Monday, March 30, 2020

The Art of Self-Editing, Part 1

By Henry McLaughlin

Part of my call as a writer is to help others through coaching, mentoring, teaching, and editing. One thing I’ve learned in my writing and in helping other writers is the vital importance of learning to self-edit. Someone said, and I can’t remember whom, “The heart of writing is re-writing.” I’m not saying all you have to do is self-edit your work and you’re ready for publication. But knowing how to effectively self-edit your work goes a long way to getting you there. At some point, you will need to submit your work to an outside editor or go through the process of editing through the publishing house. Being able to self-edit helps these next steps go smoothly. My self-editing process comes from years of classes and workshops and applying and refining the principles I learned.

Let Your Manuscript Cool Off

As you compose your first draft, backup your project to a flash drive or other external source. When you’ve finished, let it sit. How long varies, depending on who you’re listening to. Some recommend a week; others recommend three months.

I believe the longer you can let it sit, the better. When working with a mentee, I recommend three months. If a client can’t wait that long, I ask them to wait at least one month.

We need to have an emotional distance between finishing the first draft and starting the editing process. The sooner we start, the more likely our emotions will be in control. We’ll miss things that need to be corrected. We need to let our ardor, our love, for our story, ease up so we can approach it with a calm eye to see flaws or areas that are fine but could be better.

While you’re waiting, start another project. This will keep your creative juices flowing while keeping your hands off that first draft that keeps calling your name. You can work on your next story: plotting, developing characters, building the story world, and research. Explore new story ideas. Read books and articles on the craft.

Read your manuscript

Print it out and read it. You’ll see things on the printed page you won’t see on the computer screen. Some recommend reading it aloud. I haven’t found this helpful. I add or replace words without realizing it.

I read silently with highlighters and pens close at hand. I mark whatever jumps out at me: missing words, awkward sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies in timelines, story world, character description, or portrayal. I’ll identify grammar uses. I don’t fix them on this step. I just note them. I want to read the entire manuscript before making changes. My printed copy ends up with notes, possible changes, and a slew of other possible revisions. Sometimes, the manuscript looks like a stack of Post-it notes exploded inside. I’ll mark scenes or chapters to cut, revise, or move to some other place in the book. And I’ve identified places were an additional scene or a new chapter would be appropriate.

But we’re not done yet.

In my next post, we’ll explore more steps in doing an effective self-edit of the first draft.

(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation and redemption.

Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, and mentors and coaches.

Follow him on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

5 Ways Newbie Fiction Writers Can Improve Their Manuscript

by Alycia W. Morales

As new writers, we dream of the day our work will see publication. Some of us desire to gain the attention of agents and acquisition editors. And in order for those things to happen, we need to present our best work. Not our first drafts. Not even our second drafts.

In order for our writing to be read, we have to make it the best that it can possibly be.

How do we do that? Below are five mistakes newbie writers tend to make and how to fix them.

1. Telling Instead of Showing

Instead of putting the reader directly into the story (showing the story), the writer will tell what is happening. It may be done through the character, but by telling what is happening around that character instead of showing the reader, the author shortcuts the story.

How can you tell if you are telling instead of showing?

Look for these words: felt, saw, heard, watched, made, caused, etc. If you're using these words, you are telling the story instead of showing it. The simple fix is to remove these words and rework the sentence.

For example:
She sat at the window bar in Starbucks and watched as the man she despised crossed the street toward the bank. If only he knew what waited for him on the other side of the glass doors. Her handiwork would cause his life to change in a matter of minutes.

She sat at the window bar in Starbucks, waiting patiently for the man she despised to show up for work. As she sipped her red eye, Gerald crossed the street. He wouldn't know what hit him once he passed through that glass door. Her handiwork would ruin his life. It wasn't like he didn't deserve what was coming.

Lack of dialogue and action. When authors go into telling mode, the story becomes a series of sentences or paragraphs without movement and/or dialogue. It's as if the author is trying to get information to the reader but doesn't want to take the time to write it out as a story. It may remind you of a synopsis. If your chapter is lacking true action or dialogue, you may want to rework it and include those two things.

