Monday, April 2, 2012

Second Ten Tips On Writing and the Writing Life from Karen Lin

“Happy Fiftieth Birthday Karen Lin!” Tribute: Fifty Nifty Tips On Writing and the Writing Life Collected From Our Beloved Inkpot Over Twenty Years

The Second Ten Tips On Writing and the Writing Life From Karen Lin

11. Don’t remove the power from your words or ideas with modifiers such as “a bit” or “a little.” Just say it, without minimizing, for clarity and effortless reading.
12. Avoid using the word “looked,” but don’t go overboard with overly elaborate synonyms.
13. When you comment on a friend’s manuscript, make big smiley faces every time you like something. Then they’re less likely to bang their heads against the wall when you need to make a constructive criticism.
14. If at first you write a novel and it doesn’t get published, write, write, write again.
15. Never, ever stop submitting for publication: the only way you can be sure to fail is if you stop trying to get published. Keep a notebook of submissions and responses.
16. Avoid “was.” Whenever you see it in your writing, use it as a warning and be on the lookout for passive or otherwise dead prose.
17. When you merge scenes or drafts written at different times, read for and correct any distracting style changes.
18. Avoid the construction, “will be arriving [or any other verb].” It clutters and complicates.
19. If you ever write by hand, use yellow legal pads. Yellow stimulates creativity.
20. Then, when you type in your “shirty first draft” (a phrase modified by a Sister of the Quill from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones) from the yellow pad, your draft gets an automatic first edit.


  1. Awesome list. Karen's wisdom is wise indeed! I particularly like the smiley-face advice. When I'm reviewing MSS for my crit group or editing for another author friend I know, I always take care to point out everything I like (and WHY, in constructive terms) as well as the pieces that need work. Not only does it help the author feel less crushed by the honest critique, but it also helps the author key in to the places his or her writing is connecting with the audience and why.

  2. I particularly like the advice about look and was and not to try too hard to get rid of them. I recently revised my ms and found all these places I'd gone to heroic measures to get rid of those and it really clogged up the prose. So eliminate sanely is good advice!