Thursday, January 31, 2019

Seven Proven Strategies for Editing and Proofreading Your Own Writing

1) After you finish writing it, put your document away for a while. Hours, days, weeks or even months. You want to look at it with "fresh eyes." Instead of seeing what you meant to write, you want to see what you actually did write.

2) Use the spelling and grammar features in your word processor. They aren't perfect - ask anybody - but if you know the rules, you can decide which suggestions to accept and which to ignore.

3) Know your weaknesses. Keep a list of errors you tend to make often, and use your word processor's search feature to help you find them.

4) Print your manuscript and edit it on paper. Away from the computer. You'll see more. I mark the printout with a pen, then go back to the computer to tinker, then print and repeat as needed. Different fonts, too, for the change of perspective.

5) Use a straightedge. If you're reading on paper, it can be a ruler. If you're reading on the computer screen, situate the document so the line you're reading is on the bottom of your screen, and scroll one line at a time as you read.

6) Read it aloud. You'll automatically simplify it that way, which is always good. If you've written sentences that you can't say without tripping over them, that's bad.

7) Print it again. You missed something. Ink and toner cartridges are a racket, aren't they?

Michael LaRocca has been paid to edit since 1991 and still loves it, which has made people question his sanity (but they were doing that before he started editing). Michael got serious about writing in 1978. Although he’s retired more times than Brett Favre, Michael is writing his 19th book. Learn more about him at, GoodReads, or Amazon.

Image by Quinn Kampschroer, via Pixabay

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

2018 Accomplishments

The main accomplishment with any year is surviving it. 2018 was no different. A new health issue gets tossed my way every year. Fate and I have such a contentious relationship, we can barely muster the energy so say "FU" as we pass each other in the hallways of life.

That said, I still managed a few things. From 2008 to 2014, I created the Story Building Blocks series. I later added a Build A Cast Workbook. In late 2017 into early 2018, I created fourteen genre Build A Plot Workbooks, one for each genre based on the conflict layering process I developed for  Story Building Blocks I: The Four Layers of Conflict. I also added a Build A World Workbook.

My web host went out of business, forcing me to quickly find another home for my website. So, I updated my website to accommodate the new books and added free forms and tools. I posted tips from those books on my weekly blog.

I failed in my goal to learn more about marketing, but it is still on the list of goals for 2019. I sponsored a presenter at the Writers Police Academy to help advertise and support a terrific conference. In addition, I assembled a master list of writing workshops and conferences for the Blood Red Pencil which I plan to update each year.

I had someone ask if there was story building software. Alas, I am not a programmer, but it gives me ideas for the future. Perhaps video classes on You Tube. I have been gathering data on how to make that happen.

In 2018, I also released ten-year anniversary editions of my Mythikas Island series. The books got fresh covers and beautifully formatted interiors. I have learned so much since the original books were published through BookSurge. I even worked on an omnibus edition. Still deciding on whether to release it.

I had a couple of ideas for new fiction books too. Still noodling with them. They may go somewhere, or not. It's hard to stay focused when your physical resources diminish your mental and emotional resources.

My goals for 2019 are to learn more and decide where I want to go from here. I have always been motivated by service and helping others.Sometimes, especially of late, I want to hide out with a stack of books in a beach bungalow in Fiji and hope Fate can't find me, the mad cow.  So we'll see.

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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

No Bragging Rights

Our theme this month is to brag about what we’ve accomplished in 2018. This is a hard one for me, because I don’t think I’ve accomplished much at all, at least in my writing. I started two books and finished neither. I've talked to fellow writers, listened to what they’re saying on social media, and find that many of us are in the same position. Sales have tanked for all but the star authors whose followers will buy their new books, no matter what.

The main branch of my city’s public library had a few special evenings with some of those star writers. Writers with top agents and big publishers who will kick in the necessary funds to send these bestselling authors on tours to different cities to plug their newest book. In all three cases, the publishers donated a hardcover or paperback to the attendees. Sandra Brown, a charming raconteur and top-selling romantic suspense author, kept us entertained for at least ninety minutes and generously signed books to the long line waiting. So did Karin Slaughter, a witty and approachable author of dark thrillers. She kept the audience laughing. The third author, Kristina McMorris, a new name to me, was equally entertaining.

So why am I telling you this?

Small press and indie authors like myself can’t really compete in the big time these days. Even some authors with big publishers who aren’t top producers have to foot some or all of their expenses to get their names out there, and more than likely their sales don’t make up for their expenses. One friend paid for a promotional consultant that took most of the profits she got from the promotion.

Conventions? Another way to connect, but it’s a drain on your purse to travel from one venue to another to schmooze with your fellow writers and become more than a face they know from writers’ organizations, Facebook, or Twitter.

