Tag Archives: writers

Words That Are More Exhausted Than These Puppies (Word Usage, 3 of 3)

A black-and-white image of three puppies snuggled up on their sides with their eyes closed.

In parts one and two of this word-usage series, I wrote about how word meaning changes and shared words it’s time to retire. Now let’s dig into some worn-out, tired, exhausted words, words that have become bereft of their actual meanings based on usage.

And not only are their original meanings divorced from their current meanings, they are used repeatedly to the point they become meaningless.

Here’s a brief list: awesome, literally, honestly, absolutely, unique, totally. I am guilty of overusing all of these. You?

Let’s talk about terrific for a moment. Terrible and terrific stem from the same root, “terr,” but terrible means really bad and terrific means really good.

Originally, both words meant terror-inducing. So what changed? Arika Okrent writes about terrific’s path “from fear to happy enthusiasm.” She also takes a look at awful and awesome.

This also made me think about words, such as bad and killer, that have followed terrific’s journey.

In an article about oversed words, Claire Fallon wrote, “The first pioneers to slangify awesome into a catchall positive term . . . were pushing the boundaries of language in order to create more vivid and colorful ways of speaking.”

At what point does word usage tip from pushing language’s boundaries into something tired, even cliché? And when does a particular usage begin to annoy you? And why?

I don’t know the answers, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, if you catch yourself writing lots of “really”s and “very”s, consider revising.

Cumulative Adjectives vs. Coordinating Adjectives

Where do the commas go?

Quick recap: Adjectives are describing words. They describe nouns (people, places, things, ideas).

Coordinating Adjectives

Coordinating adjectives are interchangeable.

Bright, warm sunshine relaxed me.

Warm, bright sunshine relaxed me.


Sparkly, glittery earrings dangled from her ears.

Glittery, sparkly earrings dangled from her ears.

Changing the order of these adjectives does not affect the sentence’s meaning. You may have a preference, but one sentence isn’t “correct” versus the other.

Separate coordinating adjectives with a comma.

Cumulative Adjectives

Cumulative adjectives build on one another.

A few weeks ago I explained the royal order of adjectives. In the royal order of adjectives, there is a very specific order to place your adjectives.

Guess what? These adjectives, in the royal order, are cumulative adjectives.

Do not separate these adjectives with commas.

Master the Comma

I teach this lesson and many others about commas in my online course Master the Comma: Save Face, Time, and Money. It’s hosted by Udemy, which runs fantastic sales and has a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Writers Provide Service to Readers

Tim Grahl, the book-marketing guru, once said that the X factor in being successful is whether or not an author believes in their book. When I believe in my book, then I speak about it with enthusiasm to anybody and everybody. I’m not embarrassed to ask folks to buy it because I know they are getting a great value. Said value could just be entertainment, and that’s enough.

No one feels bad for paying for a movie. We fork over the ticket or rental fee happily to steal away from the world for a couple of hours.

Books are no different. Asking someone to buy your book is giving them an opportunity to enter a fantasy world or to learn something new or to peek into someone else’s life and reflect on their own.

You, as a writer, are providing a valuable service to readers.

Never doubt it!

You, as a writer, are providing a valuable service to readers. Never doubt it!

Still don’t believe me? Think about your own reading habits. Why do you read books? Aren’t you happy to support the authors who share the gifts of their words by purchasing books, borrowing them from the library, leaving ratings or reviews, telling friends about them?

Having good books to read is always important, especially in a time when the world’s needs are so great. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have reading material right now. Keep writing and sharing your stories.

Photo by Fernando Hernandez on Unsplash

Google Forms for Beta Readers

After my first round of developmental edits and revisions, I was ready to receive beta-reader feedback for Love Letters to My Body. I wanted to make the task as easy as possible for me and my readers.

Ideal Readers

First, I identified what my ideal readers looked like. Then I made a list of everyone I knew who fit into those descriptions, and who might be willing to give me specific feedback. Once I knew WHO I wanted to ask, I turned to the questions of WHAT I wanted to ask and HOW I wanted to ask.

Trying to manage multiple email threads felt daunting to me, and I also wanted my beta readers to have the option to respond anonymously. I turned to Google Forms to create a survey.

Google Forms

I can’t stress enough how easy it was to create and use a Google Form to collect beta-reader feedback. Here’s a tutorial on how to create your own survey.

The survey was easy to set up. I shared five questions that were a mix of a rating, yes/no, and short-answer responses. Then I generated a link to my survey.

The Ask

Now I was ready to reach out to my potential readers. I emailed everyone on my list and asked if they’d be willing to beta read and provide feedback by a certain date.

The deadline was important so I could maintain my schedule. Many folks said yes, and I sent them a PDF of Love Letters to My Body, along with the survey link and a reminder of the deadline.

