The Best Writing Advice I Ever Heard: Read 100 Books

In all the writer’s workshops and classes I’ve attended, in all the conversations I’ve had with successful writers, the best piece of writing advice anyone has ever given me, was this:

READ 100 books in whatever genre you wish to write in.

Really… 100.

Only after doing so, did I really understand why the author had said that.

All of the great artists of history have at least one thing in common: They first studied the masters, before becoming masters themselves.

And by “studied,” I do not mean “glanced at” or “looked at for a long time.” I mean “studied” – they examined how the artist used colors, how the brushstrokes were done, how faces were drawn, the “shape” of the central image, the materials used to create the image, etc.

If you want to truly excel at writing, and if you want to be a successful paid author whose work is read and enjoyed by people outside of your own family, your best path is to read and study the masters of your craft.

Do more than merely read them. Analyze and study how the writer created the work. Write down your analyses so you can review and compare them later. To use an analogy from the art world again… Look at the “brushstrokes,” and think analytically about the “overall image.”

Some of the things to look for while reading analytically include:

  • (Sub-)Genre: Which genre or sub-genre is the story? How is this (sub-)genre different from others that are similar to it? What basic genre elements are present? What is the order/pacing of those elements?
  • “The Numbers”: How many pages, chapters (include if there there is any epilogue/prologue), estimated number of words (letters across a page, multiplied times lines of text, divide that by five, multiply this times number of pages of text), illustrations, etc.?

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  • What POV was used? If omniscient, how much omniscience is the reader allowed to experience? If first- or second-person, how does the author show what takes place out of sight of the narrator? Is only one POV used throughout?
  • Characters:
    • How many characters are there (how many major characters, how many minor ones)?
    • How are they distinguished from one another?
    • What are their archetypes?
    • If characters are cultural or literary stereotypes, is it for comedic effect or another reason?
    • How they are described (physically and psychologically) and brought to life (how much detail is given for each of them, what foods they eat, their hobbies, etc)?
    • How are “good” characters made more/less “good” and likable vs. “bad guy” character?
    • How much time is spent describing characters/how much time are they “on screen/on stage” for the reader?
    • What kind of relationships they have with/to other characters?
    • What kind of lifestyles they live, what jobs they have?
    • What pets they have, if any, and how they relate to their pets (also: are the pets used to symbolize the characters’ traits in any way)?
    • Are there any aspects of the writing outside of the characters that are used to symbolize them and/or their character traits (such as a family crest with a snake for an evil character, a necklace with a cross for a religious character, a character who is destined to die pulls an ace of spades from a card deck, a painting on the character’s home of a person famous for being good/evil, etc)?


  • Scenes and Settings: What kind of setting is the story, how it is described, why that setting is better for the story than others might be, number of settings used, etc.
  • Plot:
    • What major plot points happen and when do they happen?
    • What plot devices are used (when, how introduced, what purpose for them…)?
    • When is each character and each plot device introduced in the plot arc?
    • How does each chapter begin & end (tone, is the reader left hanging mid-action, etc.)?
  • Statements/Theme: What is the theme of the story? Does the story make any social or other kinds of statement – i.e., does it have a moral or a lesson taught? (This is not necessary in every kind of story, but some sub-genres do have this as one of the unwritten rules of their stories.)
  • Tone:
    • How does the author create and maintain a mood: suspense, humor, reader interest, mystery, romance, etc?
    • How much sex/violence/mature material is used (if any)?
    • What kind of words & language are used (long/short sentences, little/lots of punctuation, colorful/plain words & terminology, idioms, colloquialisms, etc)?
    • How is comedy & humor used (if at all) in a non-humorous story, romance in a non-romantic story, and so on?
  • Show vs Tell: How does the author show the reader things without saying them straight out? For example, instead of saying “Bob was scared”, the author should say how Bob was trembling, breathing heavily, wide-eyed, etc. Instead of saying “the forest was scary,” the author should show that wind in the trees whispering strangely, branches seeming to grab for people, wolves howling, etc.

