Category Archives: Writing tips

5 FAQs about back cover writing


Movies are right below books on my list of favorite things. So, it’s no surprise that as I was thinking about why back cover text is so critical to a book’s success, my mind came up with this cinema simile.

A book’s front cover is like a movie poster. It catches your eye, gives an impression of the story, piques your interest. You’ll get the title, and you should be able to guess the genre. But much is left to the imagination.

A book’s back cover, on the other hand, is like a movie trailer. You’re introduced to the story, the actors, what the critics are saying. This is when the big sell takes place, where audiences are convinced to buy a ticket … or a book.

That’s why it’s absolutely essential for a book to have a great back cover. But where do you start? How long should it be? Should you include an author bio and headshot? What about praise quotes?

Good questions all. To help you get a great start, I’ve answered the five questions I get asked the most about back cover writing.

Q: Do I need to have an overview of my book on the back cover?

A: YES! A summary is an absolute must. Very few people will buy a book without at least some idea of what it’s about.

The goal is to snag potential readers’ interest by giving them a snapshot of what’s in the book. For fiction, that means setting the scene, introducing your protagonists, and unveiling the conflict … without giving away too much. (Again, think movie trailer.) For nonfiction, you need to tell the reader what the book will do for them, or what they will learn. One way to do that is to feature three to five bullet points covering your book’s main topics.

Remember to keep your description tight—a good rule of thumb is one to two paragraphs for a summary, or 100-150 words. Avoid clichés, like calling your book a “must read.” Leave those review-type comments to the reviewers.

Q: Should I feature review quotes?

A: Praise quotes and endorsements lend credibility to your book … but only if they come from someone recognizable in your genre or field.

No, you don’t need to hunt down J.K. Rowling and ask her to read your new YA fantasy. But you should always ask for praise quotes from someone who is qualified and who carries some clout. An endorsement from a writing teacher or a friend is easy to get but runs the risk of looking unprofessional.

So, how do you get in touch with these recognizable names? You network. Start by Googling local novelists or other writers in your field. Talk to other authors you know and see who they got endorsements from. Once you have a list of potential endorsers, start calling and sending emails or Facebook messages. Writers like to support other writers, so you may be surprised by how many you hear back from!

Q: Should I include an author bio?

A: Author bios look great on back covers, especially if they’re accompanied by a professional headshot. People like putting a face to a name, and if you’ve written other books, it’s a great place to mention them. If you’re a nonfiction writer, your bio is also where you establish your credibility. Don’t be shy about listing degrees earned or awards won.

Be careful not to turn it into a resume, though. Most authors keep their bios to 50 words or less.

Q: Should I feature a quote from the book?

A: An impactful quote from the book is an intriguing addition to a back cover. Be sure you pick something that’s short and powerful—something that ties into a central theme or message of the book.

Q: Do I need to put ALL of this on my back cover?

A: Nope! A summary is essential, but beyond that you need to consider how much space you have to work with. Too much content will overwhelm your reader, so most publishers recommend limiting your total back cover word count to 200.

As far as picking what to include in addition to your summary, think about your audience and what is important to them. For nonfiction books, readers will want to know your expertise and background, so an author bio is a good idea. But for fiction, a mysterious quote from the book or an endorsement from a favorite author might be more persuasive. If you’re still not sure what to include, draw inspiration from other books in your genre. Stop by a bookstore or library and spend some time reading back covers.


Maybe it’s because I love movies—and movie trailers—so much. But as a writer and an editor, back covers are one of my favorite things to work on. They’re challenging, but they’re also an opportunity to get creative and showcase why your book is special!

If you’re interested in getting help with your back cover—or learning about the Write Place’s full range of publishing services—check out our website or email me at


Photo by Danny on Unsplash



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Just write

In 2007, the Write Place published its very first book: The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler by Jeff Rowland. Over 10 years later, this funny and light-hearted memoir remains a favorite with readers and Write Place team members.

