Thursday, September 29, 2016

On wordiness and “little timidities”

When you finish the first draft of your memoir, you might feel like celebrating—and you should! Go ahead and celebrate!

But don’t think you’ll be publishing that memoir soon. First you have a lot of editing and revising to do, and part of that process is having critique partners give you feedback. They can help you notice and correct many boo-boos. (Click on Critiques Make Your Writing Better.)

But before you involve critique partners, do everything you can to make your manuscript as perfect as possible.  Part of that includes fixing all types of wordiness:

Henry was overweight at that point in time.

I took a boat to get me to the open-air market.

I drove to the hardware to buy some nails.

She  managed to call called the salon and made an appointment.

She headed into the market to try and buy some chicken to eat for supper.

He packed up the car.

His beat included some of the nearby neighborhoods.

She worried about the dogs that came and barked at her toddler.

Grandma tried to calm her down so the rest of us could settle down for the night.

He wanted to spend some time learning learn about the Clallam Indian culture.

It involved negotiation on several different levels.

Professor Smith will make a decision decide Friday about Ken’s oral exam.

Often (but not always) you can cut “that” from a sentence. Here’s an example: “I know that you are busy but I think that this is information that you need to know.” Here’s another example: “He was afraid that I’d spoil his birthday surprise.”

William Zinsser offers this advice: “Prune out all the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: ‘a bit,’ ‘a little,’ ‘sort of,’ ‘kind of,’ ‘rather,’ ‘quite,’ ‘very,’ ‘too,’ ‘pretty much,’ ‘in a sense,’ and dozens more. They dilute both your style and your persuasiveness.

“Don’t say you were a bit confused,” Zinsser continues, “and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.” (On Writing Well)

This type of Editing can be tedious, 
but think of it as polishing and perfecting a gem. 
Invest time in making your memoir sparkle.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Simplify

Fix redundancies in your manuscript. For example:

Josh repeated again.
Adam read each and every book.
The witness gave true and accurate facts.
Grandma sent me various different recipes.

Remember: Write tight!

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Is your manuscript cluttered? Too wordy?

If so, you’re not ready to publish your memoir.

I thought of de-cluttering the other day when I took a look at the top of my desk—I mean really took a look at the top of my desk. I see it a dozen times a day but I am so accustomed to seeing the clutter on it that I don’t really see it.

But I made time to look: I saw an African table game, a gray plastic gizmo, my husband’s collection of FDR books, a pad of sticky notes with my husband’s list on it, a pen, a plastic totem pole our neighbor brought back from Alaska, my coffee cup on a coaster, a photo, Medicare booklets, my granddaughter’s pink hair band, and a little game in a tube which, I think, also belongs to her. Some of that is clutterclutter that can and should be removed.

We need to notice clutter in our writing, too. For example, look at a revision of the third paragraph (above):

I thought of de-cluttering the other day when I took a look  looked at the top of my desk—I mean, really look looked at the top of the desk. I see it a dozen times a day but I am so accustomed to seeing the clutter on it that I don’t really see it. 

That’s what “write tight”  means—to cut extra words.

Avoid wordiness.



“Vigorous writing is concise,” says William Strunk, Jr. “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

Joseph  M. Williams says, “Some words are verbal tics that we use as unconsciously as we clear our throats,” words like actually, particularly, certain, virtually, individual, basically, generally, and practically.

Williams gives this before-and-after example:

“Productivity actually depends on certain factors that basically involve psychology more than any particular technology.”

He offers this revision: “Productivity depends more on psychology than on technology.” (Style:Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace)

If I remove my desk’s clutter, it will function better—it can serve its purpose. In the same way, if we de-clutter our manuscripts, our stories will more likely accomplish their purposes and benefit our readers.

And if I clean up my desk, the antique oak’s beauty shines. Similarly, if we clean up our manuscripts, the beauty of our messages can shine.

Look over your manuscript.

Read it aloud.


You’ll be happier with your condensed version,
and your readers will thank you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Where is the best place for your photos?

Have you noticed where people place photos in their memoirs?

Here's a pic from my little story, "My Blackberry Summer."
Some authors group them together in the middle of the book.

Others place them at the end.

Other authors scatter photos throughout the memoir.

Which is best?

Denis Ledoux of The Memoir Network writes: “…Where you place photoswill influence how readers appreciate your story…. There is in reading and writing a phenomenon called ‘suspension of disbelief.’ If I as the reader am constantly saying, ‘This is only a book. This isn’t happening as a read,’ then it is impossible for that reader to get ‘lost in the story.’

Our goal as writers—and as designers of our layouts—is to avoid suspension of disbelief and, instead, to invite readers to live the story while they read. Strategic photo placement can help accomplish that.

