Revisions part 5: Near-Homophones or Cursed Words #amwriting

One thing that I notice when reading is the improper use of near-homophones, or words that sound closely alike, are spelled differently, and have different meanings. When we read widely, we’re more likely to notice the difference between words like accept and except when they are written.

The different meanings of seldom-used sound-alike words become blurred among people who have little time to read, and little encouragement. Wrong usages become part of everyday speech.

For this reason, new and beginning writers are often unaware they habitually misuse common words until they begin to see the differences in written words.

Let’s look at two of the most commonly confused words, accept and except. People, even those with some higher education, frequently mix these two words up in their casual conversation.

Accept (definition) to take or receive (something offered); receive with approval or favor.

  • to accept a present.
  • to accept a proposal.

Except (definition) not including, other than, leave out, exclude.

  • present company excepted.
  • with the exclusion of.

We accept that our employees work every day except Sunday.

English, being a mash-up language, has a long list of what I think of as cursed words to watch for in our writing.

Farther vs. Further: (Grammar Tips from a Thirty-Eight-Year-Old with an English Degree | The New Yorker by Reuven Perlman, posted February 25, 2021:

Farther describes literal distance; further describes abstract distance. Let’s look at some examples:

  • I’ve tried the whole “new city” thing, each time moving farther away from my hometown, but I can’t move away from . . . myself (if that makes sense?).

  • How is it possible that I’m further from accomplishing my goals now than I was five years ago? Maybe it’s time to change goals? [1]

When we use these words, we want to ensure we are using them correctly.

Ensure: make certain something happens

Insure:  arrange for compensation in the event of damage to (or loss of) property, or injury to (or the death of) someone, in exchange for regular advance payments to a company or government agency.

Assure: tell someone something positively or confidently to dispel any doubts they may have.

What follows is a looooooooong list of cursed words to double-check the meanings of.

If you need to use one of these words in your work, I suggest you look them up in the online dictionary to be sure your words say what you think they do.

For the moment, ignore the grandiose words and learn how to use all your words correctly. The majority are good words and using them correctly when they’re the only word that works is not pretentious.

However, if you pepper your narrative with obscure words, your readers might put the book down out of frustration, so go lightly. Still, it never hurts to know the meaning and uses of words.