It may come as a surprise, then, that Reel Adventures almost ended up in a landfill instead of on a bookshelf.

Like many (okay, most) authors, Jeff doubted anyone would be interested in reading his book. It got to the point where he seriously considered abandoning the project altogether.

So what stopped him? What encouraged him to keep going?

In this guest blog post, Jeff tells the story of how he overcame his doubts . . . and the incredible impact The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler has had on his life and the life of a close friend.



I still recall that moment of doubt.

What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Who really cares? Those were the thoughts going through my mind as my rough draft went into the trash.

I feel safe in saying that every writer hits moments of doubt. But something inside me made me retrieve that draft and continue piecing together all I had written. I can’t explain the feeling, but I can testify it was one of purpose. I knew there was a reason for what I was doing, but I didn’t know what it was.

Writing a book was a big decision. I had been writing outdoor articles for about three years when the thought of actually publishing a book began to creep into my mind.

I had spent over 30 years angling in Marion County, Iowa, and knew I had much to share. Documenting my stories in memoir form was the path I chose to follow. Once I created an outline, it took me about three months to compile over 20 stories.

That is when I hit the What, Why, Who Syndrome.

That feeling of purpose described above is what compelled me to continue. I didn’t understand the feeling, but I knew something higher than me was driving me to complete the book. Secretly, I had visions of monetary gain. This book was to be about fishing, and I remember thinking, There are 35 million licensed anglers in the U.S. If one percent would purchase my book, I could be doing a lot more fishing.

I knew I had not completed a literary masterpiece, and I did not hit that one-percent mark. But I can now share that the book, The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler, was well received in central Iowa and kept me busy for over a year after the publication date.

For instance, about three months after completing my book I received a letter from a reader. Before I opened it, I remember holding in it my hand and thinking, A letter? Who still sends letters? The contents of that letter gave me full understanding of the true purpose of my writing.

The author of the letter, Private Chris Bates from Knoxville, Iowa, had received my book in a care package from home. He was writing from the front lines of a foreign country; he had six weeks to go on his tour and had been struggling until he received my book.

What had lifted him? A story from my memoir. In the first chapter, I shared how my 12-year-old self had snuck into the VA pond in Knoxville to catch some trout that had been stocked for the veterans who used the campus. I was caught by the VA security guard, but I took off running to elude prosecution for trespassing.

Chris and I were separated in age by over 20 years, and the two of us had never met. But in his letter, he confessed he had also snuck into that same pond in his youth and executed a similar evasive move to avoid capture.

Reading this story made Chris laugh out loud and brought back fond memories from his youth. He was writing to me to share his gratitude. The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler lifted his spirits and helped him feel that making it to the end of his tour was obtainable—a feeling he had been struggling with before the book arrived.

About a week after Chris returned home—and with permission from his wife—I pulled up to his place with my boat. The two of us shared a day out on the lake, catching a suitable number of crappies.

We didn’t discuss what he shared in his letter much, nor did we have long, drawn-out conversations about the events that put the two of us in the same boat. That’s just the way us guys are. What was present (besides the crappies), was an unspoken comradery and understanding, along with the knowledge that we had established a friendship that could only be described as fate.

While writing The Reel Adventures of a Marion County Angler, I felt I had some entertaining and humorous stories to tell. Not once did I think sharing my stories would generate memories strong enough to make a difference in someone’s life like it did for Chris. Not only did this experience create a friend for life, it helped me fully understand that the gift of writing is an extremely powerful tool.

I am sharing this story for any writer who is hitting a moment of doubt, whether they are just thinking of writing a book or are in the process of doing so.

I have two words of advice for you: Just write!

You never know where it may lead.


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7 publishing trends to watch for in 2018

Whether you’re already a self-published author or you’re just starting to consider self-publishing, it’s always a good idea to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. To help you stay in the know, we’ve pulled together some notes on what you can expect to see in the world of book publishing in 2018.

Self-publishing will continue to gain ground on traditional publishing.

