Friday, December 18, 2009


Friday Speak Out: "After Nano: Rewrites Can be (Sorta) Fun," Guest Post by Cathy C. Hall

After Nano: Rewrites Can be (Sorta) Fun

by Cathy C. Hall

At my last writer's group meeting, one of my friends was shocked when I related my National Novel Writing Month experience. Not the part about me writing almost 40,000 words. Oh, no. He couldn’t believe I’d actually do a rewrite!

I guess I’m what you’d call the bust-it-out writer in the group. I’m always rushing essays or short stories or queries out into the world. But that doesn’t mean I’m a write-it-once, then send-it gal. I wish I had that kind of talent. But the truth is, whether I’m writing 40,000 words or 400 words, I revise, edit, and rewrite.

I’m not gonna lie. I am not one of those writers who love the rewrite
process. So, I have a few tricks I use to make this part of the writing process
fun. (Not fun as in barrel-of-monkey fun; more like that-wasn’t-so-bad fun.)

1. The first draft is my bust-it-out piece. It’s almost always too long and a bit on the rambling side. That’s okay. The idea is to get ‘er done.

2. The second draft is where I work on the rambling, and get the piece where
I want it to go. I accomplish this by asking a simple question: “What do I
want to say?” Any spot in the piece where I’ve veered off from what I
want to say has to go. No matter how prettily I’ve said it.

3. Next, I let the writing sit awhile. Even if it’s just 20 minutes for a
lunch break, I need time so that I can come back to the piece with fresh

4. I’m always surprised at the little things I’ve missed on the second draft.
Usually, I’ve left out a word or punctuation. It’s much easier to catch
these errors when I read the piece out loud. Then, the third draft is
corrected and ready to make its way out into the world.

My novel is hanging around now, the get ‘er done stage behind me. I’ll tackle the next step come January. Because that’s one heck of an edit, and honestly, I’m in shock, thinking about the rewrite!


Cathy C. Hall is a writer and humor columnist who lives in the metro Atlanta area. When she's not writing about the funny real stuff in her life, she's making up wild stories for adults as well as children. Find out where she's been published lately by visiting her website at Or drop in at her blog at


Do you want to reach WOW’s audience? We welcome short posts (500 words or less) from writers just like you! You can include your bio, pic, and links to your website/blog for promotion. Our only requirement is that your post be about women and writing. Send your Friday “Speak Out!” post to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration.


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Friday, May 08, 2009


Friday Speak Out: A Friend in Need, Guest Post by Jo Barney

A Friend in Need

by Jo Barney

Editing. I believe I have it down pat. I have worked the pages of my novel until they are skin and bones, so lean I am envious. Time to get serious about marketing? I ask myself. One more time through, I think, a little worry niggling at me. I have Mother Jan and Son Tim lifting their shoulders at each other more than once, I’m pretty sure.

My iMac has a Find-Change feature I have used only to change a character’s name once and for all to Sally not Suzy. Rather than read through those three hundred-twenty pages yet another time, I decide to find the excessive shrugs with the help of my electronic proofreader. To my dismay, I uncover twenty-two of them, or an average of two shoulder liftings per chapter, and the problem becomes, how do I change some, at least, of these twitches and still show instead of tell?

The answer, I soon realize, is one at a time. Jan raises her eyebrows, bends her head, throws up her hands, rolls her eyes, and gets comfortable with an expanded vocabulary of body language to show her indifference. Her son, however, being sixteen, needs to shrug constantly. In place of shoulder jerkings, he learns to mutter words Jan doesn’t want to hear to indicate his “whatever” feelings.

The smile problem is harder. A smile between two cheerful people is as ubiquitous as the word “said.” (She smiled as she handed me the book; "Yes,” he said, smiling at my confusion.) All five of the children in my book either smile or--I discover with Ms. Find-Change’s help--tear up. I thought I had been in trouble with shrugging. A search of smile/tear led to eighty-two instances of what could be termed obsessive-compulsive behavior on the part of these kids. In my revision, their mouths curve, eyes crinkle, grins show their eyeteeth (or lack of them), or they say things like “I like you,” and leave the smile to the reader’s imagination. Tear-wise, eyes moisten, water trickles down nose crevasses and into ears, wet blinks flicker, views get foggy, Kleenex gets dabbed.

I have spent the good part of a week with my electronic assistant and feel good about our collaborative efforts. Time to market. I box the book. Second thoughts attack as I wrap it in brown paper. Perhaps my wonderful Jan breathes too much. I go back to the computer, look and find only three “breathes.” However, Jan also inhales, exhales, chokes, fills her chest, sighs, sends the breath to her aching thighs (a yoga thing) and holds it in her lungs for long moments.

Well, I think, as I paste the label on the package, so do I, all of these various breathings. I’m doing them right now, in fact. I shrug, tuck the manuscript under my arm, smile, and head for the post office.

Jo Barney is a writer from Portland, Oregon.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


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Sunday, December 21, 2008


On Gremlins, Making Mistakes, and Compassion

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Oh, how easy it is to make a mistake. Oh how easy it is not to see it in your own material—even if you are a great editor of others' material.