After the deadline, I was able to download the responses into a spreadsheet. In another Teaching Corner, I’ll share how I parsed the beta-reader feedback for my next round of revisions.

Writer’s Block, Part 2

Practical Tools to Deal with Writer’s Block

Last week we talked about writer’s block and viewing it through a different lens. Sometimes all you need to do is shift your mindset.

But in case that’s not enough to get the words flowing smoothly again, here are a few practical tools.

1. Consider writer’s block a luxury.

Writers, such as Tim Grahl (Running Down a Dream), Steven Pressfield (The War of Art), and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), have all written a variation on this advice. Goldberg even suggests that you open a notebook and write “I don’t know what to write” over and over until you’re bored enough that you begin to write something else.

2. Write something else.  (CAUTION)

Start a new piece or revisit an old one if you’re stuck in your current manuscript. I share this with caution, though, because it’s very easy to start lots of pieces. At some point, you have to find your grit and finish them.

If you’re trying to jump back into something you’ve previously abandoned, it might take a bit of work to find your groove. Read what you’ve written and pay attention to where you feel excitement. You can also recreate your writing experience by playing music that sets the tone. Or create a new writing experience to avoid getting stuck again. For example, write in a new location or a different time of day.

3. Utilize dictation tools, such as the Voice Memo app or Dragon for on-the-run writing.

This is similar to keeping a writer’s notebook, but perfect for those situations when it’s not safe to jot down ideas, such as while driving. If you regularly dictate your writing, you’ll always have something to work on when you sit down with your manuscript.

4. Allow for marination time. (Caution)

Build in thinking time when you’re writing and editing. Yes, you need to be dedicated and persistent to writing. And you also need to give yourself time and space to allow new ideas to arrive or to wrestle with thorny issues. Marination time is part of the creative process. Just be sure you’re not allowing marination time to become your excuse for not writing.         

5. Challenge yourself or a writing buddy to a sprint.

Set a timer (5, 10, or 15 minutes) and write as much as you can without stopping. When the timer dings, revel in what you accomplished and use that energy burst to fuel your creativity.

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

Writer’s Block, Part 1 (of 2)

Writer’s block is a mindset issue.

Every writer has experienced writer’s block.

And I’ve seen lots of conversation that suggests it is something to overcome, or power through, as though writer’s block is a foe you must conquer.

Writer’s block is a mindset issue.

Every writer has experienced writer’s block. And I’ve seen lots of conversation that suggests it is something to overcome, or power through, as though writer’s block is a foe you must conquer.

What if, instead, you listen? Writer’s block is showing up because it has a message for you.

How do you decipher the message?

Ask yourself: Do I want to write this?

No? Then stop. Let it go. No “shoulding.” Write what inspires you.

Unless you’re writing on assignment to pay your bills. If that’s the case, your answer isn’t really no. It’s a yes because, yes, you want to pay your  bills.  

Yes? Then figure out what you’re struggling.

First, look at the basics:

How are you taking care of yourself?

If you’re tired or hungry or sick, stop and give your body rest or food or whatever else it needs.

How are you filling your creative well?

Writing does require dedication and persistence, but you have to build in time to reset and recharge. Maybe that’s by exploring nature or playing with finger paints. Find something that will get your creative juices flowing.

How are you setting yourself up to be successful?

Do you have an uninterrupted block of time to write? If you’re a plotter, have you worked on an outline? Do you have a playlist running that sets the mood?


Most writer’s-block issues are rooted in fear. I love what Elizabeth Gilbert said in Big Magic. The fear never goes away, so she just tells it to scooch over to the passenger seat and buckle up because she’s driving.

One way to drive “with” the fear is to remember WHY you’re writing in the first place. Putting your focus on what’s important to you is a great way to calm the fear.

Also, consider revisiting your definition of success. Can you release expectations and just let yourself write? Putting burdens of earning a dollar amount or garnering X number of reviews can paralyze your creativity. Those ideas of success are reasonable, of course, but save them for when you’re wearing your marketing hat.

Finally, as my friend Marni says, “Out of shit, you get flowers.” Let yourself write badly. The flowers will bloom in later drafts.

Consider creating a ritual to begin each writing process. Maybe you have a special prayer like Steven Pressfield. Or write an affirmation, such as, “I’m a great writer” and post it on your monitor. Listen to a song and dance before you begin. I’m partial to Odetta’s version of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Writer’s block is a part of the writing experience. Learn how to work with it so that you can sustain your writing practice for years to come.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Beta Readers

Beta readers are early readers who give you feedback after you’ve gone through developmental editing.

Who to enlist: Readers in your target audience (the type of reader who would enjoy your book). Who is your ideal reader?  

How many readers: 5-???
This number is up to you. The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you have to sift through. You want a large enough sample that you feel confident in the feedback, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of feedback.