If writers are lucky, they’re published by one of Amazon’s imprints, but that takes an agent because they don’t take open submissions. Being an Amazon author gets them promotion from their vast audience and gives exposure that only the famous authors get. I see names I don’t recognize with a thousand reviews, and sure enough, they’re an Amazon author with Thomas & Mercer, Union Lake, Montlake Romance, et al. I was lucky enough to win a Kindle Scout contract hoping I would get the same exposure, but that was not the case. That program has been discontinued. Some authors did better than others. I wasn’t one of them.

Not to criticize Amazon. They gave people like me the opportunity to publish their books in the first place when no one else would. What worked in the beginning of this decade―free and discounted books―turned into a monster that ate us all up with―wait for it―free and discounted books. Readers, our bread and butter, now have so many books on their ereaders that they don’t need to purchase anything for years to come. I am guilty of this myself.

I know many authors who are announcing that they’re putting their energies elsewhere other than writing novels. It takes many months, sometimes a year or more, to write a novel, and seeing sales dwindle to almost nothing is more than depressing. There are hundreds of good books out there that readers will never find. Awards seem to go to the same dozen or so authors with a new one maybe sneaking in every award season. Success in the industry is the brass ring, and without a good agent to guide a career, a supportive publisher to stand behind you (as long as you sell), and some personal finances to use for promotion and travel, writers will have to adjust to the new literary order. It’s particularly difficult for those of us far enough outside of a big city area to benefit from the interaction.

There was a time when I made good money writing, but as sales plummet, I am hearing less of writers saying things like, “I can’t not write,” or “I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t write,” and more of, “I can’t keep writing for pennies.” One well-known writer I know on social media actually said this, so it isn’t just me. Everyone who works hard, and that means in all fields, likes to be remunerated for their efforts. Passion does tend to dwindle when they aren’t. Am I grateful for the love of writing and the experience I’ve had doing it? You bet. I’ve made many friends in the writing community that I cherish.

Bottom line: I have won no awards, no nominations, no honorable mentions, and though I've racked up quite a few good reviews, that only matters to me. I have a few options. Do I read a good book, go to yoga class, watch a movie, or do I take my dog for a walk? Of course, I could finish one of my works in progress, but maybe not. If I do and like what I finish, I might go the traditional route to publication, but maybe not.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. 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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2018 – A Year of Scaling Back and Chilling Out
My year didn’t start out too well. I had just lost my mom two days after Christmas 2017, and early in 2018, I also lost my dear aunt from my dad’s side of the family (she was like a sister), and an uncle from my mom’s side. It was a sad time, and I almost bailed out of my registration for Left Coast Crime scheduled for the end of March.

It might have been better if I’d stayed home, but I’d already decided it might be my last out of town convention or conference ever, so I attended and made sure I went to every single event and panel and performance, and whatever that I could fit into the schedule. I also roomed with my wonderful Five Star editor who lives far, far away from Colorado, so we had the extra fun of getting caught up on all things.

LCC2018 in Reno was a great mystery fan convention, as always, and I did have a good time, but I overdid it and came home with a terrible cough that turned into a sinus infection and bronchitis. That set off almost two full months of misery.

The only good thing about all that whiny stuff is that it moved me to back off from overextending my time and energy. I stepped away from conferences, conventions, workshops, and meetings; I started thinking about what it really means to slow down and smell the roses; and I reminded myself that my friends and other family members are also getting older and that I’d not done a great job of nurturing those relationships while I scurried here and there doing writing-related stuff.

It worked. The rest of 2018 was unrushed, calm, thoughtful, healthy, and even productive as I moved from writing to revisions on my work in process. My social events are coffees or lunches with one or two good friends at a time. The main activities I kept were the Sisters in Crime-Colorado book club, my wonderful critique group Raintree Writers, and my spot here on the Blood-Red Pencil blog. And the other biggie: I limited my time on social media and declined the chance to add a smartphone to my possessions. I am not attached to the world by a techie umbilical cord. I like it that way.

Now to take a peek at my 2019 plans. First of all, I’m doing a 30-day weight loss challenge in an effort to break the pattern of my extremely bad performance over the holidays. If that goes well, I may do it for another 30 days.

Secondly, I’m all in for a Depth Year as discussed by David Cain in his blog post, Go Deeper, Not Wider, at Raptitude. (If you don't follow this blog already, I highly recommend it.)  I’m one of those people who might need two or three Depth Years before I’ve sufficiently de-cluttered, reactivated all my old hobbies (at least the ones that made me happy), and learned to play that ukelele I bought. Wish me luck!

Tell me about your 2018. Are you interested in scaling back and chilling out? Have you ever tried to live a Depth Year?

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. Wishing Caswell Dead will be out in large print from Thorndike/Wheeler on January 9th, 2018.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. Check out the book excerpt and interview featured on SunLit at the new online news source, Colorado Sun.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Do You Know Where Your New Year's Resolutions Are?

