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Writing Tip #89: Time to revise, but how will I know if I’m making it better, not worse?




Everyone knows about the terror of the blank page that you’ve just written Chapter One at the top of. Some writers spend weeks approaching it, dabbing a couple of words on, and deleting them. Others research for a decade in order to avoid getting to the blank page moment at all. And one of the chief reasons that the crazy/shitty first draft principle works for so many people is that suddenly the cost of failure isn’t so high: this was only a crazy first draft, after all. Anything goes to get words on the page; we’ll turn them into the right words later.

But what if you’re fine with starting, and with finishing that draft, but are terrified of revising? Some feel uneasily that their punctuation/grammar/spelling aren’t up to scratch, but that’s relatively easy to learn - and you may not be nearly as bad as you think. Others just don’t know where to start eating this elephant: some suggestions here. But what if what worries you is revising the bigger and more intangible things? What if you’re terrified you won’t know if you’re making it worse, not better? For some, that fear can be paralysing. First, here are some thoughts about how to keep in touch with the shore as you launch out into the unknown.

  • Do it on a new copy of the file (but you know that one).
  • Don’t fiddle: know what you’re doing to your book today, and stick to it.
  • Go through, on hard-copy (or screen with comment balloons), just reading, and making notes about what needs changes, not actually stopping to do them. That way you can read fast, more like a reader, and hold on to a sense of the bigger picture. You’re less likely to lose sight of the baby while scooping out the bathwater, or change something because you’ve forgotten it’s like that because in Chapter 17… Then put it all into practice on the new copy .
  • Use Track Changes, so you can review everything before you commit to it. It depends what program you’ve got, but I set it to have deleted stuff in balloons, not inline, and new stuff in something reasonably unobtrusive like dark green. Then I can read the new version reasonably fluently and naturally, but still tell the difference between new stuff and old stuff. And if you’re using Scrivener (my new writerly Best Friend) or MSWord, you can search by text colour if you want to find only the new things.
  • If it’s all a disaster, you can always just go back to the original version. If you might want to preserve a few bits of the new stuff (or track changes reminds you too painfully of the day job) you could just do everything on the new copy without track changes, merge the two documents, and pick your way through accepting and rejecting each difference

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This is brilliant!

(via writeworld)

Posted on August 28, 2013 at 8:39 AM
1428 notes  #revision #article
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.
All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.
Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Art and Fear- David Bayles and Ted Orland (via qweety)

Perfection is intimidating.  I think most artists blocks come from the fear of creating something imperfect.

(via buttastic)

(via fuckyeahcharacterdevelopment)

Posted on July 31, 2013 at 9:38 PM
20204 notes  #quote
Writing Advice: by Chuck Palahniuk

In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.

From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.

For example:
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.

If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.

Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.

Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”

Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.

Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.

Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.

No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”

Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”

Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.

Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.

And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”

For example:
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”


“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”

Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.

And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”

Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.


For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.

Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.

“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”

“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”

“Larry knew he was a dead man…”

Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.

—(via 1000wordseveryday)

(Source: redactedbeastie, via theonlyroadhome)

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 6:57 AM
130691 notes  #advice #article

7 editing questions to make work sparkle


Writers rarely like to revise, but revision is a reality of the writing process—and more important than the initial draft. Without revision, you can’t realize the true potential of the story you envisioned, and it will likely never be published. Here are seven self-editing questions to ask as you begin revising your short story or novel: 

1. Where does the story really begin? Reread the first two to three pages of your story carefully. Where does the action start? A major fault with many first drafts (mine included!) is too much background material at the beginning, before the conflict is introduced and the characters finally take over the story. 

In my case, I can almost bet that my story doesn’t really begin until about halfway down page 3, so out go the first two pages. If the material I have cut is essential for the reader to know, I find ways, through dialogue or my characters’ thoughts, to get the information to the reader later. The late additions are never as long as the original two and a half pages, and the story gains needed speed.

