Category Archives: Resources

Take Time To Learn

Writing fiction is problematic. Most people who decide to write a novel have already been writing most of their lives. Some have had success in school. Others have developed their writing skills through blogging or in some other Internet capacity. None of that is fiction, however.

Fiction is a different animal.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the skills that non-fiction requires. But the grammar, the structure of an article, even of a non-fiction book, is not the same for fiction.

Many who decide to write a novel have been life-long readers. And that’s great. Steeping ourselves in good books is one way we can develop our own writing skills—much as we did our speaking ability. We heard others talk and we imitated them. But let’s face if. If we were still speaking as we did when we were children, we would only talk in simple sentences and our vocabulary would be quite limited. In other words, imitation can take you only so far.

If we are serious about writing a novel—a good novel that will draw readers—we need to do the hard work of learning fiction technique. We need to read writing instruction books. We need to attend writing conferences—and not just for the relationships we can build. We need to allow others to critique our work, and we need to revise, revise, revise.

Writing fiction isn’t for the faint of heart.

Too many people think they are ready to publish when they haven’t taken the time to learn as they should. They have an idea for a story but they haven’t taken time to study story structure. They pepper their manuscript with cardboard characters. They don’t hook the reader with their opening, and they wonder why their manuscript isn’t picked up by an agent or why their self-published book isn’t more successful.

I was just such a person when I first started writing fiction.

Now I know, all these years later, after reading and studying, writing books and teaching on the subject, after editing numerous manuscripts and participating in various critique groups, that nothing replaces taking time to learn fiction technique.

There are various was to go about studying fiction. One is to do the hard work of tearing novels apart yourself to see how they are structured, what makes the characters interesting, and so forth. That’s particularly hard because fiction, while different, is still a living, breathing animal. One novel of quality is quite different from another. In addition, writing fiction goes through fads and trends. So you might study your three favorite novels and discover that they are very different from the novels that sell well today.

Another way to study fiction is to subscribe to a magazine like Writers Digest to read articles about fiction and fiction techniques, written by industry professionals that are currently involved in the business.

A third way is to subscribe to writing blogs like this one and others written by agents or editors who willingly share their knowledge.

Still another way to learn fiction technique is through how-to books. Many I would suggest are listen on the Resources page here.

A fifth way to develop skill writing fiction is to attend writers’ conferences. A new one which is coming up in June is the SoCal Christian Writers Conference. An old one that will take place on the West Coast in the fall is the Writers’ Digest Novel Writing Conference.

Finally, if you can’t get away and if you want more interaction with your own particular work in progress, there are on-line courses. Some of the best I know are put out by agent Sally Apokedak. Her latest is “Writing Novels That Move: Write Page-turning Fiction

Whatever method or methods work for you, employ them often. Writing fiction is a different animal from writing non-fiction, and the best way to develop the techniques that will help you is to be willing to learn, learn, learn. Keep an open mind—the professionals might actually know something. Your critique partners or agent or the editor you hire might actually understand the way fiction works better than you do. But you’ll never know if you assume you’re already at the top of your game and nobody can teach you anything. That would be unfortunate.



Filed under Resources, Writing Process

Online Writing Courses

Girl Writing at DeskWriting conferences offer the aspiring or published writer a wealth of needed input, from writing craft instruction, marketing tidbits, and manuscript critiques, to editor and/or agent contacts. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, some writers may not be able to attend a conference. Whether the obstacle is money, time, or location, a good alternative to consider is online instruction.

In the last decade, as you might expect, online writing courses have proliferated. Now someone looking for beginning how-to information to advanced hands-on help can find reputable instruction.

For some, the best place to look is at writing courses offered by universities. You can find individual classes or degree programs, depending on what you’re interested in. Notable universities offering writing programs include UCLA, Purdue, University of Washington, Harvard, Stanford, New York University, and the University of Phoenix.

Notable is the University of Michigan because they include classes that are free. But they’re not alone. Diploma Guide has a wonderful listing of free writing courses, and an equally impressive list of links to schools offering degree programs in writing.

For those looking for a less academic approach, with interaction with an agent or editor or experience writer, there are any number of other options, depending on how much money you are willing to pay. Classes run from those in the free range on up to $500.

