Teaching an Old Dog (writer) New Tricks. Secrets to Better Writing.

The Donovan Legacy (HARM’S WAY – current release) actually started with a prequel.


CHASING DESTINY was written a year in front of HARM’S WAY and then promptly buried among all my floppy disks. Yep, that long ago. 

Having recovered my earlier works, I realized the characters of CHASING DESTINY (Garrick & Jaycee) deserved their own release.
To that end, the rewrites began.

The process has been enlightening: good & bad. And that tenuous, often painful, process deserved to be shared as well. Producing better writing is hard work. Short cuts are not generally the answer, but you can learn to be a smarter writer by following some of these writing tips.

New eyes on an old manuscript allowed my editor’s eagle eye to find:

1) Uh-oh, are all those TYPOs really mine?

One editing pass or a dozen, some TYPOS are hard to spot because it’s often not about spelling. Becomes or becoming. Too or to. They’re or there. A new read will often find what’s actually written on page.

2) Wow! These characters are wittier than I remembered. OR . . . flatter than I remembered. OR . . . less developed than I remembered.

1st question: Is my character development for this individual fully realized?

2nd question: How much more life can I breath into the page if I capitalize on those individual traits?

Remember — it’s never too late to update, expand, explore a character’s traits. A character doesn’t stop growing, learning, changing until THE END is typed for the final time.

Character sketch for Jaycee Donovan in Chasing Destiny

3) Grammar is an on-going learning process.

The rules don’t change, but my ability to better utilize them evolves. It also helps that I never run out of grammar books to read.

A must-read for serious writers

4) I will habitually overuse the same words.

It’s as though my writing needle is stuck in the same vinyl groove.
This problem leads me to #5.

5) Use a word recognition program, which will highlight most commonly used or abused words in a chapter or scene.

I use Wordle.net, but that’s my preference. There are other options – quite a few inside of Microsoft Word itself. See my blog: Wordle.net Turning actual words into ‘art’ never gets old for me. Writers are visual creatures; it’s how we bring black-n-white to full-life color. A program for generating ‘word clouds’ is a positive editing experience, and it’s just plain fun.

6) Older MS means newer, less experienced, writer = some written words are just drivel.

My Southern editor says, “Just dump the dang drivel.” My professional editor says “Discard the dreaded drivel.”

Whichever editor shows up for my proofing session, she is right. Don’t be afraid to eliminate writing that slows the pace, is redundant, or is sophomoric to your current style. Again, being a better writer is often about what should REMAIN on page – not what was originally written.

  • a. Don’t be afraid of ‘white’ page space. If the writing is awful: cut it/chop it/lop of its head – okay, almost a bit slasher movie language but the point is valid.
  • b. Read the older MS aloud. This is the quickest way to find trite dialogue or slow narrative. It also highlights redundancy. Your eyes might skip over the same phrase, but when read aloud, your editor’s ear will hear it.

7) Protect the white space!

After I’ve exiled drivel to the junk folder, I’ll type the simple phrase – ‘something wonderful happens here’. I’m not required to know – in that one instantaneous instance – what the wonderful will be. Nope, I just need to give my MUSE time to think of what’s best to do with the white space. Maybe, it’s nothing. The deletion may lead to a better tightened scene or conversation. Or, maybe, there’s an actual point – an ‘Ah-ha’ moment – that needs to happen on page. On that page. Giving my MUSE time to consider the options can lead to effective writing.

8) Wordy internal dialogue.

I talk to myself. Argue with myself. Sometimes silently. Sometimes . . . yep, aloud. When the house is empty, I’ll have detailed conversations. I’m brilliant with an argument after the fact. The point: most of us have an internal voice going on in our heads at any given moment. Characters will as well. But it’s not necessary to prooooooo-long the internal conversation.

*****Think it doesn’t happen in big name, well-published authors’ writing? Then think again. I have read more than one NYTimes best seller during the past year, who committed the same infraction. So, newbies & established indie authors take heart. Even the most experienced writer can commit this faux-pas. The point is to be aware of the tendency, find the offenses, then cut them out.*****

This sent me back to my own re-vitalized WIP with a figurative red pen.

  • 1. Did my characters drone on for 10 sentences when 2 would do?
  • 2. Did my characters ‘rehash’ the same point over and over again. Remember, we want our heroes and heroines to be SMART. (TSTL is never a good review)

Character emotions take time to develop; character attitudes – just like ours – will evolve over the course of the book; and character behaviors will adjust as he/she learns. But if my heroine is rambling on with the same internal argument on page 200 as she did on page 10, then I’ve committed the writing sin of prolonged internal dialogue.

I’m happy to report that my current hero & heroine are well on their way to becoming brilliantly succinct.

As my older MS is still a work in progress – very much so – I’m certain there will be more lessons learned from a new take on old work. I’ll share any tidbits of writing wisdom with you. We, as writers evolve; so, too, should our writing. Remember, better writing means happier readers.

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