I can’t believe how much this little brain-child business of mine has grown in the past year. I’m humbled and honored to walk alongside authors, publishers, and business professionals on their publishing journeys and creative project goals! I’ve learned a lot over the past year about what it means to be a freelance editor and writer—and a lot of what I’ve learned has nothing to do with editing or publishing. It’s amazing how our professional lives can spill out into our personal lives!

As a freelancer, I’ve learned the following:


Because I try to maintain a healthy work-life balance, it’s easy for me to neglect the stress of deadlines or client interactions when five o’clock rolls around. Unfortunately, sweeping stress under the rug means I look completely relaxed on the outside, when I’m actually feeling the pressure and stress on the inside. I can’t totally “leave the office” and adopt the out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude that most people can cling to in the evenings or on the weekends.

As a result, I realized I needed to communicate my deadlines and crazy schedule to my dear husband, who, unfortunately, cannot read my mind. It sounds silly, but it took a while to figure this one out. My coping mechanism to all the stress—and the way I procrastinated—was to pretend the pressure to deliver didn’t exist, and that I was free as a bird. I’ve learned that it’s important to acknowledge the pressure for so many reasons. It’s actually freeing to admit when things are a little crazy. And guess what? My husband wants to care for me during the busy seasons and help me carry some of the load, so finally blurting out just how busy I am is actually a huge relief. Dealing with the stress and being honest with myself—and my spouse—removes some of the burden. Imagine that!


Okay, so it doesn’t actually save lives, but I’ve found that timing myself—particularly in twenty-five-minute increments and little breaks in between—is a wonderful way to boost productivity. Editing is a meticulous process that demands total concentration and strains the eyes. Giving myself five-minute breaks or fifteen-minute breaks helps me stick with it in the long run. It really is like a marathon, not a sprint. Having a timer to keep me on track of projects is also immensely helpful—not only to limit distractions, but also to track my hours for future estimates and quotes. I’ve really gotten into a rhythm; I know how long a certain type of editing or project will take me, which really makes all the difference with scheduling.


As a freelancer who works from home, people tend to automatically assume I have a ton of flexibility and that I set my own hours. It’s true that I do have some flexibility—I can usually schedule doctors’ appointments during the day and go grocery shopping at 11 a.m.—but that doesn’t always mean I have hours to kill with my friends at the coffee shop or that I’m down with unexpected visits during the work day.

I may work in my PJs most of the time (it’s true!), but I promise you: I am working hustling. I’ve had to learn that people won’t always understand what it means to work from home as a freelancer, so I need to set appropriate boundaries and protect my home office time.


I know this is a cliché, but it’s so true: It’s so important to go the extra mile with clients. There’s no greater feeling than exceeding clients’ expectations. If I’m working 59 hours on a project, I want to make it count. Why coast your way through, only to deliver a half-assed job? When you go the extra mile, it is not only satisfying to receive positive feedback, but your clients stick around.

Disclaimer: Going the extra mile ≠ an unhealthy pursuit of perfection.

In my business, editing and revising is all about the process. Sometimes, there are drafts upon drafts before a better product emerges. And guess what? That’s okay. In fact, that’s where the magic happens. One thing I’ve learned as a biz boss lady is that there’s no way to kill off joy and creativity faster than trying to be a perfectionist. Even as an expert in your field, there is always more to learn. In fact, I think it does a huge disservice to your clients to assume otherwise.

Continued education is huge, so don’t stress over reaching that moment when you’ve officially “arrived.” Keep striving toward different goals, refining your process and skills, and giving yourself time and grace to learn new things.

Freelancer friends: How do you manage stress and *own it* as a boss? What wisdom can you share for aspiring freelancers? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

If you’ve gone through the self-editing check list after completing your novel, then it’s time to (deep breath) *gently* hand over your manuscript to a professional editor. Listen. I know this is rough; your book is your baby.