Length of courses vary as well. Some are short workshops, others two week classes, a month, or longer.

Another consideration when looking at online classes is the feedback a student might expect, whether critiques by other students or by the instructor. Writing, after all, depends on the response from those reading the work. Many writers have no opportunity for feedback from writing professionals. Some may wish to find online classes emphasizing their small size which enable students to have more interact with the instructor. Someone ready to look for an agent may wish to look specifically for a course taught by an industry insider.

Below is a list of online classes I either am familiar with or have discovered in doing research for this article. I wish I could offer a first hand endorsement, but since I haven’t taken any online classes, I’ll have to present this list and let you decide which you think might bear consideration.

  • WOW (Women On Writing). Classes are offered every month. “WOW! handpicks qualified instructors and targeted classes that women writers will benefit from. The instructors are women we’ve worked with on a professional level, and these ladies offer high quality courses on various topics.” (Never fear, not all the courses listed are gender specific).

SallyApokedakI do know one of the instructors for their June line-up: agent Sally Apokedak. She’s teaching FOUR FIRST-CHAPTER ESSENTIALS FOR NOVELS which starts June 2. “You will come away from the class with four hour-long taped lectures, with an in-depth critique of your first chapter, and with an understanding of how to carry what you’ve learned, from the first chapter on to the rest of the book.”

  • The Writer’s Workshop. Introduction, intermediate, and advanced levels of instruction are offered. “These fiction writing classes will help you develop your own habit of art, mastering the craft of fiction writing essential to creating compelling stories. The Writer’s Workshop’s online fiction writing classes will give you the skills and techniques to take your fiction writing to the next level.”
  • Elizabeth Ayers Center for Creative Writing. “Our online writing courses are small, intimate … and lots of fun. The nurturing atmosphere means your creativity can flourish in safety, no matter how intimidated you may feel.”
  • “We can help you improve your skills, explore new directions, ready your work for publication, or simply provide a community, inspiration and deadlines to start you writing and keep you writing.”
  • Gotham Writers. Specializes in creative writing. “We focus on teaching you the fundamental principles such as plot, structure, character, voice, dialogue, description, and point of view. These principles are taught through lectures, class discussions, writing exercises, and in-depth critiques of your writing.”
  • Writer’s Digest University. Offers courses on a wide variety of writing: copywriting, essays, blogging, basics of novel writing, and more. “Whether you’re writing for publication, extra money, or to tell personal stories, Writer’s Digest University can help you get your writing career underway. Our expert instructors will provide advice, specific instruction, real-world experience, expertise, and the motivation and drive to help you achieve your goals.”
  • LitReactor. Covers a variety of genres—from New Adult to horror and fantasy. Also offers courses dealing with specific aspects of writing such as writing query letters and crafting characters. “LitReactor offers a unique approach to a writing education: You study what you want, when you want, at your own pace. We bring in veteran authors and industry professionals to host classes covering a wide range of topics in an online environment that’s interactive and flexible.”

There are any number of other writing courses, some offered to members of writer organizations, others provided by individual instructors. This list will hopefully provide hope to those looking for instruction but unable to attend a conference. Online help is available, and there’s a good chance you can find something at your level of expertise, in your area of writing, and at a price that meets your budget.


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Writing Groups

PowerElements_of Story Structure finalWriting groups are invaluable. They may provide critiques, encouragement, inspiration, friendship, brainstorming, and beta readers. Maybe all of these.

Some people may not live in a place with easy access to a physical writing group, but in this day and age, the computer solves that problem. There are online critique groups, Yahoo! groups, forums, Facebook pages, team blogs, editor blogs (like this one), writer blogs, agent blogs. There’s even an author, Donita Paul, who holds weekly chats on Mondays (and I just learned that she’s presently discussing Power Elements of Story Structure–how cool is that!?!) If a writer wants to find a community, one is out there waiting to be found.

Some writers may think they don’t need a writing group because they have lots of support and encouragement from their family and friends. Which is great! The problem is, our family and friends may not be as hard on us as we need. And they also may not be as educated in writing techniques us as we need.

Why should they be?

