Writing for Grad Students: Why Simple is Better

My first run-in with academic language was as a master’s student. I remember opening the journal, reading the first sentence, pausing, backing up, and reading it again. This happened every other sentence. The article took FOREVER to finish.

I felt like I had to learn to read all over again.

And then, when I arrived at my Ph.D program, I had to learn to write all over again. I had to torture my sentences into patterns just like those belonging to the critics whose work had caused me such reading strife years earlier.

Or, at least, I thought I had to, despite the fact that my most trusted advisor advocated for clear, interesting, and even emotionally-charged writing.

All the reading I’d done of academic writing had taught me a lesson it took a long time to unlearn: if someone understands it, it’s not complex enough.

But, as some have been saying for years (here, too!), this does not have to be the case. Complex, academic ideas do not have to hide behind a layer of obtuse language.

Hang on. Let me rephrase that. Because isn’t saying things simply the point here?

Complicated ideas have more impact when you use simple language to communicate them.

Not convinced? Here’s three reasons you should stop using buzzwords, three-mile long sentences, and twenty dollar words.

Impact a Larger Audience

The equation is simple. If more people easily understand your writing, then more people can easily understand your ideas. You’ve influenced more people, improved the world with your views, just by simplifying your sentences, choosing more accessible language, and cultivating a welcoming tone.

This is one lesson blog writing has really hit home for me. If I want to help writers, educate them, I have to use accessible language, strong verbs, and simple sentence structures. Teaching also taught me the value of using accessible language. I’m a better, more successful teacher, when I use language my students understand.

But isn’t this “dumbing down?”

Absolutely not! In fact, using more accessible language and clearer sentence structures just makes my ideas shine more. Which brings me to my second point.

Emphasize Ideas over Words

You’ve got great ideas, and it’s difficult to express them at all, let alone coherently!

I understand this pain. The first draft of my dissertation was littered with passive voice, unclear pronouns, and mountains of fancy academic words that I was using because I didn’t quite know what else to say.

A very lovely lady on my dissertation committee kicked my a$$ over this. Her very pointed questions in the margins of my draft pointed out that when my sentences were at their most complex, my ideas were at their fuzziest.

As I worked to clarify my ideas, my sentences actually shortened, my language simplified. The ideas began to shine, and instead of standing in the way, my words and sentences were helping by getting out of the way.

Having fancy sentences doesn’t make you sound smart. In fact, fanciness can be a symptom of unclear ideas and arguments.

Having good ideas makes you sound smart. Communicating them clearly makes you sound smart, or rather, shows the world how smart you are!

Earn a Reputation as a Master Wordsmith

By the end of my academic career, I had found the critics I admired, whose prose was ON FIRE, clear, concise, influential. I modeled my own writing after it as I segued into the non-academic world, and I still use these authors as examples of how to use simple language to highlight big ideas.

I didn’t revere these writers because I had to keep my thesaurus handy while reading. In fact, writers like that, I avoid like the plague. If reading someone’s writing is like slogging through the pit of despair, I’m not sticking around.

And if you want others to admire your loquacity, your verbal wit, your linguistic talents, abandon the buzzwords, let go of your long, complicated sentences and twenty dollar words.

Invest, instead, in the clear concise sentences that will make your ideas shine and that will impact enough people to change the world one word at a time.

What’s you writing style? Have you made the transition yet from exhausting complexity to enlightening simplicity?

Books on Editing: Edit Your Damn Book by James Osiris Baldwin

Do you know how many books about editing there are on the market? TONS. So. Very. Many. Editing. Books. There’s never been as much a need for editing books as now, so the proliferation makes sense. Self-published authors want to learn how to edit their own work, especially in the early stages of their career, when shelling out $$$ for professional editors seems like a risk. And while I’m a professional editor who wants to help writing clients with my knowledge and experience, I get it. I understand the sense of risk.

So I’ve read through some of the top editing books on Amazon and will spend the next several weeks reviewing them. (You can read the first review here!) My goal?  To help writers figure out which editing books work for them without having to do the research themselves! Sweet, huh?

book review This week’s book on editing is the thorough, often entertaining, and super informative Fix Your Damn Book James Osiris Baldwin gets how hesitant new writers are to shell out $$$ for professional editing when there’s no guarantee of pay back on that investment. I love this. Yes, I am an editor asking $$ for services rendered, but I’m also a human being living on planet earth who has to buy groceries, clothes for my kid, doctor bills, etc ad nauseam. Whether or not to hire an editor when you’re just starting out is a tough call to make. If you can do a lot of the work yourself, why not give it a go? Baldwin does make two caveats to the “do it your damn self” philosophy:
  1. Don’t do it yourself if you can afford to pay a professional editor
  2. Do it yourself at first, but invest any money made from book 1 into hiring a professional editor for book 2.
This is wise and workable advice, allowing for very understandable financial anxieties yet recognizing that acquiring the talents of a professional editor, when feasible, is the goal. Baldwin’s sympathetic reaction to writers’ financial fears is not the only reason I recommend his book, however. Fix Your Damn Book should be in your library because it helps writers make the difficult mental switch from “writer” to “editor” and breaks down the editing process into doable, concrete steps.

