Monday, January 17, 2011



Currently, I am assembling files for a first draft manuscript that I began in the early-mid-1980s, tentatively titled, “The Gryphon and the Basilisk”. It’s a huge Young Adult fantasy series, and large parts of it haven’t been touched since I originally wrote them out in longhand. (I began writing fantasy in 1979.)

As I’ve been slogging through this preliminary work preparatory to first revision, I’ve been struck repeatedly by lame brain errors that I used to make, way back when I first began writing. Some involve placing commas in the wrong place or just plain using too many of them. I’ve improved my punctuation. Really. However, other errors that I didn’t even know I was making back then, I still make today. And by now I should know better. So here are my Writing Confessions of 2011, in lieu of a New Year’s Resolution.

What? You thought that I would end this by resolving never to make these errors again? Sorry, but I have a more realistic view of myself than that. I just hope I catch most of my errors in subsequent revisions of G&B and future books.

1. To begin, we need look no further than the first paragraph of this blog entry. Look at it there—an adverb and beginning the sentence to boot, as if in defiance of editorial protocol everywhere. Frankly, I’ve never understood why we have adverbs if we’re not supposed to use them. But, I guess that’s just me, being logical. I used to use adverbs all over the place, but I am trying to get better. “I’m Sherry Thompson, and I’ve been off adverbs for /f/i/v/e one minutes.” (See the ‘Frankly” above?)

2. Using versions of “to be” like “was” and “were” instead of strong verbs. Poor “to be”—it’s evidently weak. Maybe that’s because no writer is allowed to exercise it. It’s so weak that even when I write about its weakness, I use “is” to describe its situation—cleverly hidden in the “it’s” above. (Oops! More adverbs.)

When I found out that “is”, “was”, “were”, etc were no-no’s, I began searching for them in my documents. I instructed WORD’s software to replace each “is” for example with “IS”. This can be problematic when you have a recurring character named AlphesIS.

I/n/s/p/i/t/e In spite of the inherent difficulties in attacking manuscript revision with all of those errors hanging out on each page, I eventually expanded the practice to help me zero in on adverbs. In that case, I told WORD to replace all examples of “ly” with “LY”. This worked fine! AssembLY, alLY, and such don’t turn up that frequentLY in my writing, so I was finalLY able to zero in on the actual errors.

3. Having conquered adverbs and versions of “to be”, I moved on to POV. Though I didn’t then know the name for it, when I first began write I was evidently using the Omniscient POV, which fell out of favor a hundred years ago. Well, I’ve always been a bit behind my time.

I’m proud to say that I’ve cut down the numbers of times I switch point of view from a half dozen times per scene to about two. I’m still working very hard on this, encouraged by a friend who wrote that my less frequent POV switches remind him of switching gears on a manual gearshift. After a while, he wrote, he got used to it! Awesome!

4. Next up was learning what goes into each paragraph and what doesn’t. Back in the 80’s, I was convinced that all dialogue was sequestered in its own paragraphs, cut off for reasons unknown from the POV paragraph of the speaker. I know better now intellectually but I still have trouble convincing my fingers to follow through and do this with the keyboard.

5. Which brings me to anatomical parts. Sorry! Not as you think. I’ve discovered that I permit parts of the body to stroll off and do their own thing—especially eyes and hands. Example: “Bill’s eyes studied her face, looking for a clue to her thoughts.” Or: “Her hand grasped his hand and gave it a squeeze.” (All the while her brain was screaming through her mouth to her hand to stop doing that!) This gets weird very quickly. Sometimes in revision, I feel like I was writing horror in my first draft.

6. Other writing errors to which I succumb regularly? I got a million of’em when it comes to regularly misspelled words.

I seem to be convinced

that “amongst” should be spelled “amoungst” (making me more British than the British),

that “about” doesn’t really need that “o” (which is a real problem since WORD doesn’t flag “abut”, and

that “inspite” really isn’t one word. (I still can’t get over this one, for some reason.)

I do this with character names sometimes too. When I was assembling the various chapters of “The Gryphon and the Basilisk”, I noticed my character “Medea” devolved later into “Media” which in turn devolved into “Melia”. Fortunately, a WORD Replace command really did work out fine for fixing this.

7. Two more and then I’ll stop. G&B is full of angst and strong emotions. However, that’s no excuse for having everyone getting teary-eyed and even outright crying at the drop of a line of dialogue. And when the characters aren’t crying, they’re sighing.

