Bookish Fun: Paper Heart Chains

So I guess calling this craft a bookish project might be a bit of a stretch (ie books are made of paper, har har), but it’s my blog and I do what I want, so here we go.

My daughter begged me to put up a bead curtain between the living room and the toy room, but since we have wee ones in the house, that was a hard no. Not wanting to completely disappoint her, I decided to make some valentine’s inspired paper heart chains to put up instead. They were easy and fun to make. Not to mention the whole project was completed in less than 45 minutes.

What you’ll need:


A sewing machine (a quilting machine works best for going through thick paper)


Quilting thread (you could use regular thread but it’s more likely to break)

Several sheets of card stock (whatever color/pattern you like. I stuck with classic Valentines’ colors: pink, peach, beige, red, coral, cream, etc.)

Step One:

Fold your card stock into uneven thirds. (Shown below) This will help you get the most hearts for your paper and minimize waste. (Be sure to cut hearts from both folds!)


Here’s another angle so you can tell if you’re doing it right. Unfolded it looks like this:


Step Two:

Cut out a bazillion hearts. (Not really, but cut a lot. Cut the like wind, very old one. Bonus points if you know what film that’s from.)


It’s more fun if you cut them into all different sizes. Here’s what I ended up with when mine were all cut:


Step Three:

Sew those puppies right down the middle, one at a time! If you want some space between each heart, just run the machine for a bit and pull gently on the heart you just sewed through, and then add the next one. (Here are some pictures to demonstrate, because it’s hard to visualize.)


Tip: Make sure you leave some extra thread at the top of each chain or else you won’t have anything to hang them up by! (Shown below)


Here’s another shot after I added the second heart. You can kind of see the spacing. I did larger spaces than this too, just remember to pull the preceding heart gently or else you’ll break the thread.


Step Four:

Once you’ve added all the hearts you want, cut the chain free and see how it looks.


(Oh, and then repeat until you have all the chains you want.)


Fun Variant:

If you want to make a “pop-up” heart, sew two hearts that are about the same size (you can match color too, if you like) and then fold it out. (shown below)

(Yes, that’s my toddler trying to free my needle from the machine, lol. He’s a great helper.)

Step Five:

Tape your chains to the place of your choice and enjoy them!


I think they turned out pretty cute and my daughter likes them much more than the bead curtain!

Happy Bookish (Belated) Valentine’s Day!



Bookish Fun: Book Club Schedule Bookmark

I have a confession: I am a craftaholic, which means if I can come up with an excuse to do any kind of craft, I will. So imagine what my brain screamed at me when I had several of the ladies in the book club asking which book was next, and what came the month after (just in case), because apparently our Facebook page is hard to find and they wanted to know. Of course they wanted to know! Can’t read the books if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be reading. So my brain screamed, “Hey, do you know what would be really useful and fun to make? Book club schedule bookmarks!” And I was like, yes. Oh yes.  I shall make them and hand them out and they shall be wonderful.

If you’d like to follow in my useful gifts/craftaholic footsteps, here’s how I made them.


What you need:


The schedules printed out on plain white paper or card stock. (I imagine you could use a any light colored paper too, (blues, yellows, etc.) but I was trying to be cheap and just used what I had on hand.) I made 12 overall, and was able to fit 3 to a sheet when I was printing to save paper.

Card stock- any color/pattern/print you like. But word to the wise! If you use white paper (instead of card stock) to print the schedules and vary dark card stock behind it, you will be able to “see” it through the white paper after it’s laminated.

Glue Dots


Hole Punch

Ribbon- any color you like/size you like. I do recommend using a skinny ribbon though, as it’s easier to use.


Step One:

Type, print out, and cut the schedules. I did the Month, title, and author. If you wanted them smaller, you could probably just do the month and title though.


Step Two:

Glue them to the card stock, leaving however thick of an edging you want around and between them. I eyeballed it and tried to give about 1/4 inch edging to each side.


Tip: You could use wet glue, or hot glue, but it leaves the paper looking wonky. I love glue dots because they’re mess free. You just press a corner of the schedule to a dot and it sticks without messing up the paper! Do this for each corner and then press the the schedule to the card stock.


