What’s In Your Toolbox II

11510921-toolbox-with-tools-skrewdriver-hammer-handsaw-and-wrench-3d-stock-photoAbout a week ago I wrote a blog on tools I use to help with writing. I included the usual suspects-dictionary and thesaurus, but also included a few that I thought  many of my readers probably did not know existed. These included the ’emotion thesaurus’ -yes there is such a thing and it is great to help you get the creative juices flowing when describing your character’s reaction to what is going on in a particular scene.

After I posted the blog, I thought of a few more that have been instrumental in helping me to become a better writer and wanted to add those to the list. So, I decided to write What’s in you toolbox II.

Autocrit-is an online editing site that offers invaluable information about your prose. Being a beginner, I never thought about my word use or over word use is probably more accurate. I never thought about clichés, or passive writing, or the length of my sentences and how it affected the pacing.  One of my catch phrases is “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

So you can subscribe to Autocrit for free and it will review a segment of your writing(about 250 words at a time). After doing an analysis, it will provide you with the most used words in the segment and approximately how many you should have used, clichés, passive verbs, sentence length, and so much more.

The way Autocrit makes it’s money is you discover how great a tool it is and you pay for the upgrade. I purchased the upgrade for one year and used it frequently to help me become more aware of my writing and the common mistakes I was guilty of making. I am now more aware of my shortcomings and hopefully avoiding many of the mistakes I made in the past.

Grammarly – I’ve never used this site, but it’s my understanding that it is similar to Autocrit. I know many of my critique partners like it, so I thought I would throw it in the mix as a site to check out.

Scribophile- Who doesn’t need a critique partner who knows what they are looking for while reviewing your work and will offer an objective critique on what they are reading. If you are like me, you didn’t want to approach family and friends. They’re not writers and don’t understand the mechanics, plus they don’t want to hurt your feelings so they sugarcoat their critiques of your book. Besides that, what if they don’t like it. Nobody wants to be rejected especially by people they care about.

Scribophile is an online critique group that will critique up to about 3000 words of your novel at a time. It is free. Once again you can upgrade, but this is totally unnecessary, unless you are using it like Facebook to communicate with other aspiring authors. The way it works is you critique other peoples work and earn points. Once you have accumulated enough you can post your work. I had an 82,000 word novel critiqued in about 3 months.

You will find some of your critiques are performed by novices but many others by very good writers. The recommendations and assistance I got to correct grammar, POV issues and plot holes was invaluable.

They also have a book swap group if you would like to have someone read your work through completely without going the critique route. Before I had anyone look at my work, I wanted to go the critique route, so I could iron out as many mistakes as possible.

There are other online critique groups, but I haven’t used any of them, so I can’t comment on their effectiveness in helping with your writing. I know Scribophile and give them 5 stars 🙂

So many resources available at little to no cost. You just need to know where to look.

So what’s in your toolbox? Would love to hear from you.

-Jan R


What’s In Your Toolbox II

Edit, Edit or Edit?

Well that is true, but it’s only one type of editing, and there are three different types listed in the article. The article also noted that a novel length manuscript needed to go through all three types before it was submission ready.

Developmental Edit – better known as the content editing, story editing, structural editing or substantive editing. This edit looks at the big picture of your novel and focuses on

  • character arcs/development
  • pacing
  • story structure
  • pot holes or inconsistencies
  • strong beginning, middle and end
  • plausibility/believability
  • clear transitions
  • point of view
  • showing vs. telling
  • dialogue

Copy Edit – copy editing is the one most of us think of when we hear editor. He comes on the scene after the developmental editor and cleans things up. He is the one who does the line by line with a focus on

  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling
  • redundant words
  • inconsistencies/continuity errors
  • awkward sentence structure

The proofread- I never thought of a proofreader as an editor, but in all reality he is. The proofreader checks your manuscript for lingering errors, missed commas, and typos. It may be tempting to skip this step or do it yourself. Keep in mind, you’ve read the book so many times you will be blind to many lingering errors. You need an unfamiliar eye.

