Category Archives: Writing Life

Writing A Book: What Does it Take?

If you have always wanted to write a book but haven’t started yet, you might wonder what does it take?

One of the things you have to ask yourself is WHY you want to write a book. Is it because you have a good idea or have a message you want to share with the world? Is it because you want fame and fortune? Is it because you think it is easy and fun, but you just haven’t taken the time to do it yet?

Coming to terms with your reasons for pursuing such a time consuming task is important. As I mentioned in my article “Why Do You Want to Write?” writing is an emotional endeavor. “Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, want to educate or entertain, the end goal is to stimulate an emotional reaction or response from your readers. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to understand your own emotions and what brings you to the computer or the notebook to put your thoughts, emotions, knowledge and stories on the page.” [https://karibovee.com/why-do-you-want-to-write/]

Most successful writers write because they have no choice. It is a part of who they are, part of their identity. It is  their chosen way to communicate their ideas, messages, and dreams to the world. For most writers, writing is a PASSION. They pursue writing and a career in writing as a life-long commitment and cannot imagine a world in which they don’t write. Other people feel that they have a book in them and want to write and publish that one book. In either case, each type of writer’s reasons are not to be diminished or taken lightly because writing a book, and more importantly finishing a book, takes a lot of planning, discipline and commitment. To write a book and write it well, you must be completely invested in your project until it comes to fruition. Completing a book can take a few as several weeks (yes, I know people who have written and finished their books in a matter of weeks) to several years, even decades in some instances.

Whether writing is a passion for you, and you do it every day of your life, or if it is the means to an end for getting your particular story or message out to the world, writing a book takes a certain kind of fortitude that doesn’t come easily to everyone.

Most successful writers are avid and voracious readers. They have a love of the written word and can’t wait to get lost in a story or a message or a particular method or philosophy. They also know the importance of reading genres or books that are much like the book they want to write. Successful writers also know the value in reading and learning from books that are not in their particular genre, or even in books that highlight a topic they have no interest in—books that stretch their thinking, their learning, and their area of expertise.

One of the most important factors in writing a book, finishing a book, or pursuing a lifetime of writing books, is for the writer to give himself/herself permission to pursue their craft. A writer must first take themselves seriously as a writer and give themselves the time and space to work on their book.

Finding both physical and mental space to write is supremely important. Seek out a place where you can be undisturbed and focused. It can be a corner of your room, an entire office, the family’s dining room table, or your local coffee shop or book store. Pick a place that makes you feel good, inspired, and productive.

Finding mental space can be a bit more challenging. The writer must allow himself/herself time to write. Many writers write every day, but it isn’t always necessary. You must find time where you can, and I would suggest making a date with yourself to write or schedule a time in your calendar to write and treat that time as you would any other appointment. Canceling or not showing up would be rude, right? Don’t do that to yourself!

Sometimes it is too easy for us to put our writing on the back-burner or to make it the last thing on our to-do list. Until you become a professional writer, you generally aren’t getting paid to produce, so it can be difficult to make it a priority. But, to write and finish a book, you have to make yourself and your project a priority. You work hard at your day job, hard for your family and friends, hard at your volunteer efforts. Why wouldn’t you work hard for yourself? Treat writing as your reward for all that you do for others. After all, you deserve it!

So, what does it take? There are many components that go into producing a good book like understanding why you want to write the book and then allowing yourself the time and space to do so. In the next several months I will be writing more articles like this one to help you on your journey to writing and finishing your book. I hope you join me and I look forward to your comments!

 

 

Returning to the Past

In 2014, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference for the first time and I have returned every year since. It never disappoints and is always an amazing experience. In addition to the numerous informative workshops, lively panels, and opportunities to network with fellow writers and esteemed professionals, the conference is held at the beautiful Mark Hopkins Hotel in the Nob Hill area. Heaven for a history enthusiast who loves to travel back in time.

