Posts Tagged With: writing

My Greatest Strength–Determination to Never Give Up #MFRWauthor

Have you ever thought about your greatest strength? What makes you…well…you? This is also a very hard question to answer. After a lot of introspection, I think my greatest strength is my determination to not fail.

If any of you have followed me for any time at all, you know I’m dyslexic. My learning disability was discovered when I was in third grade after a reading teacher noticed I tried to sound out words backwards and my eyes wandered all over the page. I spent the rest of my elementary grades in special education classes to learn to read.

In junior high, I was delegated into the lower tract and spent two miserable years with bullies who called me names and picked on me. For the most part, all of my friends were in the highest tract. Now when I look back, I think this was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was my need to prove these people I was nothing like them and my new found love for history (a subject I’d never had before seventh grade) that made me determined to succeed.

During the second half of seventh grade, a new spirit awakened in me. I studied in a way I never had and my hard work–and believe me it was hard–paid off. By the end of eighth grade, I had As in every subject with several of them being 100%. I was determined to prove to, not only my classmates that I would make it, but to myself that I’d get to where I want to be. I elected the college prep curriculum for high school and by the time I graduated, I was in the top quarter of my class.

I went to college and made the Dean’s List all but two or three of the nine semesters of my years at Penn State. But then life happened and with it a major setback. I couldn’t find a full time teaching job and my dreams were crushed. Not for long though, I changed gears and went back to school where I ended up graduating at the top of my class, simply because I wouldn’t accept anything less.

This spirit of never giving up and of unadulterated determination has severed me well during my writing career. I’ve nearly given up more than once, but this need to persevere despite the odds or how difficult it is has forced me to continue. My calling on this inner strength has helped me swim out of the deepest pools of despair and disappointment. I won’t deny it gets harder and harder, but I refuse to ever say “what if I hadn’t given up” because I will give it my all. I will tackle every obstacle with the determination that helped a girl who couldn’t read in the fourth grade, a teenager who hated to read until she discovered Civil War romance in ninth grade, to become a writer of published books. And hopefully this same stubbornness will help me become a best-selling author.
Check out other authors in the Challenge here:


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Plotting….A Pantser’s Guide to Writing #MFRWauthor

As a reader, if a story doesn’t have well executed character goals, motivations, and both inner and external conflicts, then most likely you aren’t ever going to finish that story. All writers use the GMC formula in some way to craft a story. Finding these GMCs is a important part of plotting. Some writers use elaborate methods to plot a story, to the point of practically writing it before they write the first draft. But today I’m going to explain my process, something I call a pantser’s guide to plotting.



An oxymoron for sure. Since the definition of a pantser (a nickname for “writing by the seat of the pants”) is someone who DOES NOT plot. Anyone who knows me knows I define myself as a tried and true pantser. Most of the time I never know what my next scene will be. I don’t do mind maps; I don’t have bulletin boards with index cards of every action; I don’t like Scrivener, and I don’t have an outline. I like to let the story unfold before me as I fill the blank page with words. However, I always know how the story will end.  I know what has to change in my characters’ lives to bring them to the end, but I don’t always know how they get to that happy ending.  What I do know is something changes in their lives to bring them to this point. I know their character arcs, and what they had to overcome to have that HEA. The hows and whys of them getting to the end comes to me as I write.

Okay, now you’re scratching your heads. Trust me I’ve done that more than once myself.  I may not plot a story, but I do learn about my characters. How I do this is by making sure I have a clear understanding of what makes them tick. Once I decide on an idea for a story, I soon figure out who the key players will be—the hero/heroine and antagonist/s. I figure out what their back-stories are. What led these characters to find themselves in this story idea? Then I think about where I want them to be at the end of the story.  How do I want them to be different from the characters I’ve created from their pasts? I don’t do character interviews, but I write down everything that I can think of about the characters—descriptions, personalities, jobs, relationships, what would bring fear to them, what would bring them joy. I figure out what their goals are, what motivates them, and what would bring them conflict and how they might respond to that conflict. I even decide on the quirks in their personalities, and more importantly, why are these quirks important. I do this for every major character. I still have no idea how their stories will enfold, but I do know that I, indeed, have a story.