More on “Show vs Tell”:

  • What symbolism & foreshadowing, if any, is used? How, where, when? Is it symbolic or obvious?
  • Backstory/Descriptions: Most importantly, how does the author work descriptions and backstory without using obvious exposition and/or leaving the reader feel like they are being lectured at, and/or feeling like the story was rudely interrupted by the other information? Your writing should be smooth and flow comfortably. How do other authors achieve this?

For the first few dozen books, I took notes on everything. But I quickly discovered that it was impossible to analyze for ALL of these aspects at the same time. So I tried focusing on only a few of these criteria at a time. (This made it all the more important to read a full 100 books, as it turned out.) Reading all those books not only taught me to look for one of these criteria at a time, it taught me to see many of them as I read through books now. Reading so many of one genre also taught me that there is a formula for my intended genre, and that there can be SUB-genres within that overall classification, with their own specific requirements and rules.

For example, in most “Cozy Tea Mysteries,” the killer or villain of the book must appear anywhere by the end of the first three chapters, or at least have their name mentioned multiple times by that same point in the story. (Similarly, the killer in many hour-long “whodunit” TV crime shows tends to appear in the first ten minutes of the episode.) Most of the ones I read were told in the First Person POV, and a large number of them had female amateur detectives. The murder(s) tended to take place “off stage,” and gory & uncomfortable details were rarely used. There was almost never any sex scenes or excessive profanity. These criteria were not present every time, but they did tend to happen more often than not.

Some of these ideas were obvious by the time I was done with Book 20, but others didn’t become clear until I had finished Book 99.

So, yes… 100 books is a lot, but there’s a very good reason for the large number.


How to Analyze a Novel

Analyzing Novels and Short Stories

How to Critically Analyze a Book

9 Elements You’ll Find in Every Story

Analyzing Literature

How to Analyze Fiction

iWriterly Channel on YouTube

“Read Like a Writer”

If you enjoyed this blog, please remember to “Like” it (click on the star below) and to “Like” any social media posts/comments where you saw this link. And don’t forget to “Follow” me here on WordPress, for more helpful and concise writing tips. Your positive feedback helps me to help more people online.

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“Cheap at the Beginning Makes for Expensive in the End” (A Commentary on Self-Editing Your Manuscript)

“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” Abraham Lincoln once said. In that same vein, it can also be said that “A writer who is his own editor invariably looks foolish as an author.”

Or, to quote another adage, “Cheap at the beginning makes for expensive in the end.”

Three to five cents (USD) per word is a not-uncommon fee for freelance editors. So paying for a professional editor can be expensive, especially for a first-time author. A book that is 75,000 words in length might cost as much as $3,750 for one round of editing, depending on the kind of editing you’re having done (at least two rounds is recommended by some editors).

How Much Does an Editor Cost? What to Expect for Pro Services – Reedsy

When “Inexpensive” Becomes “Overworked and Underpaid” – Nikki Auberkett | Pen & Quill

Costs like this can make the idea of “self-editing” your manuscript or using only editing software very tempting.

But before you toss away the idea of paying for an editor, consider this…

An author of my acquaintance online (I’ll call him “Bob”) was able to self-publish a novel he had long been wanting to see in print. This author claimed he had already been published professionally by a traditional publisher, so he certainly would have dealt with the publishing industry— including editors— before.

All throughout his draft-writing process, he made lots of comments on many social media posts (whenever writers were asking about hiring an editor). “Bob” repeatedly said that editors cost too much, and that writers should try to “self-edit.” He praised the capabilities of editing software. He told countless writers that “self-editing” was not only possible, but just as effective as a professional editor, and perfectly acceptable for self-publishing. “Bob” made himself quite the advocate for this, in spite of the many times when myself and others tried to explain that editors do far more than merely spell-check, and do far more than any app or other computer software could do.

