Life in 3 – The One Where the Feathers Fly

On a hazy, 114-degree Friday afternoon—while hiding away in the house with blinds pulled and fans blowing on full-blast—one can still experience so much of life and learn a few lessons along the way. Here’s what I learned today:

  1. A perfect Friday afternoon can be simple. It can mean work is slow, Netflix has a good limited series, and there’s plenty of Diet Coke in the fridge. #LetsRockThisSummer
  2. Naps are sacred in our house…so when we were ALL awakened from a mid-afternoon nap only to discover that our mini American Eskimo had dragged a pigeon into the house for a late lunch buffet, the sacred silence was broken by maniacal, shrill barking. Certain “talking” breeds are not conducive to peace…or naps.
  3. No vacuum is meant to handle pigeon feathers. It wasn’t pretty. Nothing more to add to this one.

Bonus learning: Always block the doggie door before any sleeping occasion—or you, too, could discover random wildlife in your home at the most unexpected time.

Life in 3 – The One About What I Found in the Sofa

I’ve recently discovered that you can tell a whole lot about a person—and a family—simply by reaching your hand down into the side of their sofa and rooting around for treasure. Now, you have to be brave and reach really, really deep…like up to the elbow, so if there are kids OF ANY AGE in the home, say a little prayer and cross your fingers that there’s nothing alive in the crevices.

We Are a Clean People

I feel like I need to put that out there, because what I’m about to tell you might land us on an episode of Hoarders or, at a bare minimum, on some sort of shameful internet list mocking families who find pizza crust in weird places.

That being said, it’s become clear that the contents stuffed into the depths of your sofa can say a WHOLE LOT about what’s going on in the house. We have two teenage boys at home. Here’s are 3 things I found in our sofa today:

  1. 17 mismatched socks. Contrary to popular belief, we DO have a laundry room with a fully functioning washer and dryer. However, our teenage sons seem to have either forgotten its location and/or how to work the very complicated machines.
  2. Miscellaneous snack wrappers and 3 plastic drink bottles. And a whole LOT of crumbs. I can’t adequately describe the sensation of reaching deep into the sofa only to have your fingernails impacted with stray (and likely weeks-old) crumbs that were left wholly for my enjoyment. It was a special moment.
  3. 4 dead batteries…and the wrapper from the new package of batteries. We could have zero food or drinks in this house, and as long as we have batteries, the boys would be happy. Especially in the summertime, batteries are the lifeblood of existence. Games must be powered at ALL times.

I have questions. So many questions.

When did our sofa turn into a trash can? And do my kids have some sort of disorder that prevents them from walking from the living room to the kitchen to throw away their trash? Should we see a physician about this troubling inability to…ummm…physically MOVE during the summer?

Is it wrong to throw all couch-debris into their beds? Can I volunteer them for some sort of neighborhood cleanup?

Mostly though…HOW LONG is this summer vacation going to last??

Life in 3 – The One About the Wisdom of Dogs

My dog isn’t a Mensa dog, but he knows a few very important things—3 things to be exact.

Dudley (aka Dumbley when he runs into walls or forgets how to escape from underneath a pillow, Muffin when he’s rolled into a nice, fluffy “pit ball,” and Hunky Monkey when he’s being my big, goofy chunk) is a good boy, and one of my favorite things to see is the look on his face when the lightbulb comes on and he realizes something awesome is about to happen.

He’ll just be going about his day and suddenly realize we’re going for a walk…and boom!…one of his floppy ears perks up and he gets that big pittie smile on his face and his tail starts whacking everything around the house like a prehistoric beast lashing a path.

Dudley doesn’t know a whole lot, but he knows 3 things—and those things are enough to make life pretty doggone good. Here’s what he knows:

  1. When in doubt, walk it out. When I say, “It’s your turn,” it means it’s Dudey’s turn to go for a w.a.l.k., so clear a path because this big boy will barrel straight toward the door and the hook where his harness hangs. He may not be a genius, but he’s figured out the value of a good stroll around the neighborhood. No matter what’s going on or how stressful a day may have been, there’s nothing a good walk can’t fix. (Hey, wait…I think I learned that from my dog.)
  2. A good nap can fix a lot. Feeling groggy, grumpy, frumpy, foggy? Need a pick-me-up or a calm-me-down? A nap is the best medicine in town. And trust me, Dudley has perfected the fine art of being able to sleep anytime, anywhere. Now that’s a pooch after my own heart!
  3. It’s important to show your friends you love them. Sure, when we walk in the door, Dudley is overjoyed, but it doesn’t stop there. At the vet, on the walking trail, at the park…no matter where we are, when Dudley runs into a friendly face, his tail wags at lightspeed and his slobber production goes into overdrive. If you run into Dudley, you may get covered in dog saliva, but you’ll know—without a doubt—that you’re loved.