The only thing left is to figure out how the characters best want to tell it and let them do the talking.

Of course, I do occasionally take this process a step further and jot down a simple two page synopsis of what the story might be. I still don’t consider this true plotting, since I simply figure out what the turning points are and write them. How the characters get to each turning point is totally a mystery until I start writing. But as an established author, my last two novels were sold on proposal, and I just submitted a third proposal, for which I’m waiting to hear back. For Heartsong, I had a blurb, synopsis and first four chapters. For Heartland, I sold it on a blurb and a very skimpy synopsis.

My process has changed somewhat, but for the most part, I am, and forever shall be, a pantser.
Check out other authors in the Challenge here:


Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sorry, Family… I’m Working (How my family survives my writing) #MFRWauthor Blog Challenge

I often tell people I hold down two full-time jobs. I work a 40-hour-per-week day job and fit my writing career in around this. I easily put 40 hours per week “writing” (which includes all that goes with it—drafting new material, editing, promotion, networking, and a million other things). I spend at least two to four hours every evening and as many as twelve to sixteen hours on the weekends writing.  I do take days off and there are weeks where I barely write anything, but when I’m under deadline, in the middle of a promotional push for a new release, or the story is flowing then I’m not spending time with my family.

In the early days, when my kids were little they would sit in the den where our only desktop computer was and watch Disney movies. If they needed me, I’d stop working to take care of them, then I’d go back to writing when they were settled. My husband wasn’t as understanding. He’d often get mad at me for spending so much time “playing” on the computer rather than watching whatever TV show he wanted to see.

But never did my family suffer or lack my attention. I was there when the kids wanted or needed me. My husband had my attention when he really needed it—like when we had to talk something over or just for snuggle time. We ate (and still do) every supper together—at the dinner table, with no distractions. There’s never been a time we ate in front of the TV. We use this hour to talk about our days and to laugh together. I’m a neat freak, so the house has been and still is cleaned every week. The laundry is done and put away. I’ve gotten good at multi-tasking. I use this time while doing housework for plotting and planning.

Now, my kids are grown, or nearly so—my son is in his second year of college and my daughter is a very active high school junior. She and I spend a lot of time shopping and talking. We can talk about anything and everything. She’s easily my best friend (or rather will be when she’s all grown up). She likes to tell me stories that she’s come up with. My hope is someday she’ll become a writer, but for now she’s content with keeping her stories in her head. What’s funny is this is exactly what I did as a teenager… So, who knows.

My husband has since accepted my writing career. He’s gotten over my late nights and not watching TV with him. He’s gotten used to eating frozen pizza when I’m on a deadline. He’s even started cooking some himself. I think that now he believes all that “playing” on the computer has paid off. He likes my royalty checks as much as I do. In fact, not too long ago, he asked me when I’ll be publishing my next book.

Being a full-time writer with a full-time day job and a family is a tremendous joggling act. Sometimes all the balls are in the air like we want them to be, and other times they all come falling down on us… The key is to be able to pick them back up and get them all in the air again with the least amount of hardship.


Check out other authors in the Challenge here:


Categories: Insights, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A New Year, A New Beginning


2016 was a tough year, and not because we lost so many Hollywood and music stars or because of who will sit in the Oval Office come January 20. It was tough personally and professionally.

I’ve been suffering from a major writing slump. I haven’t written more than a few thousand words since May and only finished two novellas and re-edited a previously published book for republishing. I’ve released five books in 2016—Heartsong in January, A Hunter’s Demon (a novella) and re-released A Hunter’s Angel in May, Sadie’s Fantasy Cowboy (part of Cowboy Time) in June, and finally Heartland in July.  Sure, this all looks like I’ve had a great year, until you consider, almost all of these books (save the two novellas) were actually produced in 2015 or before.