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From the site Historical Hotels of America: “The Mark Hopkins Hotel  was and continues to be part of San Francisco’s rich and colorful history. Royalty, statesmen, political personalities and celebrities with backgrounds as diverse as the places they come from have stayed at the Mark Hopkins since it opened, including five American presidents and heads of state from around the world. Locals and visitors alike come to visit the Top of the Mark, the 19th-floor sky-lounge atop the hotel, with its panoramic views of the ever-changing San Francisco Bay Area landscape.” (http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/intercontinental-mark-hopkins-hotel/history.php)

Many celebrities and politicians have visited and continue to visit the Mark Hopkins Hotel. While here last year for the conference, my critique parter and I made use of the elegant Nob Hill Club Restaurant in the hotel to work on our manuscripts. Immersed in our novels with our heads bent over our computers, we became distracted when Governor Jerry Brown came into the restaurant and sat with a colleague at the table next to us. In the past, the Mark Hopkins’ guests have included US. Presidents, statesman, international royalty, and Hollywood celebrities. The history page on the hotel’s website mentions a frequent guest long ago, the actor John Barrymore, who often brought his pet monkey, Clementine. “Clementine was less welcome at the hotel after she climbed the curtains in Barrymore’s suite, shredding the brocade as she went.” (http://www.intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com/history.aspx)

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The history of the hotel is as fascinating as its guests. One of four founders of the Central Pacific railroad, Mark Hopkins dreamed of  building his wife Mary a grand home. When he saw the panoramic views atop the Nob Hill area, he’d found the ideal location. He built a 40 room gothic beauty which he named “Hotel de Hopkins.” The mansion was indeed grand, complete with spires and gables and one of the largest in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he died before its completion in 1878.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Mary become enamored with Edward T. Searles, an interior designer from the East coast, thirty years her junior. The two married and moved into the mansion upon its completion. Their bliss was not to last and Mary died in 1891. She left the $70 million estate to Searles. Two years later, he donated “Hotel de Hopkins” to the San Francisco Art Association and they converted the palace-like mansion into a school and museum.

In 1906, the epic San Francisco earthquake demolished many of the beautiful historic buildings in the Nob Hill area. The Hopkins mansion survived only to be destroyed by fires caused by the quake. All that remained were the chimney stacks, the granite retaining wall and a 500,000 gallon cistern full of water. With the remaining solid foundation, the Art Association reconstructed a more modest building on the site.

In 1925, George D. Smith, a mining engineer and hotel investor purchased the Art Association building and then demolished it. He had grander plans for the panoramic hill top area. He built a large, luxurious hotel combining French and Spanish aesthetics and he graciously named it after the original site owner, Mark Hopkins. 

In December of 1926, the Mark Hopkins Hotel held it’s grand opening to the delight of San Franciscans who were immensely proud of its architectural perfection and luxurious accommodations. At the time and still today, the hotel is seen as representative of the best there is in modern hostelry.

A trip to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to The Mark Hopkins Hotel. While I enjoy visiting the city itself, and participating in this comprehensive and worthwhile conference, the experience is made all the richer by enjoying the timeless elegance of this stately hotel.

 

 

 

Meet and Greet Monday: 7/18/16

dream-big copyIt’s the Meet and Greet weekend!! Ok so here are the rules: Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!

It’s the Meet and Greet weekend!!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags.
  4. Feel free to leave your link multiple times!  It is okay to update your link for more exposure every day if you want.  It is up to you!

  5. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new blogs to follow.

Source: Meet and Greet: 7/16/16

Coming Home To San Diego

San Diego is known for its sunshine, beautiful views, and friendly people. I always get energized when I come back to this beautiful city. This time, I am here for the Romance Writers of America National Conference. In addition to all the wonderful workshops and events, I came to attend the Death by Chocolate Party and the Daphne du Maurier Awards ceremony, put on by the Mystery/Suspense Chapter, Kiss of Death. My novel, Grace In The Wings, finaled in the Unpublished Daphne contest. I had a wonderful time in “chocolate heaven” and the novel ended up winning 3rd place in the Historical Mystery/Suspense category.

DaphneI first lived in San Diego as a small child. My memories of our U shaped house with a swimming pool are still some of my fondest. After we moved to New Mexico, I couldn’t get San Diego out of my system, so when I graduated from high school, I chose attend to college at The University of San Diego. There, I received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing.

My experiences at USD further nurtured my insatiable need to write. I worked very hard to get all of my pre-requisites out of the way so that in my senior year I could take three independent studies—all in writing. I met with my professors once a week, and then the rest of the week I could write and create. Pure bliss.

The campus itself, set high up on a windswept hill with white stone buildings, palm trees and a profusion of colorful flowers, gave one the feeling of traveling back in time to an ancient 17th Century European fortressed city. The majestic library, with its heavy leather-backed chairs, beautiful tapestries and floor-to-ceiling arched windows overlooking the bay, was a place of peace and quiet—perfect for stimulating scholarly pursuits. I spent many hours surrounded by the earthy smell of old paper and knowledge in that beautiful library and I still have fond memories of it.