This is me trying to one-handledly take a picture of attaching the glue dots. Really though, it’s so easy, I did it one handed, lol.

Step Three:

Once the schedules are attached, cut them out! I was able to fit three schedules for every one piece of card stock (8×10 inches, btw).


Step Four:

Laminate them! I headed over to my friendly neighborhood FedEx store and used their machine. They charge you per sheet of laminate used. I was able to fit four bookmarks per sheet, so I only had to pay for three sheets. (It cost about $6.)


Step Five:

Cut them out again! (And yes, the guy working there did look at me like I was nuts for taking pictures while I did this.)


This was their handy cutting thingy.(No, I don’t know what they’re actually called, and yes, I’m lame.) The guy taught me how to use it and took off. He said to make sure you leave a slight edging around these when you’re cutting as well, about 1/8 of an inch or less.

Step Six:

Punch a hole in the top middle or corner of the bookmark. This is actually harder than it sounds at first. You have to get it just right: not so high as to break your “hole” but not so low as to punch the words. It’s a fine line, people. (Yes, I’m being dramatic.)


Step Seven:

Cut your ribbon. It can be any length you like, just in case you wondered. (Although I’d air on the side of too long, or else the next steps get hard.) Then fold ribbon in half.


Step Eight:

Put the loop end through the hole.


Step Nine:

Put the loose ends through the loop, and pull tight! (This image below is what it should look like right before you tighten it.)


Step Ten:

Hand the finished bookmarks out to the fabulous women and men in your book club! (Aren’t they cute? AND USEFUL. I love useful.)


This is super easy, and kid friendly too. My little worker bees even helped finished these up.



For a variant on this project you could consider doing the following:

-A bookmark with your favorite quote on it, or a friend’s favorite quote and then give it as a gift.

-Printing out your personal TBR list for the month/year (depending on how long it is and how many you want to make).

-Or printing a summer reading list out for students/your children/friend’s children/anyone…. Bueller? Bueller?

Hope you enjoyed this! If you make some, I’d love to see how yours turned out:)

Query Helps and Quick Links

As it’s now the New Year, I’m going to bet a lot of hopeful authors have finished polishing their MS and are ready to jump into the trenches. I know because that was me at the beginning of last year. What I wished I’d had at that time was this list of helpful resources which will tell you how to make your query sparkle, research agents, and how to deal with inevitable rejection. (It’s ok. We all face it, and it doesn’t mean you won’t make it. Just think of it as getting one step closer to the right agent/ editor for you.)

Step One: Research Agents  (MUST have membership for full access.)

Tips: I always try to find a few interviews from my prospective agents, to see if we’d be a good personality match. I also always look for a successful query for each agent to see what format they prefer. (My favorite website for that is below.)

Step Two: Perfect That Query

Here’s a great website to help you write your “blurb” or the meat of your query.

And of course the Query Shark and her ways to do (and not do) a query letter.

Writer’s Digest also offers webinars, usually priced at around $90, that often include a critique from a reputable agent! (So worth the money if you can splurge. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have updated their website yet this year, so keep checking back for an updated listing.)

Tips: Some agents post “how to write a query letter” or “query do’s” in their submission guidelines. ALWAYS READ THESE! Some of these agents won’t even consider your query if they can tell you didn’t. Also, keep an excel spreadsheet or something of the like to track your queries: who you’ve queried and when, what kind of response/request, response times, etc. This way you won’t accidentally query the same agent twice or nudge before an appropriate time, or query two agents at an agency that strictly says “querying one is querying all.”

Step Three: Going With the Flow

Part A) You got an AGENT! Congrats! Celebrate and help your CPs and Beta’s reach their goals too.

Or Part B) You’re getting rejections

Tips: I’m quite familiar with rejection. It’s only been recently that I’m seeing any kind of interest in my novel, but that’s okay. So if I could impart a few things that I’ve learned over the last year, they would be this:

One: Rejection can make you a better writer. Each time I got a rejection, I looked at how I could improve. If I got feedback, I took it seriously and tried to incorporate it when it fit my overall vision of the book. I’m definitely a stronger writer now than I was a year ago, and I’m hoping that’ll continue because I’m probably still going to be getting rejections, lol.