#1: Switch off the Writer and Switch On the Editor

One of the first things I introduce college writing students to is the difference between a writer-centered draft and a reader-centered draft. A writer-centered draft is just what it sounds like—a draft written for and understood solely by the writer. There’s usually gaps, vague sentences, and a myriad of other problems with the draft that the writer CAN’T SEE because they are simply too close to it. This why you have to enter into a new headspace when editing your own work. How to transform yourself from writer to reader is the topic of the first set of lessons in Baldwin’s book. He clearly identifies the problems writers have with this transformation and how they can better achieve it. This is a step EVERY writer planning to edit their own work needs to follow because it’s a problem EVERY writer will have. I’ve seen it with every student who’s entered my classroom or a writing center for the last 14 years. It’s why they sought me out as a tutor; it’s what I had to teach them as a teacher, and it’s what editors offer their clients—objective distance. You must achieve this perspective to edit your own work, and Baldwin’s book will help you do it.

#2: Making the Editing Process Easy

editing and writingOne of the key take-aways from my writing classes is that writing is a process. My students probably get tired of hearing it, but it’s one of the best ways I can empower them as writers who won’t need me to do good work after they leave my class. If they understand the writing process, they can apply it themselves in any situation. Baldwin not only adheres to the writing as a process mantra, he illuminates the place editing occupies within the process, breaking the editing stage down into clear steps writers can take to improve their manuscripts. If you feel overwhelmed by the process of editing, Fix Your Damn Book is the frank but sympathetic, thorough but never confusing, book for you.

What writing or editing books would you like to see me review in the coming weeks? Are there any titles that have been in your Amazon cart for weeks because you just can’t commit? Drop me the title and I’ll check it out and write a review, helping you make the decision!

Looking for a little empowerment yourself? Try my editing checklist for creative writers.

Get great strategies to enhance your writing right now.

Books on Editing: Editing Tips for Writers by Tyler Wagner

editing books part 1Do you know how many books about editing there are on the market? TONS. So. Very. Many. Editing. Books.

There’s never been as much a need for editing books as now, so the proliferation makes sense. Self-published authors want to learn how to edit their own work, especially in the early stages of their career, when shelling out $$$ for professional editors seems like a risk. And while I’m a professional editor who wants to help writing clients with my knowledge and experience, I get it. I understand the sense of risk.

So I’ve read through some of the top editing books on Amazon and will spend the next several weeks reviewing them. My goal?  To help writers figure out which editing books work for them without having to do the research themselves! Sweet, huh?

Screenshot_20181222-094017_Amazon KindleThis week I’m reading Tyler Wagner’s short but useful Editing Tips for writers. Founder of the online writing community Authors Unite, Wagner collaborates with his own editor James Ranson, the self-proclaimed Master Wordsmith. Together, they create a useful little book that does not really teach you how to edit your own work. I know, the title seems to be a misnomer. However, it’s still a useful book, especially if you’re wondering how to choose the right editor for your wok. This book:

  • Offers insider understanding of the professional editing process
  • Explains why professional editing is so important
  • Gives writers actionable tasks to accomplish their editing goals

True, the book is brief, but it is the third in a comprehensive series that walks writers through the ENTIRE writing process (which is, I think you’ll agree, entirely nifty). Despite its brevity, this little book really does pack a punch. Here’s three reasons you should read Wagner’s book!

#1: Actionable Knowledge Now

I’m going to turn the one downside of this book—it’s brevity—into a strength. We are all busy folks.  But writers make their lives even more hectic by saying, “I’m going to write a thing, too!” We know this means we have to learn lots of new skills, but WHERE ARE WE GOING TO FIND THE TIME?

This little book speaks to this very modern problem. You can sneak this read into your workout; read it on the stationary bike or elliptical! You can read it during a lunch break or, like I did, during a quick car trip (BTW, I wasn’t driving… just so we’re clear). Any time I can acquire useful and expert knowledge QUICKLY, I’m all in.

#2: Tasks to Help You Achieve Your Goals

Each chapter of Editing Tips for Writers offers concrete tasks that help move you forward in the writing process. Writing can seem so abstract at times that I believe it’s necessary for editors and writing teachers to make the process clear and concrete whenever and wherever they can. It’s what Julie Tyler and I strove to do at FromNothingToNovel, what I try to do with Empowered Writing, and what Wagner achieves in his book.

If you struggle with how or why to hire a professional editor, Wagner’s book will give you clear steps on how to figure out if it’s the right step for you to take.

SPOILER: it is.

#3: Insight into How Professional Editors Think

What do professional editors think? What’s going through their minds as they read your work? No need to wonder after reading Wagner’s book. James, his editor and collaborator tells us:

…here’s the thing. Your editor’s job (not unlike your high school English teacher’s) is to make your text the absolute best it can be.

