Category Archives: Handy Tips! You love those!

How to Cut Without Cutting Your Heart Out

Are you reading K. M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors blog? Of course you are. Silly question.

There’s an especially nummy treat in a recent edition — The Elephant in the Room: Are You Ignoring Your Story Revision Instincts?  by Alythia Brown of Publishing Tips for the Restless Writer, which you are also reading, right? Of course you are.

The whole article is incredibly useful — I would sub-sub title it “How To Get Yourself To Just Shut Up Already!” But that’s me — Ms. Brown is far more gracious than I.

The gist is that you already know what to cut. You do. You just don’t want to listen to that nagging little voice that says things like “This belongs in a different book.” Or “Dude, I thought you gave up writing while under the influence of Jane Austen.” Or: “This does not sound like any character in this story, not even the dog.” (Hey, don’t snark — I’m editing something now that tells the most affecting parts of the story from a horse’s perspective. I’ll post the usual news flash when I’m done because you WILL want to read it. But I digress.)

In short, you are too in love to cut. So don’t! says Ms. Brown.

Instead, create a Misfits folder and nestle your lovelies in there. Not necessarily because they really are the shining rays of genius you believe them to be — promise, upon further reflection you will realize that many of them are not! But the Misfits folder gives you permission to cut with a machete by reframing your mission: you’re not cutting. You’re rescuing, re-homing, paying the proper respect to your pet paras by removing them from the riff raff that obviously don’t see their worth. Hmmph!

I try to do this with my own writing. I do. It’s hard. Scrivener is an excellent tool for this sort of thing as it allows you to structure your text into movable chapters. (The Outline view in Word does essentially the same thing, but keeps all the text in one place so you can still use Find and other editing tools. But no one likes using Word except me, I know. Lonely, lonely…)

I find the Misfits approach especially useful when I’m working with writers as an editor, and most useful of all when I’m working with writers as a coach. It can be incredibly nerve wracking to hand your work over for someone else to do heaven knows what to it. It’s also nerve wracking to hear someone blithely say, “let’s see what happens if you cut…” NO! MY BABIES!! With the Misfits approach, I can pat your hand and hum “Everything’s All Right” from Jesus Christ Superstar because your babies aren’t being cast into the cold, cold digital ether, they’ll be safe and sound right over… here.


(And here’s where I earn that “Handy Tips! You Love Those!” tag.)

BUT! While your manuscript is still in edit, be very very very careful to treat your Misfits as the special snowflakes they are. When you realize that you want a Misfit back, particularly if you want only part of a Misfit back, MOVE the desirable text out of your Misfits folder and back into your live manuscript. Do NOT COPY and PASTE.

You will hate this. You will feel, in the moment, that having two — or three or four or eleventy-squillion — copies of your Misfits couldn’t possibly hurt. Backups are good, right?

Not in this case, bubbeleh. Here’s why:

When you cut a chunk of text during the writing process, chances are excellent that you will edit the surrounding text at some point, right? Yes. And if you copy a piece of that cut text and paste it back into your original, you’re probably going to edit that too, right? Yes. And so on.

Words don’t work alone. The ideas, sensations, colors, indefinable overtones you’re trying to get across depend heavily on all the little decisions you make about word choice, sequencing, perspective, balance, all things that can change drastically depending on context. The more you edit and change and copy and paste and edit and pull threads and modify tone and copy and paste and whatnot, the harder it will be to recognize the bits and pieces of your Misfits you have put back into play.

So, let’s say you like a character’s physical description, but it just doesn’t work where it is, so you put it in the Misfits folder. And let’s say that description included “piercing blue eyes that see into your very soul” (which it shouldn’t because that’s crap, but let’s roll with it). And let’s further say that when you need to describe another character, you completely ignore my advice (silly you) and you COPY that description and PASTE it back into your live manuscript, leaving the original in the folder. Still with me?

OK, so now you have two copies of the “piercing eyes” description, one in Misfits and one in play. You need to edit the one in play because this character actually has piercing green eyes that see into your very soul. And brown hair instead of blonde. And an overbite. And smells of prunes. So you mess with things until they fit. And you go about your business.

The problem comes three weeks later, after a lot of writing and rewriting and Misfit hacking, when you need to describe yet another character. You look in your misfits folder and see your “piercing eyes” description. You still like it, and you know you’ve used some part of it, but you seem to remember changing it so much it’s probably unrecognizable. You decide you’ll COPY and PASTE it again, and change it until it’s unrecognizable again, and go about your business again…

And that, my friends, is how you end up with five characters who have piercing eyes that see into your very soul. I am not making this up — this is an example from an actual manuscript that I actually edited. (To be fair, not all of the piercing eyes saw into your very soul, but there were definitely five piercings.)

“BUT,” you cry, “if I move my Misfit back into my live manuscript, and then edit it, my original Misfit is gone from me never to return! How can you live with yourself, you heartless brute?!”