2. Is this adverb necessary? Chances are, if you are using a lot of adverbs, you are telling and not showing. Think about the character that has just won the lottery. Rather than have her yell “joyfully,” why not have her jump up and down screaming so loudly that her cat runs under the bed in terror, and it takes her 20 minutes to get it out? Maybe she runs to her closet and throws all of her old clothes in the garbage while blasting “If I Had a Million Dollars” on her CD player. Both of those pictures show how the character reacts instead of telling, and they are certainly livelier than the word “joyfully.” 

3. Is this adjective doing its job? Look for empty adjectives and replace them. Instead of relying on “amazing,” “interesting,” “exciting,” “awful,” “ugly,” “beautiful,” “nice,” “scary” and other similar adjectives, use sensory details that bring to life what you are describing. Find places to get the readers’ senses working; it means you are making the story real for them. 

4. Whose problem is it? Your main character has the primary problem at the center of your story, and your main character needs to solve it. Make sure that your protagonist remains the chief actor in the story and doesn’t become solely the reactor to another character’s influence. Sometimes, in longer pieces, characters other than your lead can nab your attention and your imagination; this can be especially true of villains and comic sidekicks. Be careful that these characters don’t become so charming that they threaten to steal the book from your hero or heroine. 

5. Are the grammar and spelling perfect? Yes, I mean perfect. Your story will compete with a host of other stories, so don’t blow your chance with poor spelling and grammar. Of course, publishers have editors who will help polish your copy, but you need to show your best work up front.

6. Have I read my story aloud? One of your best proofreading tools is the sound of your own voice. Reading your story aloud is a great way to find awkward or incomplete sentences, clumsy phrasing, and inconsistencies in verb tenses and pronoun agreement. If you hesitate when you are reading, or if you have to reread a sentence or phrase, then you may need to rewrite that part of your story. 

7. Have I applied the Stephen King rule? In Stephen King’s On Writing, he shows a before-and-after example of how editing can improve a story. His revision rule is: 

2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%

We have a tendency, as writers, to believe that every word we write is precious, and we are reluctant to cut our material—after all, we remember how hard it was to get it down on paper. However, editing is about making our prose lean and exciting, and compelling the reader to turn the page. See what you can do with 10 percent fewer words.

Finally, consider revision a reward. Remember that if you are revising, you have finished a project—how neat is that? Try these seven questions to kick-start your editing and begin your pursuit of a great final product.

(Source:, via writeworld)

Posted on July 8, 2013 at 8:42 AM
3074 notes  #advice #article

» A Stonefox Guide to Punctuation.


As we all know, punctuation is crucial. Despite the importance, however, it is fairly skipped over in school––specifically dashes, commas, and semicolons (seriously, when the fuck are you supposed to use those?)––so I’m here to help! And by “I’m here to help,” I mean, “I’m here to compile a masterlist of punctuation resources.”


Briefly discusses the use of periods, colons, semicolons, commas, question marks, apostrophes, hyphens, dashes, parentheses, exclamation points, and ellipses.


Very important. Covers everything from single lines of dialogue, to full paragraphs, to changing speakers.


A quick guide to when you should commas.


A quick guide to when you shouldn’t use commas.


When to use dashes.


Hyphens are used to join words together, but there are a few rules to usage.


It’s an illustrated guide. Enough said.

(via edibledarkmark-deactivated20130)

Posted on July 6, 2013 at 10:30 PM
2869 notes  #punctuation

Gun Terms for Writers




As someone who writes fics with action sequences and the use of guns, I thought maybe it would be helpful to pass some things on. Even though I’ve done lots of research and talked with family members (I live in WI which is a big hunting state and we have lots of guns), I still catch myself making mistakes with specific terms and their usage. Reading more James Bond fics lately, I catch others making mistakes also. So here is a little guide to help writers. 