If we place photos throughout the memoir, within the vignettes they pertain to (instead of grouped together in the middle or at the end), we will increase readers’ likelihood of experiencing our stories—almost like seeing the events on a movie screen.

So as you write and edit and rewrite and consider your publishing options, plan ahead for your photo placement. It’s important.

There you have it—your Tuesday Tidbit.

Here are two more significant pictures from "My Blackberry Summer."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Good words from Mick Silva, professional writing coach, editor, and encourager

Today let’s welcome Mick Silva as a guest blogger for our SM 101 family. 
He works with inspirational memoirists and novelists 
to structure, rewrite and refine their books, present to publishers,
 and establish themselves as writers. 
Mick is a frequent conference speaker, blogger
and coauthor with Emily Wierenga of 

So settle in, maybe pour yourself a cup of coffee, and take in Mick’s encouragement:

Somewhere around the first six weeks of coaching, most every writer gets overwhelmed. It’s usually around the third month that folks start realizing not all is lost, that maybe it’s just a natural part of the process to feel you’re at the bottom of a pit and now’s the time to decide how you’re going to get out and move forward.

I’ve lost count now how many times I’ve seen this in the past sixteen years. But it’s always a challenging process and it can surprise people how much goes into a successful story.

The answer to that, in case you’re wondering, is a lot.

Every writer I work with starts with a goal, a deep desire that guides the story. They want what we all want: the truth, clarity, and to finally give it voice. But there’s something more, too. Something uniquely important to them that makes it special.

So we dig for the truth. And soon, it becomes clear that what we think our deep desire is and what the reason really is—they’re rarely the same thing.

Next comes some soul searching. The vision gets hammered out and it gets affirmed and acknowledged. Then more writing and reevaluating it for a while, and some of the hidden themes start to arise in the edit, and we look at the vision again and revise it.

I suppose this needs explaining. Yet, I doubt it’s surprising. It takes time to accept our true motives and desires. But that’s something of a hidden benefit of the writing and editing process.

Another is the power of working through the memories and discovering where Jesus was in your experience. Often, we fail to realize He’s been with us in the darkest suffering, and that lack of understanding blinds us to gratitude and limits our experience of grace. The process of reawakening the story of our past literally re-members us, fusing parts together again into a cohesion of greater wholeness.

What was broken gets mended. That’s a deeper goal of many memoirists. And it’s always my privilege to see that healing happen.

A third, and by no means final, benefit of writing our stories is providing definition to the unexamined lessons in our experience. People don’t realize the treasure that’s buried inside; it’s silent and invisible. Yet it has great value, and when we take the time to dig it up, we can use it. Until then, we’re in danger of being like the wicked servant who kept his treasure “safe.” Safe is not a big priority for the master. He likes a return on his investments.

That’s the “higher purpose” I talk about and it’s why I love coaching and discussing stories at writer’s conferences. I once heard Walter Wangerin call it the “undefined wilderness” inside us. And this treasure remains like an untamed chaos until we use our power—the indivisible Word from the Author and Originator—to name and define those inner riches.

There are themes and points of connection others will identify with in your story. What healing might come in recognizing your experience is like theirs, and theirs is like others’? What greater life could these universal experiences bring, deeper confidence and sense of identity, if people only realized these treasures must be dug up and invested in order to influence our world, our future, our children?

This discovery of our buried experience is vital to life. Because we are, as Viktor Frankl said, meaning-making machines: “He who has a why can bear any how.”

Why do we write? I think deep down, it’s to make meaning. Whatever else it is, the writing is an investigative process that helps define our lives. What we or others make of the story is less important; the vital thing is to take the journey.

When I started working as an editor in 2000, I was mostly interested in getting a leg up as a prospective author. As an aspiring novelist, I needed an education. I hoped it’d take two years, but it turned into five, which turned into another five, and now I’ve been coaching and editing for six more. I suppose I’ve stopped trying to get out of being an editor. I won’t stop writing either, but God has shown me a wider world and He’s caught my attention with the incredible lives I’ve encountered.

There’s nothing more rewarding than unearthing a story others will come and relate with. Books are relationships, and some may be more meaningful than any other we’ll experience in life. They could awaken someone to the world and life around them. I can’t dismiss that. A writer is an excavator who felt a kinship with some author, possibly long-dead, and wishes one day to discuss life and love with them.

And I’m honored to get to continue facilitating and encouraging the conversations.

Thanks, Mick!

And here’s a P.S. from Mick:

“For new (uncontracted) writers, I offer monthly coaching which amounts to a weekly chat about your chapters and you turning in a handful of pages for me to comment on. We start with writing your vision and outline, and then set up a working schedule (which usually gets adjusted at least twice). But that’s a big part of how I help writers, especially inspirational memoirists who have the hardest writing job there is (don’t tell the other writers). Not only do they have to tell the truth with the tools of good fiction writing, they also have to tell the spiritual story behind that story, which is very difficult to do well. It’s why I do this and why I coauthored an ebook on it, and ultimately why my favorite people are inspirational memoirists.”