Now that I think about it, maybe Dudley’s not so dumb after all. He’s getting to be a bit of an old man now, with gray around his eyes and a snore that can be heard through the house, but along with all that comes a bit of wisdom he’s sharing with us all.

Life in 3 – The One About Flunking Geometry

3 Totally (Not) Legit Reasons My Kid Flunked Geometry

Please note these are NOT legitimate reasons for failing any class, so this is me throwing the bullshit flag on my teenager. Yeah, I know, my kid is 15 and like totally cool, but here’s the thing:

Ain’t no trick he’s tryin’ to pull that I ain’t tried before.

(That’s me, Mom Dude, with my best gangster line. It’s usually good for an eyeroll or two.)

In other words, been there, done that. Know what’s worse than the boat my kid’s in? My mom was a teacher in the small high school where I attended. Most of the time, she knew how I did on tests before I did. Now, that’s rough.

Apparently (unbeknownst to me), my kid had it very rough time in geometry this school year. I had no idea! You’ll probably be shocked to read about the 3 things his teacher did that MADE him flunk the first semester…resulting in his attendance at summer school.

Shocking classroom incidents that led to my son getting BELOW a 50% for the first semester include:

  1. The teacher graded all the packets—except for his. Of course he turned it in, he assured me. And he absolutely completed the entire packet. He had ZERO idea why the teacher might overlook his packet. Hmmmm… #Sus #ISmellARat
  2. The teacher won’t put anything in the gradebook. So it just shows up as a zero, which is why his grade looks so low…but it really isn’t…it’s just that darned lazy teacher. #ItsGettingDeep
  3. The teacher hasn’t given any extra credit yet. But, like, she totally does…that’s what everyone says, so if you just scrape together 500 extra points from the imaginary homework fairy, you might have a chance in hell of passing. #Reassuring

I don’t even know where to start. First of all what is WRONG with this teacher? What is she even DOING? I mean, aside from getting carpal tunnel from red-marking all the crappy, half-assed work that crosses her desk. Aside from that, what is she up to? Because…wow, she seems kinda lazy, right?

(Disclaimer: It’s unfortunate that this needs to be a disclaimer, but here goes. It must be said. In NO way do I think that my child’s teacher is lazy. I was being sarcastic.)

So, if your kid is in summer school—or just barely missed the distinction—be on the lookout for a few of the hidden signs. Is the teacher overlooking all the hard work your kid is putting in? Is your child a prodigy who merely forgets to put his name on ALL of his papers?

I’ve learned from my 15-year-old that there are so many ways one can fall through the cracks, so be alert, parents. Be alert.

Life in 3 – The One About Bravery

Today was about post-vacay recovery more than anything, so there was a lot of brain fog to burn off. Here’s what crossed my mind in the middle of unpacking mountains of dirty, wrinkly beach-worn clothes:

  • There’s a whole lot more “sweet” to “home sweet home” after being gone for a week. It’s amazing how much a great mattress, abundant ice cubes, and oh-my-god-I-thought-you-died dog excitement can remind you that paradise can be found right at home, too. When you think about it, everyone has a little bit of paradise they’re surrounded with…we just have to choose to appreciate it.

  • Being silly is a prerequisite to life. We get stressed a LOT. There are plenty of opportunities to worry, so when we run across the times when can goof off and act like we’re a couple sandwiches short of a picnic, we should go for it! I’ll never remember the 512,000 spreadsheets I’ve worked on in a lifetime…but GUARANTEED, I’ll never forget my daughters assuming their most “serious” explorer poses on the top of this volcanic rock formation. Get silly whenever and wherever you can.
  • Try a few things you think are weird. Sometimes what we think is weird is just unknown to us. My family went on a tour of a family-owned chocolate farm, and we learned so much! Did you know that chocolate nibs grow in a pod, on a soft membrane…and some people eat that membrane because it tastes a bit like citrus? Yeah, me either. Only about 6 people on the tour tasted the membrane, which is actually becoming a local delicacy. Will I ever eat it again? Maybe not. But I’m glad I stepped outside my comfort zone to try something new.

