Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Develop a Self-editing Process That Works for You

There is a lot to be said about self-editing: find the best word, reduce repetition, be sure to show instead of tell, read your manuscript aloud so you can "hear" mistakes, etc. In the years I've been editing, for myself and others, I've also found it's good to find a process that works and stick to it.

Just like we don't all write the same, we don't all edit the same. I'm going to share my process in the hope that it sparks ideas on how to develop your own self-editing process.

Put it Down for a Few Weeks

It's important to step away from a manuscript prior to the editing process. You're too close to it otherwise. It's easy to gloss over errors and inconsistencies you would catch if you were reviewing your work with fresh eyes. My preferred time frame is a month. If it's possible, I put it aside for four weeks and work on something else so the manuscript feels new when I pick it up again.

Read it Aloud

My process is comprised of three separate and intentional reads of the manuscript. The first is where I read it aloud so I can hear how it sounds and pick out inconsistencies and obvious typos. When I find an inconsistency--the character's eyes are suddenly green when they have been blue for five chapters or a disconnect in the timeline--I stop instantly and search for the character's name or some keywords that connect in my brain to tell me there is a continuity issue. I also immediately correct any typographical errors.

Word Choice, Grammar, and Repetition

The next time I read the manuscript I am focused entirely on the words. Is this the best word choice? Can this adverb be replaced with a more powerful verb? Has the word "was" or "walked" or "said" been used too many times? Is this sentence grammatically correct? Is a fragment okay here? Is this showing or telling? What is being said? Is there a better way to say it? Now is also the time to trim back the excess description and unnecessary backstory.


Because punctuation is so important, one round of edits should be dedicated solely to making sure it's right. Is this the right punctuation for this sentence? Is another punctuation mark better? How would changing the punctuation affect the way the reader interprets what is happening? What conclusions will the reader draw about the character based upon how the dialogue is punctuated?

Then STOP.

Forget the manuscript exists for a day. Then make one final read through--I prefer to read it aloud--and fine tune it. You're guaranteed to find at least one thing you missed.

Here are some resources on self-editing that will also help:

New York Times bestselling author Jerry Jenkins supplies writers with a 21-part checklist on how to edit a book, which you can download from his website.

I'll end today with a quote by Newbery Honor winner Shannon Hale:

“I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving and the recently released, Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Successful Writing Strategy: Know Your Intent

By Karen Cioffi

Intent is a crucial factor in success. But, what exactly does this mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, intent is an aim, a clear and “formulated or planned intention.” It is a purpose, “the act or fact of intending.”

Intent is a necessary factor on any path to success, including your path to writing success. You need to know what you want, what you’re striving for. And, that knowledge has to be clearly defined.

An unclear destination or goal is similar to being on a path that has very low hanging branches, an assortment of rocks that may hinder your forward movement, uneven and rugged terrain, branches and even logs strewn across the road; you get the idea. You kind of step over the debris, look around or through the branches, you don’t have a clear view of where you’re going.

A clear-cut goal is akin to walking on a smooth and clear path. No goal related obstacles to hinder your forward momentum or vision.

But, let me add to the sentence above, while intent is crucial, it’s an active and passionate pursuit of your intent that will actually allow you to achieve success. It reminds me of a passage in the Bible at James 24:26, “Faith without works is dead.”

While the intent is there, if you don’t actively take the needed steps to get from A to B, walk-the-walk, rather than just talk-the-talk, you’ll never reach your goal.

To realize your intent, it would be beneficial for you to create a list of questions and statements outlining the specifics to that intent.

A few of questions you might include are:
- What is your ultimate success goal?
- What does the obtainment of your goal mean?
- After picturing it, what does success look like to you?
- How will you reach your goal?

So, how would you answer these questions?

As a writer, perhaps your goal is to write for one or two major magazines. Maybe you’d prefer to be published in a number of smaller magazines. Possibly you want to author a book a year and have them published by traditional publishing houses. Or, maybe you want to self-publish your own books at a faster or slower pace.

Maybe success to you is to make a comfortable living, or you may be very happy with simply supplementing your income. Maybe you want to be a professional, sought after ghostwriter or copywriter. Maybe you want to be a coach, a speaker, offer workshops, or present teleseminars. These are some of the potential goals for a writer.