2. Confusion

What do I mean by this? I mean that the story hasn't been fully worked out. The author may have a concept for the story, a theme, something they want to get across to the reader. But the story lacks important elements, like plot or characterization.

Maybe the world is underdeveloped. Maybe the plot line has holes or elements that drop off. Maybe the characters aren't developed yet. For example, I've seen manuscripts where I couldn't tell who or what the antagonist was. There were so many elements to the story that could possibly be the true antagonist, but none were clearly defined as being such. Even in a thriller or suspense, the reader should have a solid clue who the hero or heroine's antagonist is.

The fix? When you review your manuscript before sending it to a friend or editor, be sure that you have clearly defined all elements of your storyline. Plot. Subplots. Hero or heroine. Antagonist. Character arc. Setting. Everything.

You don't want to confuse your reader to the point where they can't figure out the story.

3. Believability

Confession: This is one that I personally struggle with in my own writing.

As fiction writers, we tend to think we can make the story go any direction we want it to, because, after all, it's fiction. Right? If it isn't true to begin with, anything is believable.

That would be false.

Your story and it's twists and turns must be believable. You can't write anything you want to and have everyone who picks up your book believe it. Your twists and turns must resemble reality or perceived reality.

If you're writing sci-fi or fantasy, for example, your characters must operate within a world that has laws and consequences for breaking those laws. The environment must be set so that it can interfere with the character's mission. But that interruption has to be believable. It can't come out of the blue from some unknown force that hasn't been introduced before. As if the author put themselves into the story as God.

Everything has to be believable. If it isn't, the reader will stop reading.

How can you fix this? If you don't believe it, chances are the reader won't either. Go back and develop that part of the element that needs the work. If you're still wondering if it's believable or not, have a fellow writer or your critique group review that section of your manuscript. Tell them what you are trying to figure out and that you want their brutally honest opinion. And listen to what they tell you.

4. Too Much or Not Enough Description

In order for our readers to imagine the story we're writing, to watch it play out in their creative mind, we have to give some detail to our characters and the setting. The issue resides in whether we give too little or too much.

If we give too little description, the reader won't have any guideline for what our characters or our settings look like. We may know exactly what simple Susan looks like and how her stale office is arranged. But if we don't clarify that to readers, they may have a completely different idea of what Susan looks like and how her office is arranged. Maybe her personality is the only stale, simple thing about her and she covers it by adding color to every other area of her life from her purple-tipped hair to the rainbow curtains in her office. How is a reader supposed to know unless we show them by adding that color to our writing?

On the flip side, if we give too much description, we leave no room for the reader to use their creative mind to interpret the story. Avoid flowery, purple, extravagant, ornate prose. (Did you see what I did there?) In other words, don't use five adjectives that mean the same thing. Actually, don't use five adjectives. Period. Use one or two to get the image across to your reader and let their imaginations flow from there.

It's a really fine line between too much and not enough description. The best authors learn how to balance on it.

5. Timeline Issues

One thing to keep in mind when writing from multiple points of view is that the timeline of your plot must continually move forward. You can't write a scene in one person's point of view, switch to another character's point of view, and back up in the timeline of the scene. You have to pick up with one character where you left off in the other.

The fix? Figure out whose point of view is most important in the scene, and write from theirs. Who's POV is going to have more significance, drive the story forward because of what they know or how they experience that scenario, or set up something coming?


I realize that a lot of editors will tell you that grammar isn't as important as story, but in reality, it is. It's very distracting to have a ton of spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure errors in a manuscript, no matter how good the story. And between Grammarly, spell check, and other helpful tools available to authors today, there's really no excuse for it.

That said, please don't solely rely on those to fix your grammar issues. Sometimes we use phrases instead of full sentences to remain in a character's voice or to make a point in the action. Sometimes the spell checker won't pick up on homonyms that are misused and we need a second set of eyes to find them in the manuscript. We have pet words that we repeat throughout the story, and they need fixing.

A clean manuscript is better than one full of glaring mistakes. If you aren't really good with spelling, punctuation, and grammar, hire a proofreader or copy editor who can clean things up a bit so you have the best presentation of your story that you can. The agents and acquisitions editors you are trying to impress will be grateful for it.

