The Great Copy Editing Quiz No. 1

by Catherine Foster

Do you want to be a copy editor? Maybe you just enjoy catching other people’s grammar errors and rampant punctuation mistakes. Do you think you have what it takes to find the flaw in every phrase? Take our quiz and find out!

Choose the correct sentences:


A) Some of the parfait was left by the end of the party.

B) Some of the parfait were left by the end of the party.

C) Some of the parfaits was left by the end of the party.

D) Some parfaits was left by the end of the party.


A) Your bright smiles almost makes up for your tardiness.

B) Your bright smiles almost make up for your tardiness.

C) Your bright smiles makes up for your tardiness.

D) Your bright smiles has made up for your tardiness.


A) Neither Erik nor I am playing violin.

B) Neither Erik nor I is playing violin.

C) Neither Erik nor I are playing violin.

D) Neither Erik nor I were playing violin.


A) All of the class is willing to take part in the play.

B) All of the classes is willing to take part in the play.

C) All of the class are willing to take part in the play.

D) All of the classes has been willing to take part in the play.


A) Two-thirds of the voters tend not to cast their ballots in local elections.

B) Two-thirds of the voters tends not to cast their ballots in local elections.

C) Two-thirds of the voters tends not to cast their ballots in local elections.

D) Two-thirds of the voters tends not to cast its ballot in local elections.

Please correct the following sentences:

6. He is one of those veterinarians that make house calls.

7. Dr. Raoul is one of those conductors who does whatever it takes to get his point across to his musicians.

8. He is the only one of the conductors who do what it takes to help their musicians.

9. Her and him are always together.

10. When him and Christine come over, we always have dinner.

Ex. Credit: Do you know the difference between issue and problem?

Answer key:

Choose the correct sentence.

1. Correct Answer: A Some of the parfait was left by the end of the party.

Explanation: Some is a portion word that is singular or plural depending on the object of the preposition. In this sentence, “parfait,” is the object of the preposition, so use “was.”

2. Correct Answer: B Your bright smiles almost make up for your tardiness.

Explanation: “bright smiles” is the subject of “make up.”

3. Correct Answer: A Neither Erik nor I am playing violin.

Explanation: when neither and nor connect two singular subjects and the second one is I, use am.

4. Correct Answer: A All of the class is willing to take part in the play.

Explanation: “All” is a portion word that is singular or plural depending on the object of the preposition. In this sentence, “class” is the object of the preposition, so use “is.”

5. Correct Answer: A Two-thirds of the voters tend not to cast their ballots in local elections.

Explanation: “Two-thirds” becomes plural because the object of the preposition, “voters,” is plural. Use the plural verb “tend.”

Please correct the following sentences:

6. Correct Answer: He is one of those veterinarians who make house calls.

Explanation: “who” refers to “veterinarians,” not to “one,” so the plural verb “make” is required.

7. Correct Answer: Dr. Raoul is one of those conductors who do whatever it takes to get their point across to their musicians.

Explanation: “who” refers to “conductors,” not to “one,” so the plural verb “do” and the possessive adjective “their” are required.

8. Correct Answer: He is the only one of the conductors who does what it takes to help his musicians.

Explanation: in this sentence, “who” refers to “one,” not to “professors,” so the singular verb “does” is required.

9. Correct Answer: She and he are always together.

Explanation: “She” and “he” are the subjects of “are together.”

10. Correct Answer: When Christine and he come over, we always have dinner.

Explanation: “Christine” and “he” are the subjects of “come over,” so use the subject pronoun “he.”

How did you do? Let us know in the comments!

Five Brilliant Ways to Write a Compelling Series

When I started writing fiction I had no idea it would turn into a series. I just wrote a story that compelled me to do my best, and as it turned out it was significantly longer than one book. It has been thirteen years since I began my journey as an author, and I’ve just released the second book in the Stealing Time Series: Shattering Time. Through that journey I’m half way through a four-book series, and I’d like to share my best tips for writing a compelling series.