Two: Rejection doesn’t mean you’ll ultimately fail. EVERYONE gets rejections. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and many other well known authors saw plenty of rejection before making it big.

And Three: Rejection hurts, but it makes the small victories even sweeter. I’m a firm believer that you can’t know happiness without having felt sorrow, sweet without tasting sour, and success without having been knocked on your arse a couple of times.

Just remember, it’ll be okay. Keep going, and we’ll all get there.

Good luck in the trenches everybody!

Contest Roundup: January 2016

Hey, writerly friends!

Roundups aren’t anything new, but after missing a handful of great contests last month, I thought it’d be helpful to post some quick links so that no one who’s interested in participating gets left out.

For a comprehensive list of contests you can expect throughout the year, I’d recommend checking out Carissa Taylor’s blog. It’s a few years old, but it’s phenomenal, and you can figure that a lot of the same contests will be happening.



Jan. 8th: #Writepit (For Faith Based MSs only)

January (TBA) Secret Agent Contest

Also keep an eye out for Samantha Fountain’s Agent Match (TBA) and #AdPit hosted by Heidi Norrod (TBA, If I find a functioning website I will add it later).

And just because these two happen so soon in February 2016:

Feb. 1st: Sun vs Snow

Feb 3rd: Pit2Pub


Happy New Year, and good luck!



Bookish Fun: How to Replace a Broken/Missing Dust Jacket

Today I thought it’d be fun to share a bookish craft with you! I don’t know if I’m the only one who has a problem with my dust jackets (with so many little hands in the house, they’re always slipping off, getting torn, going missing), but in the event that I’m not, I’m going to teach you how to wrap your naked book. (This is also handy if you found a great book at discount store or second hand that was just missing it’s dust jacket.)

What you need:

Your naked hardcover book

wrapping paper or scrapbook paper (any color or style you like, so long as it’s bigger than your book)




Step One:

Place your book, open with the pages standing upright, on your choice of paper.


Step Two:

Cut around the book cover leaving about a one inch margin.

Step Three:

Fold the paper over lengthwise and tape one side. Also, now is a good time to clip into the paper, towards the book on either side of the spine on both the top and bottom sides of the book (pictured below).


A QUICK NOTE: Be sure to check that you can close the book and THEN tape the second side. If you don’t, the paper will rip when you try to close it.


This is what it should look like before you tape the second side. I always run my fingers over the spine to help the paper crease into the proper shape.

Step Four:

Tape the second side, then fold the edges to make a clean corner, before folding down the top and bottom sides and taping them in place.


At this point, your project should look like this:


Step Five:

Set the book upright and trim the extra paper from the top and bottom of the book above the spine.


Step Six:

Sit back and admire your handy work!


Isn’t it fun? I know it isn’t as gorgeous as the original dust jacket, but it’s a pretty good replacement. And of course, there’s something fun about the mystery here: people on the subway/bus/what-have-you asking themselves, “What is that person reading? A birthday present?”

Hope you enjoy! If anyone tries this I’d love to see pics in the comments. How’d they turn out?

Reading Goals: 2016

As the new year is quickly approaching, I’ve decided it’s time to write down my reading goals and make them “concrete.” I don’t know about the rest of you but I always do better with my goals when I can A) see them and check them off, and B) be accountable to others for them.

In recent years, I’ve tried to read “when I could” but the number of books I was checking off my TBR list was dismal. I’m talking embarrassingly so. The good news is that I think the way to fix it is to make my goals more specific. So, in order to be accountable to someone, I’ve decided to share my reading goals with you! (Assuming I have any readers, lol.)

This year, I will read:

*8 Middle Grade Books (Any Genre)

*8 YA Books (Any Genre, but at least one Horror)

*8 Adult Books (Any Genre)

*4 Non-fiction Books

*12 New Releases (One each month, which I will then review and blog about)

*12 Previously Selected Books for my Book Club (One each month)

This makes a grand total of 52 books, which means I will have to finish one book each week. (I know, this isn’t a lot to many of you, but I am a practically single mother of four, so…) With any luck I won’t fall behind on this and I might be able to up the ante next year!

