Write with Intention Every Time

by Barbara McNichol

Much of the spoken language slides into our writing, but at times the words we say aren’t the exact fit for what we mean. Check your intention every time!

Consider these sentences from a manuscript about education:

  • How many principals do what they feel will win approval?
  • The public feels certain people shouldn’t be teaching.

Given the context, is “feel” the correct word to express the author’s meaning? No, because the essence of the intended meaning doesn’t come from an emotional “feeling” source. Rather, it comes from a profound conviction based on experience—a place of belief.

Replace “feeling” with the word “believe,” which involves caring about something. It implies a deeper kind of thinking—a mental activity that doesn’t necessarily have a sense of conviction. Because of this distinction, the better word choices would be:

  • How many principals do what they believe will win approval?
  • The public believes certain people shouldn’t be teaching.

writing with intentYour challenge: Question yourself when you select a commonly spoken word. Does it express the exact meaning based on its context? From now on, designate “feel” a red-flag word. Then replace it with “think” or “believe” or “hope” or another verb and reread your sentence. Is “feel” the most precise word to convey your intended meaning? If not, pause and find exactly the right one.

Unsure which of these verbs—feel, think, believe—to use in your own writing? For feedback on your sentence(s), request it here.

Should It Be One Word or Two? Request My One-Two List

by Barbara McNichol

As I was finalizing a manuscript I edited for a nonfiction author, I hired a proofreader to give it a final check. (I knew I’d read it too many times myself.) What she found humbled me. I thought I had a good handle on which phrases are customarily two words versus one (backyard—not back yard—comes to mind) but several surprised me.

My proofreader corrected these (verified on dictionary.com). Look familiar?•    rooflines (not roof lines)
•    safe-deposit box (not safe deposit box)
•    old-timers (not old timers)
•    carsick (not car sick)
•    safekeeping (not safe keeping)
•    autopilot (not auto pilot)
•    pocketknife (not pocket-knife)

So I’ve put together a cheat sheet I call my One-Two List to answer the question: Should it be one word or two? Instead of guessing, it’s easy to refer to this list I’ve compiled.

Request PDF with “One-Two List” in subject line.

What one word or two questions do you have? Ask them here.

Use Planner to Put Authors and Editors on Same Page

by Barbara McNichol (full article here

Through a blog post, I recently asked what worries nonfiction authors about the editing process. The insights gained can be helpful to any editor as well as the authors they work with.

I received the following array of answers from 40 authors who responded. Specifically, they want:

  • more than a clean up; they want a major step up in clarity.
  • support in thinking through the book’s organization before nitty-gritty editing begins.
  • their book editor to be tuned in to their objectives for the book, keeping them top-of-mind throughout the process.
  • their points made more succinctly and artistically and their stories told well.

As one author said, “An unedited piece can make my point but in a less elegant way than one that’s been edited.”

How Book Editors Can Learn More About What Authors Want

From the first contact with a client, I open a dialog through what I call a Planner—a questionnaire that focuses on the long-term goals for the book itself. Questions not only address the mechanics of editing but emphasize the author’s big-picture dreams. A few are:

  1. What successful books would be good models for yours?
  2. After people in your target audience have read this book, what do you want them to say about it? How would you like a testimonial to read?
  3. What actions do you want readers to take as a result of reading your book—both for their own benefit and for yours?
  4. What changes do you want to create in your life/business as a result of putting this book out into the world?
  5. Which results do you seek most in working with an editor (followed by a list for ranking)?

Request Planner to Start the Dialogue

Delivering on an Author’s Desires!

Whether you’re an author or an editor, don’t short-change the editing process and its value to you. Use a tool like my Planner to articulate exactly what you want from your editor.

To see how Barbara’s Planner can help you, go here.

Whack Extraneous Phrases in Your Writing

In their classic book The Elements of Style, Strunk and White called word clutter “the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood out of Whack wordinesswords.”

You can start by eliminating extraneous phrases that clutter your writing. But which phrases can be “whacked”?

Consider taking out these extra phrases whenever you can:

  • “is intended to, meant to, designed to” e.g., He gives a workshop that is designed to teach writing skills. Better: He gives a workshop that teaches writing skills.
  • “it is all about”; “the fact of the matter is”; “the fact that”; “it’s important to remember that” e.g., The fact of the matter is that it’s unwise to go out carousing. Better: It’s unwise to go out carousing.
  • “in regard to” e.g., Seek additional websites in regard to your industry. Better: Seek additional websites in your industry.
  • “is going to” e.g., He is going to be a key contributor. Better: He will be a key contributor.
  • “in order to” e.g., Add key words in order to describe the new position. Better: Add key words to describe the new position.
  • “there is” and “there will be” e.g., There will be many managers attending the meeting. Better: Many managers will attend the meeting.
  • “the reason why is that . . .” A simple “because” will suffice.
  • “at this time” . . . Now!