There are any number of solutions to this psychological hit. Maybe you create an “Original Misfits DO NOT USE” folder. That way you can go and bask in their glory whenever you want. Or maybe you strike through anything from your Misfits folder that you’ve put back into play. That way you’ll know that you can use the “shining tresses” part, but the “piercing eyes/very soul” bit is done and done.

Whatever solution you choose, my point is this: If your goal is a sharp manuscript with as few reader snags as possible, MOVE your Misfits.


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Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors

“What do we get out of this exchange, other than Elle’s stubborn resistance to having a catfish chew on her arm?”

OK, if the title didn’t, THAT little gem has to get you — how do you not click immediately to read the excerpt that inspired a glorious sentence like that? You don’t. I mean, you do. Click, that is…

Oh, just click already; it’s K. M. Weiland, how do you go wrong there?!

(You don’t!)

via Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors.

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How to Get the Grammar Police Off Your Back, Part I: It’s vs Its

There’s a reason we language folk enjoy haranguing you about your grammar skills. And here it is.


We don’t enjoy it one little bit — we KNOW it’s unwelcome and persnickety and potentially flat-out impolite. So why do we do it? Because we are broken. Or extra fixed. Or booby trapped. Or something because believe it or don’t, NOT CORRECTING SIMPLE ERRORS IN GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION IS PSYCHOLOGICALLY PAINFUL.

OH, it sucks. Wanna know why I love Kindle? Because I can highlight and make inline comments. So I can correct the errors. I am not making this up. What, traditionally published books have errors? Oh, you bet your bippie they do. In fact, here is an offer for you: if a traditional publishing house has produced your book, send me an electronic copy of it and I will tell you how careful your proofreader was. #shamelessfishing forfreebooks #butI’lltotallydoit

In our defense: most of the time we do have your best interest at heart, in a well-meant-but-annoying-and-a-little-condescending way. It’s sort of like reminding you to floss. We floss, and we know that it’s a pain to get into the habit, but once you do it feels really great and there are many benefits aside from the obvious “keeping your teeth” ones. Wait, that doesn’t…  no, we’re not going to knock out your teeth if you don’t mend your egregious apostrophic ways. #althoughdeepinourhearts…nevermind

Also in our defense: as it turns out, a lot of people would really like to avoid these errors IF ONLY TO GET US TO SHUT UP ALREADY!! If you fall into this noble category, I have some tricks for you. I’ll start with an easy one. It’s vs its. And, by extension, you’re vs your and they’re vs their. (Sorry, this trick will not help you with their vs there. But please, for the love of all that is holy, please figure that one out on your own.)

First of all, here is why these constructions are so easily confused:

One of the uses of an apostrophe is to stand in for one or more dropped letters in a contraction such as “can’t” (a contraction of “cannot”,* which  can only be said by persons wearing starched collars. I think it’s a law.)

However, the most common use of an apostrophe is to signify possession, e.g.** “Lady Starchcollar’s hens cannot lay eggs.”

If we apply the more common use as a possessive marker, “it’s” should mean “belonging to it”, as in “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into it’s nest.” And in any sensible language it would. Ah, but this is English, and any sensibility it ever had was left behind long ago.

No, in English, personal pronouns are the exceptions that prove the rule… has exceptions. For personal pronouns, possession is marked by the absence of an apostrophe, isn’t that handy? Thus, instead of “your’s” (which is NEVER right, by the way) we have “yours”. We also have “theirs”, “ours”, and, most famously, “its”.

For personal pronouns, the apostrophe is used to signify a contraction. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is”. “You’re” is a contraction of “you are”, “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”. And herein lies your salvation.

To keep the Grammar Police off your back: never use contractions. On your first pass, that is; you can go back and contract anything you want. But if you start with “it is” and then contract, it’s easy to remember that you need the apostrophe to stand in for the letter you’re dropping.

The same works for “its”. Returning to our earlier example, imagine that you would like to write about poor Lady Starchcollar’s barren hens. (I said “imagine“.) You might start off thusly: “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into…” Gasp! What to write?! Well, try both options, sans contractions: “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into… its nest”? Well, possibly. Now try the other: “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into it is nest.” Oh, ho ho ho, certainly not! Thus we choose the former, “Lady Starchcollar’s hen settled into its nest… and floated into a peaceful slumber, secure in the knowledge that it had been described with admirable grammatical correctness.”

There you have it: When in doubt, un-contract and see which one is wrong. Then use the other one.


*YES, I follow UK rules governing placement of punctuation with quotation marks because US rules are baseless and silly.

**Psst: here’s a trick for remembering the difference between i.e. (“that is”) and e.g. (“for example”). “E.g.” is said as “ee gee”, but if you stick the letters together phonetically, they sound like “egg” as in “egg…zample”. You’re welcome.

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Filed under DfW Holds Forth!, Grammar, Handy Tips! You love those!, Punctuation, Usage