Copy editing your own work

Style sheet for copyediting Doing your own copy editing would have to be one of the most fraught jobs! It's because we very often see what we expect to see, rather than what is actually on the page. When you have revised your story or novel or article 10 times, you stop "seeing" the actual words and punctuation, and instead "hear" the text. It's a bit like having it read aloud to you. Hard to explain but you probably know what I mean. Because you have given your work to someone and they said, … [Read more...]

The undeniable value of “being there”

Historical research is tricky. For a start, no matter how much you try to research place, language, food, clothing, money and surroundings, you will never actually be there. You can't go back 100 or 300 or 1000 years to know what it was really like. Even the best historians are making educated guesses. But as a historical writer, you know that details are important, and they are what brings your story alive for your readers. Yes, characters and plot are important, but the social restrictions and … [Read more...]

Use deadlines to help you

Over the past few months, I’ve returned to study (although when it comes to writing, I feel like that never stops – I’m always learning something new, or sometimes I have to relearn an element of craft that I have “forgotten” about). Along with study come deadlines, for getting to class, completing homework and, most importantly, submitting work for grading. One of the things that I found so useful while doing my MFAC at Hamline was the monthly deadlines for packets of work – usually an essay … [Read more...]

Getting your novel logistics right

While we struggle with deepening our characters, filling plot gaps, strengthening structure and all those other novel elements, often we forget how the “simple” things can trip up our story or, even worse, cause readers to lose faith in our ability to tell a story that holds together. How often have you read something and thought Hold on, that character couldn’t possibly have travelled so far in that time? Or Didn’t this story start on a Tuesday, but now it’s Monday? Or even This house is … [Read more...]

Why a great title is worth the effort

A lot of people have asked me how I come up with my book titles. I have to say that writing poems is incredibly useful, because you need a title for every poem (unless you wimp out and give them numbers) and after the first 100 or so, you simply get better at it. Some titles have come to me seemingly out of nowhere. The Too-Tight Tutu, which always makes people laugh, just popped out after I’d written the first draft, but there are other books that have had more than a dozen alternatives, and … [Read more...]

The mechanics of your novel: where, when, what

While it’s a wonderful feeling to launch into your first draft, visualizing your characters, following your plot outline or writing “by the seat of your pants” and making up dynamic dialogue, at some point you will start getting into trouble with contradictions. These are usually the ones you create yourself! For example, back in Chapter 2, the house had three bedrooms and now it has four. In Chapter 3 it took the characters 5 minutes to run down to the river, now it takes 20 minutes and the … [Read more...]

Goal setting for writers who don’t set goals

It’s the 21st January and the odds are that you have no resolutions or goals in mind. That you deliberately ignored the possibility that you might start 2013 that way. After all, goals don’t work for you, and neither do resolutions. A lot of people talk about goal setting – in books, on websites, in podcasts. Studies show that 87% of people don’t set goals. Of the 13% that do, only 4% (of the 13%) actually carry them out in any kind of sustained way. That sounds like a lot until you translate … [Read more...]

Writing AROUND Your Novel

It might seem like it's hard enough to write a novel and finish it, let alone do a whole lot of extra writing. But this is the age of the "stand out novel" - you're going to hear that term, and others like it, many times in the coming year. What it means is a novel with depth and resonance, a novel in which characters feel totally real and complex and intriguing, a novel in which the story world is evocative and meaningful. It's pretty hard to write a novel like that by just sitting down and … [Read more...]

Practical Punctuation: Commas and Full Stops

I’m not sure what is being taught at school these days when it comes to punctuation, but it continually amazes me how few people (younger, usually) don’t seem to know where to put a full stop. I realize that a lot of this problem comes from not being able to parse a sentence. I can already hear some of you saying, “Parse? What’s that?” It’s the mind-numbing yet vital skill us oldies were taught at school – what the different parts of a sentence are and how they work together. Nouns, verbs, … [Read more...]

Are you stretching your description muscles?

This week I was working with a group of kids (Grades 5 and 6) on poetry, and one thing I like to do is expand their use of language through the five senses. We talk about details and how they bring all kinds of writing alive, both poetry and prose. In poetry it’s often called imagery – I like to call it word pictures. If you can describe something in a way that “transfers” the image from your mind to the page to the reader's mind, then that’s description that enhances your writing. There are … [Read more...]