178 Homophone and near-homophone comparisons and other often misused words:

  • abhorrent vs. aberrant
  • accept vs. except
  • ado vs. adieu
  • adopt vs. adapt
  • adverse vs. averse
  • affect vs. effect
  • afflict vs. inflict
  • aggravate vs. irritate
  • allude vs. elude
  • allusion vs. illusion vs. delusion
  • alternate vs. alternative
  • ambiguous vs. ambivalent
  • amicable vs. amiable
  • amoral vs. immoral
  • amuse vs. bemuse
  • anecdote vs. antidote
  • appraise vs. apprise
  • ascent vs. assent
  • assume vs. presume
  • assure vs. ensure vs. insure
  • aural vs. oral vs. verbal
  • aver vs. avow
  • bare vs. bear
  • bazaar vs. bizarre
  • breach vs. breech
  • bridal vs. bridle
  • broach vs. brooch
  • callus vs. callous
  • capital vs. capitol
  • censor vs. censure
  • chord vs. cord
  • cite vs. site vs. sight
  • climactic vs. climatic
  • complement vs. compliment
  • compose vs. comprise
  • concurrent vs. consecutive
  • confident vs. confidant(e)
  • connotation vs. denotation
  • connote vs. denote
  • conscious vs. conscience
  • contemptible vs. contemptuous
  • continual vs. continuous
  • correlation vs. corollary
  • council vs. counsel
  • decent vs. descent vs. dissent
  • definitely vs. definitively
  • demur vs. demure
  • desert vs. dessert
  • didactic vs. pedantic
  • disassemble vs. dissemble
  • discomfit vs. discomfort
  • discreet vs. discrete
  • disillusion vs. dissolution
  • disinterested vs. uninterested
  • disperse vs. disburse
  • dual vs. duel
  • economic vs. economical
  • elusive vs. illusive
  • emigrate vs. immigrate vs. migrate
  • eminent vs. imminent
  • eminent vs. imminent vs. immanent
  • empathy vs. sympathy
  • endemic vs. epidemic
  • entitle vs. title
  • entomology vs. etymology
  • envelop vs. envelope
  • envy vs. jealousy
  • epidemic vs. pandemic
  • epigram vs. epigraph
  • epitaph vs. epithet
  • especially vs. specially
  • exalt vs. exult
  • exercise vs. exorcise
  • expedient vs. expeditious
  • extant vs. extent
  • facetious vs. factious vs. fatuous
  • faint vs. feint
  • farther vs. further
  • faze vs. phase
  • ferment vs. foment
  • fictional vs. fictitious vs. fictive
  • figuratively vs. literally
  • flair vs. flare
  • flaunt vs. flout
  • flounder vs. founder
  • formerly vs. formally
  • formidable vs. formative
  • fortunate vs. fortuitous
  • gambit vs. gamut
  • gibe vs. jibe
  • gig vs. jig
  • gorilla vs. guerrilla
  • grisly vs. gristly vs. grizzly
  • hale vs. hail
  • healthful vs. healthy
  • hero vs. protagonist
  • historic vs. historical
  • hoard vs. horde
  • homonym vs. homophone vs. homograph
  • hone vs. home
  • imply vs. infer
  • incredible vs. incredulous
  • indeterminate vs. indeterminable
  • indict vs. indite
  • inflammable vs. inflammatory
  • ingenious vs. ingenuous
  • insidious vs. invidious
  • instant vs. instance
  • intense vs. intensive vs. intent
  • introvert vs. extrovert
  • irony vs. satire vs. sarcasm
  • it’s vs. its
  • laudable vs. laudatory
  • lay vs. lie
  • loath vs. loathe
  • lose vs. loose
  • luxuriant vs. luxurious
  • marital vs. martial
  • mean vs. median vs. average
  • medal vs. meddle vs. mettle
  • metaphor vs. simile
  • moral vs. morale
  • morbid vs. moribund
  • nauseated vs. nauseous
  • naval vs. navel
  • objective vs. subjective
  • optimistic vs. pessimistic
  • overdue vs. overdo
  • palate vs. palette vs. pallet
  • paradox vs. oxymoron
  • parameter vs. perimeter
  • parody vs. parity
  • peak vs. peek vs. pique
  • peddle vs. pedal vs. petal
  • persecute vs. prosecute
  • personal vs. personnel
  • pitiable vs. pitiful vs. piteous vs. pitiless
  • pore vs. pour
  • practical vs. practicable
  • pragmatic vs. dogmatic
  • precede vs. proceed
  • precedent vs. president
  • predominate vs. predominant
  • premier vs. premiere
  • prescribe vs. proscribe
  • pretentious vs. portentous
  • principal vs. principle
  • prophecy vs. prophesy
  • prostate vs. prostrate
  • quote vs. quotation
  • rebut vs. refute
  • regrettably vs. regretfully
  • reluctant vs. reticent
  • respectfully vs. respectively
  • sac vs. sack
  • scrimp vs. skimp
  • sensual vs. sensuous
  • simple vs. simplistic
  • slight vs. sleight
  • stationary vs. stationery
  • statue vs. statute
  • than vs. then
  • that vs. which
  • their vs. there vs. they’re
  • tortuous vs. torturous
  • troop vs. troupe
  • turbid vs. turgid
  • unconscionable vs. unconscious
  • undo vs. undue
  • unexceptional vs. unexceptionable
  • venal vs. venial
  • veracious vs. voracious
  • wave vs. waive
  • weather vs. whether
  • who vs. whom
  • who’s vs. whose
  • wreck vs. wreak vs. reek
  • your vs. you’re

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Farther vs. Further: (Grammar Tips from a Thirty-Eight-Year-Old with an English Degree | The New Yorker by Reuven Perlman, posted February 25, 2021 (accessed 28 Feb 2021).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Collegiate Dictionary.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed February 28, 2021).


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#FineArtFriday: Self-portrait, Paul Bril ca. 1595-1600

Artist: Paul Bril (circa 1553/1554–1626)

Title: Self-portrait

Genre: self-portrait

Date: between 1595 and 1600

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 71 cm (27.9 in); Width: 78 cm (30.7 in)

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

The painting portrays the artist, elegantly dressed and holding a lute, sitting before his palette and easel, on which a landscape painting sits.

Bril is seen from the back, and is turning towards the viewer. He grasps the lute firmly, with active and jointed fingers. The landscape painting sitting on the easel is typical of Bril’s early work which is characterized by small figures, deep and shaded foregrounds and masses of silvery foliage, attributes that [Bril] shared with other Flemish painters. This has helped with the dating of the work to ca. 1595 – 1600. [1]

What I love about this image:

In this self-portrait Bril shows the viewer who he is and what he cares about, art and music. He is relaxed, at peace and sharing his two passions with us.

Credits and Attributions:

Paul Brill, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Self-Portrait (Paul Bril),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 26, 2021).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Bril, Paul – Self-Portrait – 1595-1600.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,,_Paul_-_Self-Portrait_-_1595-1600.jpg&oldid=527757876 (accessed February 26, 2021).

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Revisions part 4: the Beta Read, #amwriting

There comes a point in every manuscript where we have done all the revising and self-editing we can do. You may think that after one round of revisions you’re done.

I suggest you don’t rush to publish just yet. If you are smart, the external eye comes into play before you get to the final round of revisions.

It’s best if you can afford an editor. However, as I said last week in my post, Revisions part 2: Efficient self-editing, there are ways to make a decent stab at self-editing.