Tweetable: 5 Ways Newbie Fiction Writers Can Improve Their Manuscript

What issues do you face when writing fiction? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Establish Vivid Settings Without Slowing Your Plot

By Emily Golus

As a fantasy writer, I spend a lot of energy creating a sense of place. After all, people read speculative fiction to escape to exotic new worlds.

But vibrant settings are important for any genre. Your reader is far more invested in your story when she can feel white sand between her toes or hear the slosh of carriage wheels in the rain-soaked streets. 

Your physical and cultural setting has to feel real to the reader—but you want to do this without channeling Charles Dickens and writing two solid pages of description. (Sorry, Charlie—that technique just doesn’t fly with today’s reader.)

Below are three ways to make your settings come alive without interrupting the story.

Show everyday objects

You don’t have to write a full description of the room your protagonist is in. Instead, hint at the larger physical context with the objects the character actually interacts with. For example:

Sunlight filtered through the yellowing lace surrounding Anna’s bed. She pushed back her hand-stitched quilt and reached for her whalebone comb.

Eve bolts awake at the sound of a blaring alarm, hitting her head on the rusty metal ceiling of her tiny bunk. She grabs her harpoon blaster and races the other cadets through the narrow steel corridor.   

A handful of specific details can reveal much about time period and genre—no blocks of description needed.

Describe food

What your character eats immediately clues the reader in to his culture, time period, and social class. Imagine where you would be sitting if you ate the following breakfasts:

  • Tea with buttered toast and perhaps a scone
  • Rice poha with curry and a cup of chai
  • A technicolor bowl of Fruity Pebbles
  • Fresh Neeble milk that glows a faint blue

Caution: If you’re writing about a historical period, don’t just guess about food. Many of the things we take for granted—such as coffee, sugar, rice, potatoes, and chocolate—haven’t always been universally available, and you don’t want to make a distracting error.

Illustrate social conflicts

Don’t tell us that your character lives in a world of injustice or a peaceful utopia—make us experience it.

Write a scene early on in the story in which Toby slinks around the market, recalling the stinging slap he received for looking a shop owner in the eye. Show a Roman solider grabbing Miryam’s aging father and forcing him to carry a burden all the way to the Fish Gate.

A scene like this can also do double duty, setting up future conflicts or revealing your character’s feelings about his world.

Of course, in order to make your setting feel authentic, you have to understand it backward and forward—and that requires research (yes, even for science fiction and fantasy). The more real your story’s world is to you, the more vivid you can make it for your readers.

Happy world-building, writing friends!

(Photos courtesy of ShanLiFang on Unsplash.)


Emily Golus has been dreaming up fantasy worlds since before she could write her name. A New England transplant now living in the Deep South, she is fascinated by culture and the way it shapes how individuals see the world. She aims to create stories that engage, inspire, and reassure readers that the small choices of everyday life matter. Her first novel, Escape to Vindor, debuted in 2017 and won the Selah Award for young adult fiction. Its sequel, Mists of Paracosmia, released in April 2019. Emily lives in Upstate South Carolina with her woodworking husband, an awkward cat, and the world's most talkative baby.
Keep up with Vindor news at and, or find her on Instagram as WorldOfVindor. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Spring-Clean Your Writing Life

By Tim Sudduth

Finally, March has arrived. (Cue the trumpets.) Flowers are blooming, trees are budding, and the days are getting longer and warmer. Spring is in the air. (Cue sneezing fit.)

I love spring, despite the allergies. The dull browns change into a variety of vibrant colors, and the dead of winter comes to life. It’s amazing how this affects me both physically and mentally.

For some reason, when the sun goes down, my energy level plummets. Zip in the gas tank. In the winter, I’m slipping into my PJs well before six. What’s with that? But as the days get longer, I have no problem staying up.

Which is great because the brighter sun helps my wife discover the dirty windows, the dusty walls, the fading paint on our house. Which brings us to (can you guess it?)—spring-cleaning. My wife claims this is one of the most glorious times of the year. A time that brings our family closer. Makes our home a happier place. I’ve learned to say, “Yes, dear.”

All kidding aside, spring-cleaning is a great concept to use in all areas of our lives. After a period of time, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish, bad or unhelpful habits creep in and keep you from being your most efficient.