Recently, “Bob” self-published that book. It was a story he had been wanting to write for a long time. He paid money he said he could not really afford, to have 10,000 copies printed up and have the e-book posted online. (I suspect he was vanity published, despite his claims otherwise.)


He went on social media, spending the entire morning promoting his new book online.

Because it was my favorite genre, and I rarely get to read many new authors writing in that genre, I was looking forward to reading it. As soon as I read his announcement about his new book, I downloaded it and began to read.

…And instantly became so very embarrassed for his sake.

While there were almost no spelling errors, it was rife with punctuation issues. The first few pages alone had several sentences that were confusing and poorly worded. His first chapter was basically an “information dump,” without any characters being introduced, and was incredibly uninteresting. Even the paragraph-long synopsis for his dust jacket had numerous errors, and was not engagingly written the way a promotional blurb should be, in order to get people to buy the book. The book was painful to read, and I didn’t even get past the first chapter.

While I was trying to figure out how to tell him that his dream book was… not the best quality work, I went onto his first post where he had announced the release of his new book, less than a few hours before. I saw that a few other people had already politely and gently told him it was not as well written as he thought, and desperately needed a good editor. Some were not very kind about it at all.

“Bob” was floored.


Now that he had some of the problems with his book pointed out to him and could see them more clearly, the reality of his situation was sinking in. “Bob” had invested a lot of his own money, and had 10,000 printed copies of a book that was an embarrassment to any professional author. He would have to either eat the huge loss or continue to humiliate himself online, in hopes of making a few sales.

He chose to delete his promotional posts, stop promoting his book, and slink off into the sunset by leaving social media for awhile. (Apparently, he didn’t believe in doing things by halves.)

This scenario is a too-common occurrence. Writers try to be cheap and apply “do it yourself” mentality to publishing, or just don’t realize the vital and incredibly powerful role editors play in the publishing process. However, this time, this writer’s humiliation was even worse. Remember, this particular writer had gotten on social media on numerous occasions, claiming that “self-editing” is more than sufficient for self-publishers. And now “Bob’s” hubris-driven blunder was out there on the internet for everyone to see.

To make matters even worse, this author who had repeatedly claimed he was publishing his latest book as a professional, now had a book that made him look like a vanity-press-printed amateur.

Don’t get me wrong. “Bob” is a good writer. Overall, his ideas and stories are very good. He has a quick wit and a great sense of humor in his blogs & posts. So it’s quite believable that he has indeed been traditionally published before. But submitting to traditional publishers is very different than self-publishing.

A Submissions Editor at a publishing house expects to see an unpolished work. They expect to have their editorial staff go through every manuscript and make lots of changes, with several rounds of edits, before allowing it anywhere near the printing press. So submitting an unedited (or “self-edited”) manuscript to a traditional publisher is perfectly acceptable.

However, in self-publishing, your initial readers are Joe and Jane Average. They expect (and very rightly so) that every book they download or buy at a store will have been written and perfected, prior to their reading the opening sentence. They expect (again, rightly so) the same quality of writing and professional publishing that they would get from a book published by any of “The Big Five” publishing houses.

Your book is competing in the same marketplace as books that have been through several rounds of editing, beta readers, and marketing professionals. A lot of money was invested in those books, and they are your competition.

So for you, a writer looking at venues for your book, this means that you must ask yourself:

Can you afford to be a professional author while self-publishing, or should you submit your work to traditional publishers?

Because if you can’t afford to pay for a good editor to polish your manuscript, then— to be brutally honest— you either don’t want to be taken seriously as a professional author, or you just don’t belong in self-publishing.

However… This is not to say you don’t belong in print. As I said before, traditional publishing is a great option for the beginning writer with no editorial budget– the best option, in my opinion. The publisher there will pay for the editor to go over your work, market your book for you, and you always receive some kind of payment for the time you spent writing (this is never the situation with self-publishing). The person first reading your manuscript at these places expects grammatical imperfection, and is looking at the overall quality of your story and use of language.

