Friday: Tips

Writing Tips


Nobody tells this to people who are beginners; I wish someone had told me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.

But there is this gap.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.

It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile.

You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

-Ira Glass

Friday: Showcase


Why English is Hard to Learn

By Anonymous

We’ll begin with box; the plural is boxes,

But the plural of ox is oxen, not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, and two are called geese,

Yet the plural of moose is never called meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a house full of mice;

But the plural of house is houses, not hice.

The plural of man is always men,

But the plural of pan is never pen.

If I speak of a foot, and you show me two feet,

And I give you a book, would a pair be a beek?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,

Why shouldn’t two booths be called beeth?

If the singular’s this and the plural is these,

Should the plural of kiss be ever called keese?

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say mother, we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his, and him;

But imagine the feminine . . . she, shis, and shim!

If you’re interested, there are loads of angry poets rhyming (kinda) about the English language. Check out a few here!

Friday: Showcase


Today’s post comes from Jonas David, science-fiction author and cat enthusiast. When he was asked to tell us about his writing rules, he wrote the following advice. Check it out! Jonas David

My Rule One is not necessarily a rule that would be number one for any other writer, but it is one I have to keep telling myself.  It is  “Skip to the point.” Details are fine and dandy and can be fun to get lost in, but don’t let yourself get trapped in them.
When I first started writing, among many other things I had a problem of getting stuck because I couldn’t think of specific details or would end up writing about inane, pointless things that the character had to do to get from Point A to Point B.

For instance: Say your character needs to meet her illicit lover in the coffee shop for a clandestine conversation. Well, first she needs to get out of bed, right? Yes, then she needs to brush her teeth and put on some clothes, but what should she wear? Once she’s dressed, she has to have breakfast and maybe read the newspaper, then she has to find her keys and walk out to her car in the driveway. Then she gets in the car and drives to the coffee shop, getting trapped at a red light on the way . . . Or, you can escape the detail trap and just start with her sitting down at their corner booth in the coffee shop.

The above may be an exaggeration, but I often notice a subtler version of it in my writing and that of others. Ask yourself: Is this important to the plot or character development? Does it tell us something we didn’t already know about the story or the character? Is it at least exciting? If you can’t answer yes to any of these, then why are you writing it?

It’s like being trapped in Zeno’s Paradox of Motion: “That which is in motion must arrive at the halfway stage before it arrives at the goal.” It implies that it is impossible to ever reach the goal because you can always move half of the remaining distance to the end.
If you find yourself writing like this, the paradox will become true and you’ll never get to the point. So instead, skip to the point! I this rule think easily fits under Cicero Grade’s Rule One. Mine is just a more specific area in which your writing can get in the way of your story.

Other rules I like to use are “If something can go wrong, it should!” and “Think bigger!”

The more conflict in a story, the more interesting and exciting it is, so don’t miss opportunities to add some. Secondly, why do something small when you can do it huge? Let’s combine both of these into our previous example: Our heroine is meeting her lover at the coffee shop, so what could go wrong? Let’s put her husband at the counter having some breakfast before work. Great! Now our heroine is uncomfortable and stressed, just how we like our heroes to be. But wait, lets think bigger! He turns around and sees her and yelling ensues. Bigger! He gets into a brawl with her secret lover and the police are called. Now we have a story.

So get your fingers on those keys and go write! And when you do, skip to the point where things go wrong—badly wrong!

Which of Jonas David’s stories is your favorite? What writing advice do you agree with, and what are your writing rules? Comment below!

Friday: Writing Rules

Writing Rules

1. Dialogue should be brief.

2. It should add to the reader’s present knowledge.

3. It should eliminate the routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.

4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.

5. It should keep the story moving forward.

6. It should be revelatory of the speaker’s character, both directly and indirectly.

7. It should show the relationships among people.

Elizabeth Bowen

What are your writing rules? Do they fit under Cicero Grade‘s Rule One?

Friday: Showcase


DuoTrope‘s great, but what happens when the free trial runs out? It’s okay. No one will call you the hipster word, here. Well anyway, if you can’t afford a subscription, you might want to consider The Grinder. They update their markets daily and help writers keep track of where their submissions have gone. If you’re writing to publish, this is a great link to have!

What links, as a writer, do you use or recommend? Do you prefer DuoTrope or The Grinder? Let us know in the comments below!

Friday: Cicero Grade Testimonial


I’m always up for a new challenge, so if you have writing that needs proofread, critiqued, or edited, please click over to my business website, Cicero Grade Editing. Enjoy this testimonial from K. Wall:

Lisa was a valuable member of the team at Shadows Express [Magazine], and the two issues she worked on with me were much better for her input. 

She helped authors realize the full potential of their stories, often creating the proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

While Shadows Express is no longer publishing, I expect that Lisa will continue to help authors succeed in the future. I anticipate seeing great things from her and her clients.

Would you like to hire me [Lisa] to edit your writing? Check out my Submission page!

Friday: Tips


The truth about Mary-Sue is she doesn’t lurk in only fan-fiction. She is published daily by beginning and veteran writers all across Internetdom. She possesses the protagonist of many a novel-in-progress, and the author may not even know it.