Happy exploring & happy stepping outside your comfort zone. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Always do what you are afraid to do.

Life in 3 – The Hawaii Kickoff

I just returned from spending a week in Hawaii with my family…ALL my five kids, my son-in-law, and my husband. I told myself I was going to catch up on my reading and writing during that week. I did not do that.

Here’s what I did instead.

I freakin’ enjoyed every minute with the people I love! I forgot to carry my phone with me…numerous times. I didn’t check my work email. Hell, I barely checked my personal email. I made it my personal goal to have a margarita at every bar that had a beach view, and I took approximately 1,236 pictures of my kids.

Listening to the Waves

I got this idea while listening to the waves on Day 5. It also struck me while listening to the entire crew triage my daughter, who insisted on boogie-boarding…even though the surf was rough and the shoreline incredibly rocky. Here’s what I thought:

There are moments in life we never want to forget. Laughs & waves. Turtles & sunburns. Underwater gashes & triage on the sand.

And Along Came…

It’s an easy way for me to look back and laugh at our crazy antics…and well, if it can make one person laugh or give one person hope, then I guess finding 3 little reasons each day to reflect and learn isn’t a bad way to pass the time.

Vacay in 3

  • On day 1, I saw a baby turtle playing in the surf, I splashed in the waves with ALL my kids, my son-in-law, and my husband, and I saw an island rainbow.
  • We were all graced with turtles, manta rays, new coral growth, octopuses, and an ocean full of vibrant reef fish.
  • We met new friends (like Junior at Polynesian Tattoo, Ponyo and Ocean the octopuses, and the grandpa we all want to adopt at the chocolate factory) and learned to live the aloha lifestyle…simply relax and enjoy life!

Writer Checklist: Self Edit Before You Submit the Final

Dear writer,

Think it takes a long time to get your edited novel back?

There are many different things that go into an extensive line edit of your book, but you can help speed up the process. The stage and state in which your novel is received determines the length of time it takes an editor to comprehensively review your work.

Want to know how you can help? Check out the tips below to get your book in the best shape possible before it hits the editor’s desk:

  1. Read aloud for overall sound, cadence, and feel. If. All. Of. Your. Sentences. Sound. Like. This. Oh. My. God. It’s. Time. To. Revise.

Abrupt sentences are great for emphasis. They break things up and serve as interjections in long sections of text. Likewise, cool beans if you enjoy waxing poetic about your passion for life for paragraphs on end, but there’s a limit.

For the love of all the libraries in the world, change things up a bit. Excite us with a little variety. Trust me; it’ll keep us awake, and we’ll get your work back to you much faster.

The point of cadence and rhythm is to let things flow, to feel the language. Everything shouldn’t sound the same. If your book’s cadence is as exciting as the grandfather clock in my mom’s living room, I’m more likely to take a nap than continue reading.

2. Proofread every sentence for grammar. There are nothing more distracting that shitty grammar and speling. It’s difficult to follow even the most badass of storylines if I’m distracted by misplaced apostrophes and abused verb tenses.

Errors? We all make errors. Typo is my middle name when I’m ON FIRE with a great new idea, and that’s why proofreading was invented. We’re human. But when editors run across an entire manuscript full of errors, it tends to throw a wrench in the works. It slows us down until we’re being passed by turtles jogging through peanut butter. Want your MS faster? Give it a good old-fashioned proof before you submit.

Pro Tip: Spell check doesn’t catch everything.

Ex: She set her alarm so she could walk up early for her meeting with the shareholders.

3. Search for passive verbs and kill them. (Seriously, murder the shit out of them.) If you want your work to be interesting, riveting, and have the chance of keeping anyone awake past the rush-hour news, decimate the damned passive verbs.

She was driven to madness. (passive = weaker, not the doer of the action)

vs.

