Monday, June 29, 2020

The Art of Self-Editing, Part 2

By Henry McLaughlin

In my last post, we began exploring the process of self-editing, of getting our writing in the best shape we can before sending it out to a professional editor. Notice, I didn’t say before submitting it to an agent, a publishing house, or self-publishing it.

There’s an old saying from the judicial system: He who represents himself has a fool for a client. In the same way he who edits himself alone, while he may not be a fool, is not preparing his work to be the best it could be.

Have the Computer Read the Manuscript 

Most computers now come with the ability to speak written text. There are also apps available. Having my computer read the manuscript to me may sound weird, but it really is helpful. It’s one of the most effective tools in my self-editing toolbox.
  • Glitches and errors are easier to spot as we follow along on our printed manuscript.
  • The computer is going to speak exactly what we wrote. It won’t fill in missing words, and it won’t ignore typos we might miss with our own eyes.
  •  It won’t say what we meant to write.
  • The tone helps each word stand out. I’ve caught many an error I otherwise missed in my own readings because it sounds like an out of tune piano.
Yep. Now is the time to rewrite. This is the beginning of our second draft. We’ve accumulated a lot of data through the previous steps. Now we apply the corrections and tweaks. This is when we rewrite; add the scenes and chapters we need to improve the story. It’s also when we cut the scenes, chapters, and characters that don’t add anything to the story. 

This is the time when we identify our favorite words. Scrivener can show us our most frequently used words. Other self-editing programs can do the same. For example, in one of my manuscripts, I discovered I liked the word twinge. A lot. I was able to eliminate many of the times it appeared and replace it with stronger words. Another step to take in this phase is to identify passive and to be verbs, adverbs, and words that don’t add anything to the story.

One of my pet peeves is the word that. We all use it. Many times we don’t need it. I search the manuscript for that. When I find one, I take it out of the sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, I don’t need it.

Sometimes, word usage actually slows our story by getting into telling, and it distances our point-of-view. For example, when editing I frequently find authors writing, “he watched her cross the room.” My comment is, “Don’t TELL us he watched, SHOW us what he saw. We’ll know he had to see it.” I also call this “trust the reader to get it,” or RUE: resist the urge to explain.

Look for words such as watch, look, felt, hear and many other telling words. See if they’re hindering the flow of the writing because we’re asking the reader to read unnecessary words.

In my next post, we’ll explore the use of beta readers and when it’s time to seek an outside editor.

Please share your experiences with self-editing. What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?

(Photo courtesy of and Stuart Miles


Henry McLaughlin shares ways to get our manuscript in the best possible condition before sending it to a professional editor. via @riverbendsagas (Click to tweet.)

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.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Treat Adverbs Fairly

By Denise Loock

Adverbs could file a lot of harassment complaints against writing experts. How many workshops have you attended where the facilitator said something like this: Get rid of adverbs. Only amateurs use adverbs. Adverbs are tools of a lazy writer?

Many well-meaning instructors quote Stephen King who said, “The adverb is not your friend.” A few sentences later, he added, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops.”[1]

So what’s the truth about adverbs? Should we get rid of them all?


Even King acknowledged, “I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution.”

Let’s take a closer look at the adverb. Adverbs limit, broaden, or qualify the meaning of a word. For example: I went to the store yesterday. John lives next door. Sally never eats fish. Writers need to convey time, place, frequency, and probability. That’s an adverb’s job. Adverbs also indicate direction and degree. For example: Turn right onto Elm Street. She handles adversity better than most people. Allow the adverb do what it does well in your sentences.

The problem arises when writers ask adverbs to do the work of an adjective or verb. For example: John walked very slowly up the hill. You don’t need adverbs in that sentence. Instead, choose a more precise verb: John trudged up the hill. Another example: Sally picked up the extremely small piece of glass and examined it. Why not use a better adjective? Sally picked up the tiny piece of glass and examined it. If Sally’s a scientist, choose microscopic; if she’s British, choose wee.

In the “good sport” quote above, King noted a second problem with adverbs: dialogue attribution. And he’s right. Skilled writers don’t use phrases such as said sarcastically, whispered sweetly, or shouted angrily. Instead, use an action, let the dialogue convey the emotion, or employ both tools: Jack slammed the book on the table. “How dare you put my name in your tell-all trash.”

Like every other part of speech, adverbs add value to our language. Use one when it’s the right word for the job. Omit the adverb when it’s a poor substitute for a more precise or more effective word.

I’ll close with one more reference to Stephen King. He doesn’t omit all adverbs—not even ly ones. Consider this excerpt from On Writing: “Sondra had a[n] … uneven voice, as if she were always speaking through a throatful of tightly packed phlegm.” You be the judge. Should he have omitted the adverbs, or were they the right words for the job?

[1]Stephen King quotes are taken from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Scribner, 2000), pp. 124–125, 78.

(Photos courtesy of, Stuart Miles, and Sira Anamwong.) 


