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Red Lipstick Takes You Everywhere


Miami, Florida, United States
December 31
Ghost Writer Extraordinaire
Siren Publications
"I'm the greatest little hoper that ever lived." -Dorothy Parker


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NOVEMBER 23, 2012 3:46PM

An Amateur’s Guide to Killing Your Darlings

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I have been writing a book for what seems like half of my adult life. The hardest part has been revising just as other writers warned me. I doubted it at first, especially when struggling to master dialogue and tense symmetry. I have sent my book out twice and instead of a ticker tape parade, I received big fat no thank yous that varied from the apologetic to the terse. A bit crestfallen, I put my book Mermaid away periodically to live life and gather strength to work on it again. A few weeks ago, I started seriously researching and taking classes on writing. Having invested so much time in my work, I knew I had to push to save it. When the Miami Book Fair set up, I took a few classes. I was able to understand how I had been going so terribly wrong. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to share my revising list with you. Please comment and let me know if anything (or nothing) has been helpful. Have a wonderful time committing literary murder.

 1.      Kill overly descriptive adjectives.

I have a tendency to be overly descriptive with colors. In one draft I said emerald instead of green and coffee colored instead of brown. This says to the reader that you are trying too hard. Stick to basics in an almost Hemingway direction, there is no shame in being descriptive just try to keep it direct.

2.      Laugh at yourself.

Your writing is a beautiful product of your creativity, but as you evolve, you may see how young you once were. I find myself rolling my eyes at my past mistakes like heavy-handed dialogue.

We will get better.

3.      Cut continuous exposition.

There is a tendency in all of us budding writers to tell and not show. Your points will get cross through details not meandering prose about the setting or character. Sometimes a thought, physical motion  or a spoken word is more powerful than five descriptive paragraphs. Cutting has been painful for me and I push myself to ask, “Does this really need to be here? Is this moving the story forward? Cheesy as it sounds the usual answer is no.

 4.      Condense to about 250 pages.

In my research this seems to be the magic number. Not sure why it is, but just putting it out here.

5.      Highlight bits you absolutely love.

Just because you have to cut things does not mean they are gone forever. I keep acomputer document open wherever I cut anything called, aptly enough, “cut bits”. If you really love a line or word, highlight it and keep it in the back of your mind. Not everything has to be tossed.

 6.      Watch tense.

This is one of my Achilles heel. I will switch tenses throughout a page. Therefore, to counteract this, I bring intense awareness and scan the page several times to fix errors. Sometimes being aware of your tendencies is enough to fix them.

7.      Work on between 10-20 pages daily/nightly.

The average attention span is twenty minutes and I find that ten pages of heavy marking I want to just zone out. After I reach my mental anguish limit of editing, I walk the dog or look at Vogue or read the New York Times. You might want to push for more, but break it up throughout the day. Otherwise, you might actually resent your writing and feel oppressed. However, you know yourself best and if you are on a tear, ride it out.

8.      Nothing wrong with said or ask.

Answered, responded, inquired, beseeched –all of these stand out as we have been accustomed to said and ask. Anything else sticks out and thereby adds unnecessary scrutiny to our word choice. The reader needs to be drawn into our words, not our word choice.

9.      Consider cutting the parts without dialogue.My paid editor is a playwright and she tells me to consider just having scenes of dialogue and action.

10.  Write a post it with your theme.

As an English teacher, I direct my students to constantly seek evidence to substantiate the theme. If you do not know what your theme is, maybe sit down and decide upon one now. My theme is an independent girl can grow into a strong woman only if she is fearless.

11.  Make notes to yourself in the margin.

I write notes as if I am speaking to myself. I do not count the spelling and I make them as detailed as possible.

 12.  Keep sentences simple.I teach fancy grammar, but sometimes a period is equal to a semicolon.

 13.  Rearrange scenes.

When you are cutting exposition, it unpeels a layer for further action. If a scene is great but does not work in the new context, consider tweaking it and putting it into a new area. I did this twice in my twenty-page limit today and I love the new direction.

 14.  Circle overused or questionable words.

My trouble words are chaos, drink, blink strange and observe. I circle them and look at a thesaurus.

15.  Cross out lightly.

Some words, scenes and characters are salvageable. No need to throw everything out. I once had a friend go through an existential crisis and throw most clothes out of her closet. A few weeks later, she realized she had to buy new clothes thus defeating the purpose of her whole escapade. We may need things later when they make more sense.