I thought this was an interesting article. I’m not sure where you are in the writing process, but you do need to know  the proper steps to take before submitting your work. Remember as stated above you don’t see the errors. You are so familiar with your work the errors become invisible. Your brain actually fills in the holes as you read.

I didn’t have this information and submitted my work to several different agencies after I ‘edited’ it and had a few friends read through it. Needless to say I got nothing but rejections. I followed up on suggestions, and that’s when I realized just how bad the manuscript was. I couldn’t believe I sent such shoddy work to an agent. I was embarrassed and glad I hadn’t met them in person.

Hope this helped!

-Jan R

Edit, Edit or Edit?

It’s Your Story (Revised)

I was sitting on my couch reworking a scene in the novel I’m writing when I stopped right in the middle of it. What am I doing? I asked myself. The purpose of the rewrite was to make some changes based on a critique I received earlier in the week.

The person that critiqued my book is very good at the craft, and I respect  her opinion. There were others who critiqued the piece and loved it, offering a few comments here and there to correct grammar or replace a word. So who was right? The three people who loved it, or the one who thought I needed to go back and make some significant changes.

The more I thought about the changes this person suggested,  and there have been quite a few throughout the time period I’ve posted my work, the more I realized she had her own idea of the way my story needed to go, and I had mine.

With this being said, she’s made some great suggestions. Because of her my story is more believable,  my dialogue more natural, and my POV more consistent. Her critiques have been invaluable.

However, I had to remind myself that this is my story. Nobody has a better understanding of the dynamics than I do. Nobody knows it from beginning to end but me. Nobody can tell it better than me.

Weigh comments and suggestions you receive from others and ask this question. Is it making my story better or changing it into something it is not? Remember: It’s your story.

I’m a Merry Christmas kind of person, but I know not all of my readers celebrate the holidays as I do. However you celebrate, I pray you have a wonderful holiday season. Be safe and thank you for stopping by!

-Jan R

It’s Your Story (Revised)

What’s In Your Toolbox?

tools-for-insights-into-your-display-advertising-compete-pulse-kwccu6-clipartSo as a writer I find myself relying on numerous sources for information. I need to know how to write a cohesive, well written sentence, but I also need facts, and I need to know what to look out for. We all make errors when writing and goodness knows I will never be perfect, but I do have some reference sites I use to make my writing better.

I thought I would share those with you and ask that you share sites that have been helpful to you as you navigate the world of writing fiction.

I’m not going to include a dictionary or thesaurus in my list, as I feel they are a given. I would recommend if  you have access to a smartphone to ask Siri for spelling, definitions and synonyms. She can find the information and give it to you in a matter of seconds. I keep her next to me while I write.

Other tools that I use include:

  • Emotion Thesaurus – Look up the emotion you are trying to express and you get a list of actions, facial expressions, and sounds commonly associated with the emotion. Example:  Shock/Surprise-  small gasp, heavy feel in the stomach, reaching hand up to lightly clasp throat, flayed hands across chest, a shaky voice-soft-halting-unbelieving.

I found a free emotion thesaurus online but was unable to locate more than excerpts while writing this blog. They aren’t expensive and can be purchased on line and saved to your laptop for easy access.

  • grammar.about.com-200 common redundancies – is another great site for writers. I was amazed at how often I added redundancies to my writing. Examples: (brief) moment, circulate (around), (current) incumbent, disappear (from sight)-I think you get the gist.

You can find this one online for free. It gives an extensive list and gets you to think about what you are writing. Are you using redundant words?

  • worldatlas.com – get the facts about the countries your characters are moving through. You want to pull your readers in and make the settings believable. The world atlas provides information such as weather, language, currency, time zones, religious beliefs.

My main character spends a brief period of time in Afghanistan. The world atlas along with other research, provided information I needed to make that chapter believable.

  • wsu.edu/brians/errors/errors.html- is another great site that provides common errors made in English writing.

Hope these sites are helpful to you. I have visited and used them all. The only caution I would give is with the ‘world atlas’ site. I get a lot of pop-ups and advertisements while navigating through for information. I’m not sure if it’s just my computer or if it’s common to this site.