Regardless, you should consider having your manuscript looked at by a trusted member of your writing group or consider paying for what is known as a beta read. Beta reads by professionals are far more affordable than professional editing. A good beta read will point out the areas in a so-so story where it bogs down or gets confusing.

An unfortunate truth is that some indie published works are clear examples of work by authors who don’t realize the importance of working with an external eye. Those who have had assistance from readers in their writing group are more likely to turn out an enjoyable novel.

What is quite disappointing to me is the many traditionally published works that seem to fall into the same lack-of-good-editing category. I’m at a loss as to why this is so.

So, what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor?

Beta Reading is done by a reader. One hopes the reader is a person who reads and enjoys novels in that genre. Strict attention is paid to the overall story arc.

Beta reading is meant to give the author a general view of its overall strengths and weaknesses. The beta reader must ask himself:

  1. Were the characters likable and did the reader empathize with them? If not, why not?
  2. Where did the plot bog down and get boring? They should note the places where they wanted to skip forward.
  3. Were there any confusing places? These places should also be noted.
  4. What did the reader like? What did they dislike?
  5. Did the ending satisfy them?

Beta Reading is not editing. Editing is a stage of the writing process. A writer and editor work together to improve a draft by correcting grammar errors and making words and sentences clearer and more effective. Weak sentences are made stronger, nonessential information is weeded out, and important points are clarified.

Sometimes, major structural issues will emerge in an edit that must be addressed. If your work was read by a conscientious and kind reader, you will have addressed those areas first.

Editing is expensive because it is complex and time-consuming.

Therefore, whether you choose to self-edit or hire an editor, you should consider having your work beta-read after your first round of revisions. That way, you will be aware of the larger areas of concern and can address them first. The second round of revisions will go more smoothly.

No one writes flawless work without going through some sort of editing and revising process. Even with all that effort, when I get to the proofing stage, my sister, a retired educator, finds errors in my work.

I’m fortunate to have a good writing group and am friends with fellow authors who will beta read for me before I send a manuscript to my editor for line editing. I do the same for them.

Don’t ask a fellow member of a professional writers’ forum to read your work unless you want honest advice.

They will be kind, but they will point out areas that need work. And something for you to remember is that even if they don’t “get” your work, they spent their precious time reading it, taking time from their own writing.

Choose your readers carefully. Sometimes, no matter how close your friendship is, some people are not cut out to be beta readers. Perhaps they are not cut out to be readers at all.

Some people are like one of my aunts was. She found fault with everything, was proud that she shot from the hip, and her blunt comments took no prisoners. I got on with her only because I never asked her opinion of anything.

Be warned! If you offer your work to a person like Aunt Jo, don’t be surprised if she eviscerates you as well as your work.

If you have offered your work to a reader and then discovered they had nothing good to say, don’t feel guilty for not asking them to read for you again.

As difficult as it is to experience, negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional.

Never be less than gracious to a person who reads and critiques your work when you communicate with them.  Remember, they have taken time out of their life to read your work, and you did ask for their opinion.

Sit back and cool down. Consider the areas they find problematic and find ways to revise and work out those problems. You might find that your second round of revisions goes quickly because you have targeted and resolved the larger areas of concern.

Above all, keep the finished goal in mind and keep writing.


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Revisions part 3: The Detour #amwriting

We who write fantasy and other genre fictions are story-tellers.  We write about invented people living in invented worlds, doing invented things. Unfortunately, there are times when we realize we have written ourselves into a corner, and there is no graceful way out.

This happened to me in 2019. I took one of my works in progress back from 90,000 words to 12,000.

That was the point where I began fighting the story, forcing it onto paper. I hated to admit that I had taken a wrong turn so early on, but by the 50,000-word point, the story arc had gone so far awry there was no rescuing it.

But I’m no quitter. No sir, not me.

I spent 40,000 more words refusing to admit I had “gone off the rails.”

Fortunately, much of what I had written can be recycled into a different project. NEVER DELETE months of work. Don’t trash what could be the seeds of another novel. Save it in an outtakes file and use it later:


I had accomplished many important things with the 3 months of work I had cut from that novel.

  • The world was solidly built, so the first part of the rewrite went quickly.
  • The characters were firmly in my head, so their interactions made sense in the new context.
  • Some sections that had been cut were recycled back into the new version.

Writing the failed novel wasn’t a waste, just a detour. This sort of thing is why it takes me so long to write a book.

At the 12,000 word point, I needed a new outline. I spent several days visualizing the goal, the final scene, mind-wandering on paper until I had a concrete objective for my characters.

I finally realized that Alf had two quests, both of which were core plot points. I was unable to visualize a final scene because they had merged in my mind.

Beginning the novel with no definitive resolution was how I had lost my way.

So I separated them, and now I had a concrete goal to write to.

That was when I realized this book is actually two books worth of story. The first half is the personal quest. The second half resolves the unfinished thread. Both halves of the story have finite endings, so the best choice is to break it into two novels.

With that in mind, I outlined the first half, made a loose outline of the second for later reference, and began writing.