Personally, the last few months were rough for my family. My beloved father-in-law passed away unexpectedly in October, leaving a huge whole in all of our lives. I haven’t felt much like writing, and because of it, went days where I didn’t even turn on my computer.

On a more positive note, in April of last year I changed my diet, developed an exercise routine, and made sure I got at least seven hours of sleep every night. I lost almost 70 pounds and haven’t felt this good in years. You’re probably wondering how this is a bad thing.  Well, it’s not; it’s fantastic, but because I spent every lunch hour (time I’d previously used to write) and as much as two hours every evening exercising, besides not staying up to midnight, I didn’t leave much time for writing. I know I’m using this as an excuse, because I could have used that hour or so I used to watch TV to write, but my point is, I hadn’t cared enough about writing to eke out the time.

With the coming of 2017, I realized I needed to make some changes or I needed to quit. I’m not ready to do that. In fact the thought of quitting on my dream scares me to death. So, there was only one thing I could do. I needed to make some changes. It’s funny how things come along to help people do this, if they really want look for them. When a fantastic opportunity presented itself, I snatched it up like a life preserver in the middle of a churning ocean.

In the second half of the year, I will be releasing a novel in  Sable Hunter‘s Kindle World, HELL YEAH. I’m excited about this and can’t wait to see how it turns out.

I’m also going to write a novella that will be released either as part of a multi-author boxed set or as part of one I plan to put together with a few previously published works of my own.

I joined a blogging challenge, which will mean my neglected website and blog will actually see some activity. I also want to revive my newsletter, which has been all but abandoned. My goal is to send out one every other month.

This year will also see my continued life-style change. I’m hoping to reach my weight loss goal, which will mean losing another 70 pounds.

I’m excited about 2017 and can’t wait to jump in with both feet.

So, lift a glass to all of us having a happy, productive, and amazing 2017!


Categories: Insights | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Burnout… And a New Year

Happy 2014!  Hope you all have a health, happy and amazing year….

For the last couple of years, I started the New Year off with a review of the goals I’d set for the previous year and a list of my new goals for the upcoming year. Well, all I’ll say about last year’s goals is… I’m not sure I made any of them. I only wrote one story in 2013, the novella I self-published in late May. But that was the last thing I’ve written. I haven’t done much writing at all for the past six to nine months.

No, this year I’m not bragging about all I’ve accomplished. I’m not even going to reflect on what I haven’t. Instead, I’m going to talk about my experience with what I’m discovering a lot of authors experience—burnout. According to May Clinic, burnout, is “a special type of job stress—a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”

In January 2013, I started the year on an all-time high. I’d contracted my second paranormal and three westerns within months of each other in the early part of 2012, then in the latter part of the year, my two paranormals were published. January 2013 saw the release of my first western, then in April, my second was released. During this time, in the midst of promotion, blog tours and the like, I completed edits on the third western, which was released two months early in July. In late May, I’d released the self-published novella. But by July, disillusionment, disappointment and uncertainty had begun to take hold of me.

Sales of all the previous novels and my novella were dismal at best. The constant promotion never seemed to increase my sales and never seemed to cease. I’d paid for some advertising of my second western, Heartstrings, and sales of it were better for it (ever so slightly), but by the time July rolled around and the release of the third western came about, I didn’t have the money to throw at the book. I was caught up in the government sequestration and was totally unsure how and when it would affect me. Turned out I lost six days of pay in July-August and was caught in the government shutdown in October, which didn’t do anything for my stress levels.

Aside from the stress, concerning the day job and the constant promotion with limited time for writing, real and crippling doubt had gripped me. I began asking myself what makes me think I can write anything anyone would want to read? Obviously, no one does, so why do all this hated work (like constant blogging, promotion) if no one cares anyway?

So, I started feeling the physical part of burnout. I’d come home from a stressful day at work to sit at my computer and instead of feeling instantly relaxed and lost in my story, I’d feel tense to the point of back pain, headache and utterly sick at the thought of having to put words up on the screen. I began to hate the one thing I used to love. I found myself pulling away from my blog, Yahoo Groups, even Facebook. I even considered dropping out of the RWA this coming year, which would mean leaving my beloved local chapter. I still don’t post much anywhere, but I refused to let myself leave the RWA.