Often times the mistake involves a word that is spelled differently but pronounced the same. And often the author does know the difference between the spelling of the two. It's just those gremlins that The Frugal Editor is making famous get to us. Maybe we're typing too fast or maybe our brains are in another zone or... but the gremlins will get us—both you and me. Here's an example of how one got me.

I try to take a poetry class once a year. Because I'm an instructor, UCLA Extension Writers' Program gives me one class a year at no charge. It's one of the perks they offer and a great way for them to be sure that their instructors continue to get educated—and at least one of us (me) needs it. So I finished the first draft of my poem. Checked it (well, OK, checked it perfunctorily). I printed out copies so everyone in class would have a critique copy. Stuck the copies into my tote marked "Poetry," and took off for class. Couldn't be late!

When it was my turn to share my poem for critique, I passed out the copies and began to read. There (in the title!) was the word "peer." I meant "pier."

"Oh, gawd," I said. "Make that "pier, p-i-e-r." It was especially awful for me because I am an editor and because I wrote The Frugal Editor. Fine example I had set. What would my classmates think of my abilities? Could I possibly do anything worse to undermine my own credibility?

But here is the most important part. Everyone just nodded and chortled. It can happen to anyone. It can happen to editors, to teachers, to university instructors, to plain-old-everyday writers. The gremlins can hit at any time for any reason.

I thought maybe you'd like to see the poem. Here it is (with the spelling right!):

Death by Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica Pier

From her seat in the gondola. A woman
who might be me, watches roller

bladers with supple bones and toddlers with careless
balloons Far, far down on the pier. She opens

the doors—mini saloon doors of purple—or
she crawls over acrylic barriers. Either way

she hesitates a moment. The lurch
of the wheel as it stops at the top finishes

the job. No scream. Even the plane floating
a campaign trail of plastic behind it, silent. Soundless

waves, too, that far up. She floats as if posing
for her close-up, delicate fingers, poised toes,

her red sunhat a Frisbee against
sky of pulled taffy clouds on blue.

Sea like scallops of Alençon lace below,
sand stretched away toward the Palisades,

the smell of sugary churros her last sensation.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson ©

By the way. I didn't flunk my class, either.

The lesson here, Aesop fashion, is that because the gremlins are always at work, people will make mistakes. It will happen to you and it will happen to me. Best not get critical and point fingers. Your day is nigh!


Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits fiction and poetry, is an instructor for UCLA Extension Writers' Program and the author of The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. She is edits a newsletter the includes tips galore on everything from editing to branding. Subscribe by sending an e-mail with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line to Learn more at Click on the Newsletter and Blog tab at the top of the home page.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008


Tip for Screenplay Writers (and NaNoWriMo Writers Too)

"I've been doing something that I thought I'd invented myself and then I discovered in a conversation with Jim Cameron and then I read in an interview with George Lucas where he talked about the trick that Francis Ford Coppola taught him and it turns out everybody's doing the same thing. We never read what we write. I know that sounds preposterous but the point is you don’t edit while you’re writing. We don’t even dare look at what we're writing until it looks like there's around a hundred pages. It sounds nuts but when you have a hundred pages and then you finally look at them, you have the aesthetic distance to edit yourself."

-Steven Souza, screenwriter

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Friday, January 18, 2008


It May Take Too Much Time

I worry about the amount of time that good writing takes, sometimes letting it stop me from writing anything at all. Will trying to put together this potential essay be a waste of time, I'll wonder? Won't crafting that marketable article or story take up too much time, I'll think. I'm not the fastest writer. Rather, I should say, at this point it often takes a lot of rewrites to get it right.

Looking through an old folder recently, I came across a heavily marked draft of some work, a piece of writing now finished, which I am proud of in its final form. I forgot how much work had gone into that project until I saw evidence of all the editing. Some writing just takes a lot of pondering and polishing, and viewing those particular pages reminded me that the effort in that case was well worth it.

Writers will freely admit they don't bang out first drafts that are ready to go out into the world as soon as the ink dries. Therefore, there is no need to expect perfect first pages. A certain amount of changes will be needed. If you need a lot of time to get a piece right, I now tell myself, then so be it. When it's done, you will have something in hand you're pleased with, even if it took some effort, perhaps more effort than it might take someone else.

Good writing takes time. It’s okay to create many drafts before there is something worthy to show. No one sees the process! No one knows about the earlier drafts! What matters is that you end up with a finished product that's good--no matter how long it took you to get there.

Plus, as Ernest Hemingway said, "It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way."


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Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Interview with Jodi Henry - Third Place Winner!

It's interesting to see the variety of writers who enter our quarterly flash fiction contest. Some are established writers and some are aspiring, and some are non-fiction writers like Jodi Henry! We love the diversity of writers who enter, and just because you come from one background or another doesn't mean you can't come up with a great story! In reading Jodi's story, Jag Meets Iguana, you'd think she'd been writing fiction for years, but that isn't the case, which you'll see in this interview. Amazing!


