Complete Writing Advice in One Post

My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve.  Ray Bradbury

This post provides a list of writerly tips I’ve gleaned from mentors, graduate school, workshops, conferences, websites, and tried & true methods that work for me.

As a guest speaker at CSU Fullerton, I used the Q&A session to share three secrets to getting published:


In my teens, I heard Ray Bradbury say at my local library that if you wrote a story every week for a year and sent them to viable publishers then at least one would sell. Speaking at a conference I attended in the 90’s, author Dean Wesley Smith said (as I remember) novices serious about becoming a writer should write every week, find mentors and consider this their apprenticeship.  My goal is to produce the best writing I can.  Sounds obvious, but a Real Writer writes.

Two: SUBMIT the story for publication.

For those writers that actually write, submitting stories entails research for agents, publishers and magazine editors, writing cover letters, queries, and synopses.  Doing the homework to find markets that fit your work, providing the proper format and content to your target markets is also obvious.  According to surveyed editors and agents, most of what they receive isn’t close to the guidelines they post at their sites.  These are my customers: I’ll pay attention to what they want and respond professionally.

Three: REPEAT one and two often.

It’s the writers that endure rejection, continue to write, and continue to send their work out–these are the writers that succeed.


I revise the first draft  by scanning for spelling and grammar errors, missing words, repetitive words, inconsistencies, and then look for plot structure, concept and development problems.  After I’ve corrected these, I focus on the following:

Michelle’s Ten Final Edit Rules

  1. Start strong; grab the reader.  Editors rarely read past the first page.
  2. Begin and end each chapter (or scene) with a hook.  Don’t give the reader a reason to abandon the story.
  3. Remove unnecessary words.  Write as if you have to pay for each one.
  4. Tighten prose by using prepositional phrases sparingly.
  5. Examine each word ending with ‘ing’ or ‘ly’ suspiciously.
  6. Avoid passive verbs.  I try for less than three per page.
  7. Vary sentence length and structure within a paragraph.
  8. Balance narrative with paragraph length and crisp dialog.  When scanning through pages, a reader will choose a book by the density of black print on the white paper.  Too dense, and it wearies one.
  9. Adjectives and adverbs should strengthen not weaken the writing.  Thin out modifiers when the prose looks over-decorated.
  10. If a scene does not advance the story, remove it.  For that reason, use backstories sparingly.  If critical to use one, keep it brief.

Author Elmore Leonard passed away August 20, 2013 and will sorely be missed.  His rules for writing are often quoted in articles and critique groups.  From the Gotham’s Writer’s Workshop website.

What’s Leonard’s secret to being both popular and respectable? Perhaps you’ll find some clues in his 10 tricks for good writing:   *

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”

I’ve found Save the Cat’s Beat Sheet to be helpful in developing novels.

Critique groups are fabulous for learning the craft, networking with other writers and receiving valuable feedback on your work.

In conclusion, please follow the links below for more useful writing tips:

Let me know if this is helpful.  If I’ve missed anything, let me know that too.  I sold my first story in 1991, but writing still surprises me everyday.


About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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6 Responses to Complete Writing Advice in One Post

  1. imagbigreader says:

    Good post, Michelle–  🙂

    Kaye Wilson Klem


  2. Jean Riddell says:

    Excellent blog. I would add one more tip: Read this blog before each writing session.

  3. mlknowlden says:

    Thanks, Jean. I think the editing and revising tips can be revisited AFTER the writing session. I’m glad I collected this together, because I’m going to follow your tip in reading these on Sundays to keep me in the groove for my writing week.

  4. Rebecca Lang says:

    Wow, this very thorough. I like all the links available. This is a very good collection of advice.

  5. mlknowlden says:

    Thanks, Becky. It helps me.

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