To reinforce this, take something you wrote and circle any of these extraneous phrases. Challenge yourself to rework or remove them altogether. You may choose to keep some in, but at least you’ve asked the question: “Do I really need this phrase?” (You don’t need “really” here.)

Keep this list handy. What would you add to it? Comment here.

7 Writing Mistakes Editors are Constantly Fixing

By Barbara McNichol

What can editors tell writers about improving their writing before they even begin the editing process? I shared my ideas and examples on a recent teleclass hosted by Janice Campbell of NAIWE.

You can listen to the full hour of “fixes” I presented by dialing dial 1-218-844-3182 and enter Recording ID: 90075555

In the meantime, here’s a summary:

Mistake #1.      Being so self-absorbed as a writer that you’re unaware of the reader’s experience. The fix? Know your core message and write to that message, leaving out the experience of writing.

Mistake #2.      Addressing readers as readers rather than a single key person whose interest you want to capture with your message. The fix? Keep a single interested person in your target audience top of mind as you write.

Mistake #3.      Skimming the surface, not going deep enough. The fix? When describing an experience, explain what you felt, what the other person felt as best you can, and what exact words were spoken. Go deeper with the details.

Mistake #4.      Having no rhyme or reason to the order of the paragraphs. The fix? Make a conscious decision about the order based on logic and facilitating your readers’ comprehension.

Mistake #5.      Overusing weak verbs and throwing in extraneous phrases and wobbly words. The fix? Rewrite using active verbs; question use of every adjective and adverb; throw out wobbly words: really, very, much, some that.  “I Really Think That We Should Not Use Some Words Very Much.”

Mistake #6.      Using multiword noun phrases when one active verb will do. The fix? Whenever possible, get an active verb to do the “work.”

Mistake #7.      Writing sentences that ramble (on and on and on and on). The fix? Limit sentences to 15-21 words max but vary sentence length.

Bonus mistake: Mixing metaphors and flat-out choosing the wrong word. The fix? Use a word choice guide like Word Trippers to help you select the perfect word when it really matters.

About Barbara McNichol

Authors and experts depend on Barbara for her expert editing of nonfiction books, articles, and marketing materials. On her website, she proudly lists close to 200 books she’s edited. Her mission is to teach writers techniques that will improve their writing—and make the final editing process go smoother and faster. As part of this mission, Barbara sends out a monthly ezine called Add Power to Your Pen. When you sign up for it, you’ll receive “10 Top Techniques for Improving Your Writing.” She’s also written Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Using the Perfect Word When It Really Matters, available at amazon.com as a Kindle and a print book.

2016 – A Great Year for Writing Your Nonfiction Book

by Barbara McNichol

Did you develop a plan or even start crafting your book in 2016?

If so, congratulations! If not, you have a clean slate in this new year—a fresh opportunity to share your expertise with the world!

Look at 2016 as a fresh start to attract more opportunities and build more connections through the increased exposure a book gives you.  As you do, go for these eight Book-Writing Resolutions to help fulfill your dream of being an author—and all that it brings you—in this wonderful new year.

1. I will devote a significant amount of time to planning how I’ll write and/or promote my book in 2016.

2. I will look for interesting, unique ways to craft my chapters. I want them to be informative, intelligent, and fun to read.

3. I will put into place new ways to promote my book, perhaps even before it’s been produced (e.g., turn parts of chapters into blog posts, use social media to draw attention to them).

4. I will create an ezine and/or website to convey my book’s concepts, build a list of interested people, and communicate regularly with those who can benefit from my message.

5. I will stop procrastinating! When I’m tempted to put off working on my book, I’ll remind myself of the reputation-building value a professional book brings to my business. It will help me engage with my prospects, gain exposure to my market, demonstrate my expertise, and land new opportunities.

6. I will not let lack of time or dislike of writing stop me. I have something valuable to say to the world, and I will put it out there in a quality way. Yes, I will set aside time to write, revise, and perfect my chapters and my marketing materials.

7. I will ask for help to perfect my manuscript. Knowing there comes a time when I can’t read my own writing objectively, I ask for writing/editing assistance to polish it to a fine sheen. I’ll be alert to when that time is right.