This is my favorite passage in the whole book, perhaps because by trade and at heart, I AM a teacher. I’ve seen my writing students tremble in fear of the red pen.

I know it’s not something they should dread, but something they should embrace. Constructive criticism leads to improvement, better writing, and better books.

Ultimately, like a teacher, an editor’s goal is to empower the writer, to improve the work. An editor is working with and for your work, not against it. The passage quoted above is longer in the book, the explanation more specific, but I don’t want to give anything away because I think you should add this book to your library.

What writing or editing books would you like to see me review in the coming weeks? Are there any titles that have been in your Amazon cart for weeks because you just can’t commit? Drop me the title and I’ll check it out and write a review, helping you make the decision!

The Role of Research in Developmental Editing

theroleofreserachindevelopmentaleditingIn part III of my series on developmental editing, I look at a crucial but often overlooked step in the process: research. As a former academic and college writing/research instructor, I understand how daunting research can be. But if you want to develop your work to make it the best it can be, you’ll need to zero in on spots that need research and hit the books, or more likely the web, before moving onto the next round of manuscript edits.

In order to explain when to research, how to know what needs research, and why to make editorial decisions based on research, I’m listing 3 circumstances that might arise during developmental editing that will require you to stretch your research muscles.

You’re writing historical fiction

Research, if you haven’t already, the language you’re using. Did the words your characters use in dialogue mean the same thing then as they do now? What was common slang or jargon during that time period? Word meanings change and evolve and because of this, historical writers need to be careful.

But language is not the only thing in need of research attention during the developmental editing stage.  For the historical writer, science and medicine can be a fire swamp of dangers (did you see that Princess Bride reference?). For example, did you know that radium was considered healthy in the early twentieth century? Products were created using radium and marketed as medicinal. I’m not even kidding. Kinda wish I was because reading this book, while informative, was pretty heartbreaking, too. It’s changes in how we understand the world that make research during the developmental editing stage of the writing process necessary.

You’re writing nonfiction

Nonfiction requires a ton of research before you even write one word. But writing is a slow process and the speed of information in a digital world is not. In other words, more information on your topic may have been published since you transitioned from the research to the writing stage of your project. So, while your manuscript is in the hands of your reader, you have time to see what other information you can learn, adding to your understanding of the topic and enhancing the scope of your book, essay, or article.

You’re writing for a specific popular genre

Are you a children’s book writer? A thriller or mystery author? If so, you’ll need to know what’s being published in your genre. And while you may have researched this, like the nonfiction writers, before you put fingertips to keyboard, now is a good time to check back in with the market. Have any new books been published? Are they like your own work? If so, use the developmental editing stage to differentiate your book in important ways that will make your work stand out on the market? Or, you can use these newly published books as comparison titles in your query letter.

Research, Research, All the Time

research magnifying glassYou may have noticed that I’ve not restricted myself to discussing research only during the developmental editing stage in this post. That’s because while it will help you strengthen your work during this stage, research is really a task that can and should be done throughout the writing process.

Lots of folks think of research as something that belongs in the pre-writing stage, and they’re not wrong. It’s best to research the genre you want to write in before writing for that genre. Or, if you’re writing historical novels or nonfiction, you need to research the time period or topic (she says, pointing out the obvious).

But research in the later stages of the novel, particularly during developmental editing, can be crucial as well. In many ways, this research can be more pointed, more focused than pre-writing research. After having written a draft, you know so much, and the gaps in your knowledge are clearer. Additionally, readers may have provided questions or feedback that help identify gaps you didn’t know were there and mistakes you didn’t know you’d made.

Use all of this–your greater understanding of your weaknesses as well as reader questions and feedback–to guide a very specific research plan. When your second draft is tighter, more accurate, and more valuable because it’s chock-full of information, you’ll be glad you did, and your reader will thank you, too.

Do you guys have any questions about research? I’d be happy to answer them!

Happy New Year! Be Your Best Writer Self in 2019

The writers I know like to set lofty writing goals as their New Year’s resolutions. You have probably set some 2019 writing goals as well. Perhaps you want to write more words this year. Maybe you want to complete that novel. Maybe you want to hone in your academic writing style. All great goals. But the most important goal I think any writer can set at the beginning of 2019 is to focus on their best qualities and on highlighting those qualities in their work.

In my writing classes and as a writing tutor I have two main goals:

  • To identify students writing weaknesses and help him to conquer them
  • To identify their writing strengths and to celebrate them

In my experience accomplishing the first goal is impossible unless I also accomplish the first goal. Writers need to be able to recognize, highlight, and repeat their strengths in their future projects.

Recognizing what you do well not only helps you do the same thing in the future, it also helps you fine-tune your ability to recognize what you aren’t doing well. Two birds, one stone and all that, but with focus on the positive instead of the negative.

If we focus too much on the negative, the things that we need to change or improve, it’s easy to lose confidence, to fall prey to unrelenting pessimism, to believe the lie we all say at one point or another: I’m just not a good writer.