-Jan R


What’s In Your Toolbox?

I Don’t Feel Like Writing

writingDo you ever want to just stop writing for a while? I’m at that point right now. I’m not working on my book, as I just finished what I consider to be a really good first draft, and I’ve stepped away from it until the beginning of the year.

What I am doing is my blog. It only requires me to write a couple pages twice a week, which isn’t that much writing, but I’m still struggling.

Maybe it’s the season and all of the distractions that are going on around me. Maybe it was a mistake to pull away so drastically from my writing regime. It seems like the longer I put off writing, the harder it’s becoming. Truth be known I wrote almost daily over the last year and did countless critiques of other peoples work. Once I finished my draft, I almost completely shut down that part of my life to take a breath.

Maybe all those tips about writing everyday and setting quotas was right. Not to say that you can’t take time off to enjoy a special evening or life, but you have to stay motivated or you will lose the desire, momentum, will to write.untitled

So I find myself going through articles on how to motivate yourself to write. Not sure why, I already know most of the tips by heart. Hoping to find something new, a magic pill maybe.  Well If there is one, I haven’t found it. So I guess I just have to fall back on the tried and true.

  • Make a date with yourself to show up and write on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be great-you just need to write.
  • Choose the time of day that works best for you. In the morning after that first cup of coffee works best for me.
  • Share your goals and dreams with family and friends. They will ask how it’s going and keep you in line.
  • Cut off all electronics. This one is a given and to be honest, I have allowed myself to get sucked back into Facebook and other social media outlets over the last month. They are mind numbing and can take precious time away from what is important. If you use them to communicate with family in other states, like myself, you need to schedule in time and watch the clock.
  • Set a daily quota. To be honest I’ve never done that one. I do set a weekly quota. It allows me time for life to happen and is more realistic. Point is you need a goal, something to work towards to keep you moving.
  • Record and keep up with your word count. It will serve as a timesheet and a reward system to praise yourself.
  • Allow yourself to write badly. At least for early drafts be gentle on yourself. If you stop to judge, edit, delete and rewrite, you will be spending all your time playing reader or critic, not writer.

Have a great weekend and don’t stop writing 🙂

-Jan R

I Don’t Feel Like Writing

They Are Only Tags-Really?

dialoguetagtotalsAt this point in the game, you probably know what a dialogue tag is. It is a phrase placed at the end of a quote to identify the speaker. It should mimic speech’s natural rhythm and make long dialogue-runs digestible.

When using dialogue tags, it is  recommended that you keep it simple. There is nothing wrong with the word ‘said’.  Don’t give in to the urge to use every big word you know. If you do, you will end up with a big clunky mess. The wrong tag can overshadow the words spoken and draw your reader out of the story.


  • “You hit my car!” she screamed.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he groaned.
  • “But you ran the red light!” She expostulated.
  • “I know-I’m sorry,” he stammered.

Sorry about the bullets, I just couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I think you get the point though. Could you imagine reading an entire book written this way? I would go nuts.

This example shows how tags can effect your story by slowing down the pace and overshadowing the dialogue. I was hesitating after every tag and imagining the characters going through the emotions.  I couldn’t help myself. And what was with expostulating? Somebody had their thesaurus open 🙂

When you use the words ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, they are so familiar to your reader that they blur into the background and become invisible. This allows the dialogue itself to come to the forefront. You can also drop tags entirely when it’s clear who’s speaking. Overuse of tags can be just as annoying as using the wrong tag.images9d0tdr1t


  • “You hit my car!” she said.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he said.
  • “But you ran the red light!”
  • “I know-I’m sorry.”

I hope you thought this example read much smoother than the first. It didn’t distract from what was being said, and you weren’t focusing on the dialogue tags themselves.

There is so much information on dialogue tags. I’m only scratching the surface with this blog.

I’m not saying that you can’t use emotion in a tag, sometimes it’s necessary. It helps the reader understand the character’s feelings or reactions to a situation.  I just wanted to emphasize the importance of balance and focus.

