Drive-Thru Edits: fewer or less?

Use the word fewer if you can count something:

  • She said her apartment was infested, but the exterminators counted fewer than seven ants in the entire complex.
  • I got fewer cookies than you did.
  • You are drinking fewer glasses of wine at dinner than you used to.

Use less if you cannot count something:

  • You are drinking less wine than usual.
  • It looks like there’s less snow on the mountain this year.

However, nothing is ever that simple. So …

Even though you can count up all the money, coins and bills, in my purse, the $5 total is considered a bulk amount in this sentence:

  • I have less than $5 in my purse.

Unlike:

  • I think I have fewer than five quarters in my purse for the parking meter. (I’m talking about each individual quarter.)

When indicating a span of time rather than the individual number of years or individual minutes, use less:

  • I graduated college in less than four years.
  • She completed the exam in less than 30 minutes.

Same with distance:

  • The office is less than five miles away.

And weight:

  • The lamb weighs less than 100 pounds.

Write on.

In the writing race: be the tortoise with a giddy-up

Slow and steady wins the race is the moral of Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

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It’s true. You can’t rush good writing. You don’t want to type “the end” when you finish your first draft. You’ve only just begun.

Hares might rush to submit a manuscript before it is finished, i.e., before it is critiqued, rewritten, edited. But a tortoise will rewrite, ruminate, rewrite, get critiques, ruminate, rewrite, edit, ruminate … ruminate … ruminate …

Yes, slow and steady may eventually win the race, but at some point—Giddy-up, already! Pssst a little secret here: It’s never going to be perfect. Even after it’s accepted for publication, it’s likely to go through more changes.

So, yes, polish your story, but keep the process moving forward toward that finish line! You can’t tinker forever.

Fear of rejection keeps many ruminating over their stories. But rejection is inevitable. An author revealed on social media that two hours after an editor offered her a book contract, she received a rejection from another editor on that same story. She was rejected for the very reasons the other editor loved it! Go figure.

Be brave. Let go. Put your story out there.

Drive-Thru Edit: I was or I were?

Is it: If I were a rich man, Or if I was a rich man?

Well, as the song goes in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Teyve, the poor milkman, sings:

“If I were a rich man, Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man.”

Why were and not was? Because Teyve is so not a rich man. If Teyve might have been a rich guy, and there was a possibility he was scamming us all, he would sing: If I was a rich man.

But, alas, he is not.

So,

If I were the Queen of France (which I am so not), I would have you all eat cake.

If I was to attend tomorrow’s meeting (which I may or may not), I would bring cake.

If I were a mermaid (Oh, I wish!), I’d sit on a rock and eat crab cakes.

If Estelle was at her house all day (probably or possibly), the neighbor would have seen her and brought over a cake. Let’s talk to that neighbor and see if Estelle was home.  

Got it? Write on. Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. I need cake.

Tackling your writer’s mountain

Confucius: The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.

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That writing mountain: finish the first draft, rewrite, query, just get a freaking idea for pity’s sake! Whatever your mountain is, find a small stone to carry away. A small one, any one, to make you feel you’re moving your mountain.

Many times, we see and hear the authors who have moved the mountain, and we forget that once upon a time, they were wanna-be-authors facing the mountain. What stones did they have to carry to accomplish their goal? The answer: All of them.

So, stop looking at the mountain, and focus on a stone: “I have no idea what to write, but I’m going to write anything that pops to mind for 30 minutes.” “Today, I’m going to research and find three agents open for queries in my genre.” “I’m going to work on that first draft, and it’s going to be a colossal heap of crap. But that means it’s a few stones closer to moving the mountain.”

Carrying stones can sometimes be slow and painful work—by yourself. “A little help, here?” Help is everywhere. Books, blogs, articles, workshops, mentors, social media groups, writing partners: They’re out there ready to help. Be brave. Pick up a stone and seek help.

And those accomplished authors? They’ll tell you there’s always another mountain after you finish conquering the first.

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My Writer’s Dear Diary

My husband gave me a beautiful journal for my birthday. I stared at its gilded cover and turned its pristine pages. “What could I possibly write that would be worthy of this elegant vessel?”

Then I knew. I would mark it up with messy, inky missives with scribbled-out words and splotches. I would paste pictures and memes only I might care about. I want its pages dog-eared. I want it to look used up.

It would be my sounding board, my ear to whisper in, my writer’s BFF.

My Dear Diary.

But I wouldn’t bother writing Dear Diary. It knows what it is.

What it is, is cathartic, therapeutic, motivating and inspiring—to me. It’s about my unique writing journey, filled with my cries and commentary, my personal tips and pep talks, customized for me.