  1. Develop complex characters One of the first tasks I took on as a new author was to get to know my characters. Following the advice of Evan Marshall, in The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, I developed a bio on each character, delving into all parts of their world. I cut out pictures of them in various poses (from a JC Penney catalog) and imagined the details of their life, physical characteristics, flaws, even their parents’ jobs. As impatient as I was to get started, I think this step allowed me to feel their motivations and add layers as I moved throughout their story arcs. As I have written their dialog and mapped out their journeys, they have taken over my subconscious. Now, after the second book, they’re so much a part of me I don’t need to refer back to these notes anymore. They move through my subconscious and often dictate their path whether I like it or not.
  2. Add layers that build towards the next book When I wrote the first draft the basic story came together nicely. The editing process brought about number of layers that added a richness to my work that I believe keep the readers coming back for more. Let me share an example of this: In the first book, my main character Ronnie Andrews mentions that her father died five years in the past. As I was writing the second book, an idea developed that created an entire backstory for the father and will be an integral part of the third and fourth books in the series. It started as a tiny kernel of an idea, but as I kept exploring the possibilities a passing detail from Ronnie’s bio became an entire underlying plot driver for a future novel. Knowing this as I wrote the second book, it was easy to drop bread crumbs about this character that revealed a huge bombshell for the reader. It is one of the lingering questions at the end of book two that will bring my readers back to find out where this story thread leads.
  3. Develop the larger plot for the entire series Before I started writing the second book in the series, Shattering Time, I loosely plotted the remaining books in the series. There will be story elements that develop as I write, like the father’s backstory, but knowing where the future books will go gives me the freedom to maneuver in those parameters, add clues about what will come, and prevent me getting caught up in a plot hole in the future. This is another key strategy that allows those delicious layers to form and provides opportunities to build towards a deeper plot line than if I only worked on one storyline at a time. It is similar to watching a well-written TV series; they dive into the episodic plot, but they also weave in bigger story elements that carry through the series to add cohesion and build character depth as they move along.
  4. Introduce new characters in each book To add freshness, you need to keep the readers on their toes by adding fresh new blood to the story. In Shattering Time, I introduce two important new characters: Mike Walsh, Ronnie’s hot boss, and Steph’s little brother, Ian McKay. Both serve a purpose in future books and add an anchor point from this book to the next in the series. Mike offers Ronnie a better alternative than her current boyfriend, who Ronnie is finally seeing what her best friend Steph has been saying all along – that Jeffrey is not who she thinks he is. Ian adds comic relief to a very stressful plot and will bring an important skill set to book three.
  5. Change the scene for each book in the series Another way to add newness for the reader is to keep a distinct setting for each story. In the first book, Stealing Time, the story is split between her friend Stephanie McKay during Hurricane Charlie and Ronnie’s journey back in time to 1752 London. In the next book, Ronnie and Steph are together during Hurricane Frances until Ronnie is sent back in time to multiple locations. Still a split story but none of the same locations as the first book. In the third book, everything changes when Ronnie and Mike head to Puerto Rico on a business trip and encounter Hurricane Jeanne. The unifying elements through the entire series are the hurricane and the promise of time travel, but I’ve changed locations to add new challenges and situations to keep it fresh for the reader.

I’d love to know what you’d add to this list to write compelling fiction. I invite you to check out my Stealing Time Series, so you can experience the power of the storm and see how I used these five tips here.

Please sign up for my newsletter here and be a part of my specials and contests. I’m always offering ways to win copies of my books, and other special sneak peeks.

Bio: KJ Waters is the Amazon best-selling author of the short-story Blow and #1 best-seller Stealing Time. The second book in the series, Shattering Time, reached number six on the Amazon UK site and was number two as a hot new release seating neatly after Michael Crichton’s Dragon’s Teeth.

In addition to her writing, she is the CEO of Blondie’s Custom Book Covers and the co-host of the popular podcast Blondie and the Brit, and provides author consulting services covering branding, social media, and publishing.

She has a Master’s in Business and over eighteen years of experience in the marketing field. Before quitting her job to raise a family and work on writing she was the Director of Marketing and communications for a national behavioral healthcare company.

Where to find KJ Online:

  1. Books: Stealing Time, Shattering Time, and short story Blow
  2. Websites: Consultant site, Author Site, Blondie and the Brit podcast site, Book Cover Site
  3. Social media sites:
    Twitter: @KJWatersAuthor, @blondiebookcov @blondieandbrit @bbreaders
  4. Facebook: Author, Podcast, Book covers
  5. LinkedIn
  6. Instagram
  7. Pinterest
  8. Google Plus
  9. Goodreads
  10. Blog: Blondie in the Water


Your Editor is not the Bad Guy


Red ink bleeds across the page. Hard questions scrawled down the margins. Rewrite this whole passage? Really? Sometimes confronting your work after a thorough edit can be as daunting as running into Darth Vader in a dark alley.


“Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too.” – Blake Morrison


Your Han Solo self might not think your beloved Millennium Falcon is in any need of repair, but you can’t see the entire ship from the cockpit. Here’s the thing: our minds see and feel the whole picture, and it’s incredibly important to recognize the many mini-jumps your brain makes when reading your own text that will be impossible for the reader to replicate. You know the protagonist inside and out, and it can be challenging to see where you’ve misled readers by providing incomplete or inaccurate information. You know it’s supposed to say, “He dashed over the log…” and your brain may not flag you that it actually says, “He dashes over the leg…” because it already knows what it should be. That’s what your editor is there for! Even the best of the best need editors, which is why the acknowledgements of practically every book published are practically gushing with gratitude for their editors!


Patrick Ness advises, “Learn to take criticism. Your first draft won’t be perfect, and it’s damaging to the book to think that it is. Every great book you’ve ever read has been rewritten a dozen times. This is the hardest thing to learn (trust me), but very, very important.”


A good editor will jump at light speed on issues with story arc and continuity in a developmental edit, or search with the uncanny precision of a Jedi for errant language in a line edit. The purpose of it all is to make your work the best it can be. At The LetterWorks you’ll find some of the most encouraging and gentle editing services out there, but they also strive for a letter-perfect edit. All the editors are authors themselves and fully understand the incredible honor it is to be entrusted with your younglings! It is precisely for that reason a manuscript may come back with some serious work to be thoughtfully considered and executed.

To reach publication, sometimes to even be considered for publication, your manuscript needs to reach a certain caliber. Even a vigorous plant is sometimes in need of some pruning to really let it shine and flourish. So take courage, and take up that pen. Let your editor be your ally.

May the “fourth” be with you.



Putting Poetry into Motion by Melissa Heiselt

As National Poetry Month comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the art and its significance in my journey to become a better writer, and ultimately a better editor.

Poetry is often considered to be the inaccessible literary art form, and is arguably one of the most difficult to get right. In 2011, we experienced a resurgence in the popularity of art’s most unpopular medium. Poetry featured in publications like The Moth, and Button Poetry flooding the digital world of Facebook and YouTube with engaging narratives, brought it back to pop culture in a way that I wouldn’t have suspected as a closet-poet teen. I was always told back then to focus on more “practical” writing endeavors, grow up and let the poet die. Here’s why everyone was wrong.

Poetry is a powerful practice for mental health. Researchers from the University of Liverpool investigated the effect of poetry on the brain, and their findings published in 2015 suggest that poetry strengthens the mind in ways little else can. The flexible thinking and agility required to extract multiple meanings from Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways” employ the same mental gymnastics we perform when navigating the unexpected in our daily lives. The National Association of Poetry Therapy embraces a body of research reaching back to the early 1920’s as basis for their therapeutic work. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith says, “Poetry invites us to listen to other perspectives, and to care about others who may not look, sound, or think like ourselves.” Embrace poetry, whether through sound, sight, or action and see what it does for you.

Poetry is built to evoke emotion, a sense of place, and presents abstract thoughts in a tangible way. These are effects every writer seeks to draw out as they write a narrative, whether fact or fiction. Take for example the way Carl Sandburg brings us, in just a few words, to a specific moment that inspires memories of a thousand of our own meaningful moments:


“See the trees lean to the wind’s way of learning.
See the dirt of the hills shape to the water’s way of learning.
See the lift of it all go by the way the biggest wind and the strongest water want it.”

~ Carl Sandburg, Landscape ~


Studying and putting into practice what you learn can improve your writing by orders of magnitude. Poetry is the practice of paring down your words until only the most necessary and meaningful remains. Catherine is fond of quoting Antoine de Saint-Exupery who once said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” I whole-heartedly agree, and no exercise is more effective in sorting that out than the writing of poetry.

The study and practice of poetry compels a writer to focus on word choice in a very detailed way. You consider things like assonance, which hones in on the vowel sounds within the words you’ve strung together; and alliteration, which refers to sentences or phrases with the same beginning sound. Consider that Carl Sandberg poem again. The concrete images, paired with metaphor, dressed in nothing but rhythmic repetition, a little alliteration, and assonance make it powerful. These devices are put to good use by talented authors for more than just poetry. They create music within any text and can evoke a sense of mood without being overtly… “rhymey.” (Yes, I just made that word up.) Take a look at this excerpt from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea“:


“Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together.”

~ Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea ~


Notice the repeated word pairings, coupled with how the “S” and “W” sounds chase and echo each other? It seems to amplify the meaning of her words creating this flow and feeling of natural growth extending into eternity.

Last of all, poetry is practical. We see poetry all around us without noticing… a child’s picture book, your favorite song on the radio, a meaningful greeting card, and catchy ad jingles … it’s enhancing the messages in our lives all the time. Just because it isn’t flowery and old doesn’t mean it isn’t poetry. So you don’t see yourself taking up a job as an ad writer. That’s okay. Neither do I! It still brings value to your life, and especially your writing. And if you, like me, are a closet poet, take out that old notebook and add to it as part of your regular writing habit. Maybe you won’t publish an anthology of your own… and perhaps you will. Either way, the practice of appreciating and writing poetry itself will do wonders for every other form of literary prose you choose to write. So whether you want to become a great journalist, fiction writer, or biographer, I encourage you to nourish that inner poet. She just may feed you back.

To the Poets! by Catherine Foster


It’s April! What does that mean to the writing community the world over? Unfortunately, not necessarily a warming trend in the weather (I speak for the Midwest region of the United States in particular, which is encased in ice at present), but something far more important: an annual celebration of poets and poetry! That’s right: April is known as APAD (April Poem A Day), APAD (A Poem A Day) or even the impressive NaGloPoWriMo (National/Global Poetry Writing Month), but whatever you choose to call it, the idea behind the titles are all the same. We’re coming together to support the sometimes overlooked cornerstones of our writing community and give them the attention they so richly deserve.

You might be thinking that I chose a strange metaphor. How can a cornerstone be overlooked? How are poets cornerstones at all? They are usually characterized as whimsical, artistic and freethinking. This may the case, but true poets have an understanding of diction and syntax that allows them to play with language in a way that other writers can’t. Prose writers are restricted by rules of grammar, while poets are able to create sounds and even language to suit their purpose. Edgar Allan Poe and Dr. Seuss made new words that eventually became an enduring part of our lexicon even today.  However, gifted poets are not without their own limitations. They must understand the rules, particularly if they are constructing a delicate verse such as a haiku or a highly refined ghazal. To walk within the strictest boundaries of language to create an excess of emotion in the reader is a talent that takes a lifetime to cultivate. To be a successful poet takes diligence, patience, education, talent and creativity. These are the qualities of accomplished writers, as well, but because a poem is emotion pared to its finest element and every word must earn its way, the poet is the cornerstone of excellent literature. They inspire and they show us how language can be devastating or beautiful, by turns.  The pursuit of such a gift in these talented populations is what we celebrate each April. To all poets and their accomplishments out there, we at The LetterWorks salute you!

There are some places that have an organized an effort to lead an APAD participation group. Here are a links to a few of the more notable ones with rules and subcategories:

Writer’s Digest, April Poem-A-Day Challenge:


The Writer’s Dig:


Poetic Asides:


A poem a day in April:


The Poetry Foundation:


Whether you participate formally by joining a group in the style of NaNoWriMo or if you just increase your awareness and appreciation for the form by reading a poem in April, it’s a matter of celebrating this art form. There are so many styles of poems out there to suit every reader. Some of us have been conditioned by our years in school to consider poetry a stuffy and boring relic of the past. That can be true—for some. In my personal experience, I had a comprehensive education of the Fireside poets (Longfellow, Cullen Bryant, Emerson, etc.), which ignited my interest but may have dulled someone else’s. For every Emily Dickinson, there’s a Maya Angelou. For every Robert Frost, there’s an Ntozake Shange. For every Shakespeare, there’s a Shel Silverstein. This is a time of renewed vigor for so many new poets; it’s a revolution. You don’t have to be educated in this form to appreciate it, so don’t be intimidated! The great beauty of poetry is that it just has to make you feel; a successful poet will touch your soul with a few well-written verses. This April, come join us in celebrating by writing or reading a new or favorite poem today!