The worst was and is the total lack of pride I now feel in what I have accomplished. My books were once like my babies. I’d talked to total strangers about being a writer and my books and trying to get published. Now I never mention that I’m even a published author and am embarrassed instead of feeling proud when someone asks me about my books, usually by asking that terrible, awful question: “How are your books doing?” God, I HATE that question. It only makes my felling of failure more poignant. The fact that most authors aren’t selling tons of books doesn’t help sooth my battered psyche either. It only brings me back to that perpetual question: Why am I doing this?

I took a much needed break from writing for the past three to five months. I dabble from now and again, but I really haven’t written anything. I wouldn’t call a hundred words of a new story writing. I went back to working on an old Star Wars fan fiction I’d written in 2006 and am rewriting/re-editing it, more for the need to still be creative, but unlike original fiction, fan fiction is totally for fun—no pressure and no expectations from me or my readers. It has become a type of therapy, now that I think about it. I wrote that story, which won a fan voted award in 2006 on The Force . Net forum boards—one of my proudest moments as a writer, long before I knew anything about writing. Now as I’m turning my passive voice, excessive descriptions, chunky/wonky sentences into something better, it’s showing me just how far I HAVE come.

At home, I’ve learned to relax doing other things other than writing. My burnout even affected my ability to read… I was beginning to hate reading for the most unpleasant reasons—jealously and resentment. So, I turned to watching movies and TV. I also picked up a hobby I haven’t done in at least ten to fifteen years—crocheting. I like to do it while watching TV, and recently listening to books. Crocheting also allows me to drift on my thoughts—where I can hopefully come up with a new story. I have some ideas, still nothing concrete, but I’m getting antsy to start something new, which I’m taking as a very good sign.

So for 2014, all I hope to accomplish is to continue to heal. Remove myself far enough from the feelings of doubt and failure and the crippling fear that has been preventing me from writing. With the fantastic news that broke yesterday that Lyrical Press has be acquired by Kensington as a digital first imprint, I’m thinking about finishing one of the two westerns I was working on before the burnout got too bad. Or maybe the paranormal that’s been forming in my mind as I crochet granny squares for the afghan I’m making my daughter.

Somewhere someone had told me that there would come a day when I would wish for the days before publication. I didn’t believe them; in fact, I laughed and said that would never happen. Well, I’m afraid it has to me. I sometimes wonder if I published too soon. Maybe I really wasn’t ready. Maybe I should have worked harder at perfecting my books more, learned more about the industry and submitted wider and farther than I had. Or maybe I just published too fast–contracting five books in less than a year’s time. Who knows? But I will say this, those pesky rejection letters and the chocolate-binging disappointment that followed them was an Hawaiian vacation compared to the bone-chilling doubt and depression of burnout I’ve been feeling for the past half year. At least rejections teach us something; burnout just robs us of all joy and hope and teaches us nothing.

Have any of you felt this way? And how did you overcome it?

Categories: Insights, Writing | Tags: , , | 16 Comments

Getting Back into the Groove

It seems since forever since I wrote anything for Writing Wednesday… FOREVER. This spring has been brutal. I found myself being extra busy with work, busy with stuff around the house, and not writing much. Not reading much either…

The good news, I signed three contracts since mid-April. Book two of my Hunter’s Dagger Series, A Hunter’s Blade (by Cera duBois), will be hopefully released this fall/winter by The Wild Rose Press. Book one of The Colton Gamblers, Gambling On a Secret (formally “Butterfly”) has a tentative release of January 2013, and in May 2013, Heartstrings (formally “The Long Road Home”) will also be released by Lyrical Press and will be published under my real name Sara Walter Ellwood. Of course, I’m now neck deep in edits.