WOW: Jodi, congratulations on winning third place in the WOW! Winter Flash Fiction Contest! How did you feel when you found out you won?

I was absolutely thrilled! I am a non-fiction writer and this was my first foray into fiction so winning this prize not only pleased me beyond belief, but it has given me inspiration to delve into the world of fiction writing.

WOW: Well we hope you do; you have a real talent for it! In fact, Jag Meets Iguana has all the elements of a great story: fun characters, conflict, and a super ending. What was your inspiration behind it?

Jodi: I wrote this story while on a month’s vacation in Mexico. My husband and I have gone to Zihuatanejo for the past four years and we both manage to get a lot of writing there – no phone, e-mail, TV, etc – all the distractions of everyday life. Our condo was on the second floor and right below, on a stone wall, an iguana would sun herself every day. I guess that’s where the iguana thought came from. I live about two hours south of Portland, and the highway that goes up the Columbia Gorge is beautiful and the one you would drive on your way to Yellowstone. Briggs Junction is such a typical truck stop, I just had to include it! In a previous life, I was also married to a pretty controlling guy so a woman’s get-a-way sounded delightful.

WOW: That's the beauty of fiction. You can make this magical world to get away from the reality of controlling ex-boyfriends. ;-) So tell us, if you were to continue the story, do you think Sandra would meet up with Officer Reed?

Jodi: Good question. If she did, that would seem too predictable. And I’m not sure they’d be a good fit. I think he’s a pretty straight laced dude and she’s just beginning to feel her wings.

WOW: (laughs) That's cool you should mention that because our theme next month is "The Wings of Self-Promotion." I think we all need to feel our wings and remember to fly every once and a while. And that's what you did with the prompt, took it and soared! Did you find writing on it challenging?

Jodi: Well, having a background in journalism, I like structure, including deadlines and I like a certain guidelines. I guess that’s why I write non-fiction pieces. Fiction really makes you use your imagination, and trying to pull ideas out of the air was a challenge – guess I’m too structured. But after I did it, it really felt good – especially when I won a prize!

WOW: Considering your background, did you do a lot of editing?

Not too much. I brainstormed in my head, wrote a rough draft on paper and then wrote it in scenes on the computer. Being an editor, I tend to edit myself as I go along, not always a good idea.

WOW: That's right. From your bio we know that you and your husband are the founders of Writers Welcome. When did you start your website, and what kinds of services do you provide?

Jodi: We started Writers Welcome about six years ago. We are basically “book doctors”; we edit and critique manuscripts. John works with the fiction writers, mostly novel and some short story manuscripts. I work with non-fiction writers, a lot of how-to books, but some thesis’ and children’s books (though these are fiction).

WOW: That's super! I also noticed on your site that you have a Mentorship Program. Why is this good for beginning writers?

Jodi: The Mentorship Program is a comprehensive, personalized program designed for beginning writers. It is features one-on-one consultation and support and is available for one or three months time periods. (if this is stiff it’s because I took this from our brochure!)
I think this is a great program for beginning writers because, as writers, most of us are insecure and often lack support. This is especially true for beginning writers, who are also unfamiliar with a lot of the basic writing principles. But I think the best part of the program is for the writer to be able to call or meet face-to-face with either John or I for advice and encouragement.

WOW: That's a really great benefit. Most online writing workshops don't have the option of getting to talk on the phone, or meet for that matter! You also mentioned that you work as a journalist, copywriter, and publicist. Can you tell us about some of the projects you've worked on?

Jodi: I used to be a reporter for a small town daily newspaper. I was in the features department and covered mostly soft news. It was a great experience and I had a wonderful editor. After I left the paper I worked for a public relations firm that specialized in political campaigns – exciting, but not really the kind of PR I wanted to do. I moved on to a firm with a wide variety of clients. I worked with environmental firms and the one of the plumbers unions.

WOW: I can see why you have an editing website -- you have a lot of experience! What are you working on right now?

Jodi: Right now I am working with two clients, both of whom have similar books. One is a book about leadership and the other is a book aimed at business professionals about a different way of dealing with stress.
I’m also very much looking forward to attending the Taos Summer Writers Conference this July. This is my first writers’ conference, except for a weekend workshop I attended in the San Juan Islands several years ago on nature writing.

WOW: That sounds exciting! You're going to love writers' conferences. You'll have to tell us all the details... maybe even write an event recap for WOW!
In closing, do you have any tips for writers who may be hesitant about entering a writing contest?

Jodi: Just do it! I think most people are hesitant to enter because of the fear of rejection or that their work just isn’t good enough. But finding a contest that looks like it might be a good fit and is in an area of interest is something to look for. Your contest appealed to me because it was a quick turn around and I liked the prompt.

WOW: Thanks Jodi for taking time to answer our questions! We adore your story Jag Meets Iguana and expect great things to come from your corner of the fiction, non-fiction, and website worlds.

If any of you want to enter Jodi's Mentorship Program, or need editing or critiquing, please visit:

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