You probably have a few misconceptions about editors. They’re pretentious, snarky, scary monsters who will murder your manuscript with red ink, killing all of your darlings, judging every misplaced comma, and cackling at their computer screens when they get to write rejection letters (if you’re submitting to a traditional publisher).

This description couldn’t be further from the truth. Caring, professional editors want to edit your words, not your voice. We value your story and applaud your commitment to completing it. We also value your readers and strive to make sure your words connect with those who will love and cherish your story. And for the record, we dread sending rejections.


At the same time, we will push your story and read through it with a fine-tooth comb. Your book deserves that kind of attention! Editing is not a bed of roses. Writing is hard work, and so is editing.

Maxwell Perkins—editor of Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Hemingway, and more—once said, “If you are not discouraged about your writing on a regular basis, you may not be trying hard enough. Any challenging pursuit will encounter frequent patches of frustration. Writing is nothing if not challenging.”


chicago-manual-of-styleAfter all, most rewarding things in life don’t simply fall in our laps, right? But how do you choose the right editor? Children’s book editor and author, Cheryl Klein, wrote that the submissions process is like dating—“an intensely personal endeavor where everyone is looking for the right match.” I think the same is true for independent authors seeking freelance editors to self-publish—or to polish their manuscripts before submitting to a publisher. “Editors are looking to find books they love. Writers are looking to find editors who can help their books be their best,” she said. “There is a giant pool of all of us out there. And when it doesn’t work out, it can be the most depressing thing in the world.”

But hey, just because you have to endure the “there’s always more fish in the sea” talk doesn’t mean you won’t find someone who’s right for you. And as Cheryl reiterates, there is nothing better than finding that match and watching an author-editor relationship flourish.

To find the right editor for you, consider the following:


Would you classify your manuscript as commercial? Literary? What kind of readers do you envision for your book? The more you know about your manuscript’s strengths, what kind of readers it will appeal to, and what you hope to accomplish, the easier it will be to identify the right editor. Just like in the dating world, you want your manuscript to be “comfortable in its own skin.” Why? Because communication is truly the most important part of any author-editor relationship. The more you can articulate your editing needs or your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, the better.


The editor you’re “talking” to won’t carve out the time to provide a complimentary sample edit? RED FLAG. Don’t waste your time on this one, folks. If you’re casually dating someone who doesn’t pay any attention to you from the get-go, why move forward? A sample edit is an essential ingredient to finding a good match; it’s also a window into the editor’s skills and editing style. The right editor welcomes the opportunity to demonstrate his or her editing skills. Supplying a complimentary edit is also beneficial for editors: it provides insight into what, specifically, the project entails. Often, authors are unaware of what kind of editing they really need. By editing a few pages or a chapter of a manuscript, the editor will have a better understanding of what an author needs, and whether he or she is the right person for the job.


The right freelance editor will provide all payment requirements, contracts, and a basic outline of the editorial process (deadlines included), before you “sign on the dotted line.” You don’t want to work with someone who surprises you with unwanted fees halfway through or at the end of the project. Just like in a relationship, you want to know what you’re getting into before you start dating. Editors don’t want to work with authors who are MIA after an editing project, and authors want to know what to expect—in case they send over their precious manuscript and only hear crickets for months. Authors are typically less stressed when editors have a plan of action and an editorial process. Sure, some projects can expand overtime, transform, or lead to other separate editing projects (this isn’t a marriage, right?), but overall, you don’t want to be in the dark about deadlines, payment, and general editing practices.


The Chicago Manual of Style is—in the dating world—the equivalent of good ol’ family values. You know, quality. Top-notch. A keeper. The kind of boy who respects his mother and throws passion and hard work into everything he does. You know what I’m saying. The CMOS is the moral code that ultimately allows you to entrust your vulnerable little heart (and manuscript) into the hands of your editor. Check your sample edit and make sure your potential editor refers to the Chicago Manual of Style often. They need to be well-versed in it—drenched in it. The Chicago Manual is the SPARK, people. It’s either there, or it’s not.


