Friday, March 7, 2014



In reviewing my own work-in-progress and the work of newer writers, I am reminded of the Muddy Writing we all use in our first drafts. (Well, most of us - there are always exceptions although I have yet to meet one.) 

Words flow off our fingers in the first writing. That's necessary to create and capture our stories. 'Get it down anyway we can' is the mantra. But when we're finished the creative phase, we MUST EDIT. The stats are out there. SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS RE-WRITE!

These five key areas are the most common ways we muddy our stories.

1) telling instead of showing, 

2) passive instead of active structures 
3) too many prepositional phrases 
4) overuse of perception words (felt, saw, heard...) and
5) a proliferation of adverbs - the lazy ly.

Showing our readers the action and letting them interpret what's happening draws them deeper into the story and also respects their interpretive powers. Cleaning up our writing is how we make that happen. Numbers two through five contribute to the telling-not-showing dilemma. Fix them and improve your writing.

There are numerous books on how to edit your work. The above five items appear in most of them. I spent a winter reading books on how-to-write. The thirty-seven from that winter plus others read over decades learning the writing craft, add up to hundreds of books. ALL OF THE ONES I READ MENTIONED THOSE FIVE ITEMS IN THEIR HOW TO WRITE BETTER sections. And today, the internet provides the information. There are no solid excuses to avoid intelligently editing your work.

So folks, whether you are writing short or long, fiction or non-fiction, learn your tools and apply them. 

Question: What writing stumbling block bothers you the most? 


  1. A good post. I think 4) and 5) are bad for me. It is is important to learn. I find that having is to read a sentence over in order for it to make sense, very distracting with the flow of the book. I'm not studying Shakespeare when I pick up a fiction novel. Although at any given time I like Shakespeare too.

    1. Mary - you are so right. As authors we need to make our books fun, comfortable and easy to read for our readers. Having understandable sentences is critical - and they do NOT have to be "simple" to be that way. Learning what confuses a sentence helps us understand how to construct a clearly understood one. My workshop on Edit out the Muddy Writing - coming to ARWA on April 12th is geared to that end.

  2. Replies
    1. Maggie, these are the five areas that keep coming up in the Writing Challenge groups within ARWA. We are seeing strong story tellers with "rough edges." In the April 12th, Saturday workshop, I will cover these five items in a "hands on" workshop. Folks attending are asked to bring at least one chapter on paper.

  3. Thanks Mahrie. I will make sure I can attend it. I'll mark it on my calender and tell those around me - I'll be unavailable. I do find myself being too serious at times and try to understand what people might really think. Suzanne Stengl writes a good story that way - without being 'slap-stick' comedy.