Most lawyers don’t ask their sister or cousin to critique their brief, do they? Not unless those relatives are also lawyers who have studied the law and know what they’re talking about.

Yet we expect anyone to be able to give knowledgeable feedback about fiction or memoirs or devotionals or how-to instruction.

Of course readers can tell writers what they like, and that’s always helpful. But to learn what needs to improve–how to make an argument flow logically, how to structure a story for maximum impact, how to correct passive voice, what point of view is strongest, and a hundred other particulars–other writers who have and are studying the craft will give what non-writers cannot.

Writers are essentially on a continuum, some just starting out and some working on the crowning project of their epic career. Wherever we are in between those extremes, there’s someone we can help and encourage, and there’s someone from whom we can learn and find inspiration. Consequently no one should shy away from a writing group because they think they have nothing to offer or nothing to learn.

I remember years ago attending a local writing workshop. I had considerable insecurity about being there–until I started talking to the people at my table. As it turned out, I was the only person who had been to a writing conference. I’d talked to agents before and to editors. I knew some things about formatting manuscripts and following guidelines. Of course, as the day wore on, I learned a great deal too, from others more experienced than myself who had signed book contracts and had agents.

That’s the way writing groups work.

Mind you, I’m not saying a writer can’t work in isolation. For years, that’s what many writers were forced to do. But even before the Internet, writers sought each other out. See for example, English writers such as Byron, Keats, and Shelley during the Romantic Period or the Inklings in the twentieth century or Americans Emerson and Thoreau during the early 1800s.

Today, with so much information available, and with self-publication on the rise, it seems more necessary to me, not less, that writers take advantage of the opportunities writing groups afford. After all, traditional publication “gatekeepers” aren’t there to tell writers that their work isn’t ready. And honestly, many of us think our work is ready to be in print much sooner than it actually is. That’s because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Other writers, however, might know what we don’t know. And they just might have the unbiased guts to tell us. That’s what you hope to find in a writing group, though it may hurt at times. But honest feedback is the road to better writing, and better writing is the best road to publication, whether via traditional means or through self-publishing.


Filed under Resources, Writing Inspiration

Critique Groups, Conferences, Contests

EvaluationIn many respects, writing a book is only a beginning. The next big question is, will anyone read it? The only way to be sure is to get feedback–not from those who dearly love you like your husband or your mother.

In fact, you need readers who not only can tell you if they liked the story or connected with the character or had to resist the temptation to skim a few pages, you need to receive feedback from someone who understands writing well enough to tell you why. Why did your story succeeded or fail, why are readers connecting or are not with your character, or why are there boring stretches in the middle.

There are a number of ways to receive good feedback. One of the best is to join a critique group. Some writing organizations facilitate online groups, putting together those who work in the same genre.

In many cities there are established in-person writing groups that provide the opportunity for critiques. Organizations such as the Romance Writers of America (RWA) or the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have chapters throughout the country. Some areas have independent writing clubs, and of course there’s always the option of starting your own group. If you’d like helpful advice about how to start a group, I suggest The Complete Guide To Writers Groups That Work by B. J. Taylor.

The advantage of a critique group is that you have unbiased people who have some knowledge of writing who read your work and give you their reaction. Of course some critiquers may be more helpful than others, based on experience both as a writer and as an evaluator.

Least helpful is the person who wants to rewrite your work as they would have written it. A close second is the person who only says how much they love your work. Neither of those help you to sharpen your skills.

Critique groups may lead you to a critique partner, who may become your most valuable asset. This is the person who “gets” what you’re trying to do, who has a level of proficiency that will help you to improve, and who communicates clearly.

Writing conferences provide another way for you to improve your craft. First there are workshops that provide instruction. Some have critique classes. Many provide a critique service, either paid by an additional fee or covered by the conference tuition. These critiques give you feedback from a professional in the writing industry and are invaluable. True, this is only one person’s opinion, but it is unbiased and the view of someone who sees many other manuscripts, good and bad, so they a knowledgeable point of reference with which to compare your work.