However, I’m faced with trying to find my mojo again. I seem to be faltering big time. I started A Hunter’s Wing, book three of my Hunter’s Dagger Series, but it isn’t going easy. I’m also working on edits/revisions for book two of the Gamblers, but it, too, is going slow. Really, I feel lost.

When I sit and stare at my blinking curser wondering what the hell I’m going to write, I fear if I’ll ever produce another book. I’ve had writer’s block before, but this is different.

But what the heck, I’ve sold four books in seven months. I’m fairly confident my editor will buy the second book of my Western series. I like what I’m putting on “paper” so far of Wings. I liked the short story series I wrote to promote A Hunter’s Angel next month. I’m happy about my short story I self-published. So, I don’t understand why I feel so lost. So afraid that this is it.

Has anyone else ever felt like this? And if you have how the hell did you break through the barrier holding you back?

Categories: Writing Wednesdays | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

What Shall I Call It?

Cross-posted at Cera duBois.

Have you ever asked yourself this question about the title of your story? Sometimes coming up with the right one can be as painful as coming up with the story.

Recently, I was talking to a friend about my books… When aren’t I talking about my books? Anyway, she asked me a question that got me to thinking about where my titles come from and why.

I have friends who don’t title their manuscripts because they think their publishers will change them anyway. I don’t buy this—sure some will, but I think it depends on the title and how it’s entrenched in the book. I remember reading a blog article by Stephanie Myers, author of the Twlight series. Each one of her titles is a metaphor.  Twlight speaks to the beginning of Bella’s life as she falls in love with a vampire. New Moon reflects the darkness Bella feels when Edward leaves her. Eclipse is about Jacob overshadowing Edward and Bella having to chose. And finally, New Dawn.  Bella’s becoming a vampire and fully awaking as a fulfilled person. Yeah, hate to admit it, I’m a fan…

I’m very particular about my titles. And though, I often come up with them long before I write my first words of the story, they all have thematic or metaphoric meanings.

The book title my friend and I were discussing is Butterfly, book one of the Cowboys of Colton and will be published under Sara Walter Ellwood. She wondered why I’d title a contemporary Western romantic suspense such a name. It’s easy… It’s a metaphor.  The hero and heroine go through a metamorphous in the story. They turn their ugly selves into something beautiful—like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

Book two of the Cowboys of Colton series is titled The Hardest Words to Say. Yes, it’s a mouthful, and the one title I didn’t come up with before I wrote the book. The hero and heroine had their lives go completely astray because they were afraid to say three very simple words to each other, and now that they have a second chance, they almost do it again.  Hence, to them they are the hardest words to say…

Right now I’m rewriting The Long Road Home. Another contemporary Western.  The plot is totally different in this version, but the theme hasn’t changed. Both my hero and heroine travel a long road back to each other (home).  I’ve been kicking around alternative titles for this story, which would allow me to resubmit it to publishers who have read the previous version and rejected it, but none have spoken to me.  So, I’ll probably keep the title I came up with long before I even named my hero and heroine.

The titles of the books in my paranormal series, The Hunter’s Daggers, are very metaphoric in meaning.  And never once has my editor suggested I change the titles. A Hunter’s Angel, A Hunter’s Blade and A Hunter’s Wings actually have multiple meanings. In A Hunter’s Angel, it’s obvious that the angel is probably the heroine, but it also means redemption, which is the one thing the hero could deny himself if he chooses to love the heroine. In A Hunter’s Blade, the blade symbolizes what the hero wants to be, but when it comes down to it, the blade isn’t at all what he thinks it is. It’s learning to cut a new life out of the unknown, which includes falling in love and finding out he was wrong about himself. The wings in A Hunter’s Wings to the banished angel heroine means getting back her way home to Heaven. But as she protects the hero from himself and from the demon she’s hunted for two-thousand years, wings take on something neither of them has ever felt—true love which could keep her grounded forever.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  Do your titles have deeper meanings? Or do just hope your editor won’t title your book something stupid?

Categories: Writing Wednesdays | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Rolling With the Unexpected

Last Saturday, I posted a blog about setting deadlines

Well, I just had my previous deadline completely blown out of the water.