Writers are no different from most people in that we, too, make New Year's Resolutions, oftentimes lots of them. However, instead of pledging to lose weight, stop spending so much online, or cut down on the buttered popcorn, etc., like normal people, we generally resolve to write more.

Sometimes the resolution is specific. We pledge to finally finish that novel, poem, screenplay, biography, etc. Or we might vow to write 500 words a day seven days a week no matter what, even if that much-heralded zombie apocalypse finally arrives.

Other writers' resolutions are more general...we promise ourselves we will write more words, more often. We staunchly swear to avoid temptation in the form of chocolate or its near relative, romance. We're not going to watch television or movies and plan to totally ignore the publication of new books by favorite authors.

We'll overlook family craziness in general, particularly that created by our children. We're so sure we're going to accomplish our goals we even write them down, perhaps believing that in committing vows to paper we're somehow assuring our compliance. We're going to get up a half hour earlier to have a precious block of time to write each morning. Only when we get up early, so do our spouses who assume the extra time is intended to provide him (or her) with a three-course, five-star breakfast. Or our kids come tumbling down the stairs wanting to know where their soccer shoes are, even though the day before you almost had to blast Reveille in their ears to get them out of bed in time to catch the school bus.

So then we move our sacred writing time to the half hour after everyone else has gone to bed and the next thing you know it's six o'clock in the morning and you wake up with a crick in your neck and realize you've been drooling into your keyboard all night long and the only thing you've written is, "Jane got into her car and puttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt..."

Well, you get the idea.

So, how are your writing resolutions coming along this year? Mine are great, but I confess I have a secret. I haven't broken my writing resolutions because I didn't make any. That's based on decades of experience with the inevitable failure of my resolutions to accomplish anything, much less help me tackle something as complex and demanding as finishing a book that seems to have no inclination to get itself across the finish line. Resolutions were an epic arm wrestle for me, one that I always lost, so I stopped making them.

Yes, I understand that you need to set goals to be productive, but that's tough for me. My Muse is stubborn and shy about putting in appearances when I am alert and ready to write. She apparently has a big problem with deadlines and also seems to enjoy torturing me. Just as my eyelids are drooping each night and I am seconds from sleep in my cozy, comfy bed, she'll whisper a brilliant idea in my ear, knowing full well I'll have completely forgotten everything except that I had a great idea by the time morning rolls around. And keeping a pad and pencil by my bed does no good either because I cannot make myself wiggle out of my warm cocoon long enough to grab them. I tried keeping them under the pillow and almost stabbed myself in the eye one night.

Besides, I always believe there's no way I could possibly forget such a brilliant idea in a mere matter of hours. I am sure it will still be sitting there, shimmering in my mind like a shining beacon of literary hope when my eyes pop open. But it's not. It's always irretrievably gone. There's only a blank white space inside my head where the idea briefly existed.

Worse yet, I end up wasting half the day trying to remember what the idea was. This happens every single day.

Maybe I should have been a veterinarian.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Tootling My Own Horn

Now, when I was growing up, I was admonished by my parents, "Don't toot your own horn," "Let your work speak for itself," and so on and so forth. In this day and age, however, if you don't pick up that horn and BLOW, no one is going to have any idea that you've got something to celebrate.

Get out there and blow your horn!
(Adriaen van Ostade [CC0]. The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1951)

Since Blood Red Pencil has designated January as the month to reflect on the past year, here are some 2018 writing-related triumphs I feel pretty darn good about.

A Dying Note, the sixth in my Silver Rush historical mystery series, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in April 2018. Whew! Seeing a book in print is ALWAYS something to celebrate. The fact that it garnered positive reviews in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus just enhanced the glow.

Just about the time that the book came out in audio (which pleased me greatly), it also won two EVVY awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA):
  • First Place in the Mystery/Crime/Detective Fiction category
  • Second Place in the Historical Fiction category
Even MORE to celebrate!

Finally, as the end of the year rolled up, I learned that A Dying Note was also named Best Mystery in the Fiction category of True West Magazine's "Best of the West 2019" list. It was also is long-listed for the Martin Cruz Smith Award in Suspense/Mystery by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA). I am a BIG fan of Martin Cruz Smith's work, his favorite of mine being Rose, so that's another "wow!" for me.

Of course, one can only bask in the glory for a little while, because it's always "What are you working on now?" and "When will you have it done?"

2019 has arrived, and the deadlines are looming. No rest for the wicked nor the weary.

Time to get busy!

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit for more information.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

It Doesn't Matter Where You Start. Just START!

I do not miss 2018. Yes, we're only eight days into the new year, but as time ticked us toward 2019, I was so ready to give 2018 the boot.

Looking back, I want to say that everything that could go wrong, DID go wrong--personally, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially ... even literarily.

