NaNoWriMo: Halfway home. Stuck yet??

Hi, everybody! Sorry I dropped off the map. Between NaNo and the nice little boost of editing and non-profit work you’ve been sending my way (many thanks to you all!), I’ve been busy. I suppose that as soon as I committed to NaNo and started running the sale on non-profit consulting, that work would ensue… but I have room for more! Please contact me today to get some great deals on editing. I am super-fun to work with, if I do say so myself. And as I recall, I promised you all a NaNo editing special. That’s still coming, I just needed to put it off a bit. Look for it around Thanksgiving.

End PSA. On with the post!

Today is the end of the first half of NaNoWriMo. Dun-dun-dunnnnn!

Hit the doldrums yet?! I hope not. But if you did, here’s a few more ideas to get you going again:

  • Write from a different/new character viewpoint. New blood = new story.
  • Do something random. Add a flock of menacing ducks. An angry bank teller. Have an alien invasion at the mall. Make all the zombies start getting better. You know… weird stuff.
  • Talk out your story situation with friends or family. Have them give you random ideas for new conflict and then draw one from a hat.

Or maybe this is you: “I missed three days, and am waaaay behind. Help!”

  • Don’t panic.
  • Worry even less about typos.
  • Worry even less about the story making sense – as long as you can keep it going in a good/fun direction.
  • Make sure that you end your writing day in the middle of a scene rather than completing it. That way you know what you are going to write right off the bat next session, and it will be easier to get going.
  • Remove yourself from your normal situations. For example: Use an app that counts words, but isn’t one that you typically use or go outside or to a cafe to write.
  • Set up a reward system. Make it good. What are your favorite little things in life? Do that for yourself.
  • A couple of cheapies, but goodies: stretch descriptions and conversations. Make characters wax eloquent about otherwise boring details in a fun way. Describe every hair on the back of the murderous cat that is the villain of your sci-fi, alternate history.

Whatever you have to do to get that word count! And that brings up the question: what are YOU doing to keep yourself going? Share in the comments! You might help someone achieve their NaNo goal today.

Keep going, everybody! You can do it! Have a blast.

I’ll try to post sooner rather than later, but I’ll not make any specific promises. And please send me some more work! 🙂


As writers, we’re always looking for something, some system to not only increase our productivity, but also increase the quality of said production. There are tons of ideas about this floating around on the web, from the micro-level minutiae of Getting Things Done-type systems to the time-based systems like the Pomodoro Technique.

But maybe the answer is in biology!

Check out the link below. As a former professional French hornist, I can attest that this kind of productivity rhythm works. What works for you? Shoot me a link in the comments!

Why You Need To Unplug Every 90 Minutes | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction

[Other entries in the Talking Voice Series: Part 1: Authorial Voice in FictionPart 2: Tone and Part 3: Character and Other In-World Voices.]

So far in my series on voice, I’ve detailed my thoughts on voice in fiction. But now were going enter the realm of… the real (1). In addition to proper citations (see what I did there?), facts need proper voice and tone. Let’s talk voice in works of non-fiction.

First, remember this: non-fiction books aren’t all lists of facts or instructional. Many of them are stories, and need to be treated as such, including in terms of voice. Particularly autobiographies and memoirs (for the difference, see here). Let’s talk about those first.

It’s easy to think that an autobiographoical book simply needs the author’s natural voice. But in practice, this isn’t really the case. If you are writing memoirs or other first-person narratives, you aren’t really being yourself; you’re being a version of yourself. And guess what? Just like overall voice in fiction, that version of yourself needs to be consistent.

Is your autobiographical story a happy one? A thoughtful one? Or is it a roller coaster of highs and lows? Whatever it is, just like in fiction, you need to handle voice and tone in a manner that serves the story in the best way possible, from beginning to end. This might be as simple as being yourself. Momentum can often carry a writer through an autobiographical process. But lots of people can do that, and the result isn’t always compelling or well-written. Take the time and effort to make it so.

What if you’re writing a book about… say… yoga? In this context, you obviously have something significant to say about yogic practice (breathing, meditation, movement, alignment, or some combination). This could take the form of anything from a straight relating of historical fact (for example, your pictorial on the step-by-step evolution of supta baddha konasana), to presenting people with a new synthesis of yogic ideas gleaned from your own personal practice. If the former, then you’ll want to gravitate towards a more academic voice, whereas in the latter, you are more likely to feature a more informal voice that conveys a sense of discovery. A yoga teacher training manual will have a lot of information in bulleted points, photos, and lists of reference materials, but might also have the personal stamp of the teacher, making it a combination of the above. Make sure that you know what it is that you need to do before you get started and make a plan. Find a good editor to make sure that you stay on that plan!

