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.

Active-ate Your Verbs and Improve Your Writing

by Barbara McNichol

Before detecting the “passive” voice and addressing how to change it to “active,” consider why you should care.

Active verbs will improve your writing (most of the time) because:

  • Active verbs declare who or what is (or should be) performing the action; you avoid confusion, guesswork, or dodging responsibility.
  • Active verbs make your writing flow more easily; readers will more quickly get the ideas you want to convey.
  • Sentences constructed in the active voice usually require fewer words; you constantly want to aim to write concisely!

How to Identify “Passive”
As a reader, if you can’t identify the doer of the action—the subject—the sentence has likely been constructed in the passive voice. Even when the subject is clear, two clues help you identify “passive” use: 1) the word “by” and 2) variations of the verb “to be.”



Consider these sentences:
Passive—“The juicy watermelon was eaten by the boy.”
Active—“The boy chomped into the watermelon’s juicy belly.”

Passive—“Employees are seen by their managers as responsive and enthusiastic.”
Active—“Managers see their employees as responsive and enthusiastic.”

In addition, passive verbs can foster weasel-like communication. They might be used to hide who’s responsible for an action, thus evading accountability rather than declaring it. For example, if a contract states “the rules for the homeowners will be enforced” but doesn’t note who will enforce those rules, what’s the result? Ambiguity. Confusion. Inaction.

How to Identify “Active”
The pattern for an active sentence is typically “subject + verb + direct object.” The direct object is the recipient of the action—that is, what or whom the verb affects. Example: The employees (subject) implement (verb) the new strategy (object). Who’s doing the action of implementing the new strategy? The employees. Thus, it’s clear the employees are accountable for the action.

Your Turn
Notice the passive construction in the following sentence and rewrite it, making sure to use an active verb. (Hint: You’ll need to make up a subject.)

Passive: This policy is being implemented in an effort to streamline our process.
Active: ___________________________________

Use the clues I’ve provided to identify passive sentences you’ve written and revise them. Not sure if you rewrote one or more of them correctly? Share them with me via email, and I’ll provide feedback.

Best of Word Trippers 2014

by Barbara McNichol

If you don’t subscribe to my ezine Word Tripper of the Week, you’re missing out on a regular opportunity to sharpen your word use skills. You’ll find easy explanations of confusng word pairings such as “accept vs. except” and “affect vs. effect.”

Last year’s Word Trippers ezine included the pairs that follow, but that’s only a start! For the complete “Best of 2014” List, email me at and I’ll send you the full PDF list of 25 pesky pairings featured in 2014.

Abstruse, obtuse – “Abstruse” means hard to understand, complex, or highly abstract. It stems from a Latin word meaning concealed or hidden and typically describes texts or arguments. “Obtuse” describes someone who is (or seems to be, based on behavior) not sharp in thinking, perception, or feeling; it can also refer to a remark, argument, or object that is dull or blunt.

“The teacher lost his students’ attention while describing abstruse philosophical topics to his class. He was too obtuse to notice their lack of participation.”


Afflict, inflict – Both words mean to cause pain, suffering, distress, or discomfort. “Afflict” with the preposition “with” usually describes an illness or condition. “Inflict” with the preposition “on” concentrates on the force with which the pain, suffering, distress, or discomfort is administered.

“He did not intend to inflict shame on his friend with his calloused remark. It would later afflict him with a deep sense of remorse.”


Anticipate, predict – “Anticipate” means to think of something that could happen in the future; to expect or look ahead to something with pleasure. “Predict” means to declare or indicate in advance; to foretell based on observation, experience, or scientific reason.

“It’s easy to predict the youngsters will have a tough time sleeping as they anticipate their trip to Disneyland.”


Archetype, prototype – Derived from the Latin term “typus” meaning image, the nouns “archetype” and “prototype” both relate to an original pattern or model. Each prefix establishes the distinction. “Arch” refers to the most accomplished or high ranking of something; “proto” primarily refers to a standard configuration, or an initial model or version of something. Thus, “archetype” has come to mean an ideal example while “prototype” is an unrefined version of something that’s expected to evolve.

“With her perfect GPA, inspiring extracurricular activity, and impressive athletic accomplishments, she’s the archetype of a great student and possibly a prototype for a successful entrepreneur.”


Request the whole list with Best of Word Trippers in subject line. When you do, I’ll automatically subscribe you to the bimonthly ezine so you won’t miss out in the future. Enjoy!

Then tell me which ones were most helpful or most surprising to you. Comment here.

P.S.You can order the print version of Word Trippers 2nd edition by clicking on this link.

Word Play: Lots More Figures of Speech

What’s a figure of speech? Words taken out of their literal meaning to create a vivid or dramatic picture. Play with them in your writing!


Matching or repetition of consonants or repeating of the same letter (or sound) at the beginning of words. Examples: Papa’s potatoes and poultry were a big hit at the potluck. Dewdrops danced on the Day Lilies’ tongue.


Aphorisms are short, pointed sentences expressing a wise or clever observation or a general truth. A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you’re in deep water. If you don’t have a sense of humor, you probably don’t have any sense at all. There are no new sins; the old ones just get more publicity.


A sentence that reads forward and backward like a mirror, often used in speeches in an artistic, persuasive way. Example: Ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you.


