acquiring editor at the University Press of Colorado. She is an alumna of the Denver Publishing Institute and Emerson College. You can follow her on Twitter @JessDarb.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

About Those Trolls…

This post was first published on October 10, 2014.

A post by Merry Farmer struck such a chord with me that I felt compelled to further ponder the role fear plays as we writers embark on and pursue our careers.

Like Merry, I dreaded public criticism of my work. Even the idea of private trashing made me cringe. Why? I harbored a deep-seated fear that my dream would be crushed. That dream of becoming an author, nurtured since childhood, was still quite fragile. Also, the book’s secondary theme, domestic violence, contained scenes of abuse based on real incidents—mine and others.

Because the cost of an editor at that time was well beyond my means, I joined a writers’ group to get an evaluation of my manuscript from objective strangers who would likely be more open and honest than family or friends. However, I was emotionally connected to the story in ways that worked against my ability to handle harsh criticism and was too inexperienced to appreciate the difference between constructive critique and personal attack.

The lady who had formed the group was young and unpublished and had recently embarked on her adult life with a husband and babies; at that time, I was probably older than her mother. She was also very opinionated—or so I perceived—and quite vocal about those opinions. Long story short: her blunt comments and insistence that I had not written the story I really wanted to write blindsided me and almost ended my career along with my dream.
kamuelaboy via morguefile

Now, nearly two decades later, my take on her painful words comes from a different place. Did she share her review with others? I don’t know. Was I overly sensitive in my reaction to her criticism? Probably. The critique—3 or 4 pages long, single spaced, and very thorough—was extremely well written and definitely deserving of more consideration than I gave it at the time.

Was she a troll, out to shred my five-years-long effort to produce novel number one? Did she intend to end my writing career before it even started? Then I might have said yes, but now I know otherwise. Was the book published despite her exposure of its significant shortcomings? Yes. Self-pubbing allows that to happen. Did it get rave reviews to offset her critique? Family and friends posted some nice—although somewhat biased—comments. How do I feel about my story now? The basic story remains good, but it needs major work. I’ve pulled it out of circulation and plan to rewrite several parts of it this winter. Will I make my subplot the main theme as she suggested? No. However, I may write the sequel that was part of the original plan, and in it the secondary character she insisted should be my protagonist will finally fill that role.

Lessons learned:

Most critiques are not missiles aimed ruthlessly at the hearts of writers and should not be feared.

We are often emotionally tied to our works. The keynote speaker at a writing conference several years ago stated that our works are not our babies. He was a guy. We women are often more sensitive about our stories and our characters—our books are our babies.

Serious critiques deserve consideration. Will they always be right? Not necessarily, but that doesn’t make them wrong either. On the other hand, reviews on Amazon or similar sites should often be taken with that proverbial grain of salt—or ignored altogether.

The road to full-fledged author status from fledgling writer is a journey. Journeys have bumps and detours, but a good map and an unwavering belief in dreams can keep us on the road. While reaching our destination doesn’t guarantee huge success, it does offer the satisfaction of a job completed and the promise of another trip should we opt to take it. Hopefully, lessons taught by the chuckholes in the first journey will result in a smoother ride the next time.

Are you emotionally tied to your work? Are you devastated if anyone suggests your baby is less than perfect? Has negative criticism increased your determination to create a better work, or has it undermined your belief in yourself as a writer?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her at websites: and

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ask the Editor: Internal Monologue

This post first ran on February 12, 2009 and it's as relevant as ever! ~ Dani

QUESTION: What is your take on internal monologue? How frequently should it be used and how should it be formatted? Contrast its usage as opposed to indirect thought exposure where summaries of what goes through a characters head are exposed but not the exact wording.
Donald James Parker
Angels of Interstate 29
ANSWER: Internal monologues -- sometimes thought of as stream of consciousness or internal dialogue -- is different for different types of novels. A literary novel may have pages and pages of stream of consciousness. James Joyce, anyone? But it takes a deft hand to pull that off and not lose the reader in a jumbled mass of disconnected thoughts.