Remember: If a company is promising to do all the editing & printing, while also charging you a lot of money to “publish” your book, they’re probably a “vanity press” and definitely a SCAM. You will pay far less to hire a freelance editor and publish your book for yourself online.

Yes, traditional publishers will probably reject your manuscript at first— and if you wisely and stubbornly keep sending it back out the door, various publishers will probably reject it more than a few times. But if you research which imprint/publisher you are submitting to and how your manuscript fits into their image & product offerings, and if you write a good query letter, then a good writer stands a good chance of being published (and polished) without paying out of your own savings to do so.

…And you will never have a book on the market that makes you look like an amateur hack.

Anne Fisher-Ahlert is a freelance editor who is happy to look over several pages of your manuscript for free, in order to demonstrate how much you need an editor, and with hopes that you will hire her. Anne’s email is .

If you enjoyed this blog, please remember to “Like” it (click on the star below) and to “Like” any social media posts/comments where you saw this link. And don’t forget to “Follow” me here on WordPress, for more helpful and concise writing tips. Your positive feedback helps me to help more people online.

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Harlan Ellison’s First Day of School

Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to see the late great Harlan Ellison in person at a convention. He told a simple but delightful story about his first day of school, which perfectly illustrated his love of stories, reading, and learning in general…

Harlan had learned to read long before going to school, and was a voracious reader of anything he could find. His parents did not stifle his love of reading, but instead allowed him to read any book or story for any age.

When it came time for his first day of school, his mother walked him to school. He was very excited. He’d been told school was a place of learning, so he had imagined rooms full of books and books and books, all over the walls, like a huge library.

His was deeply confused and disappointed when he got to his assigned classroom. There were only a few pictures books; mostly there were toys, some desks, and other kids playing on a colorful rug.

Where were all the books of learning?

Bored, and unwilling to socialize with the other kids, he sat down at the teacher’s desk and began to read the adult-level paperback she had set there at some point.

Before too long, the teacher came up to him and tried to get him to join the other kids and sit at his desk.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I’m reading.”

(In his household, he had been taught it was always impolite to interrupt someone when they are reading.)

The teacher persisted, and used a firmer tone, telling him he really needed to go sit down.

“Excuse me,” he said again. “I’m READING.”

Well, his poor mother, who had walked him to school, had no sooner walked in the door to her house, when she heard the phone ring.

The school was calling, asking her to come in and speak to the Principal about her son. So she had to walk all the way back.

(I take it from his narrative at the time, that this was not a small distance.)

When she got there, the Principal told her that her son had been repeatedly lying to the teacher.

“Harlan,” his mother asked, “What did you say?”

“I just told her I was reading,” insisted young Harlan.

The Principal chimed in. “Well, that’s the problem, you see. He had a grown-up book and insisted he was reading it.”

“But he CAN read it,” said his mother.

The Principal obviously did not believe it.

His mother took a thick book from the Principal’s desk. “Here, Harlan. Read to the man.”

So Harlan proceeded to read out loud from a thick, adult book, without pause or problem.

That was his first and last day of Kindergarten.

They put him into the First Grade, only because school rules did not allow any higher promotion than one grade level.

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Genre: Writing “Surprise Soup”

Every genre has a formula. Many writers pride themselves on breaking formula, but are later disappointed that not many people seemed to like their changes. Those writers who don’t understand why, need to understand that consumers don’t like to buy “Soup Surprise.”

To explain…

Imagine you have the biggest craving for chocolate cake. And not just any cake, either—your mouth is watering for the cake that is served at your favorite restaurant. So you go to that restaurant and order chocolate cake. After waiting patiently, you get your cake. You pick up a huge forkful of chocolatey goodness and put it in your mouth, only to discover…


They changed the recipe, and no one told you. It is now Peanut-Butter-and-Mint-Chocolate Cake.

