Tag Archives: editing

5. Professional writing is a group activity.

When you’re being paid to write something, you’re not the lone romantic protagonist doing everything yourself, expressing your true vision, et cetera, et cetera. You’re writing a thing that other people are going to read, and you want to make sure that they’ll be glad they’ve read it. I already told you this: It’s not about you, it’s about your readers. Continue reading

4. Don’t write from the heart. Write FOR the heart.

One time a medical editor friend told me about being introduced to someone who was “a writer.” My friend asked what kind of writing she did: technical, medical, magazine articles, fiction? She said, and my friend quoted, “I write from the heart.”

I put my hand over my mouth and said, “Oh noooooooo.” My friend joined in.

I mean, I’m sure she has good feelings about it. But if you’re writing for other people, it’s not your heart that matters. It’s theirs. Continue reading

3. Seek qualified advice.

If you’re just writing in your journal for your own fulfillment and you don’t care about anyone else’s opinion of it, congratulations: You’re in a happy place. On the other hand, if you want other people to read and enjoy your writing, you’ll want to get some opinions on it.

Here’s the problem: Your target audience may know whether they like something, but they may not know exactly why, or what you could do to make it more likeable. Continue reading

2. You can’t cast someone else’s spell.

You may want to write as well as some famous successful author – or anyway, you may want to be as famous and successful as they are – but you can’t write the same as they do, and the things that work for them won’t necessarily work for you.

This is because… [a hush falls over the room; I lean in close to speak in confidence] …YOU’RE DIFFERENT PEOPLE!

Many famous writers don’t realize this either. They got successful by writing as they do with their own particularities. They have their habits and their personal rules and they aren’t always so good at knowing which of those things made them good writers and which just made them feel less insecure. Continue reading

1. You’ve outgrown your high school grammar rules.

Many people cling tightly to the advice they remember from their high school English teacher: the stern prescriptions and proscriptions, the rules for writing. Good grammar, bad grammar, how to structure an essay. Cross one of these directives and they’ll say “But my high school English teacher taught me…”

There are two things I need to tell you about this, and I’m not going to be gentle because I’m damn tired of hearing this crap. Continue reading

12 Days of Gifts for Writers

I’ve been a professional editor for 20 years and a (paid!) writer for longer than that, and I’ve observed a few things over those years that many people would do well to know. Starting today, I have twelve little gifts for you, one per day. By “gifts” I mean advice I’m giving you free that you would normally have to pay me for. By “you” I mean anyone who writes. If you don’t write, read it anyway. What the hell. You’re here, aren’t you?

These gifts are not rules – no no no no no. I don’t care if you want rules. The only real rule in writing is Write stuff your readers will be glad they’ve read. (Well, there’s also Don’t be a jerk, but that’s more of a rule in everything.) Everything else is commentary. And so are these: insights, suggestions, ungentle nudges. But I think you’ll be glad you read them.

Here’s a table of contents, growing until the end of the 12 days; at the end of the 12 days I’ll make an ebook of the whole thing, and I’ll also make an audiobook… for my Patreon supporters.

  1. You’ve outgrown your high school grammar rules.
  2. You can’t cast someone else’s spell.
  3. Seek qualified advice.
  4. Don’t write from the heart. Write FOR the heart.
  5. Professional writing is a group activity.
  6. Good structure is made of desire.
  7. Read bad writing.
  8. Write whatever you want. Also write whatever you have to.
  9. You’re probably wrong about how good your writing is.
  10. Do your own damn research, and do your own damn writing.
  11. Everyone’s a writer.
  12. You already have a voice.


Watch out for the theta roles!

Never mind passive voice — it’s all about your cast list

This article was originally published in NINK, the magazine of Novelists, Inc.

Listen to the audio version of this article on Patreon.com

We have all been taught to be leery of the passive voice – sorry, make that we have all learned to be leery of the passive voice – because passive voice focuses on the recipient of the action rather than the actor. But we often get it wrong – for example, when a news story or headline is criticized for using the “passive,” odds are high that it’s actually written in the active voice; it’s just evasive in some other way.

Consider a few real-world examples of active voice misidentified as passive. When Janet Jackson had her famous “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, one writer tut-tutted another for using the passive by writing A snap unfastened and part of the bodice tore. But although that sentence doesn’t name Justin Timberlake, it isn’t passive voice either – to be passive, the sentence would need to say a snap was unfastened. Other typical examples of misidentified passives include An accidental discharge of the firearm occurred and Boy dies as troops fire on demonstration. In spite of writers inveighing against other writers for using “the passive,” these sentences have no is or was and no past participle – to be passive, they would have to be written as The firearm was accidentally discharged and Boy is killed as troops fire on demonstration.

So how did we get so far off base in telling the passive voice from the active voice? The answer is that we’re not off base at all; we’re asking the wrong question. It’s not really the passive we should be looking out for. It’s the theta roles.  Continue reading