When you focus only on what is wrong to the exclusion of everything else, you lose any and all perspective.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Here’s how to create a list of writing goals for 2019 that accents the positive, and in the process, helps you banish your weaknesses as well.

Brainstorm about what you do well

Take a few minutes, hours, or days this week to list your strengths. What do you do well? Are you a dialogue master? Are your romances the swoon-iest? Can you hook your audience with a single sentence? Write it all down. You can even pull examples from your previous work–proof of your awesomeness.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not great at plot or still struggle with commas and sentence fragments. Push that to the side for now.

Got that list of strengths? Great! Put it on your wall or make the file easily accessible on all your digital devices.

Create concrete tasks that highlight your strengths

Schedule some time every day to do those things you’re good at.

If you’re good at them, you probably enjoy them, which means you’ll have fun. Besides, if you’re having a bummer of a writing session, switching gears to focus on a task where you excel will buoy your spirits and give you the momentum to continue.

Return to positives each work session, each day

writing goals, new year resolutions, be a better writerYou’re now spending time doing stuff you’re good at each day, building your confidence and learning how to recognize what you do right so you can do it more often. But when are you doing this positive work? At the beginning of the day? In the middle?

May I suggest focusing on your strengths at the end of each day?

I know having a victory at the end of the day helps me sleep better and return to my work rejuvenated each morning, ready to face my weaknesses and conquer them.

Make time to investigate your writing weaknesses

Yeah, ya gotta do it. I know, it sucks, but it really can’t be avoided. While focusing on your strengths can improve your spirits, keep you motivated, and show you what good writing looks like, it’s still necessary to confront your writing weaknesses. Without this crucial step, you’ll never turn them into strengths.

Create concrete tasks to strengthen those weaknesses

Once you know what your writing weaknesses are, you can attack them! Plot against them and take. them. down.

Not  really. I’m not condoning violence, even toward your writing weaknesses.

You’ll actually put on your coach hat and  put your weaknesses through their paces, exercising them in order to make them stronger.

When I began writing my first novel, I was a HORRIBLE plotter. I knew it. Everyone knew it. Know what I did about it? Bought every book on plot, read all the informative articles, talked to plotting experts, took a boot camp through Writer’s Digest.

Now I think of plot as a strength.

But don’t forget your writing strengths

After a long day or week of grappling with your weaknesses, working them out until they sweat just to make yourself a little bit stronger, a little bit better, take a rest. Pinpoint what you do well, celebrate it, try to repeat it in everything else you do.

Highlighting your strengths will keep you moving forward in 2019.


What are your writing goals for 2019 and how do you plan to stay motivated? 

3 Ways Editing is like Dealing with an Unruly Toddler

The end of the year is all about looking back on twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days of living. And this sort of retrospection is important in our writing lives as well as in our personal lives. That’s what last week’s post was about how to approach something you wrote in the past with an eye toward the future.

But not every day of the year is for business and serious self improvement.

Sometimes, you need to have a little fun. So this week’s retrospective musings are all about a comparison I made a few posts ago between editing and toddlers.

It was a bit infuriating of me to make that comparison then drop it, so here ya go–3 ways editing a first draft of any type of writing is like dealing with an unruly toddler.

#1: Communication Issues

Much like a toddler, your writing at this stage knows what it wants to say, but is not quite saying it. There’s a communication problem that will result in Very Bad Things. With the toddler, it usually results in fits. With writing, it results in an unengaged and uninformed audience.

You don’t want that.

So you edit it. You can’t edit the toddler, of course, but you can teach her how to deal with her feelings, teach her how to communicate her feelings successfully.

When you’ve accomplished these tasks for the draft and for the toddler, you’ll have done a good job you can be proud of.

#2: Confusion Between “Need” and “Want”

My toddler “needs” all the things. He needs candy. He needs that toy. He needs to watch Moana right now. He needs Mama to sing “You’re Welcome.”

He doesn’t really need these things, of course. He wants them. But bless his little Moana-loving heart, wants feel very much like needs at this stage of life.

Same goes for this stage of the writing process. You want to do so much with your words. You want to keep this section and that phrase and those ideas. But maybe you don’t need them. Developmental editing requires you to recognize the difference between wanting and needing and to, as the saying goes, kill your darlings.

And by “darlings,” I mean beloved writing passages, of course. Not the toddlers.

#3: Raw Materials with Lots of Potential

writing and editing

Your manuscript is probably a rough draft. It’s a bit out of control and not particularly refined. But OH the potential within those pages.

As I write this I asked my toddler for a hug and he screamed, “NO I GOTTA EAT LUNCH.”

Yep, that’s your first draft. It’s talking in full sentences, focused on the important stuff, but when you try to give it love, it throws a tiny tantrum.

That’s okay. Each draft will make it a little more refined until one day it’s ready to stand on its own two feet.