How can we spring-clean our writing?

Set a time to work. To me, later never comes. I’ll get around to it never seems to work. If it’s important to me, I must set aside the necessary time I’ll need. Whether that means making time at the beginning or end of my day, or setting aside time on a weekend, the only way I can get something done is make time for it.

Check that you’re meeting your goals. This is always a balancing act for me. I usually have great intentions, but then life gets in the way. This week, I have two family members who need to be taken to their doctor appointments. So, I need to adjust either by putting off my deadline or finding other times to write.

Sometimes life is more important than my plans. Family is always first. Especially children, because they are only that age for a blink of the eye. However, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Even deadlines, with planning, can usually be adjusted.

Watch out for time thieves. At other times, less important things elbow their way into my day—can you say HGTV—and I need to get out of the habit of stopping for a ten-minute break and turning on an hour program. It’s amazing how much time we lose each day doing mindless things.

Make sure you’re doing the job you’ve planned. My brother came to help me work in my yard last week. He started his chain saw, checked that the tree he was cutting would fall in a safe place, and took his position. That’s when I got his attention and told him it was the tree behind him that needed to come down.

It’s so easy to feel good about being busy, but busyness doesn’t necessarily get you where you want to go. Often, it robs you of energy that you could be using more effectively.
As writers, we often find it hard to know the most productive tasks we should do. Should I write another story, study on improving my SEO, leave a message on a blog, or work on my email list? On all of these, and dozens of other things we writers face, opinions vary.

So, Tim, what would you say I should do?

Well, thanks for asking. Pray, experiment, adjust. And be open to the serendipity God might send your way. As I’ve heard so many times, life is an ever-changing journey. Or a house that needs cleaning.

What ways have you found to make your time more efficient?

Photos courtesy of, radnatt, and Stuart Miles.)


Tim Suddeth is a regular attendee of The Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference and a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He’s currently working on his fifth novel. He has a monthly post on The Write Conversation and is trying to make a dent in his to-read bookcases. You can follow him at on his blog at or on Twitter @TimSuddeth.

Monday, March 2, 2020

A Word in Due Season

By Andrea Merrell

Do you ever feel as if all your hours at the computer are in vain? Do you wonder if the words poured out of your heart will ever reach a single soul? Do you think your time will never come?

If your answer is yes, then welcome to the scary, frustrating, wonderful world of writing and publishing. Trust me, we’ve all been there/done that. Most of us have more t-shirts than we care to admit.

I once heard one writer say, “I don’t know if anyone is reading my blog. No one ever leaves a comment. I feel like my words are just out there floating in cyber space.”

Another writer told me she was discouraged because she submitted a devotion that was accepted but would not be published for over a year. “I felt like it was for right now,” she said.

Other writers I know are waiting to hear back from agents and publishers, wondering if their projects will ever get off the hard, cold ground.

The Bible says, “to everything there is a season.” For us as writers, it’s difficult to wait for our season, but we have to trust that it will come. God has a plan and purpose for everything He calls and equips us to do. And the words He gives us never go to waste.

Have you ever read through your journal or a story you wrote and thought, Wow, did I really write that? Maybe those words were given to you long ago to bless you sometime in the future. Or maybe a blog post or article long forgotten found its way into someone’s hand and they reached out to you to let you know how touched they were by your story. That’s what the Bible calls “a word in due season.”

There’s no greater blessing for a writer—at least for this one—than for someone to say how much they needed to read your devotion, blog post, article, or even Facebook or Twitter post. Maybe it was written years ago, maybe last week, but it made a mark in someone’s heart today. And maybe the words you write today will make their mark years down the road.

Words are powerful. They are also eternal. They can bless, and they can curse. That puts a big responsibility on us as Christian writers. The best part is knowing God’s Word is alive. When we share His Word with others, it speaks to their own personal need and situation—no matter when, where, or how. 

Proverbs 25:11 says “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (NKJV). The NLT puts it this way: "Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket."  

Never hesitate to share the words God gives you. They will always produce in due season.

(Photos courtesy of, Serge Bertasius Photography, and SurasakiStock.)