One Writer’s Journey

October 2, 2017

Ho Hum Boring Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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Especially when your word count is limited, it is important to use vibrant, meaningful language.  Why say very hot when you can say molten?

But there are just times when your brain gets stuck.  What’s a better way to say good or bad?  Happy or sad?

Author Jack Milgram at the Custom Writing blog shared this info-graphic of “28 Boring Words.”  But Jack wasn’t happy just to tell us what words to avoid.  He gave us several possible substitutions for each weak word.

Check this out and see if you don’t find a better word for very or things.  Whether you are writing a poem, a picture book or a novel, strong language pulls the reader into the world you have written.  They help provide the details that bring it all alive.

Sometimes you are trying to choose a more interesting word.  Sometimes you are striving to find a more accurate word.

But don’t let this search bog you down.  This isn’t necessarily something I worry about in draft one.  But it is something that I make sure I address when I rewrite. I should be working on chapter 3 of my next project so —

Happy writing!  Or now that you have this word list, perhaps you will be rewriting?



September 27, 2017

Side Bars: Bite-Sized Chunks of Info

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:50 am
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I’d love to say that I finished a whole chapter today.  That would sound really impressive.  And I thought I would manage to pull it off when I saw how few comments my editor had on my chapter.  Seven.  You should be able to pop through seven comments lickety split.

Sidebar from The Ancient Maya.

Pfft.  What I hadn’t realized was that one of them was a “big comment.”

Little comments are things like:
Double check this fact.
What country is this in?
Make sure this word is in the glossary.

Big comments take a lot more effort to address.  Big comments are on this scale:
I’m not saying it should be here, but somewhere in the chapter/book, you need to address X.
Cut the preceding two paragraphs and expand on the ideas in this paragraph.
Make sure that your sidebars are spaced evenly throughout the chapter.

This particular comment was the last one.  The one about sidebars.

For those of you who haven’t included sidebars in a manuscript, sidebars are those bite-sized write-ups that provide just a bit more information about something in the chapter, article or book.  A sidebar is offset from the rest of the text often by a box, title, different font, or background color.  This sort of thing is handled by whoever does the interior book design.

Within the manuscript, a sidebar includes a title and is double-spaced.  It looks a lot like the surrounding text.  When I write for Red Line, I set sidebars off by including SB: at the beginning of the title.  The one above would have been SB: Jade.  I also have a fairly tight word count that I need to stay within when I include sidebars.  On my current project there are two sidebar lengths.  Short are less than 100 words.  Long are 150 to 200 words.

The hardest part?  The part that took me so much time today?  When there are multiple sidebars in a chapter, I need to make sure that they are spaced, more or less, evenly from beginning to end.  When there are four, they don’t have to be at the 1/4 mark, 1/2 way, at the 3/4, and at the end.  But most of them can’t be bunched up at the beginning of the chapter either.  When they are, you may have to fold one into the main text and come up with another.

It may not take long to write an individual sidebar, but making sure you have them dispersed correctly is another thing altogether.


September 7, 2017

Cutting Excess Verbage

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:16 am
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remove filtersAs I work on my chapter book project, I’ve been studying various fiction writing and rewriting techniques.  In part, this is because I’m trying to produce the cleanest manuscript possible.  I appreciate writing that is straightforward and concise.  I want my writing to be similar.

Because of this, I work to cut excess verbage.  A lot gets cut when I rewrite but I’m also trying to be more aware of the words that I’m laying down as I draft a chapter.

What am I cutting or avoiding?

Very.  Instead of walking very fast, my character should stride or lope.  Instead of closing a door very hard, my character will slam or bang it.

Beginning or starting.  This is a personal weakness for me.  My characters don’t need to start 90% of the actions that follow this particular word.  What do I mean?  Why start to speak?  Start to look? Start to leave? Just speak, look and leave.  Simple.

Another one that I just read about is often called filtering.  When you filter, you use phrases like “she saw” or “he noticed.” You might say “he heard” or “she felt.”  It works something like this.