Mick sent me his editing rates but I can't figure out how to provide you with a link, so please contact Mick directly at (Sorry, Mick!)

Mick Silva has been an acquiring editor for Focus on the Family (2000-2005), WaterBrook Multnomah (Penguin Random House) (2005-2010), and Windblown Media (publishers of The Shack) (2008-2013), and now is coach and editor for authors with Zondervan, WaterBrook Multnomah, IVPress, and several other CBA houses. Mick lives with his wife and two daughters in Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Self-publishing done right

If you’re ready to publish your memoir, self-publishing is one option to consider. Self-pub isn’t for everyone, but nowadays it’s more respectable than it used to be. Why? Because many authors are choosing to write well, edit well, and format well.  (Read more at Your Publishing Options.)

Amber Lea Starfire, who consistently offers good advice to memoirists, recently posted 5 Reasons to Self-Publish, comparing self-publishing with traditional publishing.

She lists reasons self-publishing might be your best option:

  • No gatekeepers
  • Faster Timing
  • Full Control
  • More Profit
  • Continuous Availability

(Click here to read more about each item on her list.)

She cautions that self-publishing takes loads of work and urges memoirists, in the same way I do, to get manuscripts edited and proofed by others in order to craft the most professional book you can.

If you’re thinking of self-publishing, you’ll want to acquaint yourself with all the valuable information Amber Lea Starfire offers here. Click on 5 Reasons to Self-Publish.

Alicia Rades also writes a helpful post, How to Avoid Self-Publishing Regrets. She could write the post because—you guessed it!—she has regrets about the first book she published. “I wish I had taken the time and money to produce a higher-quality book the first time,” she admits.

She offers the following for those who “want your best work out there for the public.”

First, she says, slow down. Don’t rush into publishing. She then lists the following tips:

  • Take a breather from your manuscript after each self-edit
  • Get feedback; consider hiring a professional editor
  • Hire a proofreader
  • Pay for a professional cover

(Click here to read more about each item on her list.)

Don’t miss Alicia’s take on self-publishing. Click on How to Avoid Self-Publishing Regrets, and be sure to read comments readers left at the bottom.

And again, like she said, don’t rush into publishing. Take plenty of time to educate yourself and make a wise choice.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: How to avoid public embarrassment

You’ve finished writing your manuscript, 
but before you are ready to publish
you have a LOT of work to do.  

That’s where critique groups
beta readers
and editors come in. 

Read more at 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How do you find a good editor? What kind of editing do you need?

Last Thursday we considered publishing options. This week I’ve spent lots of time online looking at options for my next memoir. How about you?

Before you are ready to publish, though, you have a LOT of work to do. Most writers need to line up professional editing—often editors are busy and it’s good to get in line.  

But how do you find a good editor? What kind of editing do you need?

Look over the Editors Guild’s website about finding and working with an editor, costs, and types of editing:
  • developmental editing
  • substantive editing
  • copyediting
  • proofreading 

You’ll also find good tips in Elisabeth Kauffman’s Finding the Editor Who’s Right For You.

Before you send that manuscript off to an editor, do your own editing. The more you spiff up your manuscript, the less it could cost—some editors charge by the hour. If you submit a manuscript that’s the best you can make it, your editor can focus on other important parts of it. Why pay someone to do what you can do yourself?

(Critique groups and beta readers can be valuable beyond price in helping improve your manuscript and, frankly, they can keep you from embarrassing yourself in public. Read Belinda Pollard’s What is a beta reader and why do I need one? Also check out Valerie Comer’s blog post, Rewrite versus Revise versus Edit.  Many of us use the word rewrite—“from-the-ground-up rewrite”—when we mean revise. See “I like to rewrite. Sound crazy?”)

Like Ruth Harris said, “Editing can…turn an OMG-did-I-write-that? draft into a book you can be proud of.” Don’t miss Ruth’s 9 Ways Editors Can Make You Look Good…And 7 Ways They Can Make You Miserable. It’s packed with important info for you.

You’ll also find good insights in Karen Ball’s What an Editor Does: Peeling Back the Layers.

Be cautious in hiring an editor. “Though there are a lot of honest independent editors out there, you have to be diligent about looking for red flags,” according to The Writer’s Circle. For example, “If an editor doesn’t want to give out information about their credentials…or info about previously edited work then you have reason to be suspicious.” You’ll also find other excellent tips in How to Find an Independent Editor to Review Your Work.