The campus was built in 1949/1950. Bishop Charles Francis Buddy and Mother Rosalie Clifton Hill had a vision for a Women’s College. They chose the peak of the hill to build their campus because of its beauty. According to Mother Hill, “There are three things that are significant in education: beauty, truth and goodness. But the only one that attracts people on sight is beauty. If beauty attracts people, they will come and find the truth and have goodness communicated to them by the kind of people here.”

Her words proved true. The Society of the Sacred Heart volunteered to provide a $4 million endowment for the College for Women. The College for Men and the School of Law began classes in 1954, eventually moving into Thomas Moore Hall, now known as Warren Hall. More buildings were constructed including the blue-domed Immaculata Church, consecrated in 1959. Overlooking the campus, on top of the dome stands a lovely statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. When I attended college there, a rumor circulated that the model for the sculpture was none other than Raquel Welch. I’m not sure if the rumor was true, but it certainly amused the students.

ImmaculataIn 1972, the colleges merged and formed what is now the University of San Diego. When I first set foot on the campus in 1980, I knew I had come home. Whenever I return to San Diego, no matter where I am staying, I look for the blue dome on top of the hill. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and my time in San Diego certainly fostered that dream. It’s a place that rejuvenates my soul. Like the slogan of the 1980’s stated, “San Diego Feels Good All Over.”

Some of the information in this article comes from the University of San Diego website.

Building a Better Relationship – Annie Oakley Style

 

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Annie Oakley doing what she did best!

Building a better relationship. It’s something we all should strive for. In our marriages, with our kids, friends, family, co-workers, employees, the list goes on. But, often in our busy lives, we are so focused on getting
things done, or achieving things, that we don’t focus on our relationships. Through time and neglect, those relationships begin to sour or drift away.

A couple of years ago, I saw this happening in my relationships with my horses and I knew I had to fix it.

I grew up in New Mexico with horses in my backyard. I spent much of my youth with my favorite horse, Flying Mok (I don’t know where the name came from). We covered miles of trail along the Rio Grande and spent hours in the arena. When not riding, I would sit on a large branch of the cottonwood tree that shaded his corral and just watch him eat. I participated in some horse shows and took home my share of ribbons, but the main objective was to have fun, and we did, and our relationship proved it.

As an adult, after college and more financial stability, I got back into horses via my teenage daughter who needed a hobby and a sport. I took her to one of the local barns and her love affair with horses began and mine was resurrected. She wanted to focus on showing, so we did. It was something we enjoyed together – a mother/daughter bonding experience that softened the angst of her teenage years. When she went to college, I was left with some very lovely, very expensive horses, so I decided to go into showing full boat. My love for horses and my competitive nature fit together like a custom made glove and I was all in. My horses and I did very well for several years, but after a while, it seemed like my whole life became all about the next show. Sometimes I’d go to shows twice a month, often traveling far from home in search of the rainbow of ribbons. After a while, I noticed that my horses didn’t seem to be making much improvement, their neurosis and fears increased, and I became more and more frustrated. It wasn’t fun anymore.

I’d been introduced to Natural Horsemanship via a Parelli Horse and Soul Tour some years earlier. I enjoyed the demonstrations and respected the training methods and philosophy the Parelli’s espoused, but I didn’t have time to embrace the philosophy. I had to prepare for the next show!

After more years of showing, anxiety, and frustration with minimal improvement, I finally realized that my love affair with horses was dying. I decided to look at this Natural Horsemanship closer. I had to nurture my relationship with my horses, because those relationships and spending time with my horses had always been my “soul food” and I was starving.

I ventured to the “mecca” of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, the Colorado Ranch Campus, for the first time in 2014, for a four-week course. I took my horse Chaco, who had been my greatest challenge to date. Chaco was energetic, athletic, spooky, unpredictable, uncomfortable with contact, and quite frankly, a bit scary to me. Other people may have not felt the same about him, but that didn’t matter. He was scary to me, and our relationship had miles to go.

What I learned in that four-week course assured me with absolute certainty that Natural Horsemanship was the path I needed to pursue, to better myself as a horsewoman and as a person. I learned that like people, horses needed to be treated as individuals. They have fears, quirks, moods, aches, pains, and NEEDS that I had been ignoring. I’d been so focused on achieving better scores, more ribbons, more awards with my horses that all I’d done was damage the relationship.