And maybe after lunch, when that tummy is full, I’ll get my hug. 🙂

Raising a tiny toddler of a manuscript is hard, so like every good parent, you need a few #hacks! My Quick Trick for Getting Good Feedback will help you #hack your way to feedback from readers that you can actually DO SOMETHING with. Take a sneak peek below!

Developmental Editing: Reflect, Listen, and Plan to Give Your Work New Life

how to developmental editing editing your book writing a novelLast week I noted that the first step of successful developmental editing is finding a reader. This week, I’m going to talk about the second step, in which you lay your soul bare and embrace all the feedback the reader gave you.

This step can be intimidating, but you WILL survive it if you reflect on what you’re trying to achieve with your project, listen to what the reader has to say, and plan your revisions based on what you’ve learned. 

First, Write a Project Mission Statement

writers mission statement

I, along with many others, love writers’ mission statements. Not only do they ground writers in a clear purpose, but they also create a clear context in which to revise your work. In order to know if you’re achieving your writing goals, you have to know what those goals are to begin with. Knowing what your goals are will help you sort through the feedback you get from readers and decide what is relevant and what is not.

You can begin to articulate your mission statement by answering these questions:

  • What’s your purpose?
  • What’s your genre?
  • Who are your readers?

Once you know the answers to those questions, once you know what YOU are trying to accomplish through your work, you can move on to reading the actual feedback from your readers.

Sorting Through Feedback

beta reader feedback

One of the biggest issues I see writers encounter is the difficulty of figuring out what feedback to take seriously and what feedback to ignore. There’s just so much of it, and so much of it sounds REALLY GOOD. 

But you can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t. The revisions you make based on feedback need to be carefully considered and purposefully chosen. Run all feedback through these questions to figure out what’s a keeper and what’s not:  

  • Does the feedback address a major issue in the novel?
  • Does the feedback make sense in relation to the work’s genre?
  • Does the feedback make sense in relation to the work’s audience?
  • Does the feedback help you achieve your purpose or
  • Does the feedback suggest that you’re not achieving your purpose?

If your answer is “no” to one or more of these questions for the given revision suggestion, then you can pretty safely ignore it. In general, if the feedback fails to “get” your audience or genre, it might not be useful.

For example, if you’re writing a kid’s book and the feedback is, “this book needs more sex,” that may not be appropriate feedback for the genre or for the audience of your work. Ignore it. 🙂

Make a Revision List

how to revise novel

This list will guide your developmental edits, keeping you on track and keeping your story expanding and growing purposefully.

I recommend you order the items in your list from most important revision to least important revision. It might look something like this:

  1. Protagonist is unsympathetic, and I want her to be sympathetic. Add scenes at beginning to increase her likability
  2. Plot hole in second half of novel: fix
  3. Opening scene is boring. Start in new place
  4. Dialogue could be quicker in places

An unsympathetic protagonist is a major problem that impacts the quality of the entire novel; it gets top billing and your most focused attention during developmental editing.

Plot holes are never good, but this one only affects the final third of the novel, so it goes after your protagonist problems.

The opening scene and bad dialogue are definitely concerns, but they may not affect the structure or plot of the novel as a whole, so they can be done last.

When you prioritize your revisions this way, you’ll be organized and on track to finish a polished draft of your book!

Hang on to your hats, guys, because next week I’ll talk about the role of research during the developmental writing stage. Fun times!

Looking for the best reader feedback possible? Want feedback that is purposeful and focused on your goals and concerns? Then try giving your reader a writer’s memo along with your manuscript. Never written one before? No worries! Here’s my free guide on creating the perfect writer’s memo. Happy holidays! 

Writers, how do you guys decide what reader feedback to keep and what to discard? 

Different Kinds of Editing; or, How Developmental Editing is like Raising a Toddler

One of a writer’s most important tasks is editing, but one of the most common misunderstandings I see with writers, particularly new writers, is that editing is all about grammar, mechanics, and sentence-level issues.

But that type of sentence-level work isn’t editing; it’s proofreading. Now, proofreading is important. It’s SUPER important. It’s how you polish and perfect your toddler of a manuscript. It’s when you make sure there’s no smudges on its cheeks or cowlicks at the back of its head.

But editing, particularly developmental editing, is a much bigger and MORE IMPORTANT task. If your manuscript is a toddler, and proofreading is cleaning it up for family photos, then developmental editing is the work you do to shape that unruly toddler into a respectable human being. It’s the inside work while proofreading is the superficial work.

Got it? Great. Now let’s tackle the specifics. This week I’m not only talking about what developmental editing consists of but also where it fits into the writing process and how to accomplish it successfully! 

What is Developmental Editing?

what is developmental editing

what is developmental editingDoes your book open with the wrong scene or have the wrong narrative perspective?  Do you have too many characters? Too few? Lots of plot holes? These and other major issues with a written work can be fixed through developmental editing.

TheWritePractice explains that developmental editing is all about structure, the author’s unique purpose and voice, and genre. These are the foundational elements of any creative work; if they are not solid, the entire work is likely to fall apart instead of engaging readers.