Let’s face it: the best people in our lives are the ones who push us to be better versions of ourselves. Of course, when I say this, I realize it’s all in the delivery. Look for an editor with a gentle but firm approach to help you grow as a writer. You don’t want an editor who doesn’t care enough to tell you if you’re making the same errors over and over. The most rewarding part of being an editor, in my opinion, is teaching writers how to improve their craft. I strive to correct common errors, sure, but I love to help authors understand why I’m correcting errors in the first place. Not all editors do this. Make sure you find someone who inspires you to be a better writer!

I could go on and on about the importance of finding the right editor and perhaps I will expand on this topic later in the New Year. I’d love to hear from you, authors. What do you look for in an editor? In the mean time, write (and edit) with courage, friends! 😉

Whether you won NaNoWriMo this year and have a messy manuscript to show for it or you’ve worked tirelessly all year, carefully constructing your words to the end, every manuscript—no matter how tidy—needs an editing plan. Ask any author and he or she will agree: A first, second, third, or tenth draft is a brain-child, a labor of love. You may be the kind of author who would rather keep it hidden in your bedside drawer than let a scary, word-ripping vampire of an editor pry your story out of your dead cold hands.

I’m here to alleviate your fears, assuage your doubts. Listen: Editors (the good ones) are for you. Our allegiance is to your story. Our goal is to edit your words, not your voice; our mission is to make your book the absolute best it can be. We’re not out to kill and destroy your characters or your dreams. So if you’ve been nervous about taking that leap to contact an editor about your book, I implore you: Take the jump. You may be too close to your story, and a second set of eyes will always be worth it if you choose the right editor.


While I strongly encourage authors to seek out content, developmental, or copyeditors, I also want to draw attention to the value of self-editing or an in-depth read through. There are many steps you can take toward improving your novel before contacting an editor. These steps include what I like to call “big picture” edits. You want to avoid passing along a WIP with plot holes or major discrepancies in the storyline or with characters. Don’t worry about commas and quotation marks so much in this read through; rather, focus on the MC’s best friend who has blonde hair in chapter one but red hair in chapter fifteen. And guess what? If you’re self-publishing, doing an in-depth read through will save your editor time and, in turn, it will save you money. It’s a win-win. If you’re submitting your manuscript for publication at a traditional publishing house, self-editing beforehand could make or break a potential contract.


Plots & Subplots: Write a list or draw a map of what occurs in the main plot and all the different subplots. Do they all tie together nicely? Do they fit? I like to think of this process as reverse planning or plotting. You may have written a brief outline of your plot or character charts before writing the book, but we all know those outlines and plans can change. Characters seem to take on a life of their own, and that’s something to embrace. Now is the time to go back and track where these characters actually went and what they actually did. Don’t get bogged down with the writing; use your writer-hound nose and track and record your story. Writing it all down may reveal a need for scene changes or other major revisions. Subplots are especially tricky; sometimes they get lost in the slush and adventure of the main plot. Make sure all your subplots have a purpose and that they are progressing throughout your story.

Chapters & Pacing: Take a few moments to count how many pages are in each chapter. This quick exercise may tell you what you need to know about pacing. Counting chapter pages isn’t really a way to fix pacing problems, it’s more of a tool—like a thermometer. Keeping track of page numbers will help you gauge what’s going on in the environment; it may be an indicator that you’ve got SAGGING MIDDLE SYNDROME. In many well-constructed novels, the plot will follow an arc with regular crises leading to a climax and denouement. The action of the narrative should rise up to a peak and then fall away to the resolution.