I was near the end of part one when I saw the flaw in my outline. This was 4 days into NaNoWriMo 2020, and I had just finished writing the ending to my serialized novel, Bleakbourne on Heath. I planned to finish Heaven’s Altar, and dove right into it.

I began to make good headway.  If you are a regular visitor here, you know what happened.

In trying to resolve the logic for the antagonist, I had to know the path that a tainted relic had take through the years. I needed to know where it originated and how it had survived for centuries, and why it had the power to corrupt my antagonist.

I accidentally wrote a completely different novel with a completely different cast of characters and plot. I finished November 2020 with around 90,000 words on three projects.

That accidental manuscript is in the final stages of my rewrite and is nearly ready for my beta readers.

For those of you who are keeping count—that’s 3 novels in progress in that world, and one almost complete stand-alone novel set in a different world entirely.

And it’s all because of one core plot-point and the logic of how it comes into my original, still unfinished, novel.

There are times when we must accept that we are forcing something and it’s not working. That’s when the best course is to look at it dispassionately and pare it down to the bare bones.

The sections you cut can be better used elsewhere.

I believe in the joy of writing, the elation of creating something powerful. If you lose your fire for a story because another story has captured your imagination, set the first one aside and go for it.

We who are indies have the freedom to write what we have a passion for.

True inspiration is not an everlasting fire-hose of ideas. Sometimes there are dry spells, and that is when you come back to the original work. You will see it with fresh eyes, and the passion will be reignited.

Yes, that is also when the work begins, but I think of Patrick Rothfuss and his struggle to write the books in his series, the Kingkiller Chronicle. The first two books, The Name of the Wind (2007) and The Wise Man’s Fear (2011) have sold over 10 million copies.

Rothfuss’ work is original and powerful, but though his work is highly regarded, he struggles to put it on paper just as the rest of us do. Despite a decade having passed, the third novel titled The Doors of Stone has not yet been released, and some fans are highly critical of him for that.

The two published books are work I consider genius, and I am willing to wait for him to be satisfied with his work.

Patrick Rothfuss’ battle to write the book he envisions gives me permission to keep at it, to not just push out a novel that is almost what I wanted to write.

When a book that gave you so much trouble turns out to be one of your best efforts, it’s worth it.


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#FineArtFriday: Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633

Today’s image is of a picture that was stolen in 1990 and has never been recovered. I like to bring this picture to the public eye every year, in the hope that one day it will be found safe and will be recovered. 

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee was painted during one of the happiest years of Rembrandt van Rijn’s turbulent life and depicts the miracle of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. A devout Christian, Rembrandt painted it from the description of the event as reported by the Apostle Mark, in the fourth chapter of his Gospel. As far as is known, it is the only seascape Rembrandt ever painted.

Constantijn Huygens, the father of Dutch mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens, had seen Rembrandt’s talent and helped him gain important commissions from the Court of The Hague. Many of his best religious paintings date from the years during which he had the favor of both Huygens and Prince Frederick Hendrick.

At the end of 1631, Rembrandt had moved to Amsterdam. The city was becoming the new business capital of the Netherlands, so there was great opportunity there for artists. In Amsterdam, Rembrandt had begun to paint portraits for the first time, and by 1633, his work was in high demand. His religious paintings and history paintings were also receiving the highest praise.

At first, he lived with an art dealer, Hendrick van Uylenburgh, which was where he met Hendrick’s cousin, Saskia van Uylenburgh. During 1633, the year in which Christ on the Sea of Galilee was painted, he was courting Saskia, hoping to marry her. He was earning a good income as a portraitist, and a bright future loomed. He must have felt in many ways as if he had the world by the tail.

What I love about this painting:

Rembrandt’s colors are vivid, standing out against the darkness of the storm. An entire story is captured in this image. The sea is terrifying, monstrous waves battering the ship, men panicking, trying to gain control. The terror of the event is clearly shown, and you feel fear for the men too. In the midst of chaos, Jesus awakes, calm despite the panic around him. Each face has a different expression, and one, a man holding a rope in one hand and pressing his cap to his head with the other, looks directly at us—Rembrandt himself.

The Gospel of Mark records the incident:

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Rembrandt was a man of many frailties but was a devout Christian. He lived the story as he painted it, as do all good storytellers.

About the theft, via Wikipedia:

On March 18, 1990, 13 works of art valued at a combined total of $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In the early hours, guards admitted two men posing as police officers responding to a disturbance call. Once inside, the thieves tied up the guards and over the next hour committed the largest-value recorded theft of private property in history. Despite efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and multiple probes around the world, no arrests have been made, and no works have been recovered.