Denise Loock is an editor, author, and inspirational speaker. She is a general editor for LPCbooks, a division of Iron Stream Media. She also accepts freelance editing projects from writers who want to submit clean, concise, and compelling manuscripts to publishers (

Denise is the author of two devotional books, Open Your Hymnal and Open Your Hymnal Again, which highlight the scriptural truths of classic hymns and gospel songs. She is the founder of Dig Deeper Devotions, a website that encourages Christians of all ages to dig deeper into the Word of God. Three collections of devotions from the website are available on Amazon: Restore the Joy: Daily Devotions for December, Restore the Conversation: Fifty Devotions on Prayer, and Restore the Hope: Devotions for Lent and Easter.

Denise teaches two online PEN Institute courses: Sentence Diagraming 101 and Editing Devotionals 101. She also writes “Mind Your MUGS,” a grammar and usage column for Christian Communicator.

Sunday, June 7, 2020


By Ramona Richards

I am not normally a creature of habit. I can barely remember to put my toothbrush in the same place every day. I don’t get up at the same time. While I do have set work hours for the day job, the routine within those hours isn’t always the same.

There are pros and cons to this kind of lifestyle. One major con is that it can be difficult to manage your time, to set tasks and check them off. (Yeah, I should probably mention I’m not a great fan of lists either.)

One major pro is that you tend to be flexible and can shift things around quickly should the need arise. This pro showed up quickly when the need arose to stay at home during a pandemic. I already worked from home anyway, so removing outings such as choir practice and church was an easy shift. I did become a little more organized about going to the grocery store and combining errands.

But this flexibility also allowed for something unusual to occur: inspiration.

As a writer, I know I need to write something every day, just to keep my skills sharp and my writer brain engaged. My writing time is usually just after work but before supper, and right after supper. And I’ve been able to finish books with that schedule.

But lately, I’ve had a book gnawing at me. It’s been fermenting in my head, slowly plotting, the characters growing, changing names, developing bad habits and some new ones, their speech patterns evolving. If you’re a writer, you’ve known that period of development I call the “fermentation pot,” that mental location you store ideas, where all the elements needed for a complete story hang out, bubble, and morph.

If you’re a plotter, the next step is usually the first outline. If you’re a more organic writer (aka pantser), you may sketch a quick synopsis or just dive into the opening scene. I’m more organic, so I usually write the opening scene or two, then add those to the fermentation process. My next step is usually about a sketch of the book, about 500-1,000 words. Then a touch more fermentation.

Then I sit down to write. Usually 500 to 1,000 words a day is a good output for me. If I stick to that, in two months I can have a category length book (50-60,000 words).

The current book, however, had been in the pot for a while. I had lots of scenes, a plot, a dark moment, a romance, two motifs. And on May 10, 2020, it blew the lid off the pot. I became driven to write it, so I added more time into my writing schedule, two hours before work. Essentially six to eight a.m.

Now … anyone who knows me knows I feel about mornings the same way I do root canals. I even have a t-shirt that reads, “I don’t like morning people … or mornings … or people.” I wear it to writers’ conferences so that no one will pitch ideas to me before caffeine.

But when a book has you by the jugular … a little flexibility is in order. And between May 10, 2020 and June 2, 2020 (24 days), I wrote 80,557 words. That’s an average of 3,300 words a day. And it’s not finished yet.

So … what’s my point?

One: there is no right way to write. Find what works for you, and accept that it may vary from book to book. Don’t hobble your creativity with labels, adages, and truisms about writing.

Two: you need discipline as well as flexibility. Writing is hard work. It’s also a lot like learning a language: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Try to practice it in some way every day. Keep those hard-learned skills sharp.

Three: accept that, as a writer, you’re a little odd. The rest of the planet doesn’t think like you do, and not all writers think the same. But we are all a little odd. And that’s okay. There’s no need for you to fit in everywhere else. Even nonfiction writers are off from other people. Think about it: everyone goes through hard times. Not everyone has the ability to take those hard times, see spiritual application to the journey, and have the gift to share that insight with the world through well-crafted words.

Four: writers are driven to write. It’s our make-up and our mindset. We get even odder if we don’t have that outlet. Understand that, and open a valve. Even a trickle is better than none at all.

Too many people think there’s a formula that will guarantee success as a writer, but the hard truth is—there’s isn’t. At some level, we’re all feeling our way through. Find what works for you and don’t give up.

Just. Keep. Writing.
(Photos courtesy of, Stuart Miles, and njaj.) 


Ramona Richards is the award-winning author of eleven books and a frequent speaker at writers conferences and women’s events. She has edited more than 500 publications, including study Bibles and curriculum, and is currently the associate publisher for Iron Stream Media. In 2019, she received the Joann Sloan National Award for the Encouragement of Writing, a mentoring, editing, and coaching award presented at the Southern Christian Writers Conference. Her newest books are Murder in the Family (Firefly Southern Fiction) and Tracking Changes: One Editor’s Advice to Inspirational Fiction Authors (New Hope). Her next book, Burying Daisy Doe (Kregel), releases in November 2020. Ramona lives in Moody, Alabama.

Facebook: ramona.richards
Twitter: @RamonaRichards
Instagram: ramonapoperichards