Edit Like an Editor

potteryThe job of editing is equal parts art and science, anchored in the golden rule of “eliminate unnecessary words.”

If you’re writing for yourself, in a journal perhaps, your first draft can be your final draft. When writing for readers, it’s a different story. In this case, your first draft is rich, raw clay. Unshaped. Unrefined. In need of paring down.

Crisp and clear DOESN’T mean boring or without personality or color. It means that words that slow down the pace, don’t add meaning or take away your authority should be reconsidered.

Here are words and phrases to look out for:

Slow down the pace

– One of the…
– Each and every…
– In order to… (try replacing with “to”)

Take away impact or authority

– In my opinion… or I believe… (rephrase to a sentence of authority)
– Just

Crutch words that don’t add meaning

– Literally
– Basically
– Honestly
– Obviously
– Any word that you find you use repeatedly

Crisp, clear writing is easier to read. Easier to read content keeps readers engaged. Engaged readers take in your great work and share their new findings with the world. Everyone wins!

Romance Your Muse with a Poetic Ditty


As a freelance writer, editor and creativity coach, I often hear from clients that it’s hard to get started writing. Yes! It’s a real thing. You’re not alone.

Like a car that’s been covered up with a tarp in the garage, the writing muse takes some gentle, patient handling to get her engine humming. She needs some romancing, friends!

My new favorite writing warm-up is poetry.

I forgot how much I love to write free verse. Seriously, when was the last time that you riffed and just wrote words on a page to express yourself? No punctuation or grammar worries. No concerns about whether you’re making sense.

Just thought and feeling to paper.

For fun, I’m going to write a little live poetry here in this blog post.

I’ll start with what’s rattling around in my consciousness…sweetness I just saw on Facebook. One post of a high school friend with his son. They are wearing matching newsboy style caps and huge smiles. The other is a video of a friend’s son. He is wishing his mom Happy Birthday while sporting an upside down, baby blue mustache. Seeing these posts has my familial heart strings humming.

Hand to hand like magnets

That impossibly soft little hand

Heart in a smile, pure love

Eyes seeing a sweet and simple world

“Bad news” is time for bed or stop playing and wash your hands

If I could save time in a bottle, Jim Croce sang

Why didn’t I know that he was singing about you?

Next time you’re stopped or stuck, consider writing a little poetry to get you grooving. You may find it very liberating.

Beat Reader Fatigue: Mix In Short Sentences


I’ll get right to the point; too many long sentences in a row make my brain hurt. And I’m not alone. It’s a human thing.

You like your audience, right? You want them to stick with you as you lay out your message, your points, your life’s work? Then it behooves you to make reading easy.

Here’s one good way: Mix in short sentences to give variety and texture. By doing so, you create a more sustainable pace for your audience.

Listen, I’m a big fan of writing as if you were talking, but that assumes that you engage in conversation in a way that includes pauses and breaths.

Imagine that you’re at a cocktail party. You meet a nice enough stranger and begin a conversation.

They are so excited to say what they are saying that they keep talking and they never stop and at first you’re engaged but then you fall into a trance of sorts and oh-my-goodness why can’t  you stop yawning and you wonder if someone slipped something into your drink and at some point you’ve stopped listening altogether because you are now distracted and focusing on how in the world they can keep talking for that long without breathing and you wonder if they are ever going to stop and you’re looking for an excuse, an escape and trying to find that friend that came with you to the party and they are nowhere in sight…

Short sentences allow you and your audience to pause and breathe.

Let’s take a look at some fine writing from author Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume. Below is the longest paragraph in the first chapter. Of the fourteen sentences, just about half are 10 words or less.

The secondary function of a bathroom mirror is to measure murmurs in mental mud. Priscilla glanced at her “seismograph” and disliked the reading. She was as pallid as a Q-tip and as ready to unravel. Dropping the soap in the sink, she imposed a smile on her reflection. With a sudsy finger she pushed at the triangular tip of her crisp little corn chip of a nose. She winked each eye. Her eyes were equally enormous, equally violet, but the left eye winked smoothly while the right required effort and a scrunching of flesh. She tugged at her wet autumn-colored hair as if she were stopping a trolley. “You’re still cute as a button,” she told herself. “Of course, I’ve never seen a-cute button, but who am I to argue with the wisdom of the ages?” She puckered her bubble gum mouth until its exaggerated sensuality drew attention away from the blood-blue crescents beneath her eyes. “My bags may be packed, but I haven’t left town. No wonder Ricki finds me irresistible. She’s only human.”

Okay, that’s fine for fiction, you say, but how about non-fiction writing? Yep, works there too. Below is an excerpt from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Notice the length of the sentences and how they alternate between short, really short and longer.