If you filter, you might write something like – Annie saw the bullies stomping across the playground.  Her stomach lurched.

Remove the filter and write – The bullies stomped across the playground. Annie’s stomach lurched.

You can tell that Annie is our POV character.  After all, her stomach is lurching at what she sees.

Instead of writing “he heard the sound of the doorbell,” write “the doorbell rang.”

Replace “she noticed that the key was missing from the hook” with “the key was missing from the hook.”

“The clammy draft ghosted across her ankles” takes the place of “She felt the clammy draft ghost across her ankles.”

Fingers crossed that I don’t find too many instances of filtering in my work.  No one wants to dumb things down but why place excess verbage between the reader and the story?

For additional posts on rewriting, check out:

Picture Book: Rewriting is like Home Improvement

Rewriting, Revising, and Using Things in New Ways

Rewriting: Working from my Editor’s comments


July 28, 2017

Distance: The Key to a Successful Rewrite

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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Put it away for a month.  Whether you are writing  novels, picture books, or poems, you’ve probably been given this advice.  Put your work away.  Gain some distance.  Then it will be much easier to see what needs to be fixed.

And it’s good advice when you have the time and space to take it.  Unfortunately, if you are doing educational writing that happens to be work-for-hire, your deadlines tend to be tight.  You know you don’t have the right word.  A phrase is rough. Something just isn’t working.  But you don’t have time to put it away for a month because you have six weeks from start to finish.  You might find the time to clean the bathroom (oh joy) but then you’re right back to it.  Hopefully swishing the porcelain clean was all the break you’re going to need because it is all you’re going to get.

About 2 weeks ago, I started playing around with a new preschool poem. You can read about it here. It was originally a type of poem known as a Golden Shovel.  Mine was a riff on a Poe’s Eldorado.  To put it mildly, it did not work.  Three lines just wasn’t long enough to develop the rhythm or any type of rhyme scheme I liked.

Version 2, written the next day, was 8 lines long.  Or at least it would be 8 lines when I managed to fill them all in.  Day 3, I filled them in but the rhythm was a bit off.

Day 4 it was almost there but . . . nope.  Some word just wasn’t quite right.  I’d change one word and then change it back.  Then I’d fiddle with a different word.  I suspected that I was on the verge of doing more harm than good so I put it away.

After a break of about a week, I got it back out this morning.  Coffee cup in hand, I changed one word in line 3.  Line 4 wasn’t quite right.  I stared at that for a bit, changed 2 words.  Changed one back.  Changed the other to something brand new.  It took me maybe 10 minutes.  Ten minutes to fix what I’d messed around with for 2 days.

Distance.  It really does help.

I wonder if it would have gone quicker if I’d set it aside for a full month?  Just kidding.  But I do have another week to ignore it before I show it to my critique group.


July 17, 2017

Picture Book: Rewriting is like Home Improvement

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
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While I was working on several work for hire projects, I roughed out two picture books.  While I’m pretty happy with the astronaut book, it needs work.  The yoga book?  If it was a house, I’d say it was a fixer upper.  It’s that bad.  But that’s okay.  I’m going to rewrite.

I don’t mean fix typos and punctuation.  This is a chance to revision the story.  Did I get it down as planned?  If yes, does it function well or is it time to knock out a few walls?

To work as a picture book, there has to be enough to the story to keep the reader coming back.  Your picture book will cost $15 – $20.  No one will pay that if it won’t hold up to repeated readings.

A story has a beginning, a middle and an end.  Your character has a problem to solve.  In a picture book, it can help to have a twist or surprise at the end.

Have you addressed your full audience?  Yes, your picture book has to appeal to the young “reader.” But picture books are usually read by an adult to a child.  There has to be something that will make the adult willing to read it 297 times in a row.

Small things to contemplate — this is like painting or refinishing hard wood floors.  It may take time, but it isn’t structural.

Do you have too much dialogue?  Dialogue cannot carry a picture book.  Talking heads make boring illustrations.  You want to give your illustrator something to work with.  This means …

Hone that action!  Something has to happen on every spread and use specific verbs to paint a picture. Why does your character walk when he can leap, lope or stride?