The stolen works had originally been purchased by art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924) and intended to be left on permanent display at the museum with the rest of her collection. Since the collection and its layout are permanent, empty frames remain hanging both in homage to the missing works and as placeholders for their potential return. Experts are puzzled by the choice of paintings that were stolen, especially since more valuable artwork was left untouched. Among the stolen works was The Concert, one of only 34 known works by Vermeer and thought to be the most valuable unrecovered painting, valued at over $200 million.[when?] Also missing is The Storm on the Sea of GalileeRembrandt‘s only known seascape. Other works by Rembrandt, DegasManet, and Flinck were also stolen.

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn

  • Artist:   Rembrandt  (1606–1669)
  • Genre: religious art
  • Date: 1633
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: Height: 160 cm (62.9 ″); Width: 128 cm (50.3 ″)
  • Current Location: Unknown

Sources and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed April 4, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Calming the storm,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed April 4, 2019).

The Isobel Stewart Gardner Museum, CHRIST IN THE STORM ON THE SEA OF GALILEE, 1633, (accessed April 4, 2019).

This post first appeared in April of 2019. 


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Revisions part 2: Efficient self-editing #amwriting

In the new millennium, the traditional publishing world has changed and evolved in how they do business. In some ways, they haven’t changed enough, and in others, they’ve gone too far.

All authors must create a social media platform to promote their work. In most cases, the amount of help the Big Four publishers (Simon & Shuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Hachette) offer their new, unknown authors is minimal. So, whether you go indie or not, you’re on your own.

Whether you intend to publish your work independently or try to go the traditional route, you are responsible for editing your work.  Unedited work shouts “amateur” to an agent or editor, so never submit work that isn’t your best effort.

If you can’t afford a full professional edit, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript. However, it is time-consuming, which is why an editor’s services are not cheap.

Open your Manuscript. Save a copy of your original manuscript in its bloody, raw form with a file name that denotes exactly what it is.

If you are using MS Word, your manuscript title will look like this: Book_Title_version_1.docx. My current work is: Gates_of_Eternity_version.docx.

Do save the original draft in a separate file on a thumb drive or in a file storage service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. You will have a fallback manuscript in case something happens to your working files.

Break it into separate chapters and save them in a new master file labeled with the word ‘revisions.’ I would name the master file: Gates_of_Eternity_revisions_02-17-2021.

First, I divide my manuscript, saving each chapter as a separate document within the master file. Clearly and consistently name each chapter. Make sure the chapter numbers are in the proper sequence, and don’t skip a number.

For a work in progress, Gates of Eternity, I labeled my individual chapter files this way:

  • GoE_ch_1
  • GoE_ch_2

The reason we divide it into chapters for the editing process will be made clear further down this post.

The next step requires pencils, yellow highlighters, a printer, paper, and a good supply of ink, which may be a cost outlay. Another, more affordable option is to save your work to a USB Flash Drive, take it to an office supply/print shop, and print all the files at one go. In the US, FedEx Office, formerly known as Kinkos, provides printing and copying services.

I am currently in need of a new printer, so I feel your pain. My ancient thing is still limping along, but soon it will go to the recycling center. Once you have the required equipment, print out the first chapter.

Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.

Step 1: Turn to the last page of that chapter. Cover the page, leaving only the final paragraph visible.

Step 2: Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.

Step 3: Look for typos and garbled sentences.

Step 4: With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction. In the margin, pencil in notes of how you want to correct them.

Some things you should consider in this step: consistency in spelling, consistency in punctuation, crutch words, repetitious paragraphs/ideas, and long, rambling sentences.

Step 5: I use a recipe stand for this step. Take the corrected printout and lean it where you can easily read it while you make corrections. (Amazon sells copy stands, but recipe stands are cheaper.)

In your word-processor, open the chapter file. Save as a new file:  GoE_ch1_edit1. It’s important to clearly label it as edited, so you don’t mix edited with unedited files. Reading from your corrected printout, make your revisions.

Step 6: At the end of it all, reassemble the corrected files into one manuscript, again making sure you haven’t skipped a chapter. Save that manuscript with a new label: GoE_manuscript_edit1_16-Feb-2021.

The date at the end of the file name is essential as you will know what the most recent edit is (not the most recent time you saved the file) and will have the previous version to go back to if needed.


First, you need something called a style guide. As an editor, I regularly refer to my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. If you are an author writing fiction you someday hope to publish and have questions about sentence construction and word usage, this is the book for you. Another option is the online version: The Chicago Manual of Style Online.

The researchers at CMOS realize that English is a living, changing language. When generally accepted practices within the publishing industry evolve, they evolve too.

A less expensive option you might consider investing in is Bryan A. Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers to questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure. It takes the CMOS and boils it down to just the grammar.

Here is a list of links to articles I’ve previously posted on the basics of grammar:

Those who think the common rules of grammar don’t matter to readers are doing their work and their reputation a disservice.

You don’t have to be perfect, but readers want to enjoy the book, not struggle through rambling, garbled sentences.

Self-editing is not an easy task. You will still want another person, perhaps from your writing group, to read your work before you send it off or publish it. Then you may need to make some revisions.