  • A ‘clip’ is something that stores multiple rounds of ammunition. It is not what you would insert into a handgun to load it. Clips make loading into a magazine easier because they simply store the rounds. It helps with organization. 
  • A magazine is what feeds the ammunition into the barrel. Magazines vary in capacity. They, unlike clips, are spring-loaded, which helps the ammunition move in the gun. So, when you want a character to reload, they would use a pre-loaded magazine, NOT a clip. 
  • A silencer is really a suppressor. ‘Silencer’ is a word that’s used in media to refer to a suppressor that doesn’t exist in real life. Guns that are suppressed will still be loud and have a sound. This is because compressed air will still leak out of the end of the barrel, you can’t silence a bullet moving extremely fast through the air, and you can’t silence the mechanical parts on a gun. There will be a noise, but it just won’t be as loud or more importantly, alert people in a nearby area that a gun was just fired. SO suppressor is a much more accurate term technically speaking. 
  • There are different kinds of suppressors. One important kind suppresses the muzzle flash. It’s likely a sniper would use this more than they would want to use a sound suppressor, as the muzzle flash more easily enables you to be spotted when you don’t want to be. These are simply referred to as flash suppressors. 
  • After a handgun runs out of ammunition, the slide will lock back into place and you will know that it is out. There is no ‘click’ signifying an empty weapon that is so dramatized in movies and tv. A more likely scenario that would prevent a gun from firing would be a jam. Or programming the gun to recognize certain palm prints. 
  • A great place for writers, in particular fanfic writers, who want information on guns is imfdb. You can find out what guns are used in movies and shows, and what guns characters use. You can also just search for guns. 
  • If you want to get really specific, check out YouTube. There are users who will post reviews of guns on there, which can be really helpful if you want to see how a particular gun looks or how to shoot it. 

So yeah! Here are just a few basic tips if you want to write a fic where a character uses guns. 

I see you’ve got terminology down, now let’s go for a little technicality. 

  • Firstly, let me explain the “kick” of a gun. A “kick” is the feeling of the round leaving the barrel of the gun.  Every gun has one, the impact of the “kick” depends on the caliber, make and type of gun.
  • Another way to describe a kick is the feeling of the gun exploding in your hand.  Of course, the gun doesn’t literally explode, but it is a great burst of power that only lasts a second.
  • For example: A .45 mm hand gun with have a bigger “kick” than a .22 mm hand gun.  If someone is a first time shooter and does not know what to expect, they would most likely drop the gun after firing it once due to the shock of the force being released in their hands.
  • Sniper Rifles are incredibly accurate and mainly used for long distance hits.  They are also ridiculously heavy, as most rifles are, therefore, be prepared for a gigantic “kick”.
  • Sniper Rifles are special because they are so powerful (they need to be in order to have the same impact a .45mm would 10 feet away compared to the shell half a mile away), thus a stand is required to use it.
  • No matter what you will always need a firm holding to place the rifle (besides your grip) in order to prevent the gun from falling over after it is discharged and injury to your person. There are ridiculously powerful guns.
  • General rule of thumb is that you place the butt of the rifle next to your shoulder, just below your clavicle.  I’m not very good at describing this position, so I suggest looking it up.  DO NOT place it anywhere in the armpit area, dislocation is likely to occur.  Depending on how prepare you are and the type of rifle being used (excluding snipers), bruising might occur.
  • You will be standing if you use a normal rifle, so make sure you are steady and prepared for the “kick” that follows after.
  • If you are using a sniper rifle, you will be on the ground or leaning against something.  Some people have special rests for their snipers specifically to fire the gun from any spot.  Point is: do not stand alone while firing this.  You will get hurt.