As you look at your draft, make sure you haven’t used up your word count describing what can be illustrated.  Leave the illustrator room to play rather than describing what can be seen.  Instead describe what can be smelled, heard or tasted.

Last but not least, read your story out loud.  Your manuscript needs that picture book word play. If it doesn’t have it, look for ways to repeat sounds and words as well as use rhythm and rhyme.  A picture book is meant to be read aloud. Help your readers, young and old, enjoy the experience.

Hmm.  Looking at all of this, I think I have a lot to do!  Happy writing, all!


July 5, 2017

Taking a Break from a Particular Project

That photo to the left? That’s something of a self-portrait.  No, I’m not a cat.  But it is a mental/emotional self-portrait.  Mentally, I’ve flopped over on the floor.  Why?  Because yesterday, I finished drafting my latest nonfiction book.

I know, I know, working on the 4th of July.  How unpatriotic can I get?  Does it help that I was writing about the Electoral College?  The book is due on Tuesday the 11th.  That means that I need to get a draft done so that I can start rewriting.

But before I start rewriting I need a break.  I’ve been too close to this for too long and without some distance I will probably do a lot of damage.

At this point, I’ve nailed the voice in Chapter 1.  The length is almost there and the reading level is spot on.  Chapters 2 through 8?  Heck, I still need to pack in some more content and make sure I’m not repeating myself chapter to chapter.   Then there’s that whole voice thing, readability and reading level.

That’s a lot.  And that is exactly why I need that distance.  This morning I had yoga.  Tonight I have critique group.  In the middle I can do many different things.  I’ve got two more shelves to clean off in my office.  Or I could listen to an audio book and crochet.  Or read some contest entries.  Maybe I’ll format this interview that’s sitting in my inbox.

What I won’t do is write.  When you are a writer, distance is like absence.  It makes the heart grow founder and provides the clarity that you need for a successful rewrite.

Tomorrow, I’ll write again.  Today?  Today I’m mentally lounging.  We cats are like that.


June 5, 2017

The Rough Draft: Only Step 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:57 am
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Today I am finishing the rough draft of the book on advertising.  Or at least the rough draft of the main body of the book.  I’ve got about half of the back matter roughed but I’m going to let the remainder wait.  Why?  Because the rough draft is only Step #1.

In the rough draft, I cover the material in the outline, leaving no blanks.  I come in as close to the word count as possible.  In fact, sometimes I come in a little low but I do my best not too come in too high.  I also check the reading level and make sure that it is within the correct range.

But it can be hard to judge the flow in the rough draft.  Part of the problem is due to the various components in a chapter.  I have the main text, two sidebars and up to two other features per chapter.  I know that the sidebars and extras fit into the chapter but I don’t know how one chapter flows into the next.

This means that once I have the rough in hand, I print it out and read only the main body of each chapter.  Does one flow into the next?  If not, I make repairs as needed.

Then I go back and make certain that each chapter covers the material listed in the outline.  That’s important because my editor okay’ed the outline.  Although some changes may be required, I don’t want to go too far afield.

Once this is done, I make sure each sidebar or other material expands on the main text.  It can’t repeat it.  And it has to tie into the main subject matter fairly closely.

It sounds like a lot but really this part goes fairly quickly if I’ve done a good job of following my outline.  But this is a great opportunity to tighten what needs to be tightened and then add even more details.  Kids love facts and editors love it when these facts blend well into the main text.

But the rough draft is only the beginning.


May 24, 2017

Picture Book Writing: It Started with a Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Yesterday I was piddling around doing something else, talking to my teen when a phrase popped into my head.  “Yeti yoga.”

“Sasquatch swimming, what’s your point?”

“I’m not sure.  What would yeti hope to get out of yoga?”