Whatever your vision of success is, you need to see it clearly, write it down (it’d be a good idea to also create a vision board), and take the necessary steps to get you where you want to be.

If you find you have a realistic success vision, and are taking the necessary steps to achieve your envisioned intent, at least you think you are, but you still can’t seem to reach the goal, then perhaps your efforts aren’t narrowly focused enough. Maybe your success vision is too broad.

Wanting to be a writer is a noble endeavor, but it’s a very broad target. There are so many niches within the writing arena that if you don’t focus on one or two in particular, you’ll be known as a ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’

Try narrowing down, fine tuning your goal. Remember, it’s essential to be specific and focused.

It might be to your advantage to create success steps that continually move you forward on the path to reaching your ultimate goal.

For someone new to writing, the first step on a writing career would be to learn the craft of writing. You might give yourself a year or two to join writing groups, take advantage of writing workshops or classes, write for article directories, or create stories. You should also be part of at least one critique group. This would be your first step to achieving your intent, your success vision.

Instead of trying to go directly from A to B, it might be more effective to go from A to A1 to A2 to A3 . . . to B. But, again, for each step, the intent, a clear-cut vision, and the driving passion all need to be front and center.

Get started today!

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move.

For more on writing, stop by Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.
While there, be sure to sign up for her newsletter and check out the DIY Page.

And, if you’re looking for an easy-read, middle-grade fantasy adventure, check out WALKING THROUGH WALLS.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Not Today: Tips for When You Don't Feel Like Writing

Writers have days when they simply aren't feeling it. Inspiration is elusive. You're tired. You're overwhelmed. You're burnt out. Writing is a job and some days you just want to play hooky.

So what do you do when you would rather get a root canal than plop your behind in the chair and write? Well, I hope it never gets that bad, but here are some tips that should help.

Find That Favorite Writing Place

We all have this little spot where the creativity flows best. Whether it's the coffee shop, the library, curled up in your comfy chair, or sitting on the deck looking out over the garden, find that spot and spend some time there.

Use a Writing Prompt

Writing prompts spark ideas. Whether a word, a sentence, a picture or a theme, a writing prompt moves you forward. I can't say I use them often (my mind usually has too many ideas brewing), but I do use them when I teach elementary students to write. Here is a link to a year's worth of writing prompts.

Set a Timer

Timed writing sessions are like taking a test at school--you only have so much time to accomplish your goal, so you set your mind to it and get it done. When the timer goes off, get up and go do something else for a while. Then maybe you'll be ready to start again.

Change the Scenery

Maybe that favorite writing spot isn't working for you today. There's nothing wrong with changing the scenery. Take a walk and clear your mind. Pack pen and paper--or computer--to the bookstore cafe for a change. How about setting a timer to allow yourself fifteen minutes to work in the garden. A few minutes away, might be all you need to get the creative juices flowing.

Find a Writing Group or Attend a Writer's Conference

There is something about hanging out with other writers that kicks inspiration into overdrive. You remember your passion for stringing words together. You start thinking about that partially finished manuscript that hasn't seen the light of day in weeks. The next plot point that you agonized over forever, suddenly seems so simple. This is the main reason I attend our local writers conference each year, no matter what else is going on in life. Just that one day pushes me forward for another year.


Pick up a book in your genre or by one of your favorite authors and read for half an hour. Any time you are reading, you are learning about writing. Reading helps you get to know your genre better. It reminds you why you like a certain author. It gets you thinking about style and structure and word choices.

Write Fan Fiction

This is one of those controversial areas of writing. Some people love it. Some hate it. As a new writer, producing fan fiction gave me the opportunity to focus on aspects of the craft I struggled with, and not worry about having to create characters from scratch. The other great thing about fan fiction: it can create a following for you. There are arenas where you can share your fan fiction stories and readers leave reviews. Positive feedback can motivate you to write more and provide an extra boost of confidence.