However, all that hard work pays off when you put your best product possible in the hands of a reader, and they like what they read.


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Revisions part 1: Spotting the Code Words and Mental Shorthand #amwriting

When we set the first words on a  blank page, our minds begin forming images, scenes we want to describe. In his book, The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker notes that we are not born with language, so we are NOT engineered to think in words alone—we also think in images.

It follows that certain words become a kind of mental shorthand, small packets of letters that contain a world of images and meaning for us. These words will be used with frequency in the first draft as they are efficient. We write as fast as we can when we are in the mood, and these words are a speedy way to convey a wide range of information.

Because we use them, we can get the first draft of a story written from beginning to end before we lose the fire for it.

One code word that slips into my first draft prose is the word “got.”

It is a word that serves numerous purposes and conveys so many images. “Got” is on my global search list of “telling words.” The words in the list are signals to me, indications that a scene needs to be reworded to make it a “showing” scene.

Got:”  He got the message = comprehension. He understood.

Some other instances where we use “got” as a code word for our second draft:

  • He got the dog into the car.
  • He got the mail.
  • He got

Code words are the author’s multi-tool—a compact tool that combines several individual functions in a single unit. One word, one packet of letters serves many purposes and conveys a myriad of mental images.

Every author thinks a little differently, so your code words will be different from mine. One way to find your secret code words is to have the Read Aloud tool read each section. I find most of my inadvertent crutch words that way.

Another code word on my personal list is “felt.” Let’s go to Merriam-Webster’s Online Thesaurus:


  • endured
  • experienced
  • knew
  • saw
  • suffered
  • tasted
  • underwent,
  • witnessed

Words Related to felt:

  • regarded
  • viewed
  • accepted
  • depended
  • trusted
  • assumed
  • presumed
  • presupposed
  • surmised

It’s natural to overuse certain words without realizing it, but that is where revisions come in. Anytime I’m working on showing interactions between characters, certain words will be hauled into play over and over.

As you go along, you’ll discover that some words have very few synonyms that work.

Consider the word “smile.” It’s a common code word, a five-letter packet of visualization. Synonyms for “smile” are few and usually don’t show what I mean:

  • Grin
  • Smirk
  • Leer
  • Beam

When I come across the word “smile” in my work, it sometimes requires a complete re-visualization of the scene. I look for a different way to convey my intention, which can be a frustrating job.

Our characters’ facial expressions display happiness, anger, spite, and all the other emotions. Their eyebrows raise or draw together; foreheads crease and eyes twinkle; shoulders slump, and hands tremble.

I refuse to drag the reader through a long list of ever-moving facial expressions, lips turning up, down, drawing to one side, etc., but sometimes the brief image of a smile is what you need.

When done sparingly and combined with a conversation, this can work.

But… by sparingly, I mean no more than one facial change per interaction, please. Nothing is more boring than reading a story where a person’s facial expressions take center stage. We must be more concerned with what is happening inside our characters than about the melodramatic outward display.

When you discover one of your first draft code words, go to the thesaurus and find all the synonyms you can and list them in a document for easy access. If it is a word like smile or shrug, you have your work cut out, but consider making a small list of visuals.

Think about the expressions and body language an onlooker would see if a character were angry.

  • Crossed arms.
  • A stiff posture.
  • Narrowed eyes.

A little list of those mood indicators can keep you from losing your momentum and will readily give you the words you need to convey all the vivid imagery you see in your mind.

Literary agent Donald Maas has good advice in his book, the Emotional Craft of Fiction.

If you don’t have it already, another book you might want to invest in is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Some of the visuals they list aren’t my cup of tea, but they do have a grip on how to show what people are thinking.

This aspect of the revision process is sometimes the most difficult.  It takes time when we look at each instance of our code words. They don’t always need changing—sometimes, a smile is a smile and that is okay.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Victorinox Multitool.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed February 14, 2021).


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#FineArtFriday: Winter in Flanders by Valerius de Saedeleer 1927

Artist:   Valerius de Saedeleer  (1867–1941)

Title: Winter in Flanders

Date: 1927

Medium: oil and canvas

Dimensions: Height: 84 cm (33 in) Width: 96 cm (37.7 in)

Collection: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Inscriptions: Signature and date bottom left: Valerius de Saedeleer / 1927

What I like about this painting:

I like the bold color of the houses against the snow. Viewing the farmstead through the zen-like simplicity of the dark trees is soothing. I particularly like way he portrays green-golden sky of an afternoon in a dark northern winter.

This is a pleasant, relaxing painting.

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Valerius de Saedeleer  (4 August 1867 – 16 September 1941) was a Belgian landscape painter, whose works are informed by a symbolist and mystic-religious sensitivity and the traditions of 16th-century Flemish landscape painting. He was one of the main figures in the so-called first School of Latem which in the first decade of the 20th century introduced modernist trends in Belgian painting and sculpture.