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling. A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center. It is our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds our being-in-potential, our star’s beacon and Polaris.

We all have different styles of speaking and writing. I’m not suggesting that you adopt my casual style or that of Robbins or Pressfield or anyone else for that matter. Instead, I invite you to find the places in your writing where the sentences are a little long, where it’s gotten a little dense and see how it reads when you break up that sentence into smaller chunks. Or introduce a short snippet in the middle.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

If you’re feeling on the fence about how to do it, send me a paragraph with long sentences and I’ll send back a suggested edit. On me.

Houses Aren’t Showplaces. They Are Workshops.

I’m sharing with you a new post from my creative blog Your Goodness Guide. Friends don’t let friends clean the house to avoid writing.

"Fish" by Jacob Zinman-Jeanes
“Fish” by Jacob Zinman-Jeanes

I’m a big fan of a clean house. Especially when it’s my own. But sometimes having a clean house is out of reach. Like when…I still haven’t recovered from the 7-year-old birthday party at the house last weekend…or our living room is a staging area for the garage sale on Saturday…or, frankly, we just can’t extract any extra energy to clean the house ourselves or hire someone to clean for us.

And during those times, a panic sets in. My chest tightens. My breathing shallows. Until I take these two magic steps.

#1 – Turn Home into Workshop – Changing my perspective on “Home” works wonders. Instead of a showplace that SHOULD be neat and orderly like the staged photos in Home Magazine, I magically turn my living space into a “Workshop” IN MY MIND. Oh, a workshop! Yes, workshops can be messy. They can be a little disorderly. Because work is happening there. It’s creativity in motion. It’s dynamic! I can find a new boundary of acceptable disorder when I’m living in a workshop. No, not complete chaos. Not dirtiness that invites critters into my home. But not sanitized and wrapped up in a bow, either.

#2 – Make Plans for a Friend to Visit – Nothing helps me pull the house together more quickly than hosting company. And when the house is pulled together that quickly, my mind-body-spirit are reminded that regardless of how messy the house appears on any given day, it’s only 3 hours away from near showplace neatness.

There’s an invisible third magic step: Gratitude. Feeling grateful that I have a home to fill, that I have an address for USPS to deliver mail that will inevitably pile up, and that I have beautiful children who fill the house with their stuff, too. Whether it’s a showplace or a workshop or whatever, focusing on gratitude instantly quells the anxiety over dust bunnies and stacks of paper.

If the King of Horror Thinks Beginnings are Scary…



…then you know it’s the truth. Just start writing something. I like to start with a prayer or an intention for my writing. By typing this short wish, the cobwebs start clearing, the blood starts flowing and my writing muse recognizes that my mind and spirit are – again – friendly places to visit.

Feeling Stuck? Write With A Little FU (Yes, It’s What You Think)

Come Away With Me
“Come Away With Me” from The Joie In My Vivre on Tumblr

I don’t curse. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I was a Girl Scout at 10 years old and am still wearing the badges (on the inside). And that’s why I am qualified to say, “Sometimes you just have to write with a little FU in you.”

It’s not always good to be so good.

There’s this teeny little pattern called People Pleasing. Heaven knows it’s hard to shake. Not wanting to ruffle feathers. Wanting everyone to be happy and included. Wanting to be liked and loved. Striving for your writing to be valued and of importance. It’s a great big ball of stress, insecurity and fear.

For a writer, People Pleasing is debilitating. I’d dare say it’s the #1 reason that we get stuck. Here’s the hard truth: You are not going to please everyone. But, I’ll be darned if you don’t please at least SOMEONE with your writing: YOU.

Yes, writing for your audience is important. Yes, editing and paring down your work is essential. None of this matters if your pipes get clogged and you get stuck in the muck.

Why come from a place of FU? Accessing a little anger can help break through to higher emotions like contentment and joy — anger is a higher vibrating emotion than fear or insecurity. I’m not suggesting that you stay angry. Use it to break through. (Check out this Emotional Guidance Scale for some incredible details.)

This is your writing. This is your life. So, put a little chutzpah in your step. And forget about the world for a moment. Forget that anyone else exists. Lie down and put your legs up the wall. Go for a walk somewhere you’ve never been, barefoot. Then just write. Forget about trying to make it sound profound. Forget about whether it’s publishable. Write to bare your soul and share your mind. Write to hear the music of the syllables strung together. Write like you are a child, too young to care what people think. That’s where the magic lives.

Editing is a completely separate venture. You’ll get to that later.

For now, write like no one is watching. Unless someone is. In that case, close your blinds and call 9-1-1.

