How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro, Part 2: Know Thyself

For part one of this series, “The Basics,” click here.

We all have quirks in the way we write. For some of us (*cough* me), those quirks include long sentences, overuse of commas, and overuse of em dashes. One of my best friends always used to mistype “minute” as “minuet,” not because she didn’t know how to spell the word, but because her fingers tended to jumble up the E and the T. Other people tend to mistype certain phrases – “all of a sudden” becomes “all the sudden,” for example.

Quirks like these are perfectly normal, and sometimes they can even be endearing. Unfortunately, a lot of people’s written quirks are pretty grating and can affect their audience’s experience negatively. Luckily, with some extra attention to detail, most of your more annoying quirks/repeated misspellings/regularly broken grammar rules will disappear.

So, how do you fix things?

The first step to fixing these issues is really analyzing both your own writing and other people’s writing. If you’re a novelist, read some high-quality novels and really take time to look at how they word things. If you’re a blogger, read some blogs written by professionals that have a really strong grasp of English and see how they put things together. Once you’ve done that, go back and look at your own writing. Older pieces will be better for this, as you’ve had some time away from them and they’ll feel a bit more like they were written by someone else. This will help you see your writing with new eyes.

Once you’re looking at your own writing, get really nitpicky about it. Are you using that word correctly? Are your paragraphs and sentences too long? Too short? Are they all one length with little variation? Are you using extra words you don’t need? (“Just” and “suddenly” are often used unnecessarily.)

Identifying these shortcomings can be difficult if you haven’t practiced it or if English isn’t your first language, but it’s a vital part of becoming a better writer and self-editor. Finding out what mistakes you make most often in your writing will help in two important ways. First, it will make your existing writing higher-quality and easier to read. Secondly, it will keep you from making those same mistakes in the future. This will allow you to update old posts and make them easier to read and increase audience engagement in the future by ensuring readers aren’t turned off by easily-avoided errors. With a little editing, everyone’s happier!

30 Things and an Outline for #Preptober

As you can see from the picture above, I am hanging on to my October decluttering challenge by the skin of my teeth. Last night, I took a few minutes to pick out 30 things to get rid of. I’m still way behind, but something in me just does not wanna let this challenge slip away unfinished. I’m sick and in a metric ton of pain graciously provided by an ill-timed strep throat infection, so just plain existing is hard enough. But I’m trying not to let being sick have me completely incapacitated. I still have goals I want to achieve this month! Even though the wind has kinda been taken out of my sails, I still need to get to where I’m going.

Aside from decluttering, my main goal for October was to get prepared for NaNo. I’m also pretty behind on that, but I do have the very beginnings of an outline started. That’s honestly a whole lot further than I assumed I would get this month. And I still have a week to go before my planning time runs out, so all is not lost.

For anyone else planning on taking NaNoWriMo on next month, I am going to be hosting some NaNo writing events for work. If you’re interested, feel free to join us in our Discord chat room. I have 3 events planned over the course of the month (on the 1st, 15th, and 30th), but I’ll be doing my best to keep things lively throughout the month. Feel free to drop in!

#Preptober Continues!

There are twenty-two days left until NaNoWriMo. I’m getting a little more scared, but also way more psyched up. My boyfriend and my dad have both decided to participate, which is exciting. I’ve never really done NaNo with anybody besides me, myself, and I. I’m also going to be living in the city while really-for-real-not-quitting-after-three-days participating, which is also awesome. I’m a Real Adult now and the idea of going to write-ins or other local NaNo events isn’t completely scary now. I’m also doing some NaNo-related stuff for work, which means I’m thinking about NaNo all the time instead of just when I’m in productive leisure mode (the rarest mode of them all).

The most exciting piece of prep I’ve done so far this month has been writing a synopsis for my novel. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, considering that I haven’t been 100% sure what my story was even really going to be about. But I tried to treat it like I used to treat thesis statements in my college essays. It’s a possible roadmap for where I’m going that will get me asking the right questions, but I may go down a back road and find something totally unexpected but way better than what I started with. I may end up writing something entirely unrelated to the synopsis/thesis and end up having to rethink it altogether. And that’s fine. The point is that I have a starting point and have told myself what direction to start going in.

Here’s the synopsis so far:


Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 10.11.10 PM

Add me as a Writing Buddy on! My author name/username is missbluestocking.