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Chaco and me watching a demo at the Parelli campus. June 2016

Three courses and two years later, I am a different horsewoman. I have a long way to go, but I am becoming more confident, more patient, and more understanding of my horses’ NEEDS and they in turn are starting to enjoy being with me. I can tell when I get out of the car and they come to greet me. I can tell when they are so willing to be a partner that they ask questions and trust me with the answers. I can tell when they are calm, connected, and responsive when I am working with them on the ground or under saddle. The love affair is reborn.

In the first book of my historical mystery series, Dead Eye Dame, one of the sub-plots centers on the relationship between a woman and her horse. The protagonist, the not-yet-famous Annie Oakley, has a special bond with Buck, a golden horse with a midnight-black mane and tail. While Buck doesn’t exactly help her solve the murder, his relationship with Annie carries her through some tumultuous times and proves to be one that she cannot live without.

In my book series, I’ve created the ultimate horse/human relationship with Annie and Buck. It’s something I will strive for and work toward as long as I have my equine friends with me. I’m taking a break from showing for the time being, but when I return, it won’t be about achievements and ribbons. It will be about building a better relationship and that is a guaranteed win.

Are We Really In This Alone?

It’s funny. I find myself stumbling upon things just when I happen to need them. Like this Ted Talk with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. In this video she talks about “Your Elusive Creative Genius” and are we really responsible for our success or failures, or do we have some sort of mystical, magical, or divine being circling around our lives or in our heads that “allows” us or “assists” us to create, tell stories and become writers and artists? And is it maybe not completely our fault when something doesn’t hit the mark, or sell, or become wildly successful?

The segment also touches on the fear that surrounds this work we’ve been called to do. Will we succeed, will we fail, will it all come to nothing? I love her quote: “People ask, are you afraid you’re never going to have success . . .that you’re going to work on this craft and nothing is going to become of it . . . and you’re going to die on a scrapheap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with the bitter ash of failure?”

Pretty harsh words, but haven’t you felt that way sometimes? I know I have. My work is currently being shopped by my agent for a book deal and the thought of “nothing coming of it” hits me every day. I wake up thinking about my work, I eat thinking about my work, I pray thinking about my work. I work on new projects, thinking about old projects. I’m obsessive. Sometimes to the point of making myself miserable. I’ve given up some important things in my life to pursue this craft of writing. In sacrificing other loves, I thought I would be happier, but instead, the opposite has occurred. I’m grasping for an allusive rainbow, it’s colors fading just as I feel I can touch it. I have no control over my success or failure as a writer, and the only thing I can do is persevere. One can understand the reputation writers and artist have of being “tortured” by their craft. Elizabeth also goes into this grim, if well founded, stereotype of people who are called to create. But in this talk, she reasons through research that maybe it doesn’t all fall on our shoulders,that we aren’t completely to blame when we fail–that we can’t always take all the credit when we succeed.

I hope you enjoy this video and that it inspires you. For me, this intellectual kind of reasoning helps me to carry on in a world and an endeavor that sometimes makes no sense at all. It soothes my fear that I am wasting the precious moments of my life on something that will come to nothing.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Why We Need (or Should Use) Professional Editors – Part III

In my interview with Editor Susan Reynolds, I asked her about her pet peeves – things that writers do (or don’t do) that get under her skin when she is working with them to bring their writing to the highest level possible. I also asked her what acquiring editors are looking for in this rapidly changing publishing environment.

What are your pet peeves?

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I suppose my biggest pet peeve would be lazy “writers” who don’t study their craft. Unless you’re a genuine genius, no one gets through the gate easily. Got a great story to tell—learn the craft and rewrite it several times before sending it to a professional editor (unless you want a developmental editor to provide input on a fully sketched out outline or synopsis before you begin, or halfway through).

Also, writers who don’t listen can be frustrating. Though it doesn’t happen often, occasionally a writer who has hired me to provide professional developmental or line-by-line editing will argue about or outright dismiss most of what I’ve suggested. Oddly enough, these same writers always come back, because on some level—or eventually, they realize that the editing suggestions I provided really helped. They’re just being stubborn and allowing their egos to overrule good judgment. Agents and publishing house editors find this annoying as well. Again, even the best writers can be wrong about aspects of their work, and an objective opinion, weighted by years of experience, is too valuable to blindly dismiss. As I always tell my clients, I don’t change things just to change things; I change things to make your work sing.

What are acquiring editors looking for and how can editors help?