In most contemporary commercial fiction – which encompasses a wide variety of genres – internal monologues should be used sparingly. Readers come to mysteries and romances and westerns and science fiction more for the stories and the actions, not so much for the kind of character development that calls for a lot of internal dialogue.
One thing to keep in mind is whether a particular character would be prone to talking to himself or herself. Don’t just do it because it appeals to you as the author. And does everyone in the story do it, or just the central character?
Also keep in mind that internal dialogue is not the same as having a character think something, although sometimes the lines between the two have been blurred.
For example:
This is really creepy, she thought, stumbling in the darkness through the brambles. There was an old barn here somewhere. She’d be okay if she could just find it. Suddenly the barn doors burst open and a tractor bore down on her. Oh, my God, I’m going to die.
The first part of that example contains her thoughts. She’s not really talking to herself until, Oh my God, I’m going to die. Current formatting guidelines from most publishers say put internal dialogue in italics and in first person, present tense.
When writing a character’s thoughts, I have not been able to find a hard and fast rule on whether a writer should include “she thought”, but I personally don’t like using it, so I would prefer the example to start: This is really creepy. Sarah stumbled in the darkness through the brambles….etc. It’s still clear that the thought belongs to her, and the reader gets it, I’m sure.
Whatever you decide on your usage of internal monologues, remember that less can be better than more. Internal dialogue often reflects what a character is unable to say aloud, and sometimes will even contradict what he or she just said. If that technique is over-used it loses effectiveness.

Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her  Blog,  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, December 10, 2018

Scare Quotes Everywhere!

This post first ran on 1/31/2009 and we still don't like being "scared" this way! ~ Dani

Quote marks are probably the most overused form of punctuation. Quote is short for quotation, so essentially, quote marks should be used only to set off a quotation—the verbatim text of something that was said or published. If you’re writing a novel and using quote marks for anything but dialogue—take them out!

Writers everywhere like to use quote marks around words they consider special for some reason or around words that are not being used in a traditional way. Old school editors call these scare quotes, a way of alerting the reader that the word may not mean what you think it does. Ninety percent of the time, the marks are completely unnecessary. If you’re writing logical sentences—even using euphemisms—readers know what you mean. Here’s a few examples of unneeded quote marks.
  • “Quote” is short for “quotation.” (Did anyone misread the sentence when I wrote it earlier without the punctuation?)
  • After a few minutes in the club, John decided to wander back and watch the “dancers.” (Yes, we all know that dancers is a polite way of saying strippers. Does your character think of them of dancers or strippers? Use one or the other without quote marks, because it tells us something about your character.)
Many editors will argue that in my first example quote marks are necessary to set off the words used as words. In some cases, this may be true. (Oh the discussions I’ve had about words as words!) The real test is readability. If the sentence reads fine without the punctuation, don’t use it. Less is better. If you have to set off a word used as a word for readability, please use italics, which are much less intrusive and preferred by the Chicago Manual of Style.

For a look at some extreme examples of excessive quote mark usage, check this site.
The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of 23 novels, including the Detective Jackson mysteries series. Find her at: and
Write First, "Clean" Later ;)

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Distractions vs. Discipline

This post was first published here on March 19, 2014

One of the most important elements for a writer to learn is discipline or structure or whatever else you want to call it. Discipline is different from perseverance. A writer has a story. The story isn’t working out; she perseveres until she finishes it. But what happens when she gets up in the morning to work.

I can tell you what happens to me, and I hate to admit it. I have my coffee and raisin toast at the computer. My home page is Yahoo. I know, I’d have fewer distractions if I had Google or some other blank home page. I just looked at Yahoo and saw that Savannah Guthrie got married, and she’s four months pregnant. Then I got hooked on an article about Nicole Kidman’s relationship with her children with Tom Cruise, and then flipped through all the photos of the eclectic Malibu house Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell sold for 9 million, then… you see where I’m going.

These were distractions while I was trying to write this blog post. Never mind the mornings after an awards show when I spend too long looking at the gowns on the red carpet, and don’t get me started on political stuff. I get hooked reading that too.

I hate myself, I really do.

In all fairness, I don’t read People magazine or watch reality TV. I watch very little television, period. Justified and Homeland are my never-miss shows, even if I watch them marathon-style. So Internet gossip is my guilty pleasure. Oh, and I may play a game or two of Spider Solitaire or do an online Sudoku puzzle when my brain freezes, but these are all distractions that cut into my writing time, no matter how I try to justify them.

Then it’s business. I open the first of my two email accounts. I belong to a few writers’ loops, so I scan those, check the other emails, delete the ones I don’t want to read or think I’ll read later and never do. My second account has all my professional and Twitter business. I tweet, but I’m not crazy about doing it. Tweeting has worked to boost book sales of a few of my friends. I really can’t tell if I’ve had the same results. I don’t think so, but I still do it. I try to limit my time to an hour, sometimes less, but I check throughout the day to keep me updated and try to convince myself I like Twitter.