From 1914 de Saedeleer and his family lived in Wales as refugees from the First World War. Together with his family and the family of his friend George Minne he lived a number of years in CwmystwythGustave van de Woestijne and George Minne and their families also resided in Wales during the war. The family de Saedeleer and other Belgian artists were brought to Wales by David, Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. The two Davies sisters were best known for putting together one of the great British art collections of the 20th Century. The initiative of the Davies family in inviting Belgian artists to Wales was prompted by their expectation that these artists would be able to inject local cultural life with their expertise. 

De Saedeleer’s daughters studied weaving, binding and tapestry at Aberystwyth. The second daughter Elisabeth became acquainted with William Morris‘ daughter Mary from whom she learned tapestry weaving. The family became so accomplished at weaving that they even started giving courses in the craft themselves. De Saedeleer may have undertaken some conservation work on items from the Aberystwyth University Collection. He also exhibited his paintings of local views in the University’s Alexandra Hall and was able to earn a living from his art. 

De Saedeleer remained in Wales until 1920, when he moved to Etikhove. In 1933 he became an honorary citizen of the city of Aalst. In 1937 he moved to Leupegem.  The work of de Saedeleer became gradually more decorative and he developed a luxuriant and whimsical calligraphy. His compositions often included a row of trees in the foreground, a Japanese-style effect with which he had already experimented before the war. This device is clear in the composition Winter in Flanders. He was also an accomplished colourist.  

Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Valerius De Saedeleer – Winter in Flanders.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed February 12, 2021).

Wikipedia contributors, “Valerius de Saedeleer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 12, 2021).

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What I #amreading, and #amwriting

Hello from a dark and rainy town somewhere near Olympia, Washington, USA. The time of year that I like to think of as “baking weather” has arrived. It’s cold and rainy, with the promise of snow in the next few days.

Let’s face it: when the house feels cold, Grandma gets cooking.

Bread, cookies, lentil loaf—in my family, food is love. My house is full of good smells and tasty treats, and my clothes are shrinking.

Hunkering down with a cup of hot tea and a good book is another enjoyable activity for this time of year.

I’m currently reading a book by Dr. Michio Kaku, The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.  This book was published by Random House in February of 2018. The way I learn requires a more in-depth approach to reading it, as I need to read slowly and take notes, so it’s been several weeks and I’m only halfway through it. This book is a journey, not a speed-read.

I’m drawn to a wide variety of books on philosophy and natural history and have them on my reading list because they offer new ways of looking at the world. I love learning but don’t have the patience to take college courses anymore.

I just finished reading “Murder in an Irish Village,” a cozy mystery by American author Carlene O’Connor. Published by Kensington Books in 2016, it’s the first book in a series of seven so far. It was a fun little mystery, well-plotted. Siobhán O’Sullivan is an enjoyable protagonist, and the cast of characters and suspects were believable. It kept me guessing to the end. I had one dislike, which is the abundance of relatively obscure Irishisms—at some points it’s rough going. I suspect even native Irish speakers have to look some words up. I understood all the dialogue only because I was reading on a Kindle and could easily search for the meanings of words I didn’t know. Despite that minor flaw I give the book four stars, because it’s a good novel.

So, what am I writing? I finished the first draft of Gates of Eternity, my accidental novel. That’s the working title, but I have no idea what the final title will be. I have a lot of work ahead of me before it’s ready for my editor, but I’m satisfied with how the storyline has fallen into place.

I am setting that book aside now to finish working on Bleakbourne on Heath. This Alternate Arthurian novel grew out of a serial I began writing in 2016. The ending has been written, but a certain amount of work remains, as the plot is a little thin in some places.

Committing to write that serial back then was how I discovered that writing and publishing a chapter a week is NOT my strong suit!

This last week, I entertained myself by creating a digital map for a friend’s next novel, a mystery set in the general area my husband grew up in. She gave me a hand-drawn basic layout, and I took it from there. I love drawing maps for my own work and have often thought I missed my calling as a cartographer.

Jasperson Back Yard, May 2020

On the homefront, we’ve been getting the yard tidied, small preparations for spring whenever the weather allows. The tree man was here to prune the apple tree and cut back the maple that loves to block my front window. He also trimmed up the cedar hedge which had gotten out of control, suffocating our rhododendrons, so we’re good to go for another year.

As always, writing for this blog requires a small commitment of time and creativity, but it is one of my great joys, a diversion when things get a little hectic.

All in all, it has been a busy month, with plenty of books to read, lots to write, and new recipes to try out. I hope you’re enjoying life as much as is possible during this pandemic and the lockdown, and staying safe.

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Subjunctives: The Hamlet Paradox #amwriting

Writers often find the words and rules we use to describe existence convoluted and hard to understand.

The subjunctive (in the English language) is used to form sentences that do not describe known objective facts.

In other words, subjunctives describe unknown intangible possibilities.

William Shakespeare said it best in his tragedy, Hamlet: “To be or not to be… that is the question.”