Write For Your Audience Like It’s A Party Of One

Harmony With Flowers
“Harmony With Flowers” by Mariano Peccinetti

You’re in a great mood! You happily sit down to write. Tap, tap, tap. You are flowing!

Then, without warning, that person — oh, you know the one — pops into your mind. Maybe it’s an old classmate or someone you dated. Or a mom on the PTA. Or, if you’re as blessed as I am, someone in your family.

That person is the master of the backhanded compliment. They always seem to dismiss your ideas, your talents, your experience. And for some reason you still want them to like you…when you know for sure that You. Do. Not. Like. Them. At least not this passive-aggressive, competitive part of them.

You re-read your writing. It’s all crap. Suddenly, your imagination takes off to some future place in a different dimension. You’re a fly on the wall as that person reads your piece, and all you can hear is:

“Oh, how cute. It’s so great that anyone can get their work published nowadays.”

OK, let’s stop right here. We all have that person in our lives. Newsflash: That person is not your audience. I know you know this. Now I could put on my Psychology and Spirituality hats and dig deep on the underlying issues and dynamics here. But that’s for another day. Maybe.

Right now, we’re going to get you back to feeling happy and in the flow with your writing.

Here’s how:

  1. Know your onion. Imagine you are the center of an onion. People in your life naturally fall into place on one of the layers. Your dearest confidants and loves of your life are the first layer. Then the next layer includes your past, present and future friends – people who “get” you. Then warm acquaintances. And so on. Where does that person fit on the onion? Are they even on the onion? Right. Keep them far out. They are not in the inner circle. Hear me now: Your writing is precious. It’s your insides getting out. Keep your writing and exposure of your writing close to the center – especially while it’s in development.
  2. Know your audience’s emotional need. Who are you writing for? And what do they want? I mean what do they really want? It doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, getting clear on your audience’s needs is essential. Let’s say you’re an Acupuncturist writing a Free Report “7 Ways To Nurture Your Body During Your Workday.” The audience could be anyone, really. But what these people have in common is a desire to be productive at work and feel healthy at the same time. THAT’S their need. Hold that picture in your head and heart while you are writing. Not whether or not someone will like you. Or think you are smart.
  3. Make it a one-on-one conversation. One of the simplest ways I’ve found to let my writing voice and personality shine is to write to and for one single person. Oh, it can be a real person or an imaginary amalgam of people. For example, when crafting fiction, I write only for my sister Diana. Referring to point #2 above, her emotional need is to relax and enjoy an uplifting story of love and self-discovery – with a happy ending. Knowing this need guides me. But most importantly when I think of her reading my writing, I FEEL good. I don’t anticipate snide remarks, snarkiness or criticism. And I don’t try to serve a crowd with varying needs, tastes and preferences. If you haven’t before, try writing as if you are talking to this one person. That ideal audience member. You’ll be surprised at how much easier the writing flows.

Don’t be scared of being specific. Remember, if you try to appeal to the masses, then you dilute your work so much that your message appeals to no one. Not everyone is going to “get” you. But your people will. And they’ll thank you for speaking so clearly to them.

Music To Quiet Your Noisy Writer’s Mind

Slow Jazz on Her Red Lips by iNeedChemicalX
Photo Credit: Slow Jazz on Her Red Lips by iNeedChemicalX

If music soothes the savage beast, then my mind must be a zoo.

Years ago when writing my first full-length fiction novel, I’d sit for hours pouring my heart and soul onto the page. Just about once every other minute a voice inside my head whispered, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” And that was true. But I was figuring it out, thank you very much.

What moved me through the internal noise of self-doubt – and the external noise of what we call “the world” – was carefully selected music. I never was without my headphones. A single CD looped: “Creations Vibrations,” two tracks of meditative Tibetan Singing Bowl vibrations by Kenny Mazursky. (Shameless disclosure: Kenny is my brother-in-law and he is awesome.)

This morning my head is noisy and so is the coffee shop where I work. It’s got me thinking again about sound and music and productivity and our delicate brains. And how music affects writing, and frankly any other work that requires a quiet and steady mind.

I came across Music2Work2, a company dedicated to sharing music that makes us more effective at work. Here’s what they have to say about the science behind Music2Work2:

“To complete his psychology degree, Andrew [co-founder] studied the effects of sound on human reaction times. The data showed that adding noise to the environment increased performance until it became too distracting and performance started to decline.

This is the idea behind music to work to. If we create music that is stimulating but not too distracting, you can create an auditory environment that is optimized for work.”

If you do a search for music to work to, you’ll find a wide selection of styles and genres to match different tastes. Next time you’re hitting a block or need extra focus, try integrating music. It may very well become a vital part of your work routine.