The unexpected happened.

I got a request for a book that I pitched last month—quite frankly on a whim. I know lucky…And, it would be if it was completely ready to go. But right now I feel frantic.

It’s not. I have some editing to do. I have about four thousand words I need to delete and some facts to change. But I plan to get the thing up to snuff by this time next week.

To be honest, I expected the book to be rejected.  Why?  Because it has not been submitted anywhere else. When I had an agent, she’d read it, but did nothing with it. She said she liked it, but wasn’t sure where to submit it. And since getting the book back, I haven’t had time to do anything with it. I was dealing with getting A Hunter’s Angel editor-requested edits done and A Hunter’s Blade written. I’m esatic to get a full request on the very first time it’s been shopped around.

Now, hopefully she’ll want to contract it.

After I get it ready to submit…

Categories: Gambling On a Secret, Writing Wednesdays | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Breaking the Rules

Cross-posted from Cera duBois.

I have a good friend, another writer, who always seems to doubt herself because she’d read or heard a rule somewhere that a writer can’t do this or should do that. I’m not much of a rule follower. I love to bend and break the rules. I don’t like being told I can’t do something, or worse, that I have to do something I don’t agree with. I’m like this with my writing, too.

I do follow the rules—the elements—that make sense. I strive to show rather than tell my stories, primarily because it makes for a more engaging story. Same goes for getting into the deepest POV I can and limiting passive voice. Some trends, like not head-hoping, makes for a more satisfying read, but often comes down to author’s choice. Grammar, usage and punctuation rules are as ageless as the spoken language and are there for a damned good reason. Let’s face it if it wasn’t for the comma the sentence “Let’s eat, Grandma” takes on a completely different meaning. It only makes sense to follow certain formulas that are important to writing a good, satisfying romance novel or not to stick all of the back-story into the first chapter.

Good craft is essential to having a story that will sell, not just to that dream editor or agent, but also to the readers who will shell out their hard-earned moula to buy the book.  Personally, these are the people I’ve been given this talent, this drive to entertain. And in this day and age, an author has more opportunity than ever to get her or his stories in front of those readers.

However, there are a ton of “rules” out there that are nothing more than a particular editor’s or agent’s preferences and have nothing to do with true craft or even good writing. They write these preferences up into blog articles or get them published in some writing magazine… Or even teach them to a bunch of eager writers in workshops—all under the guise of “craft.”  But the important thing to remember is most of these so-called rules often have good solid contradictions.  And that my friends, should be the clue that this isn’t really a true element of good storytelling.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t follow all the agent’s blogs. I don’t fall all over what this editor says is the best way to write a book on Twitter or Facebook. I don’t care. Some elements are universal; these are the important ones to follow—the books to read. I’ve read Deb Dixon’s GMC because that book is just a guide to good storytelling. She didn’t come up with the concept of goals, motivation and conflict, the elements every story has to have; she simply put them into an easy to understand guideline. I had GMCs in my fan fictions and my very first novel (not A Hunter’s Angel but the one I wrote in high school) long before I even heard of Deb Dixon or GMC. I didn’t know what they were called, but they were always there. Not having them makes for a boring story. And yes, I wrote A Hunter’s Angel long before I read Deb’s book, too.

I read Self-Editing for the Fiction Writers (Browne and King) and learned a great deal about many of the elements of good writing, but none of these is new. I learned even more from my fantastic critique partners. And even more, long before I ever started writing for publication and since, from reading and analyzing my favorite authors. I’ve taken a few workshops on craft, but these focused on passive voice and showing vs telling; however, like with Dixon’s GMC, these elements were never new to storytelling.

I have a philosophy. It may be correct or it may be completely wrong. Following rules won’t get you published, telling a freaking good story will. I only strive to follow the rules that are essential to telling a freaking good story. I don’t care what editor is saying that the opening scene should have the heroine standing on her head. I don’t care what agent says she’ll only read stories that open on a Monday and should always end on a Friday. Or that you shouldn’t use semicolons or start stories with dialogue or should have your hero/heroine meet within the first three sentences.