Other helpful tips:

  • Earplugs or Ear Protectors are your friends.
  • Safety glasses are also your friend to avoid shells from flying into your face.
  • Keep the safety on until you are ready to fire the gun.
  • If you are NOT currently firing the gun, whether it is loaded or unloaded, and it is in your hand, ALWAYS hold it with two hands and point it at the ground at your feet. DO NOT get distracted.
  • NEVER joke around with someone by pointing the gun at them.  EVEN IF YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE THAT THE GUN IS TOTALLY UNLOADED, MAGAZINE OUT OF PLACE, DO NOT RISK IT.  It is not funny.  Even if the gun is on safety, do NOT do it.  You could accidently switch off the safety or the gun could misfire despite the safety.
  • Lastly TWO HANDS.  One on the side near the trigger and the other underneath.  This is not the movies, do not attempt to fire a gun with one hand.  Not only will your aim be incredibly off if you are inexperienced but you will also endanger yourself as well as others if you lose control of it.
  • Guns can be scary and if you ever feel nervous or uncomfortable about firing one, do not do it. 

A few things I have to add to this:

The caliber of a round is usually measured in either millimeters or in hundredths of an inch. One “unit” of caliber, I guess, is one one-hundredth of an inch. For example, a 45-caliber round has a .45 inch diameter (which is why it’s called a .45).  DO NOT CONFUSE THIS WITH MILLIMETERS. .45 mm is NOT 45-caliber.

Common cartridges measured in millimeters with their respective calibers:


  • 5.56mm = ~.223 caliber
  • 7.62mm = ~.300 caliber
  • 12.7mm = ~.500 caliber


  • 5.64mm = .22 caliber*
  • 9mm* = .354 caliber
  • 10.16mm = .40 caliber*
  • 11.43mm = .45 caliber*

(*the measurement you’re more likely to see for each cartridge.)

In the case of rifles, cartridges meant for civilian use are usually designated as .223, .300, .308, etc. Designations such as 5.56mm, 7.62mm, etc. are usually indicative of military-grade ammunition. This is not always true, but usually that’s how it is.

Military-grade bullets are held to higher standards and typically cause more stress on the internal mechanism, and the guns they’re meant for are built to handle that. They can also handle civilian ammunition. It doesn’t work the other way around, however. Do not attempt to use military-grade ammunition in a civilian-model firearm that hasn’t been modified to handle it.

A few different kinds of cartridges:

- Full metal jacket, which gives increased penetration capabilities but doesn’t do much in the ways of expansion. Risky to use in situations with a lot of innocents around, as often they can over-penetrate and go on to hurt someone behind the target.

- Hollow-points, which expand like crazy when they hit something, causing massive internal damage to their target. Outlawed in warfare under the Hague Convention of 1899, but can be used by civilians.

- Soft-points, which serve as a happy medium between the penetration capabilities of full metal jacket rounds and the expansion of hollow-point rounds.

- Shot, usually rat-shot or snake-shot, which can be fit in bullets and used to kill small vermin at close range without doing a whole lot of damage to the surrounding area.

- Sub-sonic, which have a lower muzzle velocity and effective range, but will decrease the chance of overpenetration. This is also the ideal ammo choice for weapons fitted with suppressors, as subsonic rounds avoid the “crack” of a sonic boom that other bullets can make upon leaving the barrel.

(Source: jimkirksass, via writtenwonderland)

Posted on July 5, 2013 at 12:16 PM
20048 notes  #guns #tips #the more you know

Writing Exercises


“I have issues with originality.”

Write some fanfic. When you’re done, change all the names of characters and places. Read it again. Change the physical descriptions. Switch genders. Read it again. Focus on altering speech patterns. Read it again. Expand and contract the story. Take that core and go from there, developing your new characters and changing scenarios to benefit from your perceived strengths as a writer, to the needs of the story, and to your liking.

“I have issues with plot.”

Pick a novel you know well. Review it. Possibly reread it. Adapt that novel into a short story, and when you extract the novel from the body to compress it – analyze and toy with it. What happens when you pull here? What happens when you fold here? What happens when you do this? What do you lose when you do this? Study how the plot reacts under your microscope, then use what you learn to form your own short story and expand that into a novel.