Character Check: This may be the most nerve-wracking aspect of your novel to revisit, because you’ve (hopefully) grown to like your characters—or you at least find them interesting, right? You don’t want to be like that wife who makes a list of all her husband’s flaws and sets out to change them. Changing people like our spouses or our friends and family members usually turns out badly. But, I’m here to give you the green light. Besides, you’ve heard the saying: Kill your darlings. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Readers should have emotional reactions to fictional characters. Give yourself the space to ask:

  • Is this character well rounded and drawn in detail?
  • Is he or she believable? Do I really trust that he or she is reacting that way? Do the motives line up with the actions?
  • Does the character grow and evolve in ways that are both surprising and satisfying?
  • Does the character serve a purpose in the narrative? Does he or she advance the plot?

Poking at POV: Have you identified your POV? (I hope so!) Does it change throughout the story? It’s important for your editor to understand your choice of POV and whether you are using it to the best of your advantage. Go back and identify the POV in your novel and note any issues or inconsistencies you see. The most common issue in a novel told by a single first-person character is the problem of the limited viewpoint. During your in-depth read through, keep an eye out for POV problems like this: Does always being inside the head of the narrator make it difficult for readers to see, hear, and experience what the narrator sees, hears, and experiences? If so, you, as the author, may struggle with plot developments that would be hard for a narrator to know. Voice is another recurrent issue with first-person narratives. Is the voice consistent? Are you able to switch voices so that the characters all sound different?

Explanations and transitions: Many new authors struggle with transitions from scene to scene. Sometimes they are prone to explain rather than naturally merge information into the story through dialogue or world-building. Check for author intrusion: an issue in which authors insert themselves into the story by over-explaining certain plot or character elements. Check to see if a transitional sentence will help shift a scene smoother into another scene. For example, it can be easy to lose readers’ attention if a scene is set in one place and then jumps to another without a transportation scene.

Formatting: Some publishing houses receive an overwhelming amount of manuscripts a month. This could mean that each editor discovers hundreds of submissions sitting in their inbox. Editors want concise, easy-to-follow manuscripts. If editors pick up works by new authors that haven’t been formatted properly, they may be tempted to throw it in the slush pile. A clean, well-formatted manuscript has a much better chance of catching an editor’s attention.

Generally, a book should be formatted in the following manner:

  • Double-spaced
  • 12-point type, usually Times Roman or Times New Roman fonts.
  • Separated into chapters, usually one-third of the way down a new page, marked with a large, bold number.*
  • Every page should have a one-inch margin all the way around.
  • Paragraphs should be set to hanging indent, meaning the beginning of each paragraph is indented five spaces. Once the manuscript is double spaced, do not add an extra space between the paragraphs or before each sentence. A new paragraph should only be specified by an indented first line.
  • In the cover page, include the following in the upper left corner of the page, each on a separate line:

Author’s Name
Street Address
City, Province, Code, Country
Phone number, e-mail address

In the upper right corner put the genre and word count on a separate line.
In ALL CAPITALS, center halfway down the page the following:


  • Do not include a page number on the cover page

*A lot of Christian fiction today does not include chapter titles, but if a manuscript includes chapter titles, they should be written in bold under the chapter number. A Table of Contents is not essential unless an agent or publisher asks for one.

NEXT TIME. . . .

Once you’ve given your manuscript an in-depth read through (read, revise, repeat) and it’s time to contact an editor to do the heavy lifting, there are additional steps to consider to make sure you find the right editor that matches your book and editing needs. Stay tuned for the CHOOSING THE RIGHT EDITOR CHECKLIST. In the meantime, write (and edit!) with courage, friends! 😉


The concept of writer’s block was one I never challenged—until I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She points out—beautifully, I might add—that a block of some kind suggests “that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.”

She peels back the layers to tell us that, perhaps, we’ve been looking at the problem of a lack of creativity from the wrong angle: “If your wife locks you out of the house, you don’t have a problem with your door.”

I think Anne is on to a lot of things in life, and she’s definitely on to something here. That emptiness that writers feel is often what paralyzes us—keeping us from writing the stories we were meant to tell, even the painful ones or those deep below the surface.


A lot of creative people have claimed to know some magical remedy for writer’s block. I’ve believed them, and I’ve even come up with a few answers myself.

