Top 3 tips for editing your own writing

Many writers hate editing. Not me. The heavy lifting is done. You’ve unearthed that thing that lay buried inside your dreams, ideas and visions, and now it’s in a workable form. Editing is little more than brushing away the excess, cleaning, patching, and polishing. So why do so many of us get stuck?

Here are my top three tips for editing your writing — practices that have helped me in my career as a writer. Continue reading

Running as a metaphor for writing

We’re sitting at a small table for two at a bakery cafe inside the mall when she shares her news. She’s written a book. After beating back months of reluctance, she’s finished it and is thinking of finding an editor.  I lean back to listen instead of leaning forward to instruct.

Today is a purely social engagement.There is no manuscript sitting between us as there has been every other time we’ve met. No sheets of paper slide back and forth as I explain my edits of her work and compare them to her original printouts. Today she just wants to talk.

We met when she was a student in my class. Now she’s graduated from the writing program and has finished her first book. I stare at her, expecting her to look different. She’s crossed the finish line while I haven’t even put my name in the race.

If we were runners, she’d be a marathoner. I’d be a sprinter. Continue reading

Of funnels and ladders

Last night in class, I drew a funnel and a ladder on a blackboard. You remember blackboards, don’t you? Most have been replaced by cheaper whiteboards, but they’re a poor substitute.

The gritty drag of a chalk stick against smooth slate — the sound of writing with its taps and scratches — those are the sense memories of learning. A wet marker sliding on an dry erase plastic surface lacks the tactile quality that chalk and board possess.

When I walked into the classroom and saw that dark expanse of slate, I decided to draw part of my lesson. Below the chalkboard, a metal ledge with a narrow lip held white sticks at fat as my fingers, some stubby, others long, all lying in a bed of chalk dust.

For centuries, to read meant viewing black type on white paper, to write meant scratching graphite or ink onto a white page. The blackboard stands in diametrical opposition, the contrast of white against black a reversal of the printed page. Another delightful contrast: those fat velvety felt erasers. Gliding across the hard surface, they soften sharp mistakes into indistinct smudges. So iconic, those blackboard erasers.

By all rights, the Urban Dictionary definition of  “old school” should include blackboard, chalk, and eraser. Continue reading

Lessons from behind the mic

In my other life, I ask questions. And I find people to answer those questions.

Part of my job involves interviewing people. After doing this for over 15 years, I realize:

  • Enthusiasm can trump education when it comes to describing what you know.
  • You can tell how well (or poorly) the interview will go in the first 15 seconds.
  • If the interviewee is reluctant to talk, don’t push to make it happen. It won’t be good.

What I learned about talking to people can be applied to a writing practice. Let’s take it step by step. Continue reading

A promise made…

Inside jokes are typically shared between friends.

But inside quotes (as I like to think of them) are words of wisdom, usually imparted by parents or older relatives, that take root in childhood and stay with you throughout life.

Usually they’re sayings uttered by lesser-known writers, poets, essayists, which possess the kind of homespun philosophy that you don’t hear much nowadays.

I have several which have guided me through life. Stick around long enough and I’ll probably tell you most of them. But the one pertinent to today’s post is this: Continue reading

Ripe fruit


Sit me in front of a blank page or screen, no limitations and no deadline, and I’m rarely stuck.

No, I’ve got endless ideas, opening sentences, a narrative thread worked out, maybe even some mannerisms that reveal character and intent. My fingers grip the pencil or jitterbug across the keyboard, and they are confident and purpose-driven … for about two hours.

I get to a certain point, and then something in me flags. I slow down, stop, start doubting, and then I go back and revise.

Bad. Very bad habit. Continue reading

Writing: both soul food and a beach


Spring break in an oceanfront cottage. Sounds idyllic, right? Once there, though, I stopped writing. That’s not an excuse. Just an explanation for the weeklong gap in posts.

The road to the beach was paved with good intentions. Here’s mine:

  • Read seven novels
  • Type on my laptop
  • Compose a story the old-fashioned way — by hand in a composition notebook.

I fell short. Very short. Here’s why: Continue reading