Assuming you have no potential anaphylactic shock from any possible peanut allergies, you would still be very put out. Yes, at any other time, you might actually have enjoyed trying some Peanut-Butter-and-Mint-Chocolate Cake. But this was not expected, so your tastebuds revolt, and you have to spit it out.

Or, you go to that restaurant to have some soup. Every day, they always have your favorite soup, so you plan on having the same soup. But that day, they tell you, they are out of your soup. Now, they only have “Soup Surprise” – AND you have to order the soup to find out what it is.

Even with this warning, even if a customer did not have any possible food allergies, most people are not likely to order it.

Yes, there are the people who like an adventure and who will try anything, but most people go to their favorite place to have their favorite flavors.

The same is true for books. Most people go to their favorite genres and sub-genres to have their favorite characters and stories. It’s the reason that book and TV series are so popular: people ENJOY the familiar and the comfortable.

For example, I had been a long-time reader of a certain Cozy Tea Mystery series. I enjoyed the characters, the concepts, the pacing, and everything. For eight books, I was comfortable in that town, with that heroine, watching her gradually develop as a character, enjoying that she was gradually developing a romantic interest in the last three. Then, on book number nine… BAM!

The author changed the recipe on my beloved chocolate cake to add mint and peanut butter. For some reason, the heroine had amnesia. All of the regular characters, plus the romantic interest that the author had developed over the last few books, were now gone. Another male character was thrown in the story to take his place. The previously G-rated series now had multiple sex scenes that were written mildly X-Rated, there was more profanity, and the violence of the crime was more graphically described. None of the characters, not even the heroine, seemed familiar. I felt as disoriented as the amnesic heroine of the story claimed to be.

Ordinarily, I know I would have enjoyed this story. The mystery itself was well-conceived, the storytelling in general was very good. But the fact that my favorite chocolate cake now had peanut-butter-and-mint in it left me with a bitter taste in my literary mouth, and I have not picked up that series again.

Another example…

I also enjoy some Science Fiction. There have been more than a few books over the years that people have suggested that I read, because they know I like Science Fiction. But SciFi is a strange animal, and has some very specific rules and formulas. It has many sub-genres that are very unique, including Time Travel, Alternate Universe, Hard Science Tech, Dystopian, and so on. Someone who is not familiar with the distinctions of these sub-genres is quick to assume that because I like some SciFi, that I like all of it. But any SciFi nerd knows that being a Trekkie does not automatically mean you will “go gaga” over Star Wars, or vice versa.

So, when I get these recommendations, I go in knowing that I am ordering the “Soup Surprise”—I merely know it’s soup, and I have no idea if I’ll really enjoy it. The way they describe the book sounds like something I might like, but I just have to read it to find out if it really is the flavor they claim it is. They have read a few SciFi books, so they are just sure this is one of the same kinds of stories that I like.

But that’s like saying, “Hey, I know you like Chicken Noodle Soup. You’re gonna love this. It has chicken in it, too.” (They think it’s the chicken that I like, when I actually enjoy the noodles the most.)

Sometimes I get lucky and they really did recommend a good SciFi story. But Science Fiction, like many genres that encompass a large variety of sub-categories, is not something you can have just a few tastes of, then assume you can make for yourself and mess with the recipe at the same time. As an editor, I have read stories by writers who were trying very hard to write stories from a genre that they had not read sufficiently, or for which they had only seen movies on screen. Their lack of experience with the formulas and “rules” for that kind of book was always apparent.

You might think that they had a right to experiment with that formula, and you would be right. But before changing around a recipe, you need to know the basics – that Chicken Noodle Soup needs to at least have chicken, noodles, and broth. Changing out a basic ingredient in the soup (genre) changes the kind of soup (genre) you are making (writing).