I used to work with someone who was a part-time freelance editor. After reading something of mine maybe 15 years ago, she commented that she was putting me on a diet—I was allowed no more than one sigh per chapter or story. In this much older manuscript, written decades before I knew her, I laughed at such restrictions. Or maybe I sighed over them. One of my favorite type of “dialogue tags” consisted of “Luisa sighed and commented…”

Yes, before you ask, I realize that I’d better fire up that WORD Replace once more and input, “sigh”, “abut” and numerous other no-nos.

Oh yes. I used to write “once more” frequently. I’m not sure what the attraction was.

Well, those are some of the forbidden writing choices I used to indulge in back in the early 80’s—and still do on occasion. Now it’s your turn. Don’t leave me dangling out here with all of my composition short-comings hanging out all by themselves. What typical writing errors have you overcome or are still battling?

Sherry Thompson

Seabird ( )

Earthbow vol.1 ( )

Earthbow vol.2 ( )


  1. Confessions, unless and until you give a confession and make your mind free your life beguns to be difficult, you start loosing focus, people really need to relive themselves from such things. Confessions are must for healthy human life.

  2. Sherry, What a wonderful piece. I do believe I have made all the mistakes you've mentioned and when reading my earlier works I often groan but they're in print. One of mine was headed. They headed to town. They headed down the street. Search and replace is a wonderful thing, especially when your characters like mine sigh a great deal.

  3. Oh boy, do I have goofball slips I just to make when I first started writing. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great article. My editor recently highlighted all the words I used too often, like every other sentence: just, and but, so. That manuscript was brighter than a rainbow. And I didn't really want to get rid of them, but I had to. Sigh.

  5. Mine were the overuse of "just" and "so." And apparently I was "wordy." Yeah, like, can you be more vague? Everyone told me my novel was "wordy." To which I replied, "WHICH words make it wordy?" Thankfully I found a friend willing to go through and highlight everything that needed to be CUT. Awesome! :D Oh, and I was told my adjectives were like Noah's Ark--always two by two.

    Now I've got a great group of critters who keep me in line ;).

  6. Hi, JL!
    I sympathize! Some of my errors slipped through when Seabird was published. Hopefully (sic), we keeping improving over time. Try to look at it like this. It'll give English teachers something to talk about, when discussing how our styles changed through the years.

  7. Hi, LM! Thanks for responding. We all make goofball slips. Anyone in writing who pretends otherwise is fibbing. ;-P

  8. Hi, Beverly! I love the "sigh" at the end of your post!
    When you mentioned "but", I realized that I left out one of my many problems. I have a bad habit of beginning sentences with conjunctions. "But" is my favorite.

  9. Hi, Kat!
    I don't do just or so but I am certainly wordy. I totally get your frustration when you were told that much but the critter failed to get specific.

    Two by two adjectives? What's wrong with that? Adjectives are our friends, every bit as much as adverbs are supposed to be our enemies. Right? Oh, don't tell me they've changed the rule! Has the use of adjectives become a "telling" vs a "showing" or something? Wouldn't put it past those pesky editors.

    BTW, I want you friend and band of critters!

  10. I'm totally an em dash whore. That and I overdo internal voice. Still working on these two things!

    The words I OD on include: shook, walk, but(at the beginning of a sentence), and a number of others.

  11. Hi, Kim!
    Ah! That's one I forgot--the em dash. Good one! Thanks for the reminder. I only discovered this in the last few years, and now I seem to be making up for lost time.

    When do you use internal voice? I totally overdid internal voice in Seabird; however, I doubt I had any other option for telling that story in tight third person without extensive use of it.
    In your case, could you write the same scene without it and get the same effect? If not, maybe it's okay for you to use it where you did.

    "Walk" I get. Wondering how you can overuse "shook".

  12. You know, I didn't really get the whole ODing on internal voice, even though Joyce Sweeney and others told me it was holding my story back, until I read other books that did the same thing. I just finished reading and reviewing an otherwise engaging book but the internal voice drew me way out of the story. I've also noticed other books doing the same thing. I think it's a fine line on when to use it and when it's best to leave it out.

    On shook I use 'shook her head' a lot. Dh teased me and said, "Wow, there's an awlful lot of shaking going on!"

  13. "I think it's a fine line on when to use it and when it's best to leave it out."
    Like any other literary trick, it has its place.

    Re "shook", I was thinking in terms of, "She shook all over." or Her hands shook when she tried to open the door."

    I didn't think about shaking one's head. I'll tell you what's worse--new authors who have their characters nod their heads. Like someone's going to nod their elbow?

    Don't forget that you can use WORD Replace to ferret out those shooks!

  14. Sigh is a big one for me. I always joke that my characters sigh so much, they look like deflated balloons.

  15. Hi, JennaKay!

    I feel your pain. Sigh. :)

    When characters sigh while talking to each other, does that make for a breezy conversation?