What publishers are looking for these days is virtual perfection. In fact, both agents and editors tell me that a manuscript has to be 90% “there” before they’ll consider it. Actually, it’s probably closer to 95% there—and what they mean by “there” is that all the necessary elements have been mastered and they’ll have little, to no, editing to do. A lot of publishing houses no longer have in-house developmental and line-by-line editors who can devote themselves to poring over a manuscript with specific guidance in mind. If you give them the slightest reason to reject your work (undeveloped plot, weak characterization, nonexistent setting, boring scenes that go nowhere, pedantic dialogue, repetition, bad grammar, typing mistakes, and so on), they will pass with barely a glance.

Your best chance to land an agent and a publisher is to hire a professional editor, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a professional editor. I’m saying it because it’s true. Few novice writers will master the skills required to land a publishing contract, and it will typically take years of writing, and multiple failed attempts, before your work shines. Studying your craft and working closely with a skilled editor can shorten that time considerably.

Publishers also want what they call “high concept” novels, which means an original idea, an unusual idea, a new way of approaching a genre, blending genres in an delightful way, an idea that taps into our national subconscious, or one that offers a really fresh take on a topic. If you want to find a commercial publisher—and you do!—it’s necessary to think “high concept.” It’s not selling out, it’s selling in.

Susan Reynolds’ new book Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer published by Writer’s Digest is Available on Amazon.com.

December 23 2015 - 2

Why We Need (or Should Use) Professional Editors

I have been working at this writing gig for quite some time now, off and on for about 15 years. I’m still working at becoming traditionally published in fiction, but I have been in the business of non-fiction writing for several years. I’ve written technical manuals, articles for magazines, educational materials, and newsletters of varying topics from government defense technology to school fund-raising. I’ve been very busy writing novels for the last seven years, but sometimes, I still feel like a beginner. I make some of the common mistakes new writers make, especially in my first or second draft. After about revision 5, I pick up steam and the novel starts to look like it could be publishable — but that’s not without some help.

This post is Part One of Why We Need (or Should Use) Professional Editors

Many of the well published authors I have heard speak at Writer’s Conferences, Workshops or Retreats often stress the importance of having a professional edit your book. Editor Susan Reynolds of Literary Cottage shared with me some insights on the editing process and why it is so important to have others — beta readers, critique partners, and most importantly, editorial professionals as part of your team.

Why do writers need editors? Susan Reynolds

Everyone—even the most accomplished, highly published writers—benefits from having other people read and evaluate their work before it’s submitted to agents and publishers. Readers can point out inconsistencies in plotline, characterization, pacing, style, and so on. They can also offer valuable feedback about the viability of your story, the fascination level of your characters, and whether or not you sustain reader interest.

Unfortunately, a lot of writers will rely on their family members (who simply cannot be objective) and “beta” readers who may or may not know much about the craft of writing and rewriting, polishing and perfecting. A lot of writers join up with other writers, which can be a great way to learn together, but often these readers will focus on positive feedback and/or won’t approach the expertise and market perspective that a professional editor would have.

Unsophisticated (in the sense of people who are not professional writers or editors) feedback can steer you in the wrong direction.

Basically, there are three kinds of editors.

1. Developmental editors focus on structure and focus on helping you shape the story, strengthening plotting, pacing, character development, scene viability, narrative thrust, theme, tone, dialogue, setting . . . and any missing pieces. They typically offer suggestions for strengthening all aspects of the story. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to work with a developmental editor before you begin writing, or when you have a fairly reasonable first draft.

2. Line-by-line editors delve in and edit the work line by line, assessing and addressing how all the elements are working, suggesting changes in all aspects of the writing, catching and flagging potential problems, such as repetition, point of view issues, tone, style, voice, and so on, right down to the concrete matters of grammar and punctuation. A good line-by-line editor is worth her weight in gold, capable of taking a rough work (one that’s already gone through a few drafts) to a far more refined, higher-functioning work of art. There are different levels of line-by-line editors: some are amazingly thorough, others not so much.

3. Copywriters do a meticulous, final sweep to catch any missteps or minor mistakes, to make sure the grammar, spelling, punctuation, and so on is as good as it can be.

I typically combine developmental and line-by-line editing and offer separate copyediting services, mostly for returning clients who now have a viable manuscript. I see a lot of manuscripts that just aren’t ready for copyediting, and I don’t believe in misleading or taking advantage of writers. If it’s not ready, I’ll tell them that and tell them why. I don’t take on clients that I don’t feel I can genuinely help.