Before you as a writer want to get creative with a genre, be sure you have read enough of that genre to know its sub-genres and formula (“recipe”). Be sure to know what the basic ingredients are, before you end up serving your readers with a literary version of “Peanut-Butter-and-Mint-Chocolate Cake” or “Soup Surprise.”

If you enjoyed this blog, please remember to “Like” it (click on the star below) and to “Like” any social media posts/comments where you saw this link. And don’t forget to “Follow” me here on WordPress, for more helpful and concise writing tips. Your positive feedback helps me to help more people online.

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So You Want To Be a Freelance Editor…

You’ve seen how overflowing the current marketplace is with self-publishing writers and would-be ebook authors, and you’ve recognized the potential profit to you in becoming a freelance editor. Now what?

Here are some things you should know…

(1) In case you haven’t watched enough People’s Court episodes yet, you need to get everything in writing – changes and amendments to contracts included. “Verbal contract” is a joke, and basically unenforceable by any judge or credit agency. Clients will know this and laugh at your repeated requests for payment, and ignore all your phone calls. Any possible changes that you need to make to your time estimates and schedules must also be in writing.

You’re a professional, and professionals have contracts, written estimates, and invoices. Amateurs and hobbyists have verbal agreements and undocumented phone conversations. Text messages don’t tend to last long enough to act as evidence – phones get lost and phone companies sometimes delete old text messages. Private messages and posts from social media aren’t always accepted or accessible in a courtroom. Only get it in email or on paper.

(2) There are some really crappy writers out there, and some really good ones, but they all can use an editor – but not all of them realize how much they need one.

Unfortunately, they won’t all have a positive and agreeable attitude towards your editorial input. You have to be careful to not upset the writer, and be prepared for the inevitable one who will reject everything you said (no matter how well-stroked their ego), only to go back to the original version (this is often where your paper contract will save you a big loss of time & money).

When I say, “not upset the writer,” I don’t intend for it to be demeaning. What I mean is, that some writers are very good, but take every little correction to heart as evidence of how supposedly “terrible” they are. A very few others shouldn’t even be writing greeting cards, but don’t want to hear that brutal truth. Yet others are very open to criticism and are too willing to make every change you suggest without question (an editor should be questioned, because an editor is not a “Manuscript God”). Most writers are somewhere along this spectrum, and can change their place on it from moment to moment.

Editorial work requires a lot more people skills than many aspiring editors realize. Expect to have a lot of long conversations and polite drawn-out disagreements about such trivial things as the placement and use of a single comma.

Freelance editing is different from editing for a traditional publisher, in that the freelancer has less control or say in the final outcome of the work. Instead of working for the entity who’s paying for the publishing process, and therefore having more say on what is or isn’t in the final print, you work for the writer. The writer is paying for it all, and therefore has final say on his/her own work. You have less authority than an editor at a trade/traditional publisher, and are less able to insist upon anything.

(3) Some clients will only want a “line edit” (basically just a spell-check), while others will want to have a full “book doctor” job, rewrites and all. Yet others will have different expectations along that scale. Clarify what level of editing the client is expecting and put it in the contracts before you start your work.

Restrain your editorial instincts (and grit your teeth to refrain from comments you think ought to be made) when you are asked to only spell-check writing that really needs a major rewrite instead. You can tell them some things (like, “these scenes don’t make sense in the order you wrote them in”), but don’t let yourself start rewriting or making major mark-ups unless the client says that they want that. However, even when the client says they want the content mark-ups etc., don’t be shocked if they sometimes end up ignoring and/or undoing your edits.

(4) Most writers have no idea how many hours it takes to properly edit a document (especially if you do more than just spell-checking for them) and might object to the number of hours of a decent edit (read: unexpected high cost, if you charge them hourly). Keep in touch with clients throughout the process, to give them an idea of how it’s going, so your hours invested won’t be so much of a shock to their pocketbook.