They drove her mad. (active = strong, doer of the action)

4. Tighten sentences and cut words that are unnecessary. Eliminate extra words in your writing to make it more concise and readable.

For all intents and purposes, the culprit was Joe, but the police questioned everyone for the purpose of eliminating suspects.

vs.

The culprit was Joe, but the police questioned everyone to eliminate suspects.

5. Check every paragraph. Do several of your sentences begin with the same word? Are they all short? Are they all long and complicated? If so, go back and restructure to make your writing more interesting.

It’s very easy to fall into habits; we do it every day in our lives. Why? It streamlines things, makes them easier. So, of course we do it with our writing, too. Be sure to challenge yourself constantly to ensure you’re finding new ways to express your ideas.

6. Question yourself. Before you send your MS to the editor, question the moves you’ve made:

  • Can everyone who picks up your book understand the terminology you’ve used?
  • Did you convey the message you wanted to convey when telling your story?
  • What IS your main message?
  • Have you written as plainly and simply as possible?
  • Have you checked every name for consistent spelling throughout your book?
  • Have you checked your MS format?
  • Have you checked for consistent style throughout?
  • Has someone else read your work?

When you feel confident you’ve covered all your bases and your work is solid—with as few errors as possible—then you’re ready to send it to your editor.

Remember, your editor will be most effective when they receive the cleanest work you can possibly give them. They are on the lookout for ways to improve character, pacing, and plot; as well as other issues that may arise. However, when there are fewer small issues, they have more time and brainpower to focus on the larger, overall aspects.

Bottom Line: Help your editor help you! We want you to succeed, but we also know you’re very capable of catching “courldn’t” with a simple spellcheck.

Love,

Editors everywhere

Hone Your Craft to Own Your Craft

The conversation went a little something like this:

“OMG, are you reading a dictionary right now?”

After glancing up and trying NOT to roll my eyes irretrievably into their sockets, “No, Hon, I’m actually reading a professional guide for editors to refresh my knowledge and see what’s new in the field.”

It was NOT, in fact, a dictionary. It was an editing style guide, thank you very much!

“So, like a dictionary, but worse?” Laughter and mocking conversation followed as the rest of the family got in on the joke.

“Har, har. You guys are hilarious.” I pushed my reading glasses back onto my nose and once more wielded my highlighter like the weapon it is.

The Importance of Staying Current

You know how our kids mock us when we say things like “groovy” or “psychedelic”? As writers, we spend a LOT of time focusing on speech patterns, slang, and even everyday activities of the younger generations. Why? It’s not because we enjoy watching exotic species in their natural environment. It’s because we need our writing to stay relevant—and, also, we don’t want to be mocked into a permanent room at Shady Acres just yet.

Writers today have many options. We’ve all seen the movies about hermits who decide to become lighthouse keepers on remote islands. They end up writing brilliant novels, and they never have human contact—except for that one captain who arrives in a rickety boat that crashes toward shore once per year with the basic supplies needed for survival. And who among us isn’t clamoring for that option?!

But—and this is just me going out on a limb—there are those writers who want to live an existence in modern society and write about current topics. And that means staying up to date with what is going on around them.

Collectors of Knowledge

We’re collectors and learners and hoarders of facts. And when you think about it, observing new trends, behaviors, and speech patterns are all ways of learning and collecting knowledge.

The intuitive and empathetic nature most creative people possess drives them to not only study and recall behaviors, but also try to understand how they fit into the context of the world surrounding them. All the human emotions and behaviors we learn about add to the worlds and stories we create.

But Why Study Grammar & Editing & Stuff?

The mechanics of our jobs—whether you’re a writer, an editor, a proofreader, or all of the above—are the supporting framework of the creativity we put out there. Think of the inner structure of a building, the weight-bearing support.

Is it all about grammar? Absolutely not. Is it about rule-breaking? Nope, not that either.

It’s about how everything works together to form a balance. It used to be all about grammar, but today I read style guides and grammar books to learn about updates and accepted uses.

THEN, I use my professional judgement, based on the text I’m currently writing or editing. True, there are still a few dusty, by-the-book rule followers who are likely growing apoplectic at reading this, but they are few and far between. Most writers recognize they’ll capture a larger and more invested audience if they “speak their language.”