In writing just those first few hundred words, I learned some new things. The city people are definitely going to be some of the main antagonists in this story, but I didn’t have a fully realized idea of how that would happen. I still think I need to rework some of my ideas about them. Like, for example, I don’t necessarily want to write a story where violence is the answer/the main conflict. But the premise I’ve given myself leans that way. So my current options are: 1) continue with this premise and then subvert the violence paradigm by having Masha always choose nonviolence and use more creative problem-solving, or, 2) change up my premise and have the issue be more internal. The girl that Masha picks up – she’s damaged. She’s been stewing in a deeply toxic ideology for a long time. Maybe that girl causes problems because her social training just doesn’t work in a society so radically different from hers. Maybe she tries to apply city rules to the community she moves into and it causes conflict.

It’s an interesting choice to make. I’m not entirely sure how I want to go about it. I have this idea of what I want this book to be, what I want it to say and mean, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get there. I’m really happy I’m already thinking about these questions, though. This story has been rattling around in my brain for months, but this is the first time I’ve actually really put pen to paper and done anything real with it. I definitely think that that’s worth doing before November 1st, especially if you’re a Planner rather than a Pantser. (That is, if you prefer to plan ahead for your novel rather than flying by the seat of your pants.)

I still have a lot of questions that I need to ask myself in the next few weeks, but I feel really happy about where I’m at right now. Definitely feeling more confident in my ability to finish this year than I have ever felt before.

How are you preparing for NaNo? Are you a Planner or a Pantser? Share your thoughts in the comments!



How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro: Part 1 – The Basics


Photo by Barn Images on Unsplash

When it comes to writing, fresh eyes and a second opinion are invaluable tools. Having someone who can look over your writing and make it flow better and catch all the typos and misspellings you weren’t able to catch on your own can take your blog post, short story, or novel from “meh” to “amazing.” (Trust me, I know – the majority of my job is taking the work of okay writers and making their writing sound like it was written by a great writer.)

Fortunately, you usually don’t really need a professional copy editor like myself to fix the biggest issues with your work. A lot of the problems I see are simple fixes, and with a little practice on spotting those issues, you’ll be able to fix half the issues in your work so that when you actually do have someone go over it, they can focus more on the quality of the content rather than fixing a bunch of easily-avoided errors.

The absolute most important part of this is taking the time to do a first edit yourself. I know that probably sounds like common sense to a lot of you, but for those of you – or, if I’m being honest, us – who want the instant gratification of our stuff being Out There For People To Read Right Now Immediately, this can be challenging. But most blog posts only take a few minutes to read, and investing five extra minutes in your blog post or the latest chapter of your story on Wattpad is not going to kill you, and it will improve your audience’s experience. Whether you take some time to read it out loud or just read over it and check for mistakes, it’s worth it.

“But what do I look for when I’m editing?” you ask. “How am I supposed to tell when something doesn’t sound right or isn’t working? I suck at grammar!” My simplest answer to this is reading out loud. It’s a lot easier to catch when something’s funky in your writing when you have to say it and hear it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. You just know when something isn’t quite right. This works great for issues like:

  • Tense switches, where authors can’t seem to decide when their sentence is taking place. Like this:

I was walking down the street and then we see each other.

The word “was” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the past. But then the word “see” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the present. It makes for a very confusing experience as a reader and an editor, because I often have to use context clues from other sentences around the problem sentence to decide whether I need to change this sentence to “I was walking down the street and then we saw each other” or “I am walking down the street and then we see each other.”

  • Grammar issues, like punctuation being outside of quotation marks, or apostrophes in the wrong place. If you have trouble with things like grammar and punctuation, your best bet is honestly to google it. I do it all the time. Every time a teacher or professor has tried to teach me grammar, I have really struggled to understand it. It goes in one ear and out the other. (What’s a past participle? Hell if I know.) I understand how the English language works and what sounds right, but I can’t always explain why. Knowing why can be really important in editing, because English is a mutant language with a ton of exceptions to all of its rules, not to mention a ton of rules you have to memorize in the first place. If you’re unsure about a rule, the easiest thing to do is go to Google. It will often lead you to places like Grammar Girl’s articles where different grammatical concepts will be explained to you in a simple way that is usually pretty easy to remember. But if you don’t remember, it’s totally okay to look it up again. (And again… and maybe a few more times after that because grammar is hard.)
  • Problems with sentence structure. I will see a sentence that’s just weird. Usually these sentences aren’t wrong, exactly, but they just don’t quite come out right when you read them. I’ve been guilty of this. There’s a lot of different ways that this can happen, but here’s an example:

How foolish that was I have no words to express.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. (At least, as far as I can tell – someone correct me if I’m wrong!) It just sounds weird. And there’s a better way to write it so that it flows better: “I have no words to express how foolish that was.” See how nicely the second version flows? Just changing the words around a bit made the meaning of the sentence much clearer and easier to read.