Self-publishing thrived in 2017. According to Nielsen Book Senior Director of Research and Analytics Kempton Mooney, for the first time ever, the market share of self-published and indie-published books surpassed the market share of big publishers (42% v. 34%).

According to industry experts, this trend is not going away anytime soon. The number of self-published books is predicted to increase even more in 2018.

Non-fiction books will dominate the market.

In 2017, the dramatic increase of political and social discourse impacted many industries, including publishing. The bestselling books of the year were written by public figures and celebrities like Ta-Nehisi Coates.

For authors, the key takeaway is that people want to read real-life stories. Writers of non-fiction books, biographies, and memoirs should take note and consider moving forward with any project they have on hold.

Video book marketing will make a major impact.

According to Digital Information World, 55% of people watch online videos every day. Because this platform reaches a wide audience, it’s wise for self-published authors to post online videos that promote their books. Popular book videos include trailers, interviews, and sneak-peak reads.

If you would like to create a video but have no idea where to start, the Write Place is happy to help. We can assist you with scripting, recording, editing, and online posting. For an example of our video work, watch the author interview we produced for our 2016 Book Contest winner, Bestow On Us Your Grace.

The demand for kid-friendly nonfiction will also increase.

Like adult nonfiction, the demand for kid-friendly nonfiction is on the rise. Books that educate children about important topics and help them understand the world are being published in greater numbers. Popular topics include science, politics, and historical events.

E-books will continue to be a good investment.

Since 2012, online book sales have exceeded brick-and-mortar sales. This includes purchases of both print and e-books; however, while print books certainly aren’t going away, there are several advantages to publishing an e-book that will continue to be relevant in 2018.

There’s more space on the digital bookshelf than on brick-and-mortar bookshelves. Stores will remove books that aren’t selling from their sales racks. However, e-books are unlikely to be taken down by online retailers, so they have a longer shelf life.

If you have published your book as an e-book and have seen a dip in sales, you should consider investing in a new cover, book description, and marketing campaign. These efforts may give sales a shot in the arm.

Book covers still matter.

Despite the old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, people definitely judge books by their covers.

Think of it this way: having a well-designed cover is like picking out the perfect outfit for a first date or a job interview. It needs to be interesting and make a good impression since it’s the first thing that will be noticed. If a book cover is boring or poorly designed, readers are less likely to pick it up to see what it’s about, let alone purchase it.

For example, self-published writer R.L. Mathewson went from selling a handful of copies of her romance novel Playing for Keeps to over a thousand after updating the book’s cover.

The Write Place’s team of professional graphic designers has over a decade of combined experience in creating book covers of all genres. If you’re interested in refreshing your book’s cover design or getting a design for a new project, get in touch!

Editing is still key.

Just as a cover design is crucial to making a good first impression, a well-developed plot, strong mechanics, and interesting dialogue are key to holding readers’ attention and giving them a positive view of your book. Typos, grammatical mistakes, and gaping plot holes can leave a bad taste in a reader’s mouth and make them less likely to recommend your book to others. In fact, they may end up posting a negative review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.

To ensure your manuscript is as polished as possible, it is always a best practice to work with a professional editor. At the Write Place, we offer three levels of editing services to authors.

Have questions about these trends or our cover design, editing, and book publishing services? Reach out to the Write Place team today!

Thanks to Blurb Blog, Marketing Christian Books, Scholastic Book Club, Flavorwire, HuffPost, and Izzard Ink for the tips, info, and statistics curated for this article.

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10 tips for writing a star manuscript


As you may have heard, the Write Place Book Contest will return in 2018!

Every two years, we invite authors across the country to submit their manuscripts to us. Our team of judges reads them and awards one deserving author with free publication of his or her manuscript as a print and e-book.

This time around, we’ll be accepting manuscripts from August 1, 2017-December 15, 2017. Even though that winter deadline may seem far away, it’s always a good idea to get a head start on a writing project. So, to help all you authors out there get started on a new book project or polish an existing one, I’ve put together this list of 10 tips for writing a star manuscript.