Shame on Who? Taking the Shame Out of Self-Promotion

“Shameless self-promotion.” The phrase alone inspires dread in some, and often for good reason. Around every corner of the web, from social media to your favorite podcast, someone’s got something to shill, but does it always have to be such a cringe-worthy endeavor?

Let’s start by exploring where shame enters the picture. Does this shamelessness imply that you are incessantly slapping everyone in the face with your work regardless of interest or context? If so, it’s time for a new approach. No one wants to invest in a friendship or working relationship with a perpetual solicitor.

There’s also this lingering perception that creators should be ashamed of themselves for promoting their work. If you find yourself feeling this way, take a step back and ask yourself why you embarked on the project in the first place. Ask yourself why you followed it through to completion. Are you proud of the work you’ve done, or do you think it was all a big waste of time and energy? Was it a labor of love, or a financial necessity? Most writers take on less-than-glamorous gigs to pay the bills, and no one here will judge you for that, but it may be a better use of energy to save the sharing for projects that better represent you. If you can hold your work up proudly, then your promotion should be shame-free as long as you don’t overdo it.

While it can certainly be beneficial to plug your work online, your posts can quickly become tiresome, and the people you’re hoping to engage with will scroll right on by as soon as they see your name. Many creators view social media sites as nothing more than free advertising platforms, but without the genuine connectivity that keeps social networks going, your profile will not draw readers. Don’t assume people aren’t buying your thing explicitly because they are unaware of it. Writers tend to see a bump in sales when they mention their books about once a week online, but these are also people who already have a following, post frequently on multiple topics and engage in various conversations. There is no set scale for how much to self-promote, but less is more here. If you are able to curate interesting discussions, people will explore your other posts, find your books, and either buy them outright or at least ask you about them! Whether you’re worried about posting too much or not enough, a pinned post can serve as a passive billboard that can take some of that pressure off.

One approach that I see frequently is using a separate “author” page in addition to your main social media profile. I understand the attractiveness of keeping everything neatly compartmentalized, but I have my doubts as to whether or not this method is very effective. Writing is intensely personal, so even if you’re not writing memoirs, you are putting yourself on the page. Readers are often as interested in the writer as they are the story, which means you’re often selling yourself as much as the book, so this dissociation seems counterproductive. I feel similarly about adding the word “Author” to your name on social media accounts. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, but it comes off as performative, and like Amanda said, “Stop Aspiring to Be an Author and Just Be One!” Though the blogosphere is not as prominent these days, an alternative is to keep a blog or a Tumblr (a hybrid blog/social media site) to contain all your writing news and info that you can occasionally link to on your main social media profiles.

What about face-to-face promotion in the real world? Can you talk to people about your books without coming off like a pretentious ass? It’s possible as long as it’s not forced. No matter how incredible and life-changing your book may be, you can’t generate interest by shoehorning it into every conversation. What you can do is be conscious. It’s your book, you know it inside and out, so if a legitimate opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to discuss it. Always put the conversation first and never try to steer it towards a sale, people can sense that, and nothing puts them off faster. Once again, having confidence in your work without being arrogant will take you a long way!

Testing Your Novel’s Heart: Boulter’s ECG by T.N. Rosema

Back in December, we posted about Harmon’s Embryo, which checks the strength of your plot. This blog talks about Boulter’s ECG, which checks the emotional pace or “heart” of your novel.

The Echocardiogram (ECG for short) is a technique from Writing Fiction by Amanda Boulter, senior lecturer for creative writing at the University of Winchester. The ECG is best applied to longer works such as novels.

If we accept that a story is about change, then:

  • What changes are triggered by the events within it?
  • How do our characters deal with these changes?
  • How does the reader experience these changes?


The answers to these questions form the emotional pace of your story. To visually chart this, we can create an ECG in three steps.

1) Assign each scene in your novel a score out of 20.

Boulter suggests this framework:

1-5 points: scenes of “deliberation / recovery”

6-10 points: scenes of “intrigue / emotion”

11-15 points: scenes of emotional conflict or physical action

16-20 points: the vital scenes of “crisis and climax”.


2) Plot all your scenes on graph paper.

3) Join the dots.

Here’s an ECG for a novel with 40 scenes:



So how can the ECG help us to strengthen our novel’s emotional pacing?

