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  • Betsy Thorpe

Top Ten Tips for Writers

After my talk to the Charlotte Library on the different types of editors, as a bonus, I gave them these few tips on writing. My top 10 changes all the time, but this is what I was feeling on that day!

10. Commas are good! I use the Oxford comma.


  • Like this: “I don’t want to grow up, Mom!” she said.

  • NOT this: “I don’t want to grow up, Mom”! She said.

8. Always start your book in the middle of the action.

  • Whether it’s a memoir, a health book, a novel, a business book, start your book with a bang. NEVER start the book with “I was born in 1947 in South Carolina. My mom, Shirley…”

  • Instead, start us out in the middle of a fight with your sister, in a pivotal moment in your character’s life reckoning with a dark night of the soul. Your book needn’t be chronological.

7. Read, read, read other books!

  • Read books in your genre. If you are trying to get published by a large publisher, one thing you have to do is write a small paragraph in your query letter, (or a whole page in your proposal if you’re writing nonfiction), on what your book is like in comparison to other books published in the last few years.. What kind of style do I have—is it like Carl Hiaasen or Curtis Sittenfeld? Do I write “cozy mysteries” or thrillers? Do I write “women’s upmarket fiction” or romance? Whose “voice” or style of narration compares to your book?

  • Think of your book like you’re pitching a movie. Believe me, we do this in editorial meetings when we’re trying to buy books. “It’s like Eat Pray Love meets ‘Sharknado!’” or “It’s like Agatha Christie and Elena Ferrante!” You have to be able to describe succinctly to your reader what you’re trying to sell them, where it belongs in the bookstore, and how it compares to other books.

6. Keep a journal next to the books you read.

  • Write down great sentences. See how your favorite authors pull off what he/she does.

  • I struggle with what’s called “actions beats,” so I write down good ones from other authors. When I’m trying not to say “she smiled” for the hundredth time after dialogue, I’ll get inspired by something somebody else wrote. Because believe me, these excellent authors are not writing, “she smiled” a thousand times for their action beats.

5. Keep Dialogue Tags Simple

  • No “he surmised,” “she noted,” “he suggested,” “she persuaded.”

  • It’s in the dialogue!

  • Keep to “said” and “asked.” They disappear.

4. Know the difference between clenched, and clinched. My authors have been making this mistake a lot. It’s, “he clenched his fists,” not “clinched his fists.” It’s “The Boston Red Sox clinched the World Series,” not “The Boston Red Sox clenched the World Series.”

3. You’re not a writer unless you’re being rejected. Show other people your work. Submit your book when it’s polished and beautiful, and not after the first draft! Competition is fierce for those few publishing spots out there!

2. Make friends with other writers.

  • They can help you with your early edits (beta readers) and be a good sounding board as you get off the ground with your work. My writers’ groups have been a tremendous source of friendship, given me deadlines, and advanced my writing like nothing else would have (except for a professional edit).

1. If you get stuck, go for a:

  • Drive

  • Take a shower

  • Or Fall Asleep

Invariably, one of these scenarios will magically unleash a great idea from your brain just as you are unable to reach for a pen or type.



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