Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Writing Tip Wednesday--Writing Advice from Sandy James

Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! We've had some terrific advice from a lot of awesome authors, haven't we?

Up next is Sandy James, one of my many IRWA friends and one of the writers who introduced me to writing craft. Thanks so much for sharing your advice and insight, Sandy!

I often have my arm twisted to help judge contests for unpublished authors. I’m an easy target for contest coordinators who beg, mostly because I was a bit of a contest diva (cough * whore * cough) before I published. Until I was able to find honest and talented critique partners, I loved the feedback I would get on my contest entries. Some of the judges gave me hints that I found invaluable in helping my writing skills evolve.

The reason I bring this up now is that I’d like to share the most valuable advice I ever received—advice I now am compelled to pass on to entrants who make the same common mistake.

Don’t be afraid to cut words!

Newbie writers have a tendency to be a bit...wordy. They try to be descriptive, to show rather than tell, and it often causes an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs, many of which could be replaced by stronger verbs and nouns. As a result, I spend a lot of time typing out phrases like “less is more” and “I’d considering cutting this.”

Cutting this? Gasp! How can you expect me to cut my precious words!

I do expect it. I expect A LOT of it.

Some writers believe everything they write is sacred. Never should a word be removed. Never. That’s balderdash. I’ve probably cut as many words as I’ve written—maybe even more. But I don’t mourn those losses. To me, writing is like any other skill. It requires lots and lots of practice. Not all that practice will be worth remembering.

My first book was written in 2006. It was a rather epic 138K story that included time travel to the Old West, and I thought it was very clever. Then I edited it a few times, put it aside, and moved on to writing more books. My third book was the first I worked on with critique partners, and from them, I learned more than I ever thought possible. And my writing improved by leaps and bounds.

After I finally published, I pulled up the file for that first story. Reading it was agony. There wasn’t an adverb or adjective I didn’t use and use badly. (Get the irony there?) So I did something that make my hands shake and my knees knock. I deleted the entire file. Then I started from scratch and rewrote the book. Twist of Fate was published in 2011—sans 43K words! Then I rewrote the second for good measure. It’s Saving Grace, which is probably my most popular story.

Don’t be afraid to look at your story with a critical eye and cut things that simply don’t add to the story. Some suggestions for things that represent easy cuts:

That. One of the most overused words in the English language.

Adverbs. Why rely on “ly” words when it’s more illustrative to use stronger verbs. Instead of walking swiftly across the room, trying hurrying or scurrying or sweeping. Instead of standing quickly, why not leap to your feet? Choose stronger verbs and most adverbs become superfluous.

Adjectives. Isn’t it more effective to talk about a maiden rather than a young woman? Doesn’t it evoke a better picture to write about a warrior than a strong man? Find descriptive nouns instead of resorting to tired adjectives.

Dialogue tags. I prefer using action in between dialogue instead of dialogue tags such as “he said.” I helped a friend cut almost 5K from one of her stories simply by removing unneeded dialogue tags.

Just remember, every word you write contributes to learning the craft, but not every word is worthy of being read by others. Be brave and learn to cut when you need to!

Happy writing!

Sandy James lives in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis with her husband of thirty years. She is a high school teacher of both psychology and U.S. history, and also teaches psychology on the college level. Sandy and her husband own a small stable of harness racehorses and enjoy spending time at the two Indiana racetracks. She’s also an bestselling author and the winner of two HOLT Medallions (Murphy's Law and Rules of the Game). Look for her popular series--Damaged Heroes, the Alliance of the Amazons, and The Ladies Who Lunch. Visit Sandy at or find her as sandyjamesbooks on both Twitter and Facebook. Sandy is represented by Joanna MacKenzie of Browne & Miller Literary.

Thanks so much for visiting today, Sandy! Cutting words and choosing strong ones can really tighten the story and improve pacing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

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