Colloquialisms are informal expressions (slang) that play a role in how we communicate, but shouldn’t be used in formal speech or writing (unless it’s dialogue). Examples: Gonna and wanna. There ain’t nothin’ to it. He done good.


“Proper names that have become improper and uncommonly common.” That’s how author Willard R. Espy described eponyms, which are words coined after people’s names.

Byronic: One who is melancholic, passionate, melodramatic, and disregards societal norms. Named after poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) who displayed these characteristics as did his poetry.

Orwellian: Of or relating to a totalitarian state in which citizens’ activities are tightly controlled. Named after George Orwell, pen name of Eric Blair (1903-1950), whose novel Nineteen Eighty-Four depicted a futuristic totalitarian state.

Draconian: Unusually harsh. Named after Draco (late 7th century BCE), Athenian legislator, noted for the harshness of his code of laws.


These are words that are spelled the same but differ in pronunciation. Examples: Close – (CLOZE) to shut; (CLOHSS) nearby Lead – (LEED) to guide; (LED) a metallic element Tear – (TARE) to rip; (TEER) a drop of the clear liquid emitted by the eye

Homonyms and Homophones

Homonyms are spelled the same but differ in meaning while homophones are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and sometimes spelling. Examples of homonyms: Bank (a place to deposit money) and bank (a river’s edge) Fair (county fair), fair (reasonable), fair (in appearance as fair-skinned) Examples of homophones: Cite (to quote as an authority or example), sight (to see), site (location or place) Sea (body of water) and see (vision)


This figure of speech adds exaggeration to your writing. Hyperbole (hy-PER-buh-lee) statements are not literally true but are used for emphasis. Examples of hyperbole: Her feet were as big as skis. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. I’ve heard that joke a thousand times.


Named after Richard Sheridan’s character Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals, malapropisms are a comic misuse of language (akin to Word Trippers but not the same). Examples of malapropisms: He had to use a fire distinguisher. Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination. My sister has extra-century perception.


A metaphor lets us use one image to conjure up another. Overused metaphors are considered clichés. Examples of metaphors: You are my sunshine. All the world’s a stage. The thick blanket of snow covered the frozen field. These three metaphors about life were recently featured in one of my all-time favorite ezines, Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week.

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.” – Truman Capote

“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” – Danny Kaye

“Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” – John W. Gardner


An oxymoron takes two incongruous or contradictory terms and puts them together to express two contrasting qualities in one concept. Examples of oxymora: Old news; Dull roar; Open secret; Random order


A word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. Examples of palindromes: Straw – warts Do geese see God? Never odd or even


A pangram uses all 26 letters of the alphabet. Examples of pangrams: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Watch Jeopardy! Alex Trebek’s fun TV quiz game.


A figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; it causes the reader to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It’s how you add “funny” to your writing! Examples:

“Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.”

“A friend in need is a friend I don’t need.” – Deepak Jhangiani

“Honesty is the best policy until the policy expires.” – Deepak Jhangiani

“You can lead a horse to water…but if you can teach him to roll over on his back and backstroke, you got something.” – Rudy Cluke

“If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.”

“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” “Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.”


A figure of speech that gives “human” characteristics (emotion, honesty, volition, etc.) to an animal, object, or idea. Examples of Personification: The haughty peacock strutted around his mate. Fate frowned on her success. My car was happy to be washed.


Pleonasm consists of two concepts (usually two words) that are redundant. Examples of pleonasms: boiling hot, cash money, dark night, empty hole, little baby, pair of twins


Makes a comparison using “as” or “like” to show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in another way. Examples of similes: Busy as a beaver. Mad as a wet hen. The snow was as thick as a down blanket.


Words or phrases in which letters or syllables get swapped. Examples of spoonerisms: I’m driving in the right lane, for I’m driving in a light rain.

Tease my ears, for Ease my tears.

Wave the sails, for Save the whales. 


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 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 and now available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.


Grammar Glitches You Can’t Ignore

By Barbara McNichol

My attention was recently drawn to an article in Ragan Report (great resource for communicators) that puts the “Top 25 Grammar and Language Mistakes” in your face. Some, in fact, are Word Trippers that I include in my ebook.

This handful of grammar glitches stood out for me. I’m eager to point them out because they’re extremely important to good writing. I encourage you to take them to heart.

  • Using “could of,” “would of,” “should of.” These are all 100 percent wrong, born of our sloppy speaking styles—could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. What you want to write is could have, would have, should have. We all coulda, woulda, shoulda become better at grammar.
  • Using “me and somebody.” I tell my children that it’s common courtesy to put the other person first. Thus you should always say, “Fred and I went to the gym together,” or “Suzie and I saw that movie.”
  • Using “that” instead of “who” (and vice versa). If you’re writing about people, always use who. If a company president says, “employees that are affected by layoffs will be greatly missed,” no one is likely to believe him because he’s treating them as objects by using the word that.
  • Using “they” when referring to a business. “Starbucks said they would give everyone a free latte today.” Although this might sound right, the correct sentence is: “Starbucks said it would give everyone a free latte today.” And if that grates on your ears, then rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem: “Starbucks is offering everyone a free latte today.”

Want to peruse the whole article so you can learn from all 25 mistakes? Here’s the link.

Please share other grammar glitches that might trip you in the comments section below.

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.