There are hundreds of writing conferences. Wikipedia has compiled a partial list, but a Google search will uncover a many more. The key is to refine the search based on genre and location. Some of the more well known conferences include the Writer’s Digest (East and West), SCBWI (LA and New York, as well as smaller local gatherings), and RWA. Christian writers’ conferences include Mount Hermon, Colorado Christian Writers, Writing for the Soul, Oregon Christian Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and Blue Ridge.

Many writing organizations and some online sites conduct writing contests, and that’s another great way to get feedback on your writing, whether over the first 250 words, the first 15 pages, or the entire manuscript. Some contests come with monetary prizes, others with the promise that your work will receive feedback from a writing professional.

Online contests may be public, allowing other writers to give their feedback as well. One such contest is held by Miss Snark’s First Victim.

Some fiction contests, such as the various Writer’s Digest contests, are for shorter works while others are for novel beginnings. Some have non-fiction categories. Entry fees for these vary.

I suggest you do an online search for contests in your genre, then compare entry fees, list of judges, and awards to help determine with is most suited to your needs. Having an agent or editor read your work is a great reward in itself, but contests also allow you to measure your progress against other writers. And of course if you receive judges sheets from professionals, you have specific areas you know you can work on.

Feedback. It’s invaluable to a writer. When unbiased readers, especially those who understand the ins and outs of writing, give us their reaction to our work in progress, we can only get better as we listen and learn.

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Do You Need An Editor?

writingAccording to Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO of Marketing Experts, Inc. and author of “Why Editing Is the Single Best Marketing Tool,” any serious author needs an editor.

I know my passing this information along might seem self serving, but the truth is, the editor you need might not be me.

First, why does every serious writer need an editor?

  • We have blind spots when it comes to our own writing
  • Our family and friends will love what we write, no matter how good it is
  • Our family and friends may not be able to tell us how to fix weak spots
  • Fiction without glaring errors is more apt to be the kind readers talk about
  • Critique partners, while helpful, may not have the knowledge or experience or ability to analyze what will move our fiction to the next level

If these things are true, and if Ms. Sansevieri is right, how should a writer go about picking an editor? According to Lauren Hidden of The Hidden Helpers, there are a few basics someone looking for editing needs to consider:

  1. Objectivity–someone who isn’t so close they will overlook mistakes because they are too afraid of losing relationship if they say what they really think.
  2. Knowledge–a person who knows your kind of project and who knows what changes to suggest
  3. Experience–an editor who other writers can recommend or endorse
  4. Price–an editor who offers services within your price range
  5. Service–someone who provides the type of editing you require
  6. Time frame–a person who can complete the work within the time period you specify

I think along with “Time frame” I’d add, “availability.” If you need your work edited at once and the person you contact has five other clients ahead of you, then you’d be wise to look for someone else.

I’d also recommend you do some comparative shopping. In the sidebar here at Rewrite, Reword, Rework, you’ll find a list of qualified editors. Some of those may also have links to other editors you may wish to investigate.

In other words, one editor does not fit everyone, nor are all editing services priced or structured in the same way. By doing your homework, you’ll have a much better chance of finding the editor that fits you and what you write. And that should be your goal.


Filed under Freelance Editors, Resources, Writing Process

New Chicago Rules – Capitalization

A month ago I went over some of the punctuation rule changes listed in the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, the preferred guide for fiction and for much commercial non-fiction.

There are some notable capitalization changes too.

1. Rather than capitalizing “web” Chicago now prefers the use of the lowercase for web, website, web page, and so on. However, World Wide Web is still capitalized, as is Internet.

2. Southern California has long been recognized as a particular region, requiring a capital S. In this new edition of Chicago, Northern California is now recognized in the same way, and therefore needs a capital N.

3. In proper nouns which include a general noun (Washington Blvd., Colorado River, the Rocky Mountains), the general noun is also capitalized. However, in the fifteenth edition of Chicago, that changed if the general noun was plural. No more. Now in the sixteenth edition, even general nouns that are plural are capitalized. For example, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (rather than Atlantic and Pacific oceans), Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks, and Greenleaf and Whittier Avenues.

4. Brand names beginning with a lowercase letter, such as iPad, should now remain as is, even when beginning a sentence.

Example: iPads come in several sizes.