Academic non-fiction has a style and voice all its own. Generally speaking, academic texts are much more formal, much more aligned with high school and college English essay writing than fiction. There is almost never an “I” and almost no personal stories to be found outside of a preface. Strict adherence to a style guide both in terms of grammar and citations in necessary. And make sure that you do what is appropriate for your discipline. For example, academic writing in music and art differs from that of physics and psychology. While both feature an academic voice, aspects of the voice might be different. Make sure you know what works best and what is expected.

[Bonus tip: when writing non-fiction, especially academic non-fiction, make sure that you make a commitment up front to document your sources! Nothing is worse than trying to finish up your book or manual, and not being able to remember where you lifted a quote or idea from! See this excellent resource for more on what kind of things to cite. When in doubt about whether to do so, cite it!]

And so, my series on voice comes to an end. Hope you had as much fun as I did! Let me know in the comments what thoughts and experiences you might have on voice in non-fiction.

Look for more writing tips – and maybe even a new series – soon.

1 – Wachowski, Andy and Lana. The Matrix. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros.,1999. Paraphrase of quote from the movie, Morpheus to Neo: “Welcome to the desert of the real.”

Talking Voice – Part 2: Tone

[Also check out the other posts in this series: Talking Voice – Part 1: Authorial VoiceTalking Voice – Part 3: Character & Stylistic VoicesTalking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction]

My first blog on natural voice didn’t much explore the often necessary idea of altering voice in order to fit the needs of the writing task. Today I want to briefly cover one possibility for alteration: tone.

As Julie Wildhaber said in her article on voice over at Grammar Girl’s indispensable website, tone is “a subset of voice. If voice is the personality of a story, then tone is the mood.”

I agree, and I agree with her that a good writer can change that personality. The key – as with voice in a larger sense – is maintaining awareness, consistency, and commitment.

One of the easiest ways to change the personality is to change the tone. If voice is ice cream, tone is a part of what makes the ice cream’s flavor. Tone is the mood of a piece of writing. Tone creates an emotional backdrop, helping a reader know whether to be anxious, happy, scared, ready for romance, or ready for a fight between a dozen master ninjas.

Tone can manifest itself in different ways. One of those is tempo. Shorter sentences and the strategic use of fragments create an urgent tone. Word choice can also change tone. The family of adjectives you pull from for a tender, sensual love scene will be different from the set you use when one lover later decides to chop the other into quivering packets of bloody meat with a 16-inch, saw-toothed hunting knife. (Though ‘quivering’ could be used in both instances! Words are cool that way sometimes.)

So romantic books and scenes might have more warmth, but at the same time are very intense. Thrillers are also intense, but it’s more about tempo; there are more actions packed into fewer words.

Decide before you begin a scene – or even a whole book – what tone you want to have in general, then stick to that as much as possible. If you do, you’ll find that revisions go much quicker, and aspects of your writing like character development will also be more consistent.

What other ways do you try to create the right tone in your writing? Let me know in the comments!

Coming Soon: Talking Voice – Part 3: Character & Stylistic Voices; Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction

Welcome to The Refined Word, Editing for Everyone!

I can’t tell you how excited I am to launch The Refined Word.

No, wait… I can. I’m tremendously excited! Yes. That’s about right.

I’ve spent the last several years doing work like this as on an ad hoc basis, just taking gigs as they came at me, all the while searching for a ‘real job,’ which sounded to me like ‘real security.’ With the economy the way it is, and my insistence on trying to stay in the non-profit sector, a ‘real job’ turned out to be a mountain to climb. And then I realized that I didn’t want do the same thing five days a week. I need variety in my life!

I think that’s what attracts me to working with words. It may be words, words, words, day in and day out, but that, as it turns out, is awesome. Whether I’m writing my own fiction, or helping someone fine-tune a manuscript, article, or grant narrative, I always find myself encountering new ideas, exciting information or stories… and that is energizing.

All the world’s words deserve TLC, but there’s not always time to give them the attention they need. Send them my way. I’ll help you raise the bar on everything from press releases to academic texts and papers, as well as short stories or that War and Peace-sized epic fantasy you’ve been churning away at for years. All at great rates.

Why choose The Refined Word for your editing needs? I pride myself on delivering clarity and correctness, but with an emphasis on retaining – and even enhancing – your unique voice. I love the synergy that arises from easy-going collaboration, when ideas fly freely and a text really starts to show its power and promise. (And yes, even a simple press release or quickie blog post deserves to shine its brightest!)

But that’s not all. I’m certainly not turing my back on my non-profit roots. I offer special services and discounts to qualifying non-profit organizations!

I want to be crushed under an avalanche of words! Your words. Your friend’s and colleague’s words. Your kids’ school’s words. Your small business’s words. Your growing non-profit’s words. The words of perfect strangers. Just bury me in words, and I’ll edit my way out!

Give The Refined Word a try today!

(And there’s more about me here. Check back soon for a new logo!)