Sometimes when I have the hiccups, I think drinking upside down and singing—well, at least trying to accomplish this—will somehow get rid of my hiccups. I don’t know when I started believing in this myth, and hey, there could be scientific evidence out there that it works, who knows. Regardless, I am willing to look like a fool and try something ridiculous, all because I once believed it could work. Whether it works or not, my hiccups eventually fade away, and isn’t that how it goes? Writer’s block and spurts of creative energy seem to come and go, ebb and flow, for any artist in this life; and sometimes the remedy for creative emptiness is as clear as day—and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for it at all.

Anne seemed to be one of the first writers to point at the elephant in the room and challenge everything. “The problem is acceptance,” she states. “Which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality that you have been given—that you are not in a productive creative period—you free yourself to begin filling up again.”


I don’t know about you, but this idea has brought me tremendous amounts of comfort over the years as I have struggled to understand my creative identity. Whether you want to call it writer’s block or creative emptiness, perhaps the problem isn’t fixed by figuring out how to “un-block,” perhaps the answer comes from identifying certain unhealthy triggers in our writing patterns, our daily, creative, or non-creative lives. Identifying why we become blocked or empty—and accepting the reality of what we’ve been given—just may free us to begin again, getting those creative juices flowing.

Here are a few patterns, habits, or obstacles that sometimes lead to creative emptiness in my life:


I will blame this on my type four personality on the Enneagram test until I’m blue in the face, but just because I am an individualist at heart does not mean I should be complacent in my fear of never measuring up. I’m going to venture to say that 90 percent of artists and writers relate to this: the feeling that never being good enough, or never reaching the standards of X, is often the only reason we don’t start or finish our art, the thing we love.

The comparison game is a lousy, slimy one and it will get you every time! Writers are often readers, and readers who want to write often say, “I’ll never be as good as this author.” It’s time to nip this in the bud, my friends. Anne agrees (I should have called this post What Would Anne Lamott Do?). When she started to write about the envy she struggled with, she “got to look in some cold dark corners, see what was there, shine a little light on what we all have in common. Sometimes this human stuff is slimy and pathetic—jealousy especially so—but better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned.”

The truth is that our feelings of not being good enough and the creativity-sucking problem of comparison stem from another problem: our desperate desire for authenticity . . . which leads me to number two.


“It’s all been done before! My idea is so unoriginal! Why can’t I write something unrelated to what I’m reading? Where do I draw the line between inspiration and recycled stories? Authenticity! I must write something new, something different, something, something . . .” Does this sound like you? If so, grab a name tag. We have a club. It’s perfectly normal to have that fear that you will not write the next American novel—egotistical, maybe (okay, yes), but hey, this is a judgment-free zone and we all do it.

The problem with authenticity paralysis is simply this: if you wait forever to write something that’s never been told, that’s completely original, you’ll be waiting a very, very long time. Since I’m on a roll and slightly addicted to Anne Lamott, heed her words, again, writers:

“All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning. All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions.”

Sometimes, saying it out loud and naming our fears or our bad habits in the dark is the only way to “fill up again”—to really accept writer’s block or emptiness and, by doing so, open ourselves up to new creative energy. I always say writing is viewed as a lonely activity. When you start a new novel or creative project, no one can go down that rabbit hole with you (unless, of course, you’re a co-author).

There are many other triggers I could dive into—lack of vulnerability and creativity, the illusions of control we cling to, just to name a few. Examine your own emptiness and ask yourself, “What am I doing or saying or thinking about my worth as a writer, my identity, my skills, my time, that is possibly draining my creativity? What’s exhausting my writing process?”

It’s time to accept things as they are, to stop sweeping it under the rug. The moment we agree to stop fighting the “blockage” or emptiness, that is the moment we are gearing up to be filled again.