  1. Avoid extended flatlines. Extended flatlines at any point will kill your novel. Too many contemplative navel-gazing scenes in a row, and the reader yawns. Too many blistering action scenes in a row, and the reader has nowhere to catch their breath. (“Oh…another murder?”)
  2. Aim for peaks and troughs. The goal is to change it up, so that readers progress through a series of tension-contemplation cycles. If your novel follows a conventional structure, these cycles will rise to a climax. For example, ECGs for novels based on the popular three-act structure will show a left peak, rising peaks (or crises) in the middle, and the largest peak to the right.


Boulter’s ECG is a fun technique that shows the reader’s emotional journey through your novel at a glance. Use it to manage your story’s pulse and guard the reader against heart attacks!






Boulter, Amanda (2007) Writing Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches. Palgrave Macmillan.

You might be a writer if…

You know you’re a writer if:
You regularly include your tweets as part of your word count.
You spend more time staring at your blinking cursor than actually moving it.
You are afraid the FBI will investigate you based on your search history.
Friends and family have come to understand that anything they say or do can end up immortalized in print.
You have a clearly designated idea notebook into which you tape the napkins and bill envelopes you actually write your story ideas and notes on.
You consider staring into space to be a form of writing.
If you have ever finished a draft and then just deleted it.
If you have changed a major character’s name more than halfway through a story.
If you write poetry and hate always having to explain why some poems don’t rhyme.
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found a story you once wrote that is actually pretty good!
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found something you once wrote that is absolutely terrible and unsalvageable.
If someone asks what your story is about and you mumble something incoherent about three other stories that have tiny pieces of similarities to yours.
You have ever been *this* close to finishing a story only to have your brain insist that this other idea is too important not to write *right now*.
If you have ever delighted in fictionally destroying a person who was cruel to you in real life.
If you have ever used the same cup for coffee and wine in the same day.
If sending your novel out to it’s first beta reader is like sending your kid off on his first sleepover.
If the string of letters, “NaNoWriMo”, makes your heart start to race.
If you have ever cried for your own main character’s pain.
If you try to write off lattes at a coffee shop as a work expense.
Have one to add? Send us a comment!

The Secret to my College Success: How to get an A on any Essay

While it’s not strictly true that I got an A on every paper in college, it’s safe to say that I would have graduated with a 4.0 if all my grades rested only on my ability to write an essay. So gather your college hopefuls and struggling students. I now share with you the secrets to my success and how to implement them for your own purposes. It’s important to note that these tips are specifically related to playing the academic game, and not all can or shouldbe used to generally apply to writing an essay for purely literary purposes.


#1 Know your audience.

This is essential for any graded assignment. In attending lectures you will become aware of certain peculiarities and opinions held dearly by your professor. They don’t mean to, they do try to be objective, but opinions or stances that mirror our own just sound better. I remember laughing out loud at a comment scribbled in the margin of one of my essays; “very well stated!” Turns out, it was nearly a direct quote from her own observations in class. Does that mean you should be a sycophant and suck up at every opportunity? Absolutely not. In fact, if you disagree with a professor, absolutely take it on; but be sure that every opinion you know they have is addressed in some way or your argument is flawed. In fact, I once took a Semantics class that had two different textbooks with two different theories of semantics to consider. Our final paper asked that we choose one or the other and defend it. I couldn’t in good conscience do either, so I showed why both were wrong and suggested my own theory with the research to prove it. A+.


#2 Know your assignment.

Read your assignment carefully. Usually the professor plants in there all the clues for your success. This isn’t like writing for a publishing house or magazine you hope will be a good fit. They are literally telling you exactly what they want. Be sure you give it to them. Thinking outside the box is great and showing your creativity is even better, but not if it’s at the expense of your grade because you failed to meet the minimum requirements. If they want you to demonstrate your understanding of a scientific principle using three examples, make sure you have all three! If they want 1500 words, keep fleshing that out until it’s at least 1500 words. And if it’s a page requirement, don’t mess with the margins to make it work. Professors aren’t stupid, and they look at this stuff every day of their lives. They know a two-inch margin when they see it, and they will flay you. You can’t afford to miss an expectation that easy to meet, especially if writing is a challenge for you.


#3 A good outline saves lives.