Should he exist, or should he not exist—for the deeply depressed Dane, suicide or not suicide is the question. In his soliloquy, Hamlet contemplates death and suicide. He regrets the pain and unfairness of life but ultimately acknowledges that the alternative might be worse.

Be–a simple word, a verb that is a subjunctive. But sometimes the many forms of this word are overused in the narrative. The whole subjunctive thing looks quite complicated on the surface, but it doesn’t have to be. As writers of genre fiction, we have to identify the habitual overuse of subjunctives in our writing.

We must make our prose stronger by not using them except where nothing else will do. Most of the time, dialogue is the place for subjunctives, as in Hamlet’s monologue.

In writing fiction, subjunctives work well when used in conversations but create a passive voice when used in the narrative. They separate us from the story, remove the sense of immediacy that we as readers hope to experience.

But first, what does “subjunctive” mean? defines “Subjunctive” as:


  1. (in English and certain other languages) noting or pertaining to a mood or mode of the verb that may be used for subjective, doubtful, hypothetical, or grammatically subordinate statements or questions, as the mood of ‘be’ in ‘if this be treason.’

  2. the subjunctive mood or mode.

  3. a verb in the subjunctive mood or form.

First, let’s consider existence and what Past Subjunctive Tense covers: how to use the words ‘was’ and ‘were,’ which are forms of the verb ‘be.’

English Club says: The English subjunctive is a special, relatively rare verb form that expresses something desired or imagined.

We use the subjunctive mainly when talking about events that are not certain to happen. For example, we use the subjunctive when talking about events that somebody:

  • wants to happen

  • anticipates will happen

  • imagines happening [1]

Which is correct?

  • I wish I were a penguin. I would fly through the water.
  • I wish I was a penguin. I would fly through the water.

If I am only wishing that I were a penguin, were is correct.

However, if I could actually be a penguin, was would be correct, and I would have to rewrite my sentence by changing ‘would’ to ‘could.’

The Grammar Girl gives us a great example: Think of the song “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof. When Tevye sings “If I were a rich man,” he is fantasizing about all the things he would do if he were rich. He’s not rich, he’s just imagining, so “If I were” is the correct statement. This time you’ve got a different clue at the beginning of the line: the word “if.” [2]

There are times when we use a form of the verb ‘was’ even though the subject of the sentence has not yet happened or may not happen at all:  the past subjunctive verb form. It is unreal and may remain that way. “If I were.”

When you suppose about something that might be true, you use a form of the verb “was” and don’t sweat it.

If it’s likely real: Was (possibly is): I heard he was training his dog to fetch.

If it’s likely unreal: Were (possibly isn’t): If I were a penguin, I wouldn’t need to rent a tuxedo.

The past subjunctive verb forms express a hypothetical condition that may exist in a present, past, or future time:

  • What if I was…
  • I wish I were…
  • If this be treason…
  • To be or not to be…

Perhaps you are writing a technical manual, a dissertation, or an email to a client or coworker.

Despite the misguided efforts of many critique groups and Microsoft Word to erase all forms of ‘to be’ from the English language and replace it with ‘is,’ there are times when only a subjunctive will do the job.

When your intent is formal, subjunctives may abound, often in the form of commonly used phrases:

  • Be that as it may.
  • So be it.
  • Suffice it to say.
  • Come what may.

Steven Pinker is a Harvard professor whose discussions on the connections between language and what we see as humanity are eye-opening. He writes at a college level, but in his book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, he raises a point that is important to this blogpost:

Subjunctives are hard to spot. Forms of “to be” can be found in subordinate clauses where something is mandated or required:

  • I demand the prisoner be fed the same as anyone else.

A verb like “see” also has a subjunctive form when something is mandated or required:

  • It’s essential that I see your report before you send it.

In ordinary writing, we rarely need to use subjunctives in clauses with mandates except perhaps in conversation.

Feel free to copy and save the above graphic for your personal use: right click>copy>save as: .jpeg or.png.

We often “think aloud” in writing the first draft. We insert many passive phrasings into the raw narrative, words that I think of as traffic signals. These words are a shorthand that helped us get the story down, a guide that now shows us how we intend the story to go.

Subjunctives are small verbs of existence, but just like adverbs, they are telling words. In the rewrite, we look for these telling words, places where they have crept out of conversations and into the narrative.

We look at each instance and rewrite the paragraph to show the event, rather than tell about it.

  • They were hot and thirsty could be shown as: They trudged on with dry, cracked lips, yearning for a drop of water.

That’s not a perfect example, but hopefully, you can see what I am trying to say.

Credits and Attributions:

EnglishClub contributors, Subjunctives © 1997-2021 All Rights Reserved [1]

Subjunctive Verbs, by Mignon Fogarty,, Copyright © 2021 Macmillan Holdings, LLC. Quick & Dirty Tips™ [2]

“File:Penguin Front.png.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 12 Sep 2020, 08:35 UTC. 6 Feb 2021, 17:14 <>.


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