What are your reading goals? I’d love to hear!


The Top Three Things That Are (Probably) Keeping You From Finishing Your First Draft

Did you ever get a fabulous idea? One that occupied most of your waking thoughts and even your non-waking thoughts? One that you just KNEW had to be written down and shared with the world? Well, if your in my little neck of the woods, reading this little blog, then chances are yes. This happens to you all the time. And the thing about getting that fabulous idea from your brain onto the page/into the computer is a nasty business.

It’s called a first draft.

Ah, I can already hear the chorus of agreement. Not that editing is a cup of tea, but once it’s out there you can DO something with it, am I right? So what happens between getting the idea and finding yourself two, four, six or more months in the future without a completed first draft?

For the most part, (aside from busy schedules and making time for writing in the first place) it’s the little things. In my opinion, three little things.

Okay. Are you ready for this? I’m going to tell you straight up, this isn’t groundbreaking news here. Not going to blow your minds or even get a “Huh, didn’t think about that.” The best I can hope for is, “Oh, that’s a good point.” But if you find this in any way beneficial, it’ll be worth it.

Number One: Social Media

I’m sure you’re not surprised by this. How many times have you opened your laptop/desktop and thought, “Oh, I’ll just check my email/Facebook/Twitter/Fill-in-blank real quick” only to look at the time and find 90+ minutes have passed? The problem with social media (in general) is that it’s addictive and easily becomes a time sucker. I totally get that you HAVE to keep on top of your email, especially when your work involves it. But if you’re seriously trying to squeeze in writing time, or make the most of the time you have, one of the best things you can do is set up parameters for yourself. i.e. I will only check my email once in the morning and once before bed. Or I will only check my Facebook for one hour on Thursday night to keep on top of any MAJOR announcements. (I really did have to do this because I was developing a serious addiction, lol.) And so on. So really, this is a simple fix: When you sit down to write, close your web browser, put your phone face-down and just out of reach, and focus exclusively on your writing for the amount of time you have (however much or little that may be).

Number Two: Netflix (and other mind melting activities)

This one goes along most of the lines of Number One in terms of addictiveness. (Yes, you’re right. That’s not a real word. I don’t care. #Frindle. ANYWAY…) You sit down for a little mind melting and end up unlocking the “You have watched Five Episodes in a row!” achievement on your X Box or getting the “Are you still alive?” message on Netflix itself. And again, I get the need for mind melting. You can’t be productive 24 hours a day 7 days a week without it taking a toll on you. It’s the whole strawberry thing: The berries that never take anything for themselves produce the smallest, most bitter fruit. While the berries that soak up the sunshine and rich nutrients from the soil produce the biggest, sweetest fruit. So if your creative juices are stifled and you just CAN’T write at that moment, go ahead and watch an episode of your favorite show, or play a half hour of Majong Titans (a personal favorite), or whatever relaxes and rejuvenates you. Just make sure, like anything else, that you’re setting up limits. After all, writer or not, five hours of Netflix in a row can’t be good for your health.

Number Three: Research

Okay, before you fly off the handle and try to punch me in the face about this, just let me explain. Research is VERY necessary to a lot of different genres. Most of them, now that I’m thinking about it. And I’m not about to discourage anyone from doing the necessary research for his/her novel. But let me tell you a little story. My YA fantasy novel is set in a fictionalized Norway, and I wanted the towns to have Old Norse names so they would feel authentic. Well, my characters travel for the majority of the book and are constantly in new places. Every time I got to a new place, I OBSESSED with finding the right name for the town at that very moment. Do you have any idea how much time I lost writing???? I’d spend an hour looking up a name, only to get back into my story and have lost my “flow.”