Perhaps one of the best tips anyone ever gave me is to set up a daily schedule. Time block your calendar and put "writing time" in. If you have to stare at "writing time" when you look at your calendar, it will be much harder to ignore. I hope this and these other tips will find you spending more time in your favorite writing place.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving and the recently released, Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Expect the Unexpected

I embarked upon a writing career when I had a toddler and an infant at home. What was I thinking? How was a mother of two little ones going to find time to write?

Here's the trick: you don't find the time, you make it.

One of the things that is helpful is to have a plan, but to be flexible enough to expect the unexpected. Whether it is a sick child, a new project, or a shortened deadline, when you're trained to expect the unexpected, you can take it in stride and still accomplish your goals.

  • Sit down and look at your to-do list. Anything that isn’t a priority should be assigned a new due date immediately. Don’t take these tasks off your list or you’ll find reasons to keep pushing them aside.
  • Review each item that is a priority and see if you can still meet your original deadlines. If you know it will be impossible, contact your client(s) immediately and request an extension. Professionals don’t wait until the due date to inform clients they can’t hand in an assignment. Hopefully your clients are fine with a short extension so you'll have wiggle room to deal with your unexpected issues. 
  • Track your time. This will keep you focused on the task at hand. It also identifies areas in your schedule where time is being wasted. If you’ve just been dealt an unexpected project, now isn’t when you squander the moments you have.
  • Consider timed sessions as a way to get to the end. Agree to work in 15 minute intervals. Set a timer, begin, and stop when the buzzer goes off. Breaking your task down into smaller chunks will make it easier to handle, allow you to judge your progress, and keep you focused.

Once the unexpected wrinkle in your carefully planned schedule is over, take a few moments to think about it. Was it truly unexpected? Is there a way it could have been avoided? Sometimes procrastination or allowing ourselves to get pulled away by distractions creates those unexpected moments that cause stress.

How do you handle the unexpected? Any tips you can share to make it easier?

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving and the recently released, Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Writing, Submissions, and Working With Editors

By Karen Cioffi

Every writer, at least hopefully, will work with an editor from time to time. While we’d all like it to be on a regular basis, time to time is better than nothing.

When in the joyous situation (you’ve gotten something accepted for publication), there are some tips that will help you in your working relationship with an editor.

The first thing, even before you think of submitting your work, is to have your manuscript or article in the best shape possible.

Getting to the Point of Submissions

1. Be part of a critique group. Every writer needs the extra eyes of writers working in the same genre. Their insights and critiques will prove to be invaluable to you.

2. Revise and self-edit . . .  repeat and repeat . . .

3. When you think your manuscript is in perfect shape, send it to a freelance editor. You may think this isn’t necessary, but it is. Ask around for one that comes with recommendations.

Now you’re set; off you go on your submissions fishing trip. But don’t just drop the line randomly; be sure you do research and find the best spot – one where you know the fish are biting.
What this means is to look for publishing houses that are best suited to your manuscript, and ones that are accepting submissions.

After you’ve found a few publishing houses suitable. Read their submission guidelines CAREFULLY, and follow them just as carefully. Now it’s time for the infamous query letter. If you’re unfamiliar with queries, do some research.

Okay, you’ve done everything you needed to, and now you cast off. AND, you get a bite.

Working with Editors

Once you’re accepted by a publishing house, you will be assigned an editor. And don’t be alarmed, but that manuscript you meticulously slaved over, and even paid an editor to go over, will end up with revisions. This is just the nature of the beast—each publishing house has their own way of doing things. They will want your manuscript to fit their standards.

Note: the purpose of those long hours of writing work and hiring an editor is to give your manuscript the best shot of making it past the acquisition editor’s trash pile, and actually getting accepted.
Now on to 4 tips that will help make your editor/author experience a pleasant one:

1. Always be professional.

2. Don’t get insulted when the editor requests revisions. They are not trying to hurt your feelings; they are hired by the publishing house to get your manuscript in the best possible saleable state. They want your book to sell as much as you do.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. If you have a question, ask. If you disagree with an edit, respectfully discuss it. Editors are not infallible. Sometimes your gut feeling is right.

4. Take note of deadlines and be on time. This is your career, and in some cases your livelihood.

Hope these tips are helpful!

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move.