This is why I compare developmental editing to raising a toddler. You don’t want to send a human adult into the world without any education or emotional armor, so you teach them as toddlers what’s right and wrong and how to deal with their emotions. You’re helping them develop in structural ways that allow them to, later in adulthood, stand on their own.

Developmental editing does the same for your novel, short story, or poem.

How Does Developmental Editing Fit into the Writing Process?


Developmental editing can happen at any stage of the writing process.

It can take place simultaneously with drafting. If you’re someone who writes a chapter or two then goes back and thinks, hey, this needs major changes, and then changes those things–you’re already doing this!

Other times, it happens when you get stuck (as TheWritePractice points out in the link in the previous section). Are you two thirds of the way through your novel and don’t know what to do next? It may be time for developmental editing.

Still other times it happens after you’ve written a complete first draft. You’ve got a whole dang book written–congratulations! But something just isn’t right; something isn’t working. So, as they say, back to the drawing boards!

Basically, you can make developmental edits any time during the writing process when you have fears or concerns about:

  • plot
  • characterization
  • narrative perspective
  • structure
  • Any other major aspect of your story

How to Succeed at Developmental Editing

writing buddies, writing feedback

I wish I could offer you  a step-by-step process for developmental editing, and while some do believe there is one right way to accomplish this task, I think that each piece of writing and each author is different enough to justify a personalized approach. This is how I attack developmental editing for my clients; the author’s intent, worries, strengths, and weaknesses guide my reading and editing.

That being said, there are certainly steps that everyone in the developmental editing stage should follow and I’m gonna lay out the first one right now:

The First Step in Developmental Editing: Find a reader,

Find a reader who is willing to read your work and offer critical feedback about the parts that don’t make sense or that are just a little bit boring. This could be a friend, a family member, someone you meet online through a Beta Reader group or online writing group, or it could be an in-person writing group like the invaluable one I belong to in Knoxville.

Or you could hire an editor. With an editor, you’re not just getting a reader who enjoys stories, you’re getting an expert who knows how stories work. True, editors cost $$$, but they can tell you why and where your story isn’t working then help you fix it!

Whether you go with a beta reader or editor or a distant aunt who loves mystery novels, you have to have a second set of eyes on your writing. Believe me when I say you are too close to your own work to truly see its strengths and weaknesses. Without that second set of eyes, you’ll miss out on invaluable insight that will greatly enhance your writing!

When you acquire this writing buddy, make sure to give them your manuscript along with a writer’s memo. I make all my students in all my writing classes write these for each new draft of a paper they bring to class. In a writer’s memo, the writer basically lays out three things:

  • Their main concerns for the work
  • Their questions about the work
  • Their purposes and intentions for the work

This gives the reader, whether it be beta reader, editor, or Great Aunt Margie, a guide.

Some like to get raw, unfiltered feedback from their readers, though. So if you want feedback unmitigated by your own musings, feel free to skip the writer’s memo step.

However, as a writer, editor, and member of a writing group, I find this little tool invaluable and empowering!

But finding a reader or editor is just step one to successful developmental editing. You can read about step two, what to do with reader feedback, here!

Writers, what else would you like to know about developmental editing in the next few weeks? Drop me a question, and I’ll be sure to answer it!

Looking for the best reader feedback possible? Want feedback that is purposeful and focused on your goals and concerns? Then try giving your reader a writer’s memo along with your manuscript. Never written one before? No worries! Here’s my free guide on creating the perfect writer’s memo. Happy holidays! 


How the Soft-Hearted Writer Can Survive Rejection (and even thrive!)

You have to be tough to be a writer. It’s a well-known truth. From Stephen King’s On Writing to the Instagram and Twitter writing communities, we all know writing results in

Both are impossible to avoid and, in the long run, make you a better writer, so you need to be tough enough to deal with the powers that be telling you, “hey, you can do better.” 

Because of this, writers often hear the same refrains:

Be tough.

Steel yourself.

Shrug it off.

Don’t show that it hurts, for goodness sake.

Just. Keep. Swimming.

This advice is good and true. The rejection sucks, but it means you’re putting yourself out there, learning. The feedback from beta readers and writing groups can be harsh, but it is meant to help you fulfill your storytelling potential. Kind of like broccoli, you may not like it, but it’s good for you (I love broccoli, by the way…).

But some writers don’t naturally have thick skin. Some folks who aren’t writers but want to be may not have thick skin, and they may be hesitant to begin an endeavor that is so fraught with peril.

Understandable, but don’t let your soft heart keep you from writing!

Here’s how to endure the slings and arrows of the writing life without changing who you are.

Take breaks.

aroma-art-assorted-1418364.jpgSoft hearts can sometimes only take so much abuse. So, if you find yourself under an onslaught of rejection or criticism, take a break.

Don’t break from writing itself. Don’t stop reading, of course. But maybe bring your battered manuscript and heart inside for a while, out of readers’ hands. Nourish it up a bit, forge it some new armor. Let it rest from the battle of public opinion.