Okay, friends. Here is the meat of it: I will be forever grateful for my high school English and History teachers who taught me the value of a good outline and how to write it into the first paragraph as a stellar introduction. This tip is especially effective for essay responses required on a timed test but can be adapted for nearly any informative essay. Your format is as follows:

Sentence(s) 1: Attention grabber. Start with an inspiring quote, restating the prompt in a creative way, and make it personal; whatever you can grab that is relevant and interesting. For example: “‘When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization,’ said Daniel Webster.”

Sentence(s) 2: A sentence or two that lists out the points you intend to prove, and there should be at least three points of discussion. For example: “The American Civil War impacted the lives of farmers in multiple ways. Not only did the war itself disrupt production and destroy valuable farming land, but the shift from great plantations to smaller farms led to changes in economy and family structure.” Do you see that? I now have my entire essay set up. I have stated my thesis, and I know where I need to go. I need one paragraph about the war and its impact on the land itself, I need one about the transition from slave-owning plantations to smaller farms, which transitions nicely into how the subjects of those two preceding paragraphs changed the economy, then how things changed for farming families or civilization… which ties into my quote that started it all.

Sentence 3: A bridge or transition from this to the next paragraph. Example: “The war changed the landscape literally and figuratively.”

Rinse and repeat. This format enables writers to quickly outline their thoughts in a few sentences. All you have to do is come up with at least three things to talk about related to the subject at hand. That’s not so hard as coming up with an entire essay and complete thoughts all at once. After this initial paragraph is set up, the essay practically writes itself. You know what comes next, you just need to flesh it out with thoughtful examples from history, evidence from the literary text, proof from an experiment; whatever the subject, these same principles apply.


#4 Transition well.

The body of the essay will start and end each paragraph with these transition sentences, which are often the hardest part, so I will sometimes skip them to be added back in once I have the body completed. The format of the middle paragraphs will echo the format of your introduction, with each point of discussion substituting for the overall thesis statement in the introduction. The structure should be as follows:

Sentence 1: Transition into this point

Sentence 2: Point 1 stated

Sentence 3-5: Examples of point 1, at least 3 of them

Sentence 6: Transition into the next point

As you can see, the transitions are a big part of smoothly moving from one subject to the next. Try to see how each idea is connected to the next, and highlight that.


#5 Stay on Target.

The meat of what you’ve studied and are now expected to communicate is the important element to get right. Make sure each paragraph stays on topic, shows relevant evidence of your point, and has at least three such evidences. If it’s a literary critique, this can be proof from the author’s life, a quote from the text, or a note about the meaning of a word at that time … whatever is needed to prove your point. History, science, and (I imagine) law are actually very easy to write essays about because there are actual facts and quotes about that event, or scientific experiments to draw from, legal precedents to relate. Again, you just focus on the three things needed to prove your point here. You can do this!


#6 Draw your conclusions.

This last paragraph is going to be more similar to the introduction, but not a parrot of it. This is where you pull together all the things you’ve described and proved throughout the essay. You need to mention the points you’ve made throughout, but it doesn’t have to be as explicit at this point because it’s been well fleshed out. If there is a way to reference back to the quote or beginning concept, great, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. The thesis should really shine here and be illuminated as truth now that you’ve proved all your points.


For example: “The lives of farmers were forever changed by the civil war in so many ways. With the demands of war on limited resources, farming changed in scope and technique, which in turn affected prices and market value, which changed the opportunities available for families. One could even say the war changed the foundation of civilization, as it transformed the life of the farmer.”

See how each main idea is covered, but in a new way, reflective of the information that would have been shared in detail throughout? The tip of the hat to the beginning quote in that last sentence may be a bit over the top, but it depends on your audience. Is that a concept they’ve really highlighted or resonated with during lecture? Then it will only help.


So there you have it, friends; the secret to my college success. My niece has used this advice to good effect in her college essays, and I hope it will do you proud, too. I am happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Reader Request: What Do Editors Write? By Catherine Foster