If you’ve ever read a boring story, chances are you’ve seen the effects of Flat Character Syndrome firsthand—and it’s not pretty. In my last post, I talked about why flat characters are problematic, and how to determine if your own “darlings” are suffering the same fate. Simply put, flat characters are unrealistic. Their true emotions, conversations, struggles, motivations, and reactions don’t come across on the page. I mentioned that a few well-known symptoms of FCS include issues with point of view, inconsistencies with physical appearance, and a lack of goals, motivations, and fears.

The biggest indicator that you may be dealing with flat characters has to do with emotion and how it comes across on the page. Many writers know the familiar saying “show, don’t tell.” This is probably the best advice I can give any writer. Don’t flat out tell us what a character is feeling (do you see what I did there?); rather, show us the emotion on the page. This technique will inevitably heal characterization problems. Other symptoms of FCS include the following.


Adverbs ending in ‘ly’ are telling, so keep an eye out for them in your writing.

“Holy cow!” she said excitedly.

What does this example tell us? Sure, the character is excited; however, we don’t know how excited she is—and the writing doesn’t really pack a punch. In this instance, readers can probably sense her emotion from the dialogue alone.

Anytime the author uses the actual word for an emotion they want the character to feel on the page, more than likely, they are telling rather than showing. And telling is what leads to flat, unrealistic characters. When showing emotion, consider rewriting adverbs ending in ‘ly’ to display the character’s actual body language. If she’s excited or shocked, show us how her mouth dropped open, or if she’s upset, show us how her arms are crossed. Sometimes what your characters say and what they feel are two different things, just as it is with real people. Show us those complexities and the tension in your writing.

Rather than saying, “she was angry,” perhaps you can include a character’s physiological reaction to that emotion. Maybe her breathing speeds up, or her heart starts to pound, or her jaw and lips tighten, or her voice is shaking. Perhaps she is avoiding eye contact. Including details about her physical state shows readers so much more than “she was angry.”

Also, by cutting out unnecessary adverbs (e.g., enthusiastically, angrily, etc.), you are improving the pacing of your novel. Sometimes by deepening characterization, you enrich other aspects of your story, too.


If there isn’t enough tension in your story, you probably have flat characters. Conflict and tension is a must in fiction writing, and the type of conflict needed varies from story to story. Anything from a character’s struggle determining the outcome of a situation to tension and opposition will help keep FCS at bay.

Your characters should not exist outside the realm of some sort of conflict. Regardless of what type of plot a novel pushes forward, conflict must be present. Perhaps there is some sort of outward, competitive action, or maybe it’s more of an internalized, mental struggle. Make sure you give your character a dream or a goal—something that is at stake. Maybe your character has to lose everything before he or she changes; perhaps there is an obstacle he or she has to overcome first before everything is resolved. Putting your character in interesting situations is not enough; there has to be conflict propelling him or her forward. Once we know the tension, your characters’ reactions will not only make for a good plot; they will draw us further into their motivations and inmost needs, desires, fears, etc.


Nothing kills characterization quite like unrealistic dialogue. Well-rounded characters are complex because their voices are not only realistic—they are distinctly personal. Unnecessary dialogue tags (e.g., she retorted, he exclaimed) slow down the story, but they can also indicate when characters haven’t developed distinct voices.

Sure, sometimes it is important to let readers know who is speaking—but for most authors, there are plenty of scenes where the reader should be able to determine the speaker by the dialogue. Even the narrative beats (the sentences that break up a dialogue, usually showing action or emotion) should draw us deeper into characterization rather than list off a bunch of unimportant actions.

Maybe one of your characters picks at her fingers when she’s anxious or bites her lip when she’s trying not to cry. These beats—interspersed in the dialogue—make the conversations more realistic and pull us deeper into who the character is and what he or she values.

What do you find compelling about your favorite characters? The best way to avoid flat characters is to learn more about the characters you love in another writer’s work. Reading will always improve your writing, whether you’re looking at bad examples of flat character symptoms you want to avoid or beautiful techniques you want to employ in your writing. Read the truth, and of course, write the truth—and write it with courage!