I know. Really dumb of me. But hasn’t it happened to you? Looking up, say, a specific element of science for a joke in your Sci/fi novel? Or getting a detailed description of how a crime scene is inspected for your mystery? Maybe scouring the web for the latest slang amongst teens, so that those of us who gradated 10+ years ago don’t sound so out of date in our YA contemporaries? Of course, you want these things to be as accurate as possible for your novel. But when you’re just getting it out there (almost word vomiting, if you will) there’s really a better way. I finally learned to just write (TOWN NAME) and highlight it yellow so I would know to go back and fix it once my story was down. It made a world of difference in getting my first draft finished, just by not fixating on every little detail. So when you’re writing and you come to something that will have to be researched, might I suggest just typing (SCIENCE JOKE) or (GET DETAILS ON CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION) or (IS COOL STILL COOL?) *Also, what is LAME SAUCE? Someone explain this to me. Maybe Fleek too, if you get that.* Remember, you can always edit to make something better, but you can’t edit a blank page.

Write on, Friends….

Sound off in the comments: What other things take away from your writing time? How can you fix it?

(As a side note: This article is specifically about things we do during our “writing time” that interfere with our productivity. As a practically single mother of four, I am fully aware that writing time can be hard to come for many individuals, and am simply sharing my thoughts on how to make the most of what writing time you have.)

Dialogue: The Great Rule Breaker

Confession: When I first started trying to write novels (roughly five years ago), other than having a strong grasp of the English language, I really had no idea what went into “crafting” a novel. “How hard can it be?” I wondered. “You have an idea, you put it down, and when you’re done, maybe someone else will enjoy reading it… Right?”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Just… I was so naive.

Head shake

I know: this is probably upsetting to all of you who knew what you were doing from the beginning. But it’s true. All the tropes we’re meant to avoid, the cliche things that make readers want to scratch their eyes out, the NEVER-DO-THESE-THINGS-EVER? These things are all new to me. As in, I didn’t hear/know/learn about them until the last year because I’ve seriously been trying to land an agent, and have ended up learning more about the craft of writing instead. (Not a bad thing to have happen, but I’m still hoping for that agent.)

Anyway, as I’ve had CPs and editors rip apart my work, the one thing they always compliment me on is my dialogue.



This was a pleasant surprise, because I always told and never showed. I could adverb the heck out of something and still find room for adjectives galore. (Confession two: I might still struggle with adjectives…) Oh, and my characters always described themselves in the mirror, and my chapters rarely ended with cliff hangers, and… You get the picture.

So, since this seems to be the one area where I excel, I thought I would share some of my basic tips with you. Dialogue is tough to nail because if you’re a skilled writer, it’s hard to remember that the rules don’t always apply when your characters are talking. And what’s the result of perfectly crafted prose in dialogue? It usually ends up sounding stifled, unrealistic, and bulky.


Now that’s just unnatural. And in my opinion, the #1 most important thing about dialogue is that is must sound natural!

So you might be asking yourself, “Well, how do we accomplish this, Jym?”

And I’m here to say, “It’s quite simple, writerly friends. Just break these three rules and your dialogue should be in good shape.”


Rule One: Don’t use Adverbs… Except (sparingly) in Dialogue.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know how I feel about adverbs. I won’t bore you by repeating myself. But if I’m going to use an adverb or encourage anyone to use one, it would be in dialogue.

For example, if you try to remove the adverbs from the following sentences, they either don’t make sense, lose some of their emphasis, or become too bulky:

“No, not exactly.”

“You really want to do this?”


(An exception: Depending on the time period of your piece, “It’s probable” could be more appropriate, but I’ll expound on that in a bit.) As you can see, adverbs can serve a purpose. But always read your work aloud to determine if the adverb you’ve chosen is absolutely necessary and be sure not to overuse them.


Rule Two: Unpack your “Thought Verbs”… Except for a few in dialogue.

Thought verbs are words like wonder, realize, know, wish, believes, understands, and thinks. In the narration of your book, these can almost always go. (Again, go read Chuck Palahniuk’s article on this. It’s just amazing and I can’t say it any better than he did.)  But within dialogue, rather than unpack them, some thought verbs just read better.

For example:

“Did you know about this?”

“I wish I’d have thought of it.”

“But he believes what he’s saying!”