Here at The Blood-Red Pencil, we have articles on writer's block and how to jumpstart your creativity and find inspiration. I've even written a few of them. Yet even having this place of wonderful information didn't keep me from plunging into the darkness of the Creative Void.

I started and stopped more projects than I can count. I prayed for inklings of inspiration to initiate writing. I, in a lackluster fashion, played with my photography and doodling and writing dreams in the hopes of lighting a fire under me. I questioned whether creativity still dwelled within me.

And then ... two amazing things happened toward the end of 2018 that would lead me to a brighter 2019, a year already full of possibility and ideas that speak to my heart.

My best friend, author Samara King, reminded me that I had a cover done (which she designed) for a book that needed to be published: my first short work on writing, Make Your Writing Bloom. It had been ready to be published, but fear, doubt, worry, and anxiety plagued my spirit. I fought myself hard and released the book in the fall. The emails I've received from those who have bought it, read it, and used it to reclaim the zest in their writing have moved me and strengthened me.

Months later, as Thanksgiving rolled around, a dear friend knocked on my Facebook Messenger. She'd been on me to create a class for the book. Before the book, she'd been on me to create any kind of writing class. To her, I had decades of skills and knowledge that others would pay for. I didn't believe her. But by Thanksgiving, I was tired of myself and was ready for a positive change, so I told her, "OK, I'm tired of me, so tell me what to do and let's get this started."

And now, thanks to Janie Jaramillo-Santoy's push and her mega-talents in drawing out your passion and talents and blending them into something great, my first media-enriched course is coming January 28, 2019!

The Make Your Writing Bloom - 8-Week Online Experience is a course directly tied to the book. Every week will be full of lecture, FB live Q&As, assignments, encouragement, and inspiration for those who are looking to connect to their love of writing and creativity and to embark on a road trip to planning and writing their next project.

Early-bird special price of $77 is still going until Wednesday, Jan. 9; after the ninth, the price will go to $99. You can learn more about the course and sign up at the course's CLG U page.

Let me end with a few words. These changes at the end of 2018 were not easy. I still suffer from doubt, worry, fear, and anxiety EVERY DAY, and I have to fight with myself multiple times a day to dropkick the negatives so that I can be productive toward these (and other) goals.

Despite this, there is a growing glow in my spirit that is so excited for what's about to happen and what will continue to happen in 2019 as I take one breath, one step, one action at a time.

My favorite quote is helping me stay on this frame of mind; it comes from the late Arthur Ashe, a wonderful man and a great tennis player:

"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."


You can do these, too.

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically, and she has helped many writers finetune their writing for publication. You can learn more about her editing at her website and about her online courses at CLG U.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2018 — A Year of Adjustments

At the end of 2018, I entered the eighth decade of my life. Physically, it was just another day. Emotionally, it was a milestone, as well as a reminder of the things I still really wanted to do.

Production-wise, the year had its ups and downs. Editing jobs were fewer and farther between, and I didn't have the energy to pursue new ones. The reissuing of my updated first two novels continued to be plagued with the ramifications of two major computer crashes and resulting file losses. (It didn't help that the company that had created my backup software went out of business, and I was unable to get the necessary tech support to access the files saved on my external hard drive.) The goal to get at least one new novel out the door got pushed into 2019 so I could update the two that required extensive polish. Where does all this leave 2018 in the grand scheme of things? Adjustments were obviously the name of the game, but upon review I discovered some surprising positives.

My critique partner had saved PDF layouts of the two books in need of work. While this proved a literary lifesaver, it also was a setback due to coding issues that developed when they were converted to a format I could work in. Still, the foundation on which to rebuild had been laid; the alternative, a total new start, probably would not have happened had they not been retrieved. Unfortunately, the process far exceeded the anticipated few weeks, and months went by in the ongoing struggle with files that refused to be edited and updated. Work on new novels ceased while the older ones obstinately fought me every step of the way on almost all changes. In November, the task was finally completed, but that wasn't the end of the story. Health issues working behind the scene for some years sapped the last bit of my strength and sent me to the hospital in serious condition.

At that point, the two manuscripts had been updated and laid out for printing, and my critique partner, Sharon Randolph (a prolific writer herself), and her technical guru took over to get them out for me. Proofs were ordered, and both books are or will soon be available. They're also creating Kindle versions, which I seriously doubt I could have done. I cannot alone take credit for this accomplishment, huge as it was, and I am so grateful for the invaluable help I received. What a beautiful end to an otherwise frustrating year!

While 2018 could have been the final straw in my writing career, it has become a stepping stone to the next phase and more new novels. Thanks to others, adjustments were made. The year ended on a high note, and I am ready to forge ahead—although it may be more like the tortoise than the hare.  :-)

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 thriller. You can contact her at websites: and