And that’s really the whole point of editing: you want to make your writing easier to read. We could get really nitty-gritty and talk about every possible issue your writing could ever have, but the details aren’t as important as it is for you to keep the goal of making your writing as accessible for your intended audience at the forefront of your mind.

Have specific questions about editing? Feel like I missed something important? Leave a comment and I’ll answer your question in a future post!

Yes, It’s September, and Yes, I’m Already Prepping for NaNoWriMo


Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

It honestly feels weird to have already started prepping this early. The 4 other times I’ve started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the challenge) I have waited until the absolute last minute to get started. November 1st rolls around, I remember I made a commitment to myself to do NaNo again, and I just wing it and see what happens. I’ve finished twice this way, and failed another two times. While it’s fun to just let myself type out whatever comes to mind, I feel like I’m not really the kind of person who wants to deal with the stress of pulling two thousandish words a day out of thin air as I hope for the best anymore. My time is a lot more limited and I need to be thoughtful about how I work to make sure I can actually accomplish my goals and not feel overwhelmed.

So, for the first time, I’ve been planning. I have a setting sketched out (a post-apocalyptic America where everything isn’t a gigantic mess and people are actually doing pretty okay–I’ve gotten lots of inspo from the solarpunk movement and have done a lot of thinking about non-capitalist economies), I have a main character (her name is Masha, she’s butch as hell and flies a solar-powered airship), and a general conflict (City People are weird and holding too tight to the old ways, while everyone else just does their best to avoid the City People, but, of course, trade happens between those groups, and things get ugly at one point).

Every time I get an idea, whether it’s for plot stuff or character stuff or setting or whatever else, I make sure to write it down in my journal so I can go back to it later and not forget it when it’s crunch time in mid-November and I’m losing my mind trying to figure out where this story goes and how it works. And it feels really good to be taking care of that ahead of time and feel like I’m setting myself up for success rather than just chugging along and hoping I don’t fail.

I’m also really excited about this story. I feel like I haven’t had a “good” idea in a long time, but my brain popped this one out and it felt like I absolutely needed to do something with it. It’s a culmination of a lot of my interests and sensibilities, with a main character who has been rattling around in my head for a while but just didn’t seem to fit anywhere, in a setting I really care about. So maybe it’s way too freakin’ early to be trying to plan out my book for NaNo, but it’s exactly the right time for me to be getting pumped about spending a month churning this novel out.

Non-Zero Days, or, Why You Should Be Using Habitica


Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

I’m proud of the amount of original writing I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been writing a lot of blog posts for work lately. I’ve also been mentally preparing myself for taking on NaNoWriMo again this year (I want to finish a 3rd time!) and doing some other small writing pieces. I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks, though,  especially after putting together this post about creating productively. When discussing tips for increasing one’s productivity, a lot of what gets said is stuff that you’ve heard from people before, but I tried my best to present information that we all kind of know in our hearts as writers and bloggers and creatives and make it feel more attainable and positive. I feel like a lot of posts advising creatives to improve their habits and increase productivity tend to be sort of negative. They often read more like someone telling you off and ordering you to “stop being so lazy” or just make you feel terrible for not being able to be a Perfect Bastion of Creativity every second of your day. Like, bro, depression is real! Being tired is real! Having other things on your plate and not being able to dedicate an hour to your craft every day is a fact of life!

Rather than admonishing myself for all the things I haven’t been able to accomplish, I prefer to do my best, encourage other people to do their best, trust that they are doing what they can, and accept whatever the outcome is. I firmly believe that all you can do is try your best. Which is why I really appreciate both Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) and the philosophy of non-zero days.

The non-zero day philosophy is outlined in the comment ryans01 posted, but I’ll just state the basic rules here:

Rule 1 – No more zero days. A zero day is defined as a day in which you don’t do anything to achieve your goals. A non-zero day is one in which you do something – even something very small, like writing one sentence or doing one push-up – to achieve your goals. The idea is to accumulate non-zeros so that you know you’re moving forward and you don’t fall back into the abyss of not doing things and having zero days.