(5) Dedicate as many hours per day as you would be expected to dedicate to an office job somewhere. Don’t treat clients as a hobby or part-time job (unless you clarify with them beforehand in emails that you have another client at the same time, or some other valid professional reason for minimizing your hours). Doing so is very unprofessional, and will hurt you in the long run. Bad business practices do haunt you in these days of online reviews and LinkedIn networking, etc.

First and foremost in this, behave and treat your work the same way would expect a true professional in an office to behave and treat their work. Your client is your boss and your next reference for your “resume” (online reviews, etc), so don’t mess around and/or screw him/her over. Don’t try padding your hours, either. Your client already thinks you’re taking too much time and costing too much. (Besides, that’s dishonest – and honesty always makes for good, professional business practices.)

(6) For your first few freelance gigs, you might want to have a more experienced editor look over your work before showing it to the client. This is not to negate your abilities, but an experienced eye does pick up on things a less-experienced one misses, and it’s a great learning experience that will make you all the more desirable and better-paid in the workforce (freelance or otherwise). Even at my age (I’m in my 50s) and with my many years of experience, another pair of eyes double-checking me has never hurt my work, and only helped it. A good mentor/partner, whether free or paid, is invaluable to any editor.

I think of editing like piano tuning. Some people have an ear for music, and some don’t. Having an ear for music can help you get a career in music, but the ear alone won’t make you a good piano tuner (just as having an eye for typos does not automatically make someone a good editor). To be a good piano tuner, you need professional training and mentorship. (In this, I speak with some personal knowledge; my brother is a piano tuner with an excellent musical ear, but he realized he needed to go to a special school to study the craft.)

The same is true with editorial work: It’s more than just finding typos, it’s also knowing some other things to look for/at, and the people skills needed to deal with authors. There are things that someone of more experience can best teach you. Yes, there are those people who stumble into piano tuning/editing and somehow manage to master it alone, but they are doing it the hard way, and (no offense to anyone who might be doing well after stumbling into freelance editing, but…) the quality of their work is usually not as high as the trained piano tuner/editor.

(7) You can never learn too much about copyrights. Really. Some things on the internet might seem to be public domain, or you might think you are safe using a certain quote as long as you credit it or get verbal approval, but every single thing must be checked and double-checked for legality and reproduction– text, photos, artwork, quotes, music, etc. Merely being past the legal date for becoming Public Domain is NOT safe, because the copyright might have been renewed or purchased at any point along the way.

There are a lot of weird and unusual copyright issues that have come up for me through the years, things that I never expected to be an issue ever.

These days, with the internet, things are actually worse for copyright infringement – but easier for checking out. Never hesitate to send a client to a copyright lawyer if you have any doubts or questions (drag them there kicking and screaming, if necessary).

A famous example of bad copyright checking: The entire big-money “Barney the Dinosaur” show was cancelled because they used a common tune, “This Old Man” redone as “I love you, you love me”. They assumed it was so old as to be public domain. It was not, and they were sued.

Another famous example: Weird Al Yankovic parodied a song after merely asking his agent to ask the other agent. Supposedly, everyone was okay with him doing the parody, but it turns out the band he was mimicking said they had never even heard the request to use the song. (He didn’t have it in writing!)

Even the famous and successful can sometimes mess up a copyright issue, so a good editor should never assume anything, no matter what verbal assurances their client gives them or which lawyers they claim to have spoken to. (Yes, you as an editor can get dragged into a courtroom and be made part of a legal mess for someone else’s copyright infringement.)

And, of course (which also goes back to my original point) – Get everything in writing from the legal copyright holder.

If you enjoyed this blog, please remember to “Like” it (click on the star below) and to “Like” any social media posts/comments where you saw this link. And don’t forget to “Follow” me here on WordPress, for more helpful and concise writing tips. Your positive feedback helps me to help more writers and editors.

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“Show and Tell” in Your Writing


One of the common problems I have been running across lately in my work as a freelance editor, is that there is a lot of “telling” in the writing, and not much “showing.” The writer “tells” us to be afraid, that the character is arrogant & mean, that the house is falling apart, etc. But the writer fails to create a sense of dread, wonder, and affection for the character.