How long you rest is up to you. A few days, a few weeks, a few months, your heart will tell you when it’s ready to go.

Once it’s healed and (hahaha) hearty, send it back into the world, renewed and ready for battle!

List Your Strengths.

writing strengths

While you’re on that break, though, you’ll need to do actual work to heal and prepare for the next go round of reader feedback.

So, when you’re at your lowest–feeling like you’ll never finish your work, find an agent, get published, engage readers, on and on and on until you’re just a blanket-covered lump on the couch–make a list of reasons you are an awesome writer.

Be honest. Don’t make stuff up in order to convince yourself you’re the next Pulitzer Prize winner. Seriously evaluate your own work. If you’re a smooth dialogue writer, list it! If you’re great at the funny moments, list that too!

Listing your strengths can remind you that you’re definitely not the worst, even if you’re not the best.

List Your Weaknesses. Attack Them.

adult-apple-watch-arms-893891But you’re not done yet.

(We’re going to have to stop thinking of this as a break. It’s more like a training montage…)

Time to make a new list. This time, list out your writing weaknesses. If you’re a perfectionist like me, this list might be easier to curate. The bullet points might pop up so quickly, your word processor breaks down. That’s okay. Because you’re not listing your weaknesses to be mean to yourself. You’re listing them so you know your enemies and can develop a plan of attack!

If your weakness is plotting, research courses or workshops you can take to improve your plotting skills. Are there any books you can buy, any blog posts with plotting advice? Take this time to honestly identify and actively improve your writing weaknesses.

Pro Tip: you know that feedback that sent you retreating in the first place? You may want to give it serious thought and use it to add to your list!

React in Private.

bright-fireworks-heart-862516.jpgWe’ve all been there. You get a rejection in the mail or open up a file of disappointing feedback. Maybe you feel like shooting off an in indignant email or tweeting something nasty in response, in defense.

Probably not a good idea, though.

Give it an hour, a day, a week, and you may feel very differently. You may find yourself appreciating the feedback and thus regretting the immediate reaction.

Don’t let your soft heart get you in trouble. Don’t fling over desks, anger your editor, or alienate any agents. If you must weep over less than glowing reactions to your work (and you may have to–that’s okay!), do so somewhere private and to someone you can be a mess in front of.

Then Reflect.

art-background-blur-255441This is the GOLDEN RULE: reflect before you react. 

Rejection and critical feedback can be gut wrenching; it can make us want to spiral out of control, to react immediately in defense of our beloved manuscript. I spent a lot of time listening to folks tell me I had to stop that s***, I had to react differently, be someone different. I tried, honestly, but at the end of the day, I am who I am.

So, I’ve accepted it. I’ve got a damned inconvenient soft heart. But this acceptance doesn’t mean I’ve rejected all critical feedback and rejection.

Nope! Instead, I’ve created a plan to help me make the most of rejection, to deal with it more healthily! At the center of this plan is reflection, particularly on these questions:

  • What was the gut wrenching advice?
  • Why is it true?
  • How could it be wrong?
  • What is my purpose for writing?
  • What can I compromise on?
  • What is not up for compromise?

Answering these questions shows me that there is more room for compromise in my work than I originally thought. The gut-wrenching advice isn’t contradictory to my own artistic purposes at all.  It IS possible to make the necessary changes AND stay true to my goals and creative vision.

Above All, Know This.

communication-dark-decor-887353Your soft heart is not a weakness. It means you care. It means you have goals that matter to you, that are at the core of who you are. That’s not only okay, that’s amazing.

I’m guessing your soft heart may even seep into your writing, creating your voice, influencing your word choices, plot, characters, everything. It’s what makes your story yours.

Your soft heart will be wounded by the thing it loves the most. Your failures will pierce you, tear you, leave you for dead. And that’s okay, as long as you don’t lie there too long, as long as you get busy reflecting on and improving your writing.

Are any of you soft-hearted writers? How do you manage the perilous travails of the writing life from such a vulnerable state? 

Five Ways Writers Can Use Microsoft OneNote to Improve their Writing Lives

Any time I mention Microsoft OneNote to writers, I get one of two responses.




Needless to say OneNote doesn’t seem to inspire writers the way other writing apps such as Scrivener do.  BUT (I’m sure you sensed a BUT coming), it is a useful tool for research, outlining, character profiles, and brainstorming.

ven diagram
Thanks to my husband for this awesome venn diagram!

While I may be all alone in the middle of a venn diagram of Writers who are also OneNote lovers, tons of other folks find the note-taking app to be incredibly useful. While I’ve only ever used it for creative projects, I wish I’d had it when I was writing my dissertation, as I can see dozens of applications for academic writing. And a quick Google search offers a variety of ways to use OneNote for productivity, educationwork, or even musical creation.

Don’t believe that OneNote can be a writer’s best friend? I’ve got five reasons using it will leave any creative writer organized, informed, and ready to kick ass.

First, What is OneNote?