16.  You cannot type and edit at the same time.

 I print out my work as seen in the picture and mark by hand. A recent workshop teacher suggested it and I wrote out my last blog post in my notebook. I saw this at work when I scored my second editor’s pick at my other blog at Open Salon. I know the difference now between trying out thoughts and formalizing them through typing. I go through my hand written pages and highlight or make notes. I think this really makes all the difference in the world. If anyone wants to talk about writing, message me

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I'll mention one more item.

It is almost impossible for a writer to proof/edit his/her own work soon after writing it. The problem arises because we "see" with tow organs; the eyes and the brain. If you try to proof/edit your work while it is still relatively fresh in your mind, you will "see" what the mind remembers instead of what you wrote. Often two very different things.

I recommend two things.

1) Put your work away for a while (5 - 10 days) so it is a bit fresher when you come to read it for proofing/editing purposes.

2) Read your work out loud, just as you would if there were someone else in the room with you. If you can't read it smoothly and confidently - if you have to re-read portions or you stumble over portions - neither will your readers.

Best of luck to you........!

Sky- We might be able to pull off the perfect list now.
You didn't mention it but I presume that you certainly know that the first rule of all is to make sure your cat has plenty of Fancy Feast and cream available while you write.

If you don't have a cat, just open up the Fancy Feast and Tink or I will be right over......;-)


Like you, I aspire to become a better writer. I have and will continue to read widely on the craft.

On my Mac computer, there is a" Speech" feature which reads aloud what you actually wrote. Works wonders for detecting errors, poorly crafted sentences and poor flow.

I recently read Stephen King, On Writing: Memoir of the Craft. Very good. He also speaks on Kill Your Darlings and said "sometimes when you write, you feel that you are just shovelling shit from a sitting position."

There is a very informative article that you could find on google, "Interviews: How to Become a Writer." I am about half done reading it.

Good luck.

Catholic girl. I have been trying to add you as a favourite. System is not working. Regards. Lyle
Catholic girl. I have been trying to add you as a favourite. System is not working. Regards. Lyle
Sky-My pet pig has plenty of food.
Lyle-I will look them up and I wish I had a Mac.
These are some great tips. Thanks for sharing them. R
A pet pig?!!! Wonderful!

Bacon on the hoof,
Perambulating Pork Chops,
Lovely Loins,
Ravishing Roasts,
Heavenly Hocks

Lots'a nifty nummies!

Wanna adopt a cute cat?
I prefer sweet, sweet piggies.
I'm working on my book in very minute bits and pieces. I appreciate all of these tips :) Thanks so much!

I'm in the same boat. Working with the editor my publisher assigned me-the guy's real sweet, but it's so hard letting somebody else have any kind of say on your book. Luckily, they've been kind enough to give me enough say on the important stuff, like 'Dedications'.
I'm in the same boat. Working with the editor my publisher assigned me-the guy's real sweet, but it's so hard letting somebody else have any kind of say on your book. Luckily, they've been kind enough to give me enough say on the important stuff, like 'Dedications'.
I'm in the same boat. Working with the editor my publisher assigned me-the guy's real sweet, but it's so hard letting somebody else have any kind of say on your book. Luckily, they've been kind enough to give me enough say on the important stuff, like 'Dedications'.
I skipped everything after your 1st paragraph (bold opening), which was very well written, I might add (interest the reader).

Have a strong voice and write as if you were speaking to someone (in the narrative...dialogue is a little trickier).

The rest is someone jerking off in public to bilk you out of your hard earned money.

Write like you wrote that 1st paragraph and you'll be just fine.
My writing coach has written a wonderful book available on Amazon: "Shut Up & Write", by Judy Bridges. I discovered her three years ago, and consider her a miracle worker for writers. BTW-I am not a spammer...just want to share a good find with fellow OS writers and hoping OS becomes a viable site again. Meanwhile, I'm over at Our Salon because I can rarely get in here, and neither can my friends who like to read my stories. sigh...
Here...learn from the master -
XY-Thanks for the heads up with check it out on Saturday.
Lyle- thanks for the add.
Theig-bits and pieces count.
Icy-What are you working on?
Mime-I will check it out for sure.