This site offers practical advice about composition, revision, and storytelling to authors working toward the final draft of their book or essay. The resources collected here reflect the techniques and practices that have worked for me as a longtime editor of top-selling fiction and nonfiction. Editors are practitioners, not theorists. The topics are selective, idiosyncratic, and not scholarly. I focus on the mechanics of writing, and on the problem areas that come up again and again during manuscript development and revision.
All authors, whether they’re writing fiction or nonfiction, encounter the same challenges:
- How do I engage readers?
- How do I hold their attention while I unspool all the details?
- How do I make my writing come alive?
It turns out that there are some “rules,” in the sense of best practices. Surprisingly few of them are about grammar. Good grammar and syntax are important, of course, and so is punctuation, but composition is mostly about word choice, about the sound of language, about clear expression and pacing, about sentence structure and voice.
And where composition is exploratory and expansive, the focus of editing is on economy. Revision is about condensing: The fewer the words, the greater their impact. Revision is also about using better words.
For example, Claire Kehrwald Cook suggests that you choose“bargain” words: “Trudge, amble, stroll, lumber, stride, and lope all mean … walk,” she reminds us.
Strunk and White, writing in The Elements of Style a century ago, also emphasized vividness: “Use definite, specific, concrete language,” they counseled.
It’s not by chance that this guidance has remained constant. Words that are rich in meaning help evoke the word pictures that capture readers’ imaginations and engage their interest.
Of course, telling a good story helps, too—both in the telling and in the story. The concept of narrative structure has been around for thousands of years. It’s on display in almost every story, fiction or nonfiction, short-form or long-form, that grabs your attention, holds it through the ups and downs of the characters you’re following, and finally releases you, leaving you feeling a little different than you felt before.
Here’s one principle of good narrative: hook ‘em:
To burrow deeper into this site, navigate from the menu tabs at the top the page to take the full tour.
Happy reading, and rewriting!
“Writing is rewriting”—William Zinsser
a note on navigation
To review all the resources, take the full tour. If you want to jump right in and get to the heart of the matter, click on the menu tabs below:
passionate readers: Long before you were a writer, you were a reader. Use that memory of being captivated and spellbound.
i. Strunk & White’s best advice: Practical and useful tips for capturing—and holding—the reader’s attention.
ii. consistency: Smooth the reader’s path.
iii. on writing memoir: Sometimes it’s about giving yourself permission to tell.
iv. it’s a mystery: In this genre, your attention to detail will pay big rewards.
i. clear and simple rules: The tricks of the trade, the thumbnail version.
ii. cutting, pruning, and concision: Learn to recognize “loose, baggy sentences,” “weak verbs,” and other flabby constructions.
iii. the art of editing: Meet two committed editors with very different approaches.
iv. editing in action: Advice has its place, but good examples are much more helpful.