8. I will do my best to choose the right word when it matters most—and not let grammar gremlins and wrong choices spoil the party.

What resolutions would you add to this list? Write your favorites in the comments section below.

When it comes time for #7 and #8, allow me to assist you with my professional editing services and my ebook, Word Trippers in print at amazon.com and now available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.


Telling Your Own Story: Expressing the Emotional “Why” Behind Your Book

by Barbara McNichol

Many thanks to Janice Campbell for inviting me and Andrea Beaulieu as guests on Nov 17 teleclass. If you’d like a quick review, here are point-form highlights. Or feel free to contact me for editing and Andrea for presentation coaching on how to tell your story from the page and from the stage.

Five Reasons to Tell Stories

(1) To ensure what you have to say rings true universally—and that happens when you’re able to craft your story from a deeper place in your being, and

(2) To get the opposite of calm—you add peaks and valleys, waves and storms into the writing so the manuscript isn’t boring!

(3) To connect us as human beings — our common experience. Stories of the way we work together, or live together. Things we experience together, whether that’s dealing something big like dealing with an illness, or celebratory like having a baby.

(4) To communicate our values — this is what matters to me. How we made a difference in someone’s life, walking 15 miles in the snow to get to school.

(5) To share a message, make a point — the moral of the story. Stories that provide hope or encouragement, you can do it — not giving up on a goal.

Story Sparkers

If you’re stuck on coming up with a great idea for a personal story, ask yourself these questions first:

Why did you write that very book you wrote or the one you’re writing now?

What gives you a sense of satisfaction about the book and its subject matter? I

What inspires you every day?

What do you feel most proud of as you wrote this book?

How do you know or imagine your book making a positive difference in someone else’s life

What is a treasured moment you carry in your pocket right now that could be turned in a meaningful story?

 Have you ever been badly hurt?

Have you ever been scared?

Have you ever laughed so hard you fell out of your chair, or peed your pants?

How did you learn to swim?

Did you ever play a practical joke? Have you ever had one played on you?

Have you ever done something you are proud of?

Have you ever been to a dangerous area?

When were you in a lot of trouble?

Who do you think of when I say, that person just drives me nuts! Why?

Elements of the Story Arc

  • Set the scene 
  • Describe the characters
  • Describe what happens/climax/series of events
  • Resolve the problem
  • Make a point that can apply to reader/listener

 Let us know if this teleclass and these points are helpful. How we can assist you in commiting to tell your own stories in a meaningful, engaging, inspirational way?



Writing and Editing: Wear Two Different Hats

Writing and Editing: Wear Two Different Hats

by Barbara McNichol

 Just as you’d wear a straw-brimmed hat in the sunshine and a rain cap in the pouring rain, remember the importance of wearing two different hats when you’re writing versus editing your nonfiction book.

One hat represents the creative process; the other deals with the critical process. Attempting to edit as you write can dampen your creativity, as I learned when working with an author recently. Because she was on a fast track to get her book printed, she had me editing the beginning chapters while she was still writing the middle and final chapters. She interrupted her writing flow to give me feedback on the chapters I’d sent back. It affected her ability to move forward smoothly with her final chapters, plus we had trouble keeping track of our progress. What frustration!

In retrospect, we needed to put on the brakes and say, “Each task—writing and editing— demands a separate and specific focus.” Here are three reasons why:

  • When editing your own work, your mind can fill in, correct, or overlook errors. It’s easy to miss things that should be corrected—like missing words and inconsistencies.
  • When you put a week or two between completing a draft and reviewing it, you break the link between what you thought you wrote and what you actually wrote.
  • Once a first draft is finished, if you rush in to evaluate it too quickly, you haven’t allowed your brain to “hang out in the shade and cool.” That’s when you mentally step back and “see” gaps in information, research, and logic. Taking a “big picture” look also enables you to see what fits and what doesn’t.

 What can you do to separate writing from editing even more? 

  • When you reread your work, reformat it by changing the font, margins, line spacing, and other elements so it tricks the mind and looks like a new document.
  • Keep wearing your creativity hat and go through each chapter asking these important questions:
  1. Is it complete from a content point of view? What’s missing?
  2. Have I included all the facts and stories I want to meet my objectives for this chapter?
  3. Can I take out any content that doesn’t fit?

 Once you have answered these satisfactorily, you’re ready for the critical process to take over. While wearing your editing hat, leave behind your content questions and look for the elements of good writing—style, grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and so on. And when you’re ready for feedback, call in an objective editor who can apply both the creative and critical process to perfecting your manuscript.