While they are only tags, they play an important role in the mechanics of your story and can lead to some major mistakes if not used appropriately.

-Jan R


They Are Only Tags-Really?

Thesaurus-Friend or Foe?

6207da0c9e08fd20a96cc7bf70033c98I’ve read over and over that the thesaurus is a ferocious enemy of the novice writer. As a new writer, we want to impress others with our command of the English language. Often times to the detriment of ourselves.

Do you use the Thesaurus for bigger better words to make yourself look smarter and more professional? STOP!

Not all synonyms are created equal-just because the thesaurus says a word is a synonym doesn’t mean it’s the exact counterpart. Some words when replaced with a synonym no longer mean the same.

Stop peppering your writing with ‘big words’-using ‘big words’ can make your writing sound fake. No normal person uses those words. Get real.

Embrace your vocabulary as it is-this will help you develop your voice and sounds authentic.

We are not walking dictionaries or thesauri but having a large vocabulary is definitely helpful which is why extensive reading is a prerequisite for a writer.

I use my thesaurus but not to replace my words with ‘big’ more impressive ones. Keep in mind, if you don’t know what a word means, your reader may not either. I find it very annoying when I’m reading a novel and run across a million dollar word that I have never heard before. I find myself reading the sentence over and over, trying to figure out the gist of the meaning through the words surrounding it. If this doesn’t work, I usually suck it up and move on. But give me too many of these words and I will probably put your book down and avoid your books in the future. You are writing over my head.

I use the thesaurus when I realize I’ve used the same word twice in close proximity, or when I’m looking for a way to say something a little bit differently. An example would be a replacement for the word ‘angry’. Some synonyms would be: annoyed, bitter, enraged, exasperated, furious, irate…I know and use all of these words but when writing sometime I have a mental block. The thesaurus helps me find the words I can’t quite put my finger on.

Remember, big words don’t mean big emotions. Good writing is choosing the right word for the situation-Hemingway

-Jan R

Thesaurus-Friend or Foe?

Fiction Writing Vs. English Teacher Writing

images-2I wasn’t an English major, but I’ve never had an issue with stringing words together and making a coherent, easy to read sentence. I know most of the rules, but I also know those rules are meant to be broken, especially if you are writing fiction.

The purpose of English Teacher grammar is to understand how to create sanitized, standardized, easy to understand, impersonal, inoffensive writing. If you’re looking for a job writing pamphlets for the government, instructional manuals, or news reports, then that’s the way to go.

These rules aren’t meant for fiction. That does not mean your story shouldn’t be grammatically and structurally sound. We are talking about styles here, not mechanics.

Fiction writing is nonstandardized, complex, personal, and occasionally offensive. It is the best way to reach into your readers head and show him your words. In order to bring your voice to life and get your world on the page, you need to say goodbye to English Teacher writing.

Fiction Writing Vs. English Teacher Writing

Fiction Writing-fits the world of the book, the mouths of the characters, and the writer who wrote it. English Teacher Writing– incorporates a specific, caricatured, extreme form of writing without regard to the story’s world, characters, or even the writer and what he or she is like.

Fiction Writing changes with the situation. English Teacher Writing is unchanged.

Fiction Writing does not look to impress, it’s sole purpose is to present the story. English Teacher Writing is self-conscious, self-important, and looks and feels forced and out right silly at times.

Fiction Writing is not always pretty, but it always fits the circumstances, characters, and story. English Teacher Writing is always pretty and always smooth but rarely fits anything.


Fiction Writing

“Get away! Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!” The girl in the alley curled into a tighter ball, her scarred, skinny arms pulling her knees up against her chest, her eyes white-rimmed, her hair wild.

English Teacher Writing

“Get away from me! Don’t lay a hand on me! Leave me alone!” The girl in the alley, already in a fetal position, pulled her knees tighter to her chest. she wore an expression of dazed panic, and radiated the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

-Jan R




Fiction Writing Vs. English Teacher Writing