A good developmental/line editor will help you craft your best work possible, and you should learn from the experience, be able to see and understand why they made changes or suggested you make changes. It’s very hard to leap from being an enthusiastic amateur to a writer an agent and editor will fall in love with because her prose and storytelling skills are stellar (and they won’t publish you if they don’t love your novel). The worst thing aspiring writers can do is to submit work that hasn’t achieved the level of a professionally edited novel (or nonfiction book) to an agent or publishing house editor.

When I edit, my primary goal is to help the writer shape one particular work in progress, but my intention is to show them what they’re doing wrong and model how they can make it better and grow as a writer. I want writers I edit to learn, and I provide extensive notes that many writers have said really helped them grasp storytelling elements and make a huge leap forward as a writer—which makes me very happy.

Susan Reynolds’ new book Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer published by Writer’s Digest is Available on Amazon.com.

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Success, Failure and the drive to keep creating…

I love Ted Talks. This video with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) is so inspiring! Favorite quote: “I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing…I loved writing more than I loved myself.” Enjoy!

Stammer Verbs

This is an article by editor Rita Hoffman (@JRHwords) on Jane Freidman’s Blog. I found it extremely helpful. Enjoy!

Note from Jane: Today’s guest post is by editor Jessi Rita Hoffman (@JRHwords).

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As a writer, you’ve probably heard the advice about avoiding passive voice and colorless verbs, such as is, was, went, and so on. But you may not be aware of what I call the “stammer verbs” that mar the novels of many budding authors.

I call them that because they halt the flow of a scene. Just as stammering halts speech, stammer verbs halt the flow of a written sentence. The author uses these verbs as if stammering around while searching for the genuine words she’s intending.

As a book editor, I find two verbs in particular repeatedly used in a stammering way by many beginning novelists. Let’s take a look at these little suckers and identify why they pose problems for your story.

Turned
Ever notice how often you write “he turned” or “she turned” when you’re describing a character in your novel doing something? I suspect we all do this, in our first drafts.

The king placed the scroll back on the table. He turned and walked to the window.

Libby stared at her brother, unable to believe what she had just heard. She turned, went to the door, and walked out.

Notice how turned adds nothing to the description in these two examples. The reader assumes, if a character is going to move from point A to point B in a scene, he or she will probably have to make a turning movement. That’s understood, so it need not be explained. Stating it merely slows down the action and spoils the vividness of the scene.

In the first example, rather than say he turned and walked to the window, it’s tighter writing to simply say he walked to the window. Better yet would be to describe how the king walked: he strode to the window, or he shuffled to the window.

The king placed the scroll back on the table. He shuffled to the window.

In the second example, She turned, went to the door, and walked out could be tightened to read She went to the door and walked out. A further improvement would be to get rid of went (a colorless verb) and to tell us how Libby walked:

Libby stared at her brother, unable to believe what she had just heard. She stormed out the door.

Libby stared at her brother, unable to believe what she had just heard. Crying, she hurried out the door.

Notice I didn’t suggest She walked sadly out the door, because it’s better to nail the exact verb you’re looking for than to use a lackluster verb (like walked) and try to prop it up with an adverb (like sadly).

Began
Began is another stammer verb that tends to creep into our writing unless we keep a watchful eye. Like turned, it’s typically misused as a way of launching into description of an action:

Jill sat down with a thud. She began to untie her shoelaces.

Jon put down the letter. He began to stand and pace the room.

There’s no reason to slow down the action in either of these examples with began. See how much tighter this reads:

Jill sat down with a thud. She untied her shoelaces.

Jon put down the letter. He stood and paced the room.

Or perhaps better still:

Jon put down the letter. He paced the room.

Unless something is going to interrupt Jon or Jill between the start and the completion of their action (standing, taking off shoes), there is no reason to say began. Can you see why began would be okay to use in the following sentences?

Jill began to take off her shoes as a spider made its way up her shoelace.

Jon put down the letter. He began to stand, but the man shoved him back down into the chair.

In these examples, began is appropriate, because something is being started, then interrupted. That’s not the case when began is just used as a stammer word.

Turned and began … Once you become sensitive to how these two stammer verbs infiltrate story writing, you’ll find yourself recognizing them as they pop up and naturally weeding them out. Like so many writing problems, the remedy is greater awareness.

Your turn: Are there other “stammer verbs” that annoy you? Tell us about additional verbs you would identify as “stammering” in place of efficient storytelling.