Beware of Hyperlink Blue

color wheel

Recently, a friend forwarded a marketing email from a well-respected networking organization. The email listed events and pertinent information relevant to me. I had my calendar and wallet out, ready to sign up and fork over some moolah. But I never got that far. Sad for me. Sadder for the networking organization.

As I scrolled through the email…and scrolled….and scrolled…my eyes glazed over and my blood pressure ticked up a notch. The marketer had employed an excessive amount of “hyperlink blue” and what I call “emergency red” for headlines and random emphasis of random words. After two minutes of focused attention but without comprehending a single thing, I closed the email with an “aaaaagh” as if I just discovered a garden snake in my kitchen.

Honestly, I’m a snob when it comes to email formatting. In fact, Hollywood studios rewarded my snobbery with a weekly paycheck to ensure that written communications to employees were as digestible as possible. I’m a snob because the audience WILL NOT READ the email if given any reason not to read it.

Sometime back in last millennia, the masterminds behind the Internet standardized the default hyperlink color to #0000ff with an underline. No, it’s not pretty. It is reminiscent of 1998, but millions of people associate that color blue with links. So, in my opinion, that blue color is off limits for anything other than links. And, actually, now that we have other options for link colors (i.e. a virtual web crayon box), let’s just leave #0000ff back in the ’90s.

A few thoughts to consider about links:

  • Use color sparingly. A solid rule of thumb is black or dark gray for the body copy, one headline color, and one link color. The eye-glazing networking email used six colors: black, blue, red, maroon, pink, and lighter blue. If you color random words or use too many colors, you start a visual competition with the headline and links.
  • Choose color wisely. When selecting a link color:
    • Be consistent – Pick one color for all links throughout your site or marketing piece
    • Match your color scheme – Choose a color that compliments an embedded image or logo
  • Underline links. Your audience expects links to be easy to find. Color and underline accomplishes that.

There’s much to say about the use of color in writing materials. This article in entrepreneur.com is a good place to start: The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding.

And when all the color talk inevitably makes you reconsider your home or office decor, check out 10 Color Theory Basics Everyone Should Know. It’s a great primer on color and inspirational design article.

Ban Writer’s Block Forever

What is it about that blank piece of paper that is so daunting? The whiteness that dares you to transform it into something of significance. You tap, tap, tap a few words and delete. Tap and delete. The creative valve closes and you succumb to Writer’s Block.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone and there is an easier, more fulfilling and productive way to write. The daunting feeling is your gut telling you that there’s a misunderstanding.

Writing is not a one-step, linear process. In the most basic sense, there are two stages: WRITING and EDITING. WRITING employs raw, imaginative energy that doesn’t care about making sense or about the rules of grammar. It certainly doesn’t care about the critics. It’s all about going with the flow.

EDITING calls upon the organizer, the rule governor and the strategist in you. To oversimplify, WRITING comes from the creative RIGHT brain while EDITING relies on the more analytical and orderly LEFT brain.

For a moment, think of the art of writing in terms of sculpting clay. Let’s assume that you’re starting from scratch.

Stage One: Gather the clay ingredients, mix them and place the raw clay onto a clean surface.

What do you have at this point? A big blob of clay. Nothing of significance…yet. But there is great potential.

It’s the same with writing. The WRITING stage is deeply creative. It may not have any order or sequence to it. You figuratively spill out all that is in your heart, mind and soul about the topic to create your “writing clay”.

Yes, Stage One is messy. No, you probably wouldn’t publish it in its rough and unformed state. So, you go on to Stage Two.

Stage Two: Back to the clay sculpting image. At this stage, the sculptor shapes and manipulates the clay with the tools in his or her toolbox according to a particular style or vision – or maybe just by “feeling it out”.

And so it goes for the EDITING stage. You shape the “writing clay” by moving it around, reorganizing, rewording, scrapping some paragraphs and adding others. You play with the flow. Maybe take the middle paragraph and see how it reads as the opening paragraph.

Imagine what would happen if you combined Stage One and Stage Two while sculpting. If you tried to sculpt the ingredients before they were mixed. If you stared at the clean (blank) surface and tried to make something happen without placing the raw clay on it.

Not much progress. And a lot of confusion.

And the same goes when you combine Stage One and Stage Two while writing. It’s where Writer’s Block lurks. Your brain comes to a stand still. It’s a draw. No winners. Only self-doubt and suffering.

So what about the blank piece of paper? I look at it as the clean surface for the clay. That’s all.

Give the two-stage approach a shot and let me know how it goes. For me, it’s made all the difference.