Instead, the writer should be making the reader afraid, showing them the arrogance of the character and how dilapidated the house is, and so on.

For example, a writer who is only “telling” things might say, “The spooky old house was falling apart.”

But this is far too much “telling.” You have just told the reader that they are supposed to be afraid of the house, instead of creating a sense of dread and fear in them as you describe the house in better detail. The reader will not feel something just because you tell them to, you have to create that mood.

Also: How is it falling apart? Show how it is falling apart: describe the windows cracked, the rotten floorboards, the curtains ragged, the paint on the walls (inside and out) faded and chipping away, etc. Give them a specific image in their mind, so they can visualize the details.

You should also use sensory descriptors and imagery to create the mood and images you wish to convey. Use sensory descriptors to get the reader to feel the danger: sight, sound, smell, etc.

Some examples:

  • The rustling of the leaves in the cold wind made him look over his shoulder. For a moment, the bizarre shapes of the gnarled, twisted branches as they shook in the wind made Peter imagine they were trying to grab at him from all sides.
  • Suddenly, an overwhelming stench hit him. It was the smell of very rotten meat and organic decay. It was the smell of death. His stomach turned over, and he gagged, almost vomiting. The next thing he knew, the scent was gone and he could breathe again.
  • A freezing wind blew out of the woods. It was unnaturally cold, even for this time of year, and was blowing in the opposite direction of the rain. It was as if the woods had a wind of its own. Holly felt the chill of it deep in her bones.

If possible, a writer should also evoke emotions and the readers’ own memories to help create a stronger image, and more powerful writing. Make the reader feel anger at the injustice of the villain’s actions against the hero (or another character), or comfortable & safe at the smell of pie cooking in a kitchen – just before you have the demonic-werewolf-ghost jump through the window and attack someone.

Another example: Instead of calling someone “villainous”, show us how they can be mean and evil. If a main character savagely kicks a homeless man who is merely sleeping in a freezing alleyway, for example, or laughs at the sight of a bully beating up a smaller child, we know that character is not one of the good guys. Such “Random Acts of Villainy” can be just as effective as “Random Acts of Kindness” in showing the reader who your characters are.

One of my favorite characters on TV is Adrian Monk. Every episode we are “shown” his major character traits: He has a keen eye for detail, and a passion to make things right in the world. The writers show this by giving him OCD, and grief over the murder of his late wife. His OCD causes him to notice details that pass by most people, but it is not focused solely on crime scenes: he also obsesses on the placement of every item in the room, the socks someone is wearing, the idea that he might have left his stove on back home, and so on.

The fact that he has an incredible eye for detail is shown to the viewer in countless situations.

Yes, you should have a list of descriptive terms for every character, but you should not share this list with your readers. Instead, try to demonstrate how each character is worthy of those descriptors.

“Improve Your Writing: Show, Not Tell” (Benjamin’s English) – Video

“How to Show, Not Tell, in Your Writing” (Quotidian Writer) – Video

“How to ‘Show Don’t Tell’ in Creative Writing” (Ignited Ink Writing) – Video

“The definitive guide to ‘show, don’t tell’ ” (The Writer Magazine)

“Why ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ is a Golden Rule of Creative Writing” (

“3 Simple Tips on the ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Mantra” (Writers Edit)

“How To Show & Not Tell in Short Stories” (Writers Write)

“How to Balance ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ in Your Writing” (Well Storied)

“Show, Don’t Tell: What You Need to Know” (Jerry Jenkins)

“The Three Words That Almost Ruined Me As a Writer” (Literary Hub)

“My Golden Rules to ‘Show Don’t Tell’: 6 useful tips I use in my writing” (The Writers Cooperative)

“How to Show Not Tell in Writing With Exercises” (Self-Publishing School)

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Thank you!

Thank you!