Doing or not doing these things won’t get the story published any quicker if it has other faults. Sure, the acquiring  agent/editor might ask an author to change things. But if the true craft of storytelling falls short, it doesn’t matter how the story started or what happens between  “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after,” getting it published will be difficult.

The key, in my opinion, isn’t how well an author follows the “rules,” but how well an author knows when to break them. Because even passive voice and telling instead of always showing have their place in the right story, but the author has to know, above anyone else, what’s right for the story. They have to know why they are moving away from these universal elements.

So, if a story calls for having the heroine not standing on her head and beginning on a Thursday and not Monday—go for it. If you like semicolons, use them. If you think the hero and heroine shouldn’t meet until the second chapter, do it. But an author shouldn’t ever do anything just because some editor out there wrote a blog article about how they think a story should be told.

Now, once an author signs on that dotted line, all bets are off. However if an explanation can be given as to why a “rule” was broken and it makes sense to the story, most likely, the editor or agent will see it the author’s way…I know my editor did.

Categories: Writing, Writing Wednesdays | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Comma Love

Cross posted from my blog at Cera duBois

Today, I’m going to talk about almost everyone’s bane—no, not the synopsis, but the little-bitty comma.

I didn’t come into the writing profession an expert on the comma, not that I’m one now. However, after extensive time with two separate college level grammar books and studying some reputable websites/blogs on the matter, I feel fairly comfortable with commas. Occasionally, I still sometimes struggle with true grammar, but that is getting better, too.

I’m also going to debunk one of the misconceptions out there among unpublished writers, which is one of my pet peeves about publishers.  Punctuation is important, and comma placement is very important.  If you follow these simple rules, hopefully, you will understand commas, too.

Okay, I know those paragraphs were a little dramatic, but I was trying to get as many uses of the comma in there as I could, so you could see their placement in actual text.

So, without further hesitation, I’m going to rip it apart and explain why each comma is there.

Today, {Commas should be placed after any reference of time or order: today, next, first, second, now, a moment later, later, days later, then (although it has become common practice to omit the one after then)}

I’m going to talk about everyone’s bane—no,{place a comma after no and yes when they are at a beginning of a clause/sentence}

not synopsis, {closes the comma around the contrasting phrase} but the little-bitty comma.

I didn’t come into the writing profession an expert on the comma, {this comma is used to set off a dependant clause} not that I’m one now{dependant clause}.

However,{anytime a sentence is started with however, therefore, of course, otherwise, furthermore, nevertheless, so a comma should be placed after it}

after extensive time with two separate college level grammar books,{this comma sets off a proportional phrase. If a sentence starts with as, if, of, out, in, into, to, inside, after, outside, like, not, with, while, before, although, because (when used at the beginning of a sentence), etc., you need a comma at the end of the phrase.}

I feel fairly comfortable with commas. Occasionally, {anytime you start a sentence with an adverb you should set it off with a comma.}

I still sometimes struggle with true grammar, {this comma separates two conjunctional independent clauses. I’ll explain further below. And, but, or, nor, for, so, yet are conjunctions}

but that is getting better, too {use a comma to offset the adverbs—too, also, moreover, therefore, however, etc.  If they fall in the middle of a sentence, for example: “but that, too, is getting better” the commas are required to set off the word.  But in “getting better, too.” the comma is optional. The choice is yours!  For me, I was taught to use the comma, so I do.}

I’m also going to defunct one of the misconceptions out there among un-published writers, {this comma is used to set off an unessential clause. They usually begin with which, who, whom, but there are exceptions to this rule, if the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence, don’t use the comma.} which is one of my pet peeves about publishers.

Punctuation is important, {here is another conjunction used to join two independent clauses} and comma placement is very important.