Fortunately he’s grown up with Writer Mom so this didn’t particularly phase him.  I wasn’t sure what if anything would happen with this but it seemed like a fun title so I jotted it down and got back to work on the outline and chapter one of Advertising Overload. I turned those in after dinner and did some yard work.  It wasn’t until I turned off my computer and got in the shower that ideas started popping into my head.

Main Character: Gigi.  Daughter of two explorers.  Home schooled, naturally.

Setting: Himalayas, also naturally.

I knew what specific yoga positions yeti would practice (triangle, downward dog and a high lunge) as well as why (the normal reason, relaxation, and reducing your profile during high winds).  Now to work it into a story.

By the time I got out of the shower I had my chorus, my story problem and several scenes worked out.  Of course I’d already shut the computer off so I quickly drafted the book on a pad of Post-It Notes.  The benefit of a Post-It draft is that it is easy to see how many scenes you have, judge balance and see what, if anything, needs to be shifted.  Normally I do this by putting the POst-Its on the story board but not this time.  It’s still in its hiding place on top of my filing cabinets.

By morning it was obvious that my ending didn’t quite work but I also knew how to fix it.  So I wrote up another post-it and added it to the pile.  It feels kind of odd to be rewriting without actually having a full typed draft of the manuscript, but I’ll take it!  Before I do take the time to type everything out, I’m going to check the balance and make sure the pacing works.

Last but not least, I need to decide if the title gives too much away.  I suspect that it does but it can also easily become a second, shorter, chorus within the text.  I’ve never done this many “drafts” on a picture book while it is still in the Post-It stage but I kind of like it and may very well try it again.


May 4, 2017

Resurrecting an Old Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Are you one of those writers, like me, who loves working on a new manuscript?  After all, new manuscripts hold the allure of unexplored territory.  The story, as it emerges, is shiny and new and not goofed up.  Ahhhhhh.

That said, there’s a lot to be said for resurrecting old manuscripts.  Not that I think this very often on my own.  Usually I’ll see a call for something and decide to go through my files.  Do I have something to do with the environment?  An early reader that would be good for an ESL audience?  Something that leans heavily on the scientific method?  When I see a call, I comb through my files, looking for something that with just a little work can be ready to go.

The reality is that it makes sense to go through your old stories every now and again.  After all, these are stories that inspired you to start writing even if you never finished them or finished but never sold them.

Why should you revisit them?  Because now you might have the skills that you need to finish an incomplete manuscript or perfect one that is flawed.  That dialogue that felt choppy and robotic?  Now you know how to make it sound authentic.  Two-dimensional characters?  Easy peasy to flesh them out and make them three-dimensional.  If nothing else, coming at an old manuscript with a fresh perspective might be all that you need to make it work.

Then there is also the reality of the market.  A book that was your manuscript’s principal competition may not seem dated.  Refresh yours and get it ready to go.  A new educational market may have opened up or there’s now a new publisher who is looking at chapter books.  The market is constantly changing and there may now be a place for a manuscript that you couldn’t sell three or four years ago.

For more on my own experience resurrecting old manuscripts, check out today’s post at the Muffin.


April 10, 2017

Deadline Dead Ahead

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:01 am
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I’m doing hard copy edits on the book that’s due today. I have two more chapters and the backmatter to go.  This gizmo to the right has been my best friend.

It is my mom’s typing stand.  Mom was a graduate of Miss Hickey’s Business School. She worked in accounting but, to my knowledge, she was never a secretary which is kind of sad because this is one handy-dandy stand.

I generally only do one hard copy-edit per manuscript, unless a section is giving me troubles.  When that happens, I print it out, go into the dining room and work on paper.  Then I come back into my office and prop the manuscript up on the stand.

I hope that all of you take the time to do a paper edit when you write something.  I’ve already been through the manuscript 3 or so times on-screen.  And I’ve listened to it read by Speak.  I find mistakes via Speak that I don’t find on-screen.  I find mistakes on paper that I didn’t hear and sure didn’t see on-screen.

Given the fact that we want to give our editors the best possible work, I would definitely recommend doing a hard copy edit.  But you’re going to have to find your own typing stand.  This one is mine.



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