I have issues with range.

Take a comedy – story or script – and make it dramatic or even tragic. Take something dramatic or tragic and inject it with humor. Make both work.

I have issues with being a writer.

Write your biography. This allows you to take on the role of someone studying you and your work as you study the writers and their work you enjoy enjoy, admire, and emulate. This also allows you write uninterrupted passages about your thoughts on writing and literature in general and on your writing, especially the latter’s place in the former. You can also write about projects you have in your mind and intend to write some day as if they were completed. Don’t write the easy life – be sure to include which stories bomb and why, which novels fail and why, which aspects of your life are ill-suited for writing and why. My advice – skip the childhood chapters. Start two years from next Wednesday.

I have issues with voice.

Randomly select a number of sentences from a story or novel. Minimum should be 50. Mix them up. Go through and analyze each one. Documents trends and patterns. Which words are used the most? Is there a similar sentence structure? Reread the work, paying attention to the sentences your analyzed and determine whether or not the hypothesis you formed is proven when the story is read as a whole.

I have issues with style.

Take a story or novel and rewrite it in the style of another era, century, or language. How would an American War and Peace read? What changes when Pride and Prejudice is written in the 1960s? How does a change in narration change Heart of Darkness?

(via writeworld)

Posted on July 4, 2013 at 9:08 AM
2680 notes  #advice #article

"What to Read to Improve Your Writing Skills."


"What to Read to Improve Your Writing Skills."

(Source: amandaonwriting, via writtenwonderland)

Posted on July 1, 2013 at 12:52 PM
17604 notes  #advice

Ask a Published Author: “How do you avoid over-description?”



Oh! Steampunk! That’s my genre! Being the imaginative genre that it is, how do you get your vision across to the readers without overdoing descriptions, or improperly using description in the first place? — Dream3r

When it comes to descriptions, I try to describe things through the eyes of the character. To give you an example, in Innocent Darkness, my main character Noli likes to fix and invent things. If she saw an airship, she might wonder educatedly about how it worked, and would pay attention to the details that interest her. However, Steven, one of the other POV characters, probably wouldn’t care and might give it only a cursory description.

It’s the same with clothes. Noli’s mother is a dressmaker, so she might spend a sentence or two on what someone was wearing. In contrast, Steven, as a teenage boy, might note that someone’s dress was green, if he bothered to notice it at all. I find that using this as a guideline helps me to make sure I don’t over-describe in a way that is out of character, which can pull readers out of the story.

Also, less is often more—you don’t need to constantly remind the reader that this is a steampunk story, which is easy to do. Also, ask yourself, “Does the reader need to know this?” and, “Does the reader need to know this right now?”

Suzanne Lazear is the author of the steampunk fairytale series The Aether Chronicles. Innocent Darkness is out now. The sequel, Charmed Vengeance, will be released on August 8, by Flux.

Next week Jennifer Bosworth, author of the YA novel Struck, will take up the Head Counselor whistle and answer your questions! Ask her about first-week jitters, writing YA, and more here!

(Source: lettersandlight, via writtenwonderland)

Posted on June 29, 2013 at 1:15 PM
107 notes  #advice

Do you ever crave the ambient noise of a coffee shop whilst lacking the capacity to actually be in one? Coffitivity plays coffee house-esque noise in the background to alleviate the anxiety of trying to be productive in a too-quiet work environment. We’ve only been waiting for something like this for, oh, our entire working lives.


Do you ever crave the ambient noise of a coffee shop whilst lacking the capacity to actually be in one? Coffitivity plays coffee house-esque noise in the background to alleviate the anxiety of trying to be productive in a too-quiet work environment. We’ve only been waiting for something like this for, oh, our entire working lives.

(via silverandcrimson)

Posted on June 24, 2013 at 8:19 PM
35849 notes  #resources