Why every writer should have a writer’s Dear Diary:

  • Write with abandon. In my writer’s journal, sometimes my writing is careful and thoughtful, but mostly, it is not. And that is good practice. Too often, I find myself too cautious when I get a story idea and it takes forever—and sometimes never—to complete a first draft.
  • Be authentic in your writing. Writing for your eyes only allows you to develop that authenticity.
  • Conquer doubt, frustration and fears. Seeing them in writing helps you face them and deal with them. Let it out, and then give yourself a pep talk.
  • Celebrate your triumphs—and don’t be humble! For goodness’ sake, you deserve it! Brag about yourself in writing.
  • Discover your writing process. I write about where and when my ideas seem to pop up and develop. I have gone for more walks and cleaned the bathroom more often because, yes, these are when some of my best ideas come to me.
  • Be bad. Let yourself be snarky, envious, whiny. Frustrated by a string of no responses from agents? Envious because a writing friend sold her story? Let it all out. You’ll feel better. If you read it over the next day and feel guilty, you can always tear it out. But better yet, keep it. Those negative emotions are:
    •  Useful. Use that emotion in your writing. Maybe your anger produced some good lines a future character can use in a story.
    • Motivating. Someone once said: Envy is that feeling that is pointing us toward our destiny. You know what you want. Now figure out how to achieve it.
    • Revealing. Being real allows you to look in the mirror. Analyze yourself. Ask some honest questions. Why do you feel that way? What are you going to do about it?

There’s something so inviting about a blank sheet of paper. It’s just begging you to make your mark.

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Writing in my writer’s journal is not one more thing on my writer’s to-do list. It isn’t a task, an obligation, or a discipline. It’s like that text you send to a good friend when you want to share some news or vent or just to talk. And who doesn’t need a friend like that?

Drive-Thru Edit: decades in numerals

You could write: I grew up in the 1970s.

You could also write: I grew up in the ’70s.

Unfortunately, too often, you see decades written with misplaced apostrophes.

This is NOT correct: the 80’s

Even worse: the ’80’s

You might see it incorrectly spelled on signs, billboards, in blogs, and even the news ticker on cable news. They made an oops.

Write on.

Drive-Thru Edit: When h isn’t an h

Words that start with h sometimes need an and sometimes need a

Both these words start with the letter h:

  • History
  • Honor

When you say history, you hear the h. So, you would write:

  • I am writing a history about the lumberjacks in my state.

The letter h is silent in the word honor. And that is why you write:

  • It is an honor to be here.

Typically, an is written before words that begin with a vowel or begin with a vowel sound.

But be careful of words that begin with u or o, such as: unicorn and one. Both words begin with a vowel, but the u sounds like you, and one sounds like it begins with w. So, you would write:

  • A unicorn
  • A one-time thing

Unlike:

  • An uninformed man
  • An on-and-off relationship

Write on.

A writing pep talk

… and Send.

Congratulations on sending your manuscript or your query to that agent or that editor. That was brave. Feel good about yourself and don’t let your mind go … you know, to the question. The question that will send you spiraling down that grimy, gunky drain of doubt: What are the odds? What are the odds I’ll get an agent, a contract, … even a personalized rejection?

I was perusing social media one day for inspiration and motivation and encouragement. So, imagine my alarm when someone in a writers’ Facebook group answered that question: “The odds are—”

Well, I’m not going to tell you what she wrote, but it was pretty awful.

The journalist in me wanted to demand verification and proof of such a claim. What are your sources? Who conducted the study? How many writers were surveyed? But I didn’t, because what if she did the math? What if she had the proof?

Nope. The me that lives in Unicorn and Mermaid Land scrolled past it. A couple hours later, I hit send on my latest submission to an agent.

Am I a math-denier? A hopeless, cockeyed optimist? Maybe, because what chance do I have at success if I let statistics and odds rule my decisions in the writing world?

I’m guessing the answer is … I’m not going to say, but it’s pretty awful.

The truth is, I’m not a math-denier. Maybe I’m a little cockeyed. I want to believe in serendipity, karma and mermaids. But actually, I put my faith in positive math:

Preparation + Opportunity = Success.

I see it over and over and over again. It happens every day. Work Hard. Believe. Persist. Have Patience.

And if one path gets you nowhere, find another.

Drive-Thru Edit: comma confusion

Proper use of commas will make your writing clear:

Example: Joe watched Estelle as she crossed the street and smiled.

In this sentence, Estelle is the one who smiled.

Example: Joe watched Estelle as she crossed the street, and smiled.

In this sentence, Joe is the one who smiled.

Example: I saw my father, the king, and George Clooney in the same afternoon.

In this sentence, the reader might think my father is the king. He is not, so:

I saw my father and the king and George Clooney in the same afternoon.

Write on.

Drive-Thru Edit: when to Italicize

When to Italicize:

Sound words: “Listen!” Thump. “Did you hear that?”

Foreign words: “Yes, I’ll have some wine. Ein bisschen,” said Grandma. But Grandpa always filled the glass.

Words as words: When you write the word embarrassed, remember the two r’s and two s’s

Thoughts: That guy is really creepy, she thought.

For emphasis: I didn’t say you should go. I said he should go.

Write on.