Technically, you can unpack these sentences. But I wouldn’t. As you get the feel for which verbs need to be unpacked, it’ll get easier to decide which ones you can leave alone in your dialogue and which ones can just be cut. (I talked about this a little in my last post about making your words count, but I’ve found that “I know” and “I realize” can be cut more often than not.)


Rule Three: Always use spellcheck/ real words/ proper syntax… Except when you’re creating a dialect/speech impediment/ colloquialism in dialogue.

I’m going to state the exceptions to this right now, before I get hounded by the voice police. If you’ve read The Help by Kathryn Stockett then you already know that WHEN DONE WELL this rule can be broken in narration too and can serve to create a moving/unique voice. But you HAVE to be consistent, and you HAVE to make sure it serves the story, rather than detracts from it.

And now for me to share my unpopular opinion, but even within dialogue, I’d caution against using too many “make believe” or “characterized” words. Please don’t kill me for saying this, but I had such a hard time with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the way Jim’s lines were written. Now, I love Mark Twain, I truly do, but I felt Jim’s speech was way overkill.

Example: “I ain’ gwyne to len’ no mo’ money ’dout I see security. Boun’ to git yo’ money back a hund’d times, de preacher says! Ef I could git de ten cents back, I’d call it squah, en be glad er de chanst.”

I realize he did this intentionally, but especially in this day and age where we strive for political correctness and hope to avoid stereotypes, I think there’s a middle ground we ought to be aiming for.


“It ain’t what it looks like.”

“You gotta be kidding me.”


“You comin’?”

“Who, whoooooooo!”

(If a character is drunk or otherwise impaired a few mashed up words can be comical.) “I dunno where’am at.”

If used often enough for long enough, some of our made-up words even make it into the dictionary! (IE, gonna, wanna, doh!) Like anything in writing though, just make sure your choices are intentional and be careful not to over do it.

 And in case that wasn’t enough, here’s a few other tips and tricks for more natural sounding dialogue:


1) Don’t overuse proper nouns. When you’re talking with someone, how often do you actually say his/her name? Read through your dialogue and make sure your characters aren’t naming each other with every sentence. When you’re writing scenes with several characters, you can get away with saying proper names more often so that the reader knows who is addressing whom. But you can also say, Todd turned to Steffi and asked, “Want to get out of here?”

2) Use ellipsis and em dashes properly and with restraint. If your characters are trialing off every other sentence or pausing constantly, it’s going to mess with your flow and bore the reader. Em dashes should be used to show when a character is being interrupted, and ellipsis should be used to show when he/she is dropping off mid-thought or for dramatic emphasis. Remember, the more you use ellipsis, the less effective they become.

3) Pay attention to your time period! Dialogue will be most believable when it fits the speech patterns and colloquialisms of your MS’s time.

For example: In a contemporary piece, a character might say. “Don’t pay any attention to her. She’s just jelly.” (As I cringe, because I’m not that cool.)

 Whereas an MS set in the eighteen hundreds might say, “Pay her no mind. She’s merely jealous.”

While these two variations work well in their own times, if used in each other’s period they would clearly be anachronistic and would pull the reader from the story.

4) Above all else, READ YOUR MS ALOUD! Some things that sound great in our heads, sound plain wrong when we read them out loud. So if you read nothing else aloud, at least promise that you’ll read your dialogue, and in return I promise you’ll catch a million little things that would have escaped you otherwise. (But really, just read the whole thing out loud, okay? Besides, it’s great practice for those book readings someday, am I right?)


Happy dialogue-ing, friends!

Using Active Voice to Make Your Words Count

Let’s flashback in time to almost a year ago. I had just finished the first draft of my third novel and my CPs were taking a crack at it before I dove into further revision. One of them (the one who lovingly rips apart most of what I write) said something that I’m only JUST NOW starting to fully understand.

“It’s not about making a word count,” she said. “It’s about making the words count.”

So at first, I was like, “Okay. I can do that.”


But then trying to put it in practice, I was like this:


See, the thing about making the words count is understanding which words DON’T count. (Or shouldn’t be there, is more accurate.) I think this is a problem several writers face and aren’t even aware of it. I mean, we LOVE words. That’s why we write. We love describing things and articulating our emotions. We love the idea of creating worlds that are so realistic, anyone who reads about them will be transported right into our minds. So to look at any of our darlings and have to kill them is tough. But I’ve found, as I’ve been working to improve my craft, that we use A LOT of unnecessary words.