When to enlist them: After you’ve finished developmental edits and big-picture revisions.

Where to find them: Ask folks you know (these people don’t have to be close to you; they just need to like the type of book you’ve written). If you have a newsletter, ask your subscribers who would be interested in beta reading for you. This is a great way to engage with your fans, but remember that you can (and should) be picky with your selection. Say yes to the folks who regularly engage with you.

 You can also reach out to local book clubs; check in with a local writing group; or hire a professional.

Hiring a professional beta reader is a great idea when you’re struggling to find beta readers on your own or you have a hard-to-reach audience, i.e. children. Both of my daughters beta read for Quiethouse Editing, and they love giving authors feedback.

What to ask for: Come up with a handful of questions to guide your beta readers. You can ask about characters (do they like them?) and plot (any boring parts?) and any areas you’re unsure of. Make clear that you’re not looking for help with spelling or grammar.

Next Steps: Be gentle with yourself. No matter how thick your skin, receiving critical feedback can hurt. Take time to feel sad or embarrassed or angry. Then, when you’ve had a bit of space, dissect the feedback. What resonates with you? What doesn’t? Did readers agree about what worked and what didn’t? Was there an outlier?  Once you’ve gotten clear about the feedback, dive back into revisions. And be sure to thank your beta readers, even if you disagree with them.

Pro Tip: Use a Google form or a survey platform to collect reader feedback.

Word Count

What should my word count be? is a question that every writer asks at least once in their writing career, and with good reason.

Having a word count in mind can be a goal to work toward. Looking at you, NaNoWriMo.

Reader Expectations

It’s also a good idea to know what expectations your readers might have around book lengths and the hours they’ll spend with you. And those expectations vary wildly between genres: epic fantasies can be four times as long as a middle-grade mystery.

Stop Worrying about Your Word Count

My advice when you start a new writing project is to put worries about word count away. Just let the draft unfold. Let what wants to come, come. There will be time later to bump your word count if you fall short of where you want to be, or to shave (or hack) away at a manuscript that’s so big it’s unwieldy.

Sometimes what you think is a short story is actually a novel, or vice versa. When I first showed Love Notes to My Body to my editor, she pointed out that some of my “notes” had turned into “letters” and would be better suited as essays, which is how I ended up writing and publishing three books at one time.

Be open to what is showing up. Once you’re clear on what you’re writing, then google expected word counts for your genre. If you’re headed a traditional route, do your best to hit those word-count expectations. If you’re publishing independently, you’ve got a little more leeway, but it’s important to remember that readers have expectations too.

As You Know, Bob . . .

Who is Bob?

And what does he know?

“As you know, Bob” moments occur when a writer uses dialogue between characters to slip in backstory that the readers need to know, of which the characters are already aware.

Example: “As you know, Bob, it hasn’t rained in seventy-nine days. We’re in a drought.”

Why is this a no-no?

Well, it’s clumsy. Dialogue should be sharp and serve to move a scene forward. It should also reflect the way people speak to one another. How many times have you actually said, “As you know . . .”

If it’s such a big no-no, why do we writers do it?

Because we’ve been told ad nauseum to “show, don’t tell.” Dialogue can be a great way to “show” readers what’s going on in a scene, either by what’s said or by the subtext of what is left unsaid. And if one character is revealing important information to another character, which has been unknown up to this point, that can be a dynamic moment.

But if it’s just rehashing info to keep readers in the loop, it falls flat.

So what do I do instead?

This is a perfect time when “telling” is the best choice. Use a short bit of narrative to relay the information needed.

Example: After seventy-nine days of no rain, the drought conditions were hardening more than the soil. The townspeople’s hearts were hardening, too.

What’s Your “Why”?

Why do you write? There’s no correct answer, of course, but it’s important to understand your why. By which I mean the reason that will sustain you when the writing gets tough.

Because it will get tough.

And when it does, what will allow you to find your grit and persevere?

Some folks, who respond well to accountability, write because they have a deadline. For others, they won’t eat, or pay any of the bills, if they don’t write. And for others still, writing creates the space in their brains they need to find peace.

For me, when writing Love Letters to My Body, I had a message that I felt compelled to share with my daughters first, and then other women. And by compelled, I mean I knew I wouldn’t be using the gifts I’ve been given to their fullest potential if I didn’t write this story. And I don’t want to leave this life with anything left to regret.

So what’s your “why”?

Sometimes the answer comes to you immediately, and other times, you have to sit with this question. Think about on your next walk. Sit in silence. Journal until you write a response that feels true in your bones.

Be prepared that multiple “why”s may arise. Often, there’s a singular reason driving us, but there are nuanced layers that add fuel to our desire to share our words and stories. I’d love to know why you write. Reply and share your why with me!