On to Facebook. This is the worst because I like it best. I’ve made friends there, post two to three times a day, read other posts, and hope I don’t get hooked on something, which I always seem to do. When I finish all that, it’s lunchtime. I eat early because I’m hungry early.

If I can resist all the other distractions, I get to work. But first I have to listen to the audio chapters to approve for the audio book of Mind Games.

Now, work—after I take the dogs for a walk.

By the way, my house is a wreck. Maybe a few minutes for dusting and laundry.

Now it’s late afternoon, and I should start thinking about something for dinner.

I really must be more disciplined. I will be. I promise.

Tomorrow I’m shutting off the Internet and getting down to work. Really.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 7, 2018


Old but good advice, which we first shared on 9/16/2008. It's always important to fact-check your writing, maybe more today than ever! ~ Dani 

Punctuation marks and misspellings are not the only thing that can trip you up and de-value your writing. Poor vetting erodes the confidence the reader has in your story and can even go so far as to void the suspension of disbelief. Facts, even the “fictional facts” of a novel, must work together to create a story into which your reader can escape. No cognitive dissonance allowed.

Of course, the writer must watch this as the work progresses, but at least one of the final read-throughs needs to focus on questioning and verifying, checking and authenticating. Perhaps “questioning” is the most vital of these…you simply must question everything. Anything not known as confidently as you know your own name must be verified.

Here’s a little laundry list of things:

1. Are all names spelled correctly? Confirm the spelling of actual persons, and make sure that a character’s name is spelled consistently throughout. (Billy vs. Billie, Susie vs. Suzie)

2. Make sure that two characters are not tagged with the same name. (I see this happen often with minor characters.)

3. Verify the spelling of brand names. (It’s PACO RABANNE not POCO RABANE!)

4. Verify real life information to be sure it is hasn’t become outdated. For example, it’s probably no longer a good idea to refer to Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt as a happy couple.

5. Fix incorrect references. If your novel is set in the real Milwaukee, WI, your character must drive south to Chicago, not north. If your characters are on their way to Woodstock, it’s highly unlikely that one of them will yank a cell phone from his Levis pocket.

6. Keep your setting honest. If it’s a desert town, it’s not likely that someone will be chased into the woods. If you write a scene at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, it’s unlikely that there will be snow in the air.

In the search for new projects for my indie press, I have the opportunity to read many manuscripts. I’ve found that the biggest turn-off, the thing I am most unwilling to overlook, is poor vetting. At some primal level, I just get the feeling that, since there is such disregard for fact-checking, there must be serious story flaws that would exhaust my resources and be a stumbling block to a successful book project.

With Google and Wikipedia, checking everything is a snap, so why gamble with the accuracy? Check everything!

Billie Johnson was a publisher and founder of Oak Tree Press. She passed away in 2018.
You can read a tribute to Billie by Leslie Diehl.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

L.J. Sellers and Ann Parker on Beta Readers

This interview first published 5/29/2013 and is still a challenging part of the writing process. Don't try to skip it though. ~ Dani 

Maryann Miller recently wrote about her beta readers in this post. But what exactly is a beta reader? Sometimes called “first readers”, these are the people who freely read an author’s latest manuscript, usually after the second revision when the story has come together and is fairly solid. Sending a book out for critique at this stage gives the author a chance to break away from the story for a period of time, and then come back with fresh eyes and the help of trusted critical reviews to consider. It’s my observation that beta reading and subsequent revisions make for a stronger story in the final version, even if the author hires an independent editor (especially if only for proofreading the final draft).

Beta readers and the help they give an author make dramatic differences in the quality of a story. Today we chat with two authors who both use beta readers, and for whom I’ve had the pleasure of reading early manuscripts. Meet LJ Sellers, author of the Detective Jackson Mysteries, and Ann Parker, author of the historical Silver Rush Mysteries. Welcome to the Blood-Red Pencil!  Let’s jump right into some questions.

Dani: When do you send a manuscript out to be read? How many readers?


LJ: I send my manuscripts out to beta readers after the second draft, and I usually send it to between five and seven readers.