I’ve seen both agents and editors on Twitter lament about this very thing. “Outrageously high word count.” “Word count needs to be halved.” “Cut 60K and MAYBE I’ll look at this.” It comes up all the time! (As a side note, if you struggle with too low a word count, the culprit is likely your plot. Either it’s not fleshed out enough or it’s lacking in content. This is a post for another time though.)

 So if you’re reading this and asking:

Do you have a point

Yes! And here it is: A great way to eliminate unnecessary words is by using ACTIVE VOICE. (Wait! Don’t go away. This is good, I promise. Keep reading.) Now, there are tons of articles out there that will describe the difference between active and passive voice so I won’t get into the definition of it. Rather, let’s talk about putting it into practice with some examples.

One: Search your MS for the word “Could.” This word usually precedes filtering or passive voice.

“Could hear”, “Could see”, “Could feel”, etc. Yes, there are circumstanced when “could” is necessary. “Could you pass the peas?” “I couldn’t let you die!” And so on. But “could hear” should just be “heard.” “Could see” should be just “saw” and so on.

Now, even once you’ve eliminated “Could,” this concept can be taken even further.

EX: “Near me, I saw a bear prowling through the woods.” This would be even stronger as just “Near me, a bear prowled through the woods.”  Removing “I saw” brings us closer to the narrator.

My MS is in third person, and I find that eliminating saw, heard, realized, and other filter words really helps the reader to feel closer to my MC.

Another EX: “Sarah entered the circus tent. She saw people everywhere. She heard a donkey bray as a clown honked a horned. She smelled popcorn and animal manure in the air.”  Now if we remove the filter words, it would read something like this: “Sarah entered the circus tent. People were everywhere. A donkey brayed as a clown honked a horn. The smell of popcorn and animal manure filled the air.”

Can you see how this is stronger? As a reader, instead of me TELLING you what to see and hear and smell, you’re getting to experience it firsthand. Removing filter words has a double benefit: lowering word count AND bringing your reader right into the action. Oh, and of course, it’s always better to “show” than “tell.” (Again, a post for another time.)


Two: Realized, wondered, thought, noticed, etc. These are thought verbs and in my last post I linked to a fantastic article by Chuck Palahniuk about how to “unpack” them. I love this article and would strongly recommend it (AGAIN) for those needing to flesh out their MSs. But since we’re focusing on eliminating words today, I’m going to talk about WHEN these words can just be cut.

EX: “I realized the bear was about to charge.” This would be stronger as, “The bear was about to charge.”

“I wondered if he might like me.” Stronger as, “Does he like me?” (Just flat out asking what our characters are wondering is better then us telling the reader that our characters are wondering anything.)

“I wondered if I should run away.” = “Should I run away?”

And some examples in third person: “Jane realized it was too late. She had to run.” = “It was too late. Jane had to run.”

“She noticed that he never smiled in presence of others.” = “He never smiled in the presence of others.”

charging bear

Three: Know, Knew

This is another thing we tend to say and don’t need to: “I knew I had to tell him I loved him.” “I knew it was getting late.” “I know you’ll hate me for saying this…”

All of these could just be, “I had to tell him I loved him.” “It was getting late.” “You’ll hate me for saying this…”

And in third person: “He knew he would never see her again.” “She knew something wasn’t right.”

“He would never see her again.” “Something wasn’t right.”

It’s simple, but you’d be surprised how often characters “know” things when they could just tell you what they know. (An exception: “You knew about this?” While you can technically “unpack” this sentence, there really isn’t a need to. Dialogue is the place where rules can bend a bit. Another post, another time.)

I don't know you

Four: Adverbs.

I know I rag on this all the time, but Stephen King has converted me. Now, I’m not as die-hard as he is about them. I will let them slide (occasionally) in dialogue because it HAS to sound natural. But a lot of times, we can cut quite a chunk from our manuscripts by just using stronger verbs.

Ex: “I ran quickly,” could become, “I sprinted.”