If you follow these simple rules, hopefully, you will understand commas, too. {commas after the proportional phrase, the starting adverb, and the ending adverb too (the last one being optional.}

Okay, {place a comma after any sentence starter like okay, well, hell, damn, already, all right, no, yes, ah, oh, yet, etc.}

I know those paragraphs were a little dramatic, {joined independent clauses}but I was trying to get as many uses of the comma as I could, {another joined independent clause with the conjunction so} so you could see their placement in actual text.

Here’s more explanation of when you use commas with a conjunction:

WRONG:  “He smiled at me and I felt my heart speed up.”  Both of these clauses could be complete sentences.  “He smiled at me. I felt my heart speed up.”  Granted, it sounds chunky, but that’s not the point.  The point is these clauses are two separate thoughts—independent clauses.

RIGHT: “He smiled at me, and I felt my heart speed up.” Here’s an example with but: “He smiled at me, but I didn’t feel a thing.”

The times you don’t use a comma between a conjunction:  “He grabbed the folder and opened the file drawer.”  HE is doing both of these actions. “He smiled, grabbed the folder, and opened the file drawer.”  Here HE does three actions either at the same time or in succession so you need the commas because it’a list. Here’s an example with but: “He picked up the file but frowned at the title.”

Use a comma with a participle phase (usually they start with ING words). Such as:  “Going to the file drawer, he smiled at me.” OR: “He smiled at me, going to the file drawer.”  In this example: “going to the file drawer” modifies HE. “I noticed you walking to the store.”  Here you wouldn’t use a comma because to do so would change the meaning. “Walking to the store, I noticed you.” In the first example, “walking to the store” modifies YOU. In the second, “Walking to the store,” modifies I (as in the above example with HE).

Series are tricky, sticky, funky things…Use commas when listing a series if the modifiers are coordinate. Example:  “The red, white, blue flag…” this is a list of adjectives modifying “flag”.  Another trick is to say and between them “The red and white and blue flag,” or if they can be reversed “The blue, red, white flag,” use commas.

If the modifiers are non-coordinate, you don’t use a comma: “The dark brown leather couch.”  Here you wouldn’t use commas— “dark” modifies “brown”, “dark brown” modifies “leather,” and you never use a comma between the last modifier and the item it’s modifying.

Editors and agents expect our submissions to follow the rules of punctuation, grammar, and usage—known collectively as style. The guide most publishers follow is the Chicago Manual of Style. There are also online resources and college level textbooks based on this book of style.

I know you’re thinking most publishers don’t follow these rules. You’ve seen commas left out in the places I’m saying they belong in published works. Well, here’s where that myth comes into play that I want to debunk—different publishers have different rules (house rules on style), but these rules don’t apply to unpublished authors. Editors and agents look at grammar and punctuation (style) the same way a human resource manager might look at the way someone dresses for a job interview.

Sure, if someone shows up in jeans and a t-shirt at an interview for a professional job that requires business attire, she may still get the job if her qualifications are the best. However, her choice of wearing her favorite old jeans and beer-logo T-shirt might turn off the interviewer before he/she even asks about the applicant’s qualifications. In this case, the interviewer may decide before he/she even talks to her that she isn’t worthy.

The same is true with using good English style in an author’s submissions. If in the first paragraph there are several style mistakes, that dream agent/editor might decide might be too much work, especially if the story needs other content editing.

I hope this helps and didn’t just confuse anyone further. Of course, I only touched the tip of a very big iceberg, but I think I hit the easy fixes. Below, I attached several on-line sources that are very good.

For your information, I almost majored in English in college to become a high school English teacher. I loved grammar in high school. However, I decided that, because of my dyslexia and the fact I’m an extremely slow reader, being and English teacher may not be the best option. So, I ended up taking social studies education instead. I was also a history buff. After three years of substitute teaching hell, however, I changed careers. Now, I’m a medical assistant working as a medical secretary… And hoping my next career change is to full-time writer….*Grin* (this site lists about twenty different websites/books on punctuation, grammar, usage, and style.) (this site lists about twenty different websites/books on punctuation, grammar, usage, and style.)

Categories: Writing Wednesdays | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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