You cannot know that you have one if you don’t know what she is, so I’m going to put it in the simplest terms I can: Mary-Sue is a character who is indisputably admired because the author will never let her be wrong. To expand on that, the Mary-Sue is an unrealistic ideal, a pawn of a character who serves only to act out the dreams of the author, or Suethor.

If the Suethor wants to be a cheerleader, for example, Mary-Sue is the prettiest, peppiest, and fittest cheerleader – also captain – who is the only one on the squad to get every single person in the stadium to chant along (even the people rooting for the other team)! She already has a full scholarship for cheering (is that even a thing?) and probably will get onto the Dallas Cowboys’ cheer lineup when she effortlessly performs the best routine that anyone has ever seen, ever. Oh, also they’ll just make her the captain automatically, so she’ll be the youngest, prettiest, peppiest cheerleader the world has ever seen.

This concept is taking form, you say, but how can you tell if you have a Mary-Sue infection without reading the entire damn book? The simplest indicator is other characters’ reactions to Mary’s actions, beliefs, or even presence. Typically, characters of Mary-Sue’s gender will assume a sidekick-type role, wherein they admire every little thing about Mary-Sue (or Gary-Stu), even if he or she has no way to realistically take credit for that thing (You have perfect earlobes! -or- You’re the best lifter here!).

Opposite-sex characters are automatically romantic-interests. They appreciate Mary-Sue as if they were always meant to be together, and no matter her actual attractiveness and charm, her fan-boys will drool over the very thought of escorting her to her locker. They are protective of Mary-Sue, who inspires obsessive chivalry among her fans and bitter envy among her acquaintances.

Every admirer’s dialogue at some point serves as the cheap disguise for the author, who sneaks some justification and approval of Mary-Sue’s actions: “You said you weren’t any good at planning parties!” or “I thought you’d be horrible at karaoke, but you’re even better than Cecelia, and she’s been singing since she was twelve!”

Do you think you might have a Mary-Sue? What do you consider the most offensive Mary-Sue characteristic? Is the “My Immortal” story a fake? What books or movies have a Mary-Sue? Discuss in the comments below!

Friday: Showcase

Publishing News

Dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuun! Published on 6 December 2013 and crafted for your reading pleasure, it’s the debut novel of Lexa Cain, Soul Cutter!

The Soul Cutter is hunting again. 

Soul Cutter #0

Seventeen-year-old Élan spends her free time videoing psychic scams and outing them online. Skepticism makes life safe—all the ghosts Élan encounters are fakes. When her estranged mother disappears from a film shoot in Egypt, Élan puts her medium-busting activities on hold and joins the search.

In Egypt, the superstitious film crew sucks at finding her mom. When a hotel guest is killed, whispers start—the locals think their legendary Soul Cutter has come back from the dead. Élan’s only ally is Ramsey, a film-crew intern, but he’s arrogant, stubborn—and hiding dangerous secrets.

When Élan discovers the Soul Cutter is no scam, she finds herself locked in a deadly battle against a supernatural killer with more than her mother’s life at stake.

Élan’s fighting for her very soul.

Previously mentioned here. If you haven’t picked it up yet, please do so here and now. It’s a thrilling read!

Friday: Promotion

Call To Write

Because I edit fiction for a living, writing first drafts (or first-drafting) can be difficult. First-drafting is when you stifle your inner editor and just write your scene(s). It doesn’t have to be interesting, pretty, or even comprehensible. Just get it out so you have something to expand and edit later.

Think what you want about NaNoWriMo (I know I will), but one thing participants do that seems to help me stop talking about writing and actually do it is a writing sprint. Set a time limit (I usually do 15 minutes), and refuse all distractions so you can write. Just spill it all onto the page!

I’d like to host a sprint challenge here: Open a comment, post your starting time, and WRITE for 15 minutes. Post your ending time and submit! The best “entry” will be featured with links to the author’s blog or online portfolio. Good luck!

What do you think of writing sprints, or NaNoWriMo? Post a comment below!

Win a Copy of Soul Cutter by Lexa Cain!

LogoHello, fellas and fellettes!

Sorry about the absence, but I’m working on restoring this blog to its former glory. Any “Find the Typo” photos you have would be helpful (send to Cutter #0

I’d like to direct some attention to the blog of Lexa Cain, author of Soul Cutter! She’s hosting a challenge to find the errors (rings a bell, huh?) on the freshly unveiled cover of her novel. You could even win a copy of Soul Cutter!

Ms. Cain’s novel was the first that Cicero Grade Editing has ever edited, and let me say, it was so fun to read, I kept having to pull myself out of the story! I’d get caught up in the action, the mystery, and especially the development of the characters. Now, it’s gone through the majority of the publishing process, and Ms. Cain even details some of that process on her blog, which I think is pretty cool.

Soul Cutter comes out on 6 December 2013. Way to go, Lexa!

If you’re into Young Adult fiction, the paranormal, a good mystery, ancient Egyptian history and mythology, or horror (and even if you aren’t), check out this challenge to win a free copy of Lexa Cain’s Soul Cutter!


*This challenge is no longer running. Winners posted here.*