“I walked slowly,” could be “I trudged.”

“He spoke softly.” = “He whispered.”

Adverbs also tend to “tell” instead of show, so all the more reason to eliminate or replace them.

Five: That

I know what you’re thinking. “How can I write without “that?” The short answer: I’m not asking you to. The long answer: about a year ago I read “‘Writing with Clarity and Style” by Robert A. Harris. (I’d strongly recommend this as well.) There’s a segment called “Delete ‘that’ for flow, Retain ‘that’ for clarity.” In it, he states that there are sentences which need ‘that’ to clarify something. Then he says there are many sentences which use ‘that’ and don’t need to.

Basic rule of thumb for this principle: If you can read your sentence without the “that” and it still makes sense, then cut it. If it doesn’t, then keep it.

Example of deleting: “She sighed in relief when a sign indicated that their destination was but five miles away.”

Example of retaining: “It shattered the peaceful calm that had settled between them.” (If you removed this ‘that’ the sentence wouldn’t make sense.)

Remember: ALWAYS read your sentence out loud before deciding whether your ‘that’ needs to be retained or deleted.

This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list of ways to reduce word count. It’s just a starter post to help you sort out important words from words that can be important but are usually just overused. So, as you grab your cleaver and head back into the revision trenches, I hope you keep some of these words in mind. And let me remind you that you are NOT alone in trimming your word count. I’m right there with you, learning and growing as I go. Happy butchering, friends!

I did what I had to

Revision Shortcuts

Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you decided to read this thinking I had actual shortcuts for revising, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Besides, shortcuts don’t actually exists. Like anything worth doing, you have to do the hard work yourself!

sorry gif

Now, what I do have is a compiled list of my favorite websites with advice/tips/hints for revising, which is what I’m sharing with you today. Like many authors, after so many rejections/failing to nab a mentor/agent/what-have-you, I decided my MS needed an overhaul: A major-new title-rearranging scenes-adding scenes-cutting scenes-tightening dialogue-hunting out crutch words-multiple word sweeps-overhaul. Basically, I wanted anyone who’d read my MS before to read it after the revisions and be like:

Who are you again

And then be like this:

sally love

But the thing about revising is that you have to have an idea of WHAT needs to be fixed, right? And after you know what you need to fix, you need to know HOW to fix it. So for me, (along with taking advice from betas and CPs) I had to find articles that would do one, the other, or both. So, for those of you interested in strengthening your MS but aren’t sure where to start or what to do, below is a list of my favorite sites, along with what issue they address and (hopefully) how to fix them.

Finding and fixing plot holes:

Ten Steps to Fill Plot Holes

Beat Sheets to help with pacing and plot/character arcs: (You can also search Youtube for ‘beat sheet’ and watch a breakdown of how to do this if you’d rather not read it.)

Worksheets for Writers

Creating a new title:

Why and How to remove “Thought Verbs”:

Adverbs: Here are two posts about this subject. The first will explain why writing is (usually) stronger without them. The second will help you identify and remove redundant adverbs if you need some help easing into the idea of writing without them.

Stephen King on Writing, Fear, and the Atrocity of Adverbs

How to spot overused words in your MS: (Most of you probably know about this site, but I think it helps to actually SEE what words you tend to overuse so you can eliminate them.)

And a “Word Watch” list that will help will other overused words:

And in case that wasn’t enough, here’s another article on crutch words, which seem to turn up most often in dialogue: (As a warning: stay true to your voice, but be aware of crutch words and don’t use them without a purpose.)

Brief explanation of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person POV and tense: (This article won’t make up your mind about which one to use, but it’s a good refresher and might help you make an informed decision.)

Choosing the Right Viewpoint and Tense for Your Fiction [With Examples]

Now I know this can seem overwhelming. It’s a lot of work!!!!! But if you focus on one issue at a time, and pace yourself, it’ll be worth it. So take a deep breath, grab a beverage of your choice, and dive into revising!

deep breathe

And hey, part of the battle is finding the resources. You’re welcome:)

Sound off in the comments: What are you fixing in your MS? Which articles do you love or which have helped the most?