Basically, OneNote is a collection of digital notebooks with sections and pages you control and fill with whatever content you like!

OneNote is note-taking software that’s a part of Microsoft Office. It’s basically a digital notebook!

From what I can tell, OneNote is similar to Scrivener, a pay-for writing app beloved by many. I say “from what I can tell” because I don’t use Scrivener for one excellent reason: the interface confuses and terrifies me. I’m an advocate of Microsoft Word because it’s what I’ve always used, but also because of it’s simplicity. A single document that I can zoom in or out on. This allows me to focus in on the words, the story.

The multiple tabs and functions inside Scrivener promotes, in my already too-scattered mind, more chaos and distraction.

This is why I love OneNote. Like Scrivener, it offers a variety of functions, tabs, and notebooks for different projects, but these necessary distractions can be kept in a different app.

Word = document/text/novel

OneNote = all novel supplementary materials. 

Now that you know what OneNote is, let’s talk about how it can help your writing!

Reason 1:
OneNote Helps you Stay Organized

creative writing, novel writing
Writing a novel, or dissertation, or grant, or anything else, really, can be a huge, daunting, and perilous process. It’s important to stay organized.

This is the most organized any of my projects have ever been ever. It’s especially great since I can’t seem to limit myself to one writing project at a time. Oh, no. I have to have SEVERAL all going at the same time.

So, I make a OneNote notebook for every novel project, and inside the notebook, I have sections for:

  • Needed research
  • Character profiles
  • Historical information
  • Plot Outlines
  • Necessary revisions
  • Brainstorming

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 8.04.58 PM

Additionally, each section of a OneNote notebook can contain multiple pages. So, for example, if I want to give each character their own page in the character profiles section, I can!

Reason 2:
OneNote is GREAT for Visuals

novel writing, creative writing
OneNote makes it easy to collect, edit, and manipulate images that inspire your novel writing!

Have you ever tried putting images in Microsoft Word? I know a few different ways to do it, and NONE of them are swift or easy. Apparently, they saved that tech for OneNote. Not only can you easily insert images in a variety of ways, but you can also MOVE THEM WHEREVER YOU WANT. I love it.


Many writers use Pinterest for their image collections and vision boards, and I do too! But that’s just another app you have to bring up when writing, and then you’re likely to get sucked down the Pinterest rabbit hole and come up hours later with six muffin recipes, DIY instructions for a dog house (do you even have a dog?), and a new Pinterest board dedicated entirely to ombre curtains.

I’ve been there.

That’s why I now curate my images in OneNote. Sure, I use Pinterest and Google images in the initial stages, but then I take the images I like the best and put them in character profiles, the history section, or setting pages in OneNote. This way, I can flip to them instantaneously while writing without succumbing to Pinterest temptation. Instant pictorial inspiration!

Reason 3:
Everything Saves Automatically in OneNote

writing, creative writing, novel writing, writing apps
OneNote literally and metaphorically saves the day!

Even with Auto Save on, I have to hit the save button every other sentence in Microsoft Word. I SWEAR.

However, OneNote saves every single thing as soon as it’s placed in the app. No worries here! It’s liberating!

Reason 4:
OneNote Allows you to Quickly Access any Detail about Your Project

Need help juggling all the details of your novel at once? Try OneNote!

When I’m writing, I’m thinking of a billion things at once.

What’s that character’s name? 

Did I already put that in chapter 1? 

Is this historically accurate? 

Am I focusing on the purpose of this chapter? 

Juggling these constant questions and concerns is much easier when I have my OneNote notebook up for the novel I’m writing. Worried about names? Flip over to the Characters section in my notebook. Worried about historical accuracy? Flip over to OneNote and put the question in the “To Research” page.

This way, I can quickly deal with issues that arise and make notes on what needs to be done later without breaking my writing flow.

Reason 5:
OneNote Helps you See the Big Picture

writing, creative writing, novel writing
It’s so easy to see your novel as only tiny snippets at a time. But there’s more to it than that! Make sure you check in on the big picture now and then.

Because all of the information about my novel is right there, nicely organized into clearly marked sections and pages that I can bring up almost instantaneously, OneNote helps me see the big picture of my novel more clearly.

In Microsoft Word, the novel is reduced to a single page, and sometimes even a single paragraph. It’s easy to lose sense of overarching themes, concerns, and questions. But OneNote puts everything right in front of me, allowing me to flip quickly to new sections and pages, so I am able to keep those big-picture concerns front and center.

The Big Picture of this Post

writing life novel writing organizationBasically, I love this program. It’s a great supplement to Microsoft Word if, like me, you live and breath that software. I wish I could say that Microsoft was paying me to advocate for OneNote. But they’re not. I get nothing for spreading the word about its many uses, except for the joy of knowing some writer out there will use it and feel as organized and powerful while doing so as I do.

If you’d like to explore OneNote and see if it’s for you, check out this quick guide!

What are your favorite writing apps or organizational software? Do you use Scrivener? Should I NOT be terrified of it? Tell me what you know!