5. Capitalizing titles using headline style.

a. Capitalize the second element in a hyphenated number such as Twenty-Two, Fifty-One, or Eighty-Six.

b. Capitalize even the “short or unstressed” words; in other words, capitalize the articles a, an, the and all prepositions.

I admit this one makes a lot of sense. Uniformity is easier to remember and at least some word processing programs already make this sweeping capitalization in “title mode.” For me, however, it takes some getting used to. I often remember the new rule when I title my blog posts, for instance, then revert back to old habits when writing the content.

c. When a title includes quoted material, those words are now capitalized headline style, just like the rest of the title.

That’s it, I think. But I recommend becoming a fan of the Chicago Facebook page where you can receive brief rules tips regularly.

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New Chicago Rules

The Chicago Manual of Style, used widely by fiction writers and editors and by many working with non-fiction, recently came out with their newest edition—number sixteen.

The hardback guide isn’t cheap, though Amazon has reduced the price to something more manageable. However, an alternative to buying the book might be to access the online edition. The yearly individual subscription fee is still cheaper than the incredible Amazon discount (but then you won’t own the book).

As part of the freebies offered at the CMoS web site is a list of the most significant changes that occur in the sixteenth edition. Some affect authors preparing a manuscript for publication (others pertain more to Internet writing, magazine writing, or scholarly journals), so I plan to review those over the next few posts.

Today I’ll address punctuation changes.

1. Punctuation after a title. Most titles don’t contain end punctuation, but when a question mark or exclamation point comes at the end of a title, CMoS, edition sixteen, says essentially to ignore it and put whatever other punctuation the sentence requires in addition to the end mark contained in the title.

    Previously: His book, Are You Sure? was on the best-seller list for a month.

    Change: His book, Are You Sure?, was on the best-seller list for a month.

2. The use of the apostrophe in a “specialty plural.” I’m terming the plural of a word or phrase in quotation marks a “specialty plural.” The old rule said to use an apostrophe and add s to make such words or phrases plural. The new rule does away with the apostrophe.

    Previously: How many “specialty plurals” did she use?

    Change: How many “specialty plurals” did she use?

3. The use of an apostrophe when forming a possessive of a name ending in s though it is not pronounced. The changed rule says to form the possessive in the same way that possessives for other singular nouns are formed—by adding an apostrophe and s.

    Previously: Albert Camus’ novels expressed his philosophical views. (This punctuation was an option).

    Change: Albert Camus‘s novels expressed his philosophical views.

4. The use of an apostrophe when forming a possessive of a name ending with an “eez” sound. The rule change says to add an apostrophe and s in the usual way.

    Previously: Xerxes’ reputation preceded him.

    Change: Xerxes‘s reputation preceded him.

5. The use of a hyphen in a color compound before a noun. Like other compound adjectives, color words must now be hyphenated.

    Previously: The emerald green water was cool and inviting.

    Change: The emeraldgreen water was cool and inviting.

There are a couple specialty punctuation changes, too, but these are the ones a novelist or an author of commercial non-fiction will most likely need.


Filed under Punctuation, Resources, Writing Rules

Recommended Writing Books

From time to time in writing communities some one asks what writing books are the best. The idea of “best” depends upon what a person is looking for and what level of writing experience he has. Some writers want motivation and inspiration. Others want how-to information centered on the mechanics of writing. Others want story structure or scene structure, and so on.

Here are some of the books I have learned from with a suggested target reader:
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass – for the more advance writer
Description by Monica Wood – for the more advance writer
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein – for the more advance writer
Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins – for the writer with a particular need to focus on this topic
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell – for the writer with a particular need to focus on this topic
Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld – for the writer with a particular need to focus on this topic
How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey – for the writer with some basic knowledge and experience
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King– for the writer with some basic knowledge and experience
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman– for the beginning writer

Even though I’ve indicated who I think might be the target reader, in reality, writers can learn from all sorts of books. I’ve read some on this list multiple times and learned new things on each occasion. Even an advanced writer can benefit from reading a book geared more toward beginners.

Ideally a writer will purchase his own copy of these books in order to underline and make notes in the margin. If cost is an issue, however, look for these in your public library. And prepared to take careful notes on paper.

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