Ann: I usually send the draft out when it’s close to “finished,” right before it goes to my house editor (who is my ultimate beta reader). As for the number of people, it varies, depending on who I can beg or bribe to read it. Usually it’s five or so. I also have two beta readers that I “save” for doing an ARC read. One is a proofreader by trade, the other is my husband. Both are very detail-oriented.

What kind of turnaround time? How many rounds for each title?

LJ: I typically ask my beta readers to get back to me within three weeks, but most of them read my stories immediately and send feedback within a week. For that, I'm very grateful. I don't send the novel out for second rounds with readers. They're volunteers, and almost no one wants to read the same story again in such a short time. But I have one loyal beta reader in the UK who always reads it twice because he wants to—the first time for overall story content and the second time for proofreading. (I love this guy!) After collecting all the feedback, I do a third draft and send it to my publisher. From there, the manuscript goes to a professional content editor.

Ann: I try to give beta readers a month, but that doesn’t always happen. Like LJ, I don’t ask folks to read it a second time. Sometimes (oh, this is embarrassing to relate!), I’ll have a beta reader read through “on the fly” as I finish up other fixes. Dani, you did that for me on Mercury’s Rise… I was on college tour with my youngest, and you and I did email/phone back ’n’ forth for a couple of long, long nights.

Once I have everything within the time-frame I need, I go through the comments, do a “final” draft, and send it to my editor.

(Dani: I love how Ann always puts "finished" and "final" in scare quotes.)

How often do you use the same readers? When and why do you change readers?

LJ: A core group of people read for me every time (because they want to!), but I also work with at least one new beta reader for every manuscript, and I try to find readers who have never experienced my work before. It seems important to get fresh perspectives and to ensure that even my series books work as standalones.

Ann: I, too, have a core group of folks who read all the books, including a wonderful research librarian up in Leadville, and Ms. Dani (who has the eye of an eagle and an electronic red pen as sharp as… a porcupine quill? I’m out of similes here!). I’ll add experts as needed—an expert in historical mourning fashion and etiquette, for example, or an expert in various aspects of the Civil War or mining. If I ask an expert to read for accuracy, I will offer to highlight the particular sections that involve their expertise. That way, if they don’t want to wade through the whole thing, they can just focus on the aspects that are in their area of interest.

What kind of guidance do you give them?

LJ: I give new beta readers a basic set of questions, such as: Is the beginning engaging? Are the characters compelling? Does the story have any sticking points or things that confused you? Was the ending satisfying?
But my regulars give me all types of specific feedback, including plot points and phrasing advice.

Ann: I usually provide a list of questions/things to look for as well. For instance, I ask them to scribble in the margin places where they think they’ve spotted a clue, or to periodically scribble their thoughts on “who done it” as the story progresses. I also ask them to note places where they get lost, or have to back up and re-read a passage (which indicates to me that I probably need to re-write it). Also, they are free to note anything else that catches their attention. If they feel something is anachronistic, for instance, I ask them to circle/note it in some way. Sometimes, the bit is historically accurate, but if it causes the average reader to stop and think or wonder, then I usually try to find another way to say it, or I explain in more detail. And, of course, I ask them to let me know if I surprised them at the end, and if the mystery was “satisfying.”

That’s very useful information! Thank you for sharing with us. In coming months, we’ll explore this topic in greater depth.

Readers, how many of you have fulfilled this function for an author? Authors, how many of you use beta readers? If not, what in particular do you want to learn about this writing tool? Please leave us a comment or question!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Proofreading Part 2 of 2

This post was originally posted on June 7, 2017

Recently, I had to take a long road trip. I decided to proofread while my husband drove. By sending the document to my iPhone, I realized that seeing it on the smaller screen highlighted certain errors. It also gave me a feel for how the e-book version would look on a mobile device.

1. Save your document as a PDF from Word. If you do not have this option with your word processing program, you may be able to upload the word document itself or convert the word document through another source, such as Nuance PDF or Adobe online.

2. Email it to yourself.

3. Open the email on your phone.

4. Upload the PDF to iBooks or other PDF reader.

Note: iBooks allows you to annotate.

4. Read and take notes.
5. Update your draft.

Keep proofreading until you can't find any mistakes. It helps to have other people read the final draft as well. They catch things you cannot because you have read it so many times.

Especially if you self-publish, I recommend having a professional editor look over your manuscript, even if you aced grammar in high school or college. If you don't have access to one or can't afford one, then thorough proofreading is your best weapon.