Yeah, I’d Totally Read a Dictionary

When it comes down to it, I suppose I should apologize to my husband for being so appalled that he mocked me for nerding out while reading an editing guide…because it could have just as easily been a dictionary or a thesaurus. (#Guilty)

Why? I want my writing to be the best it can be. Likewise, I want my clients to get the very best work I can give them when I’m editing. That means they deserve the extra time I put in to stay abreast of current style guide updates and even the latest additions to Merriam-Webster.

P.S. Did you guys know that, as of 2021, “hard pass,” “@,” and “cancel culture” have officially been added to the dictionary? Don’t blink! Things change daily.

From Editor to Reader: How to Put Down the Red Pen and Read a Damned Book for Fun

Being an editor is great for so many reasons, but I’ll name just a few so we can all get back to writing and creating:

  • It’s nerdy. Cue eraser residue, chalk dust, and inspirational cat posters. As angsty as 6th grade was, there were still some pretty great moments—a lot of them in English class. While everyone else groaned about singing the preposition song, I annoyingly sang it AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY—for everyone who would listen. I eagerly diagramed and rewrote sentences and volunteered to recite poetry in front of the class. Others called in sick on ‘balcony day,’ but I perched myself atop my teacher’s rickety ladder and proceeded to Romeo & Juliet the hell out of a soliloquy. (Things like safety were of little consequence then. Now, you’d have a lawsuit on your hands before you could say ‘Dodgeball!’)
  • It’s methodical. Editors are a weird breed. (I probably don’t need to tell you that.) We’re writers, and we’re over-the-top creative, but we can also flip our analytical switch and focus solely on mechanics when necessary. The methodical nature of editing is quite relaxing and fulfilling. Maybe it’s the way all that red ink and those editing marks lend themselves to a feeling of accomplishment. An editor’s marks are a sign that an author’s work is nearing completion! After a long, hard road of research, drafts, rework, more drafts, and edits, a book finally takes shape—and it’s freaking amazing! It is worth all the hard work, sweat, and tears you put into it. Pretty great reason to love editing!
  • It’s nuanced. The little details of editing are especially appealing to grown-up geeks. Here’s why. Many of us would still be sitting in a musty university library somewhere researching the origins of the ampersand (originally the 27th letter of the alphabet, btw) if we didn’t need to make a living to survive. The great news is that, as editors, we sort of still get to do all that dank, musty research—except now we have laptops and Starbucks, both of which are way more en vogue than old-school card catalogs and micro-fiche.

Super-fun afternoon break idea: Choose a piece of writing and then decide as a group whether or not a specific pause in the writing is worthy of an em dash or if a comma will suffice! (SEEE, editors are FUN people, too!)

Hazards of the Job

If you’ve ever gone on vacation and attempted to NOT be an editor…

Hold on. I’m going to try to stop laughing before I finish that sentence. Starting again…

Editors don’t ever feel like they are on vacation; however, occasionally, they DO attempt to read books for fun. Weird, right? It’s sort of like explaining to kids that their teachers don’t actually live at the school. It usually goes something like this:

  • Editor arrives at beach with family and doles out 4 beach chairs, 2 totes full of everything needed in case of sudden apocalypse: water bottles, flip flops, hats, towels, sunglasses, water toys, shark repellant, snacks, kitchen sinks.
  • Trudges across sand, weighing option of continuing to struggle in flip flops vs. burning feet on boiling-lava-hot sand.
  • Plants chairs, towels, and umbrella in pristine location and shoos kids off to boogie board and avoid sharks.
  • Attaches sunglasses to face and pulls paperback novel purchased specifically for relaxing vacation reading out of beach bag.
  • Sinks into chair and opens to first chapter.
  • At exactly page 7, dog-ears page and works backward to see if protagonist’s name has been spelled consistently. Something seems off.
  • After verifying, returns to reading spot…only to discover accidental extra space before last sentence on page. Marks spot and digs in bag for pen.
  • Reminds self not to edit and ignores extra space.
  • Clears mind, checks on kids who are still safely playing, and flips to next chapter.
  • WHOA! Why is font size 2 pts. larger on this page? Unable to even more forward like this, closes eyes for a sunshine siesta.
  • Tries again later…only to encounter a typo and a factoid about a turtle that is really a tortoise.
  • Puts book down before heart failure sets in.