Reader Request: What Do Editors Write? By Catherine Foster

A reader of ours reached out and requested a blog article devoted to shining the spotlight on what is on our editors’ private writing dockets. This seemed like an idea for an interesting topic, but also an excellent time to demystify some myths associated with editors. While it is true we wield the dreaded red pen, we are just as often the subject of one ourselves. Many—I daresay most—editors begin as authors themselves, and a great number of them continue to write and submit their works as they support their clients, as well. So it may surprise you to learn that we are all in this thing together! Editors often pass work along to each other for a simple “brushing up” or for someone to “glance over”—as professionals, we understand the necessity of having a fellow editor check our work, but I’ll admit that it takes a lot of years before it gets easier to accept constructive criticism and learn to make necessary changes to our beloved writing! With time, we come to anticipate and expect the work that comes after the joy of writing, but even seasoned authors’ hearts sink a little when we open a document and see nothing but slashes through paragraphs, big sections omitted and huge notations in the margin for our perusal. I share this with you so that you know that we have the expertise as editors but also the humanity; we have walked in your shoes but are most likely walking with you even now as we share the process from the same side. Editing requires precision but also gentleness, and anyone who has been writing and submitting for some time has been shaped by experience enough to have both. Here is a list of what is inspiring and humbling us into the best editors we are at the moment:

Josh Smith: Josh has recognized that he is a much stronger editor than he is a writer, and as such has been spending most of his creative energies on projects of that nature, the most exciting of which is the first book release by Bedlam Publishing, where he is Editor-in-Chief. The seeds for “All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows: collected poems” by Ramez Qureshi were planted by Ali Eteraz four years ago, and fluctuated between various states of production until last year when all the pieces really started coming together. It will be out in hardcover and eBook editions this spring, and is Qureshi’s posthumous debut. Once the book hits the print shop, Josh will begin work on the next edition of Bedlam’s annual art & lit magazine, Loud Zoo. He is also editing pieces for a prospective collection by The LetterWorks’ very first client, Brett Petersen!

His only current project that doesn’t involve editorial work is something of a musical experiment. A passable percussionist and frequent found-object musician, he inherited a bass and has been attempting to incorporate it into his sonic palette. With a stack of lyrics already written and more coming all the time, he’s trying to figure out how to play the music that’s rattling around them in his head, and then he’s sure to bother anyone within earshot with … whatever it is he thinks he’s doing.

Amanda Wayne: Amanda is currently researching the effect of brevity on connotation and denotation and the way in which readers react to word choice. (Read: spends too much time on Twitter.) She is also doing a study on how repetitive iterations of children’s literature forces parents to reassess the importance of literacy. (If she has to read SkippyJon Jones one more time, Mama Junebug is going to be mourning the loss of her kittyboy.) Occasionally, she manages to jot down an idea for a story. These notes, when later fished out of the toy box and read, appear to be written in crayon and are actually sketches for inventions to get toddler pee out of battery powered toy trucks or prosthetic arms so that a mom can hold a baby and also make herself a sandwich.

Melissa Heiselt: Melissa doesn’t have any focused work in progress, but she’s always tucking away ideas and developments for a couple of larger fantasy pieces that will likely be marinating for years yet. She feels as if she has some foundational gaps that she needs to work through before she spend too much time writing a monstrosity (or two) that would need a massive overhaul. [ed. note: this is a completely unfounded sentiment] She’d rather have the bones laid straight from the start. She occasionally writes poetry. Since discovering Deep Magic, her new goal is to flesh out some short stories to submit to that E-zine. She preaches all the time about making regular time to write because she knows all too well what happens when you don’t! It’s a struggle to regain those writing muscles that have atrophied, and it’s a vicious cycle that makes you not want to write because your work just isn’t up to your own standards anymore, but the only solution is to keep writing more things!

TN Rosema: TN is an accomplished poet, author and editor who helms a longstanding writer’s group. Their interests are pre-writing and manuscript revision.

Catherine Foster: Catherine began publishing poetry at age ten and has been writing and submitting ever since. She moved on to short stories and recently counted her number of published titles in the seventies. She’s written and had moderate success with everything ranging from poetry to short stories to memoirs and even dabbled in writing scripts. Writing has always been a part of her life, but over the past few years she’s slowly evolved into editing more and more. At the moment, she spends her time writing to penpals in prison, which takes up quite a bit of the time that she used to devote to creative writing, but she feels it is a more worthy endeavor at this stage in her life. It is fair to say that she is retired from writing and submitting at this time and focusing solely on the business of editing and writing for volunteer purposes.

So that is our team! We all come from different backgrounds and are at varying stages in our careers. We have a wealth of knowledge and continue to evolve. The important thing to know is that we are editors and writers because we cherish the craft and respect the language, and we entered this field because we have a passion for helping others succeed. If you have any questions or if we can help you, please let us know in the comment section or email me directly at Until next time, happy writing!