I would not waste time with endless proofreading passes until you are certain your story is complete and ready to be spit-shined. That said, proofreading may uncover problems you didn't realize you had. Consider picking up a copy of Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers. It will guide you through multiple proofreading and revision passes before you reach the final proofreading stage.

If you have enough time, put the final draft away for a week or even a month. Go back and look at it again with fresh eyes. Bribe friends, family, or critique partners into giving it a once over if possible.

When you self-publish, it is critical to eliminate 99% of errors. I would say 100%, but even traditionally published books have a few typos nowadays. A book full of typos earns negative reviews and costs you fans.

Presenting a clean manuscript to an agent or editor can lift you to the top of the slush pile. If you present your manuscript for a professional critique or pitch at a conference, the agent will look favorably upon you. It is a relief to find a smooth submission as opposed to one riddled with typos and gross abuse of language.

Editors have been thinned out even at the large publishing houses. Clean manuscripts make an editor's job easier, which makes your project more desirable.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Proofreading Part 1 of 2

This was originally published June 5, 2017:

I recommend proofreading your manuscript in multiple ways. Each method changes the way the document appears. Your eye catches different errors with each pass. After my final editing passes are done, I proofread my manuscripts at least twenty times before publishing them. You can:

1. Read it on Word or other word processing programs in several fonts.

The Four Layers of Conflict

The Four Layers of Conflict

The Four Layers of Conflict

2. Read it on Word with ¶ "reveal codes" on to catch spacing and formatting errors.

3.Read it on Word with two page view.

4. Read it as a PDF document as a single page + page width. The print will be larger.

5. Read the PDF version again as "two pages up continuous" to see the flow between pages and how the paragraphs, images, etc. line up. Remember the side on the left is actually the odd pages that will appear on the right hand side of the printed book. A chapter should always start on the printed right hand side, even if that means leaving a blank page on the left.

6. When self-publishing, I recommend using the virtual proof option if available. Create Space has virtual proof option. It gives you the feel of turning pages and you can make sure you have the Chapters starting on the right page and it will reveal accidental blank pages. If your service does not provide a virtual proof, I recommend investing in Flip PDF. It will turn your manuscript into a "flip book." (This is also a fun program for making virtual scrapbooks, children's stories, family stories, cookbooks, poetry, etc., which make nice gifts.)

7. When self-publishing, I recommend buying the printed proof as a final pass. You find things in print you didn't find on the screen, no matter how many times you read the digital version. If you can't purchase a printed proof, then print it at home or consider having it printed at Kinkos/FedEx, Staples Office Supply, or other print company in your area. It is worth the investment.

I format the print version first then the e-book version after all the other proofreading passes. You catch more errors as you remove the formatting for the e-book.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Revision Is Half The Battle

This post was first  published December 23, 2013:

Good writers compose sentences. Great writers craft language.

One thing you will find plenty of on this blog is advice on how to edit your manuscript. Tight editing can make all the difference. It is important if you decide to submit to agents and editors. It is essential if you decide to go the independent route.

Here are a few of my favorite posts on revision.

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: How to Identify Dragging Narrative

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Fine-Tuning Sentence Structure

Top Ten Things I Know About Editing

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Analyzing Sentences for Redundancy and Wordiness

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Cleaning Up Those Dialogue Tags

I created Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers to collate all of the advice I had collected on how to revise my own work. This book will not turn you into a professional editor. It will, however, help you present the cleanest and tightest manuscript to your agent or editor. If you self-publish, it is a critique partner that helps you polish your work.

We examine common plot holes. We identify speed bumps that affect the readers' enjoyment of the ride you are taking them on. We explore rhetorical devices and how to use them to craft expert-level cumulative sentences. We spend a little time proofreading.

Revision is the most time-consuming, mind-numbing, aggravating part of writing a book. Taking it one step at a time gets you through it and keeps you from burning the manuscript. You’ll be tempted to quit and go spearfishing in Fiji. It only delays the inevitable.

Life is too short for bad fiction.

Buy Story Building Blocks III - Revision from

Story Building Blocks III Revision ebook

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Happy Holy Days

Holiday Etymology

It's a tradition every December to dig into our ten-year archive and share posts from previous team members and our most popular posts. It's always interesting to ponder how much of the writing and publishing world has changed, as well as how much it has remained the same. We hope you enjoy the revisits! 

Wishing you all happy holy days if you celebrate - may your days still be merry and bright if not.

~ Dani Greer/Chief Red Pencil