Ah, the Life of an Editor

If you haven’t yet been through the non-vacation vacation, don’t think you’ll avoid it forever. It will happen to you sometime in your editing career. You’ll sit down somewhere, yearning for unknown worlds and a blank mind—but instead you’ll end up getting a shitstorm of brain noise and the urge to mark all over things with a red pen. It’s unavoidable, so just remember it’s not your fault.

Every now and then, we have to remind ourselves that it all started with a story–and not with a whole bunch of grammar rules. Take a deep breath, order a margarita, sit back and have a good read. Take a vacation, dear editor, discover new worlds just for fun, and enjoy ALL. THE. VOICES.

Here’s What We Know

While vacay practically mandates at least one day of sandy, sunny, margarita-laden book reading with ZERO itinerary and an overload of cat naps, it’s sometimes hard to get our inner selves to cooperate. The pizza stain on page 87 of my new book is proof that I tried.

Before our latest trip, I delivered a mom mandate a little something like, “We’re all going on vacation, and we’re all GOING TO HAVE FUN.” I was determined to set the example.

But for the love of surf and turf, there were factors beyond my control! How was I supposed to kick back while staring at comma splices and run-on sentences? That’s no way to relax.

The Downtime Conundrum

Many people have an inner workaholic that refuses to clock out. For editors, it’s the constant flare-up of Sudden Onset Editor Syndrome that stops them in their tracks. (This should be listed on WebMD so we can research it while we’re up at 1:00 a.m. looking for new ways to kill off characters.) It’s very real and can be debilitating when it comes to reading material for enjoyment or informational purposes.

For example:

Sign at WalMart last weekend:

“All customer’s must wear masks.”

Me (after taking emergency hit off inhaler and tightening belt one notch):

“Honey, do you have a red pen?”

Normal people would be able to extract the necessary information from the above sample signage and then move on with their lives. Editors, however, have a gene that prohibits them from moving past such transgressions without righting the wrong.

Editors lose sleep asking themselves things like “the customer’s what?” and “If we don’t stop this, then who will?” after seeing possessives used to indicate plurals.

Work Your Just-for-Fun Muscle

Here’s what trips us up. The very things we critique for clients, friends, co-workers…anyone, really…are the things that pop up frequently in whatever we choose to read for fun. So just like we flip our switch from creative to analytic/writer to editor, it’s important to work the just-for-fun muscle, too.

After all, we’re not quitters. We will have fun reading, dammit. And we can ignore grammar mishaps for the sake of a good story. (We really can!) It might take modern pharmacological intervention, but we can do it.

There was a magical day when we all picked up a book and fell in love. And know what? That book probably wasn’t perfect. (Top secret insider info: none of them are.) But the story was fantastical, and we disappeared into our imaginations—and that’s what made us fall in love with the craft in the first place.

Let’s make a little more time for that. And keep taking time to look for the voices who are creating magic for future readers.

Your Readers Aren’t Bumblefucks: How to Tell They’re Smart & Treat Them That Way

I get it. It’s tough to give readers the benefit of the doubt when you’re talking about complicated subjects like snow, seafood, and shoes. As writers, we all fight a powerful inner force that drives us to explain things well beyond the point of clarity—often to the point of “Hey, in case you’re a dumbass, let me tell you what water is.”

Your readers will get tired of that faster than yesterday’s playlist.

Here’s a quick sample of what’s sometimes put in front of readers…and what they really think when we talk down to them:

Writer: Snow is white and cold.

Reader: No shit. There better be an inescapable blizzard trapping an entire town within the terrorizing clutches of an abominable snowman before you tell me more about this white, cold snow.

Writer: Seafood comes from the ocean…and often tastes (gasp!) “fishy.”

Reader: Unless you just pulled a megalodon from the sea, I don’t need the genealogy of the dinner you’re describing. However, if some prehistoric badassery is going down, then by all means, continue the explanation.

Writer: Shoes are utilized to protect the feet and often worn when leaving the home.

Reader: I’d really want to read more of this…IF the protagonist were running through a volcanic lava flow while wearing the latest lava-repellant footwear. However, I don’t need to be reminded every time Karen needs to slip on her Birks before leaving the house. Move on. We’re all well-versed in the role shoes play in our lives.