Rule 2 – Be grateful to the 3 Yous. That’s Past You, Present You, and Future You. You want to thank Past You for doing things that are benefiting Present You. You want Present You to work to benefit Future You. And you want Future You to thank Present/Past You for doing things that made life better/easier.

Rule 3 – Forgive yourself. Sometimes we have zero days. It’s okay. Forgive your past self and devote yourself to being better in the future.

Rule 4 – Exercise and books. Exercise improves your body and your cognitive function, which improves your overall outlook and makes it easier to do other things, and reading expands your mind and teaches you new things.

These rules are simple and easy to follow, and honestly how I live my life most of the time. Motivating myself with outside pressures doesn’t work very well for me. I have to do something because want to do it. If I don’t feel like doing something, there’s very little that is going to get me to get up and do it. But telling myself that my future self will be grateful, or just knowing that I’ll get the satisfaction of knowing I moved a little further towards my goals? That’s really motivating.

Unfortunately, though, I also tend to get bogged down by self-doubt if I don’t see obvious results for a while. Like, sure, I finished reading a book, but how did that really help me? Is that $10 I put into savings really going to make a difference? Did that run I went on really do anything for me? Was that blog post I wrote really worth my time? It’s easy for me to be doubtful when I don’t have something to look at that shows me my progress. Which is where Habitica comes in.


Habitica is, at its core, a task manager. It allows you to create habits (things you want to do, but don’t necessarily have to, and would like to do every day or every week), daily tasks (things that you want to do every day), and to-dos (one-off tasks that you would like to get done at some point). It allows you to “purchase” rewards with gold, which you earn by completing tasks. Those rewards can be in-game items, like armor and weapons for your avatar, or customized rewards that you come up with yourself, like an extra thirty minutes of watching your favorite show or buying yourself that new book you want.

It’s very simple, which is what makes it so appealing. It’s also very easy to customize and use exactly how you want. I use mine to encourage myself to floss daily, exercise more regularly, eat more green things, read, and do a number of other things. I’ve joined guilds like the Financial Discipline Guild, which encourages me to be smarter with my money. My partner and I made a party together, which allows us to keep each other accountable, because every time we complete one of our daily tasks, it deals damage to a monster we’re fighting together, like the Feral Dust Bunnies or the Basil-List. It gamifies the act of completing daily tasks that would otherwise feel like a chore and I get to watch my avatar level up and grow stronger as I achieve more in my real life. I can seek out support networks through guilds tailored to my interests and needs (seriously, it feels like there’s one for everything, from learning languages to writing to knitting to walking to Mordor).

To put it simply, Habitica makes it that much easier to ensure that I have a non-zero day. Because in addition to following the principles of non-zero days and encouraging myself in that way, I am also held accountable to my Habitica avatar and the other people in my Habitica support network. I also have a way of quantifying my success. My avatar levels up as I gain experience from completing tasks, which reminds me that my real-life self is leveling up, too, just in ways I can’t see as well. If I don’t do what I said I would do for the day, my avatar loses health and eventually dies, which loses me a level. It gives me consequences without punishing me in a way that actually harms me, which helps me forgive myself for not completing tasks while motivating me to do better in the future.

I honestly recommend taking the time to really absorb the non-zero philosophy and set up a Habitica account. I would never have imagined that I’d be the kind of person who flosses regularly, has a physical journal for work and life tasks to help me keep track of things that I write in nearly every day, and exercises more than a handful of times a year. It seems silly that this little game could make such a difference in my life, but it has.

Seriously, you owe it to yourself.

I’ve been neglecting this space. Luckily, it was for good reason. I just started working full-time for a company I really enjoy working for. I’m still trying to find a rhythm with non-work stuff, but I feel like I’m starting to make some headway.

Even though I haven’t been posting much here, I haven’t neglected writing completely. I recently wrote a post called “5 Tips That Will Make You A Better Writer” for work that I’m pretty proud of.

I also just recently read “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which I found really compelling. I appreciated the personal touch Taffy brought to the story as a person who has tried many different diets, but I also found the dissection of how diet companies and a thinness-obsessed culture have co-opted parts of the fat positive movement and started using “body positivity” to sell the same products they’ve always sold really important to talk about. I have a whole heck of a lot to say about that, so I’ll likely be getting up a post about it in the next few weeks.