For more on writing, stop by Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.
While there, be sure to sign up for her newsletter and check out the DIY Page.

And, get your copy of WALKING THROUGH WALLS, a middle-grade fantasy adventure.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Favorite Books for Writers

Writing takes skill. It requires dedication and perseverance. It's about emotion and creativity. It's about finding inspiration in the mundane. It rarely comes easy. Sometimes you simply want to unplug the computer and chuck it out the window. For those moments, I'm sharing some of my favorite books for writers. I don't know about you, but I'm known to read about writing when the words simply won't come.

What are some favorites? How have they helped when the story seems elusive? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Strengthening Writing with Power Verbs: Letters H-R

          Four weeks ago, I shared some strong action verbs which create action voice, showing. Where do we find those power verbs? I covered the first part of the 195 verbs last issue: A - G . This issue, I will add action verbs beginning with letters H – R. Use these verbs wisely, though. Writing still needs clarity and coherence; verbs need to "fit" the meaning of the clause.

Strengthening Writing with Power Verbs: Letters H-R

         We want our readers to be drawn into and enveloped by our short story or novel, by anything we write. Boredom loses their attention quickly. Showing, using active voice, creates reading excitement. To avoid passive voice and to have active voice, writers use power verbs. To help know some power verbs, I discovered a list, author unknown, and added to it. Now, I will share the list I have to date, from H through R this article.

         Let's begin this part of the power verbs with some verbs beginning with the letter H:
• Hail
• Head
• Hem
• Heighten
• Hike
• Hit
• Hum
• Hurry
An example of using such verbs to show rather than tell would be to use the verb heighten, when the verb “fits”: The burglar heightened the sensitivity of his touch by rubbing sandpaper over his fingertips.

         Next, let’s look at a few verbs that begin with the letter I:
• Ignite
• Illuminate
• Inspect
• Instruct
• Intensify
• Intertwine
• Impart
An example of using an I verb is as follows: Violent riots ignite a tumult of damaged stores and vehicles.

         Next, we will look at J verbs:
• Jab
• Jam
• Jar
• Jig
• Jot
• Journey
• Jut
Rather than using an verb such as stick out or stuck out, use a more powerful verb. The ledge jutted over the canyon.

         Since I don’t have any strong verbs beginning with the letter K, we will go to the letter L:
• Lag
• Lap
• Lash
• Lead
• Leap
• Lob
• Locate
• Log
Let’s look at a sentence that have a powerful L verb in place of the verb list: The pupil logged all the exercises the teacher assigned.

         Next come strong verbs beginning with M:
• Magnify
• Moan
• Modify
• Multiply
• Mushroom
• Mystify
Now for an example: The combinations of numbers and letters in high level math problems mystify me.

         Some strong verbs start with the letter N:
• Nab
• Nag
• Nip
• Nod
• Notice
• Notify
The verb grab is often overused, so we can use nab in some sentences and add variety and more power in active voice: The police nabbed the criminals as they exited the bank.

         Next, we will look at verbs beginning with O:
• Obtain
• Offer
• Oppress
• Order
• Outlay
Get, another overused verb, can be replaced with “offer” sometimes: May I offer you a cold drink?

         Powerful “P” verbs include the following:
• Paint
• Park
• Peck
• Peek
• Peer
• Perceive
• Picture
• Pilot
• Pinpoint
• Place
• Plant
• Plop
• Poison
• Pop
• Position
• Power
• Prickle
• Probe
• Prime
Example: Rather than use see, we could use peek or peer, depending on what we want to convey: I peeked through the slit in the door; I peered at the fish swimming in circles.

         Our final list of verbs this issue is of those which begin with R:
• Realize
• Recite
• Recoil
• Refashion
• Refine
• Remove
• Report
• Retreat
• Reveal
• Revolutionize
• Revolve
• Rip
• Rise
• Ruin
• Rush
Example: Rather than use the verb know, we could use realize. I realized I didn’t understand what the teacher meant.

         I keep the full list handy when I write because the thesaurus found with MS Word often doesn't have the best list of synonyms, and it doesn't have any suggestions if I can't express what I need in one word. I will add power verbs from the final letters in four weeks.