Remember

Cut the filler. Cut the fluff. Get to the good stuff.

We don’t do it on purpose. But every now and then, we write one of those sentences that makes it seem like our readers have the mental acuity of a box of rocks. Take a look at the last couple things you wrote. Is there anything you can omit (either because the reader likely already has that knowledge OR because the reader would love the opportunity to build that picture up in their own mind)?

PRO TIP: Never make your readers feel like they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. If you’re planning on a long-term career as a writer, this is BAD for business.

Why Focus on Readers?

When you empower your readers, you create excited, confident readers. You produce readers of more books! Remember every time you had a great book-reading experience as a kid or young adult? What did you do? You went and found another book. As writers, that’s all we can hope for: readers who want to READ MORE BOOKS.

Your Readers Are Worldly, Intelligent & Insightful

Readers have life experience, and you can assume that if they’ve picked up your book, they have interest in the topics you’ve tackled. (That means they probably have at least a little bit of subject matter knowledge, and they’re engaged in your content. Bonus!)

Your Readers Wear Pants

And they drive cars. And they know that water comes out of water fountains. (See? Smart!)

This is momentous insight for writers, because it means you don’t have to tell readers what pants feel like or how they work! You also are not obligated to tell them that cars have steering wheels and four tires; nor do you need to tell them water comes out of fountains. Unless something utterly STRANGE and UNEXPECTED is happening with the aforementioned objects, your readers can paint those pictures all on their own. (And they LOVE doing that. It’s part of THEIR creative process.)

Why Readers Read

Readers are a huge part of your creative process. They are the recipients of your stories, and they turn the words you’ve written into entire worlds in their minds. The best writers, the writers we all return to, are those who create just enough story to intrigue us, draw us in, and challenge us to fill in the blanks. They paint the picture—just not the ENTIRE picture.

Challenge: Read your latest writing and look for signs that you’re accusing your readers of bumblefuckery. Avoid this at all costs, because nobody wants to be known as the reader who needed to be told that “the rain fell down.” (Well I damned well hope so. Tell ‘em something they didn’t know.)

Read the following encouraging signs to remind you that your readers are total BRAINIACS who just want to read some great writing. So let loose, sling some creativity, and stop second-guessing yourself about what they can handle.

5 Pretty Obvious Giveaways That Your Readers Are Smart

  • They are holding a book. And if they aren’t currently holding a book, they’re likely shopping for a book, telling another person about the book they just read, or reading book reviews online to decide which book to purchase next (probably while listening to an audio book).
  • They are alive. Meaning, they have experienced life things. If your reader has ever been through a breakup, they know it causes sadness, so get more creative than that when describing a similar situation in your writing. They know dogs bark, but a snarler evokes a completely different feeling. Small changes in your writing infuse more emotion AND give readers credit for being able to fill in some of the blanks.
  • They speak your language. This is fan-freakin’-tabulous news, because it means you don’t need to fluff up your writing with pretentious words readers don’t understand. They talk just like you do, so wa-bam! You can just start typing. Unless you’re completing a post-grad thesis, uptight writing will only make you seem stuffy and in need of a fiber supplement. Plus, readers will wonder why you’re making their brains hurt.
  • They can imagine. If you tell readers about the “scraggly, bony-fingered witch who mumbles to herself each time a well-dressed businessman passes by,” you’ll have 500 readers who come up with 500 different mental images of that witch. And that is AMAZING! Do more of that! Encourage your readers to be smart and creative and whimsical. This is what brings joy to reading…and therefore, potentially an inkling of job security to the lowly writers of the world.
  • They contribute. Yep, that’s right. Think you’re the only one contributing to your writing? Think again. You are setting up a platform that invites readers to enter, absorb, and then create worlds of their own—all by reading what you’ve written. You are dancing with the reader, and there is a fine balance between telling them enough and telling them too much.

Readers are brainy and creative. They are learners, and they want to be part of the adventures in the books they read. As a writer, it’s your job to bring the story into focus. Paint just enough of a picture to connect almost all the dots; and then let readers fill in some of the blanks to envision specifics. Part of the beauty of creativity lies in the give and take between writer and reader.

Now, get out there and write a literary masterpiece. Go…scoot! Before I am forced to tell you that grass is green.