Tip #1: Write a book you want to read

As you write, make sure to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. When you read a book, what hooks your attention and entices you to keep reading?

Also, be sure to pick a topic you feel passionately about. As Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” If you love your story, it will shine through and make your writing stronger.

Tip #2: Make a game plan

Before you get started, jot down a brief summary of your book. Keep it short, but be sure you cover the central conflict and its resolution. From there, draft a rough outline of events. Along the way, make note of any particular scenes you want to include. When you’re finished, you’ll have a timeline of events to use as a roadmap for your manuscript.

Tip #3: Lock down your character list

Whether you’re reviewing a complete manuscript or drafting a new one, creating a detailed character list or family tree will help you keep track of who’s who in your story. Be sure to include details like character ages, physical descriptions, relationships, and name spellings. These details are easy to forget or accidentally change. Having a character guide handy will help you guard against those mistakes.

Tip #4: Flex your cartography skills

To keep track of the places your characters visit, sketch out a map of your setting. You’ll get a clearer picture of the world you’ve created, plus you may end up catching errors or inconsistencies.

Tip #5: Establish a writing routine

One of the best ways to stay on track while writing a book is to set a regular writing routine. What time of day do you feel most inspired? Are you a pen-and-paper author, or do you prefer your laptop? What about location? Do you like writing at home, at coffee shops, at the library?

Once you’ve nailed down those details, commit to blocking out a certain amount of time each day or week to devote to your project and stick to it!

Tip #6: Join a writing group

Feedback is a crucial part of the writing process, and local writing groups are a great way to test your book and get live reader feedback. They’re also a great source of inspiration, motivation, and accountability. There are writing groups all across the country. Do a little Google research today to find the one nearest you!

Tip #7: Don’t fear writers’ block

Every author experiences writers’ block, so don’t get discouraged if you find yourself in a slump! Try stepping away from your book for a day or two. Sometimes the best ideas come when you’re doing something other than writing. If that doesn’t work, try talking out the problem with friends, family members, or fellow writers who are familiar with your book. They might just have the key to unlocking the next chapter.

And the absolute best thing about writers’ block? It always passes!

Tip #8: Silence your inner editor

When working on a new manuscript, it can be very tempting to go back and “fix” what you’ve already written. Resist! This will stall your progress and keep you from meeting your deadline. If your inner editor had its way, you would spend hours and hours rewriting what you’ve already done rather than advancing your story.

Remember: your job is to write a finished manuscript. So don’t worry about tweaking your prose or perfecting your dialogue just yet! (That’s what second drafts are for.) Instead, focus on telling the story from beginning to end. Once you’ve done that, feel free to set that inner editor loose!

Tip #9: Read, read, read

William Faulkner once said, “Read, read, read . . . Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.” Sometimes, other authors are the best source of inspiration. Get your hands on as many books as you can. Immerse yourself in the genre you’ve chosen to write. Study the conventions of the genre and think about them critically. Discover what you like and dislike. You’ll be a stronger writer for it.

Tip #10: Have fun!

Writing a book is a journey—one that is, admittedly, full of ups and downs. But in the end, there’s no feeling in the world like the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with putting down your pen or hitting “Save” for the final time. So as you write, make sure you take some time to step back and enjoy the ride!


Feeling inspired? I hope so! Remember, the Write Place will begin accepting entries for the 2018 Book Contest on August 1. If you have any questions about the contest, please visit our website or email


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Megalobibliophobia, Part II (Writers’ Edition)


In January, we tackled the topic of “megalobibliophobia” (the fear of large books). Specifically, we covered some helpful tips and strategies for reading a long, intimidating book. But as I wrote, I had an epiphany: many of the same fears that come with reading a long book also apply to writing a long book. So, as promised, here it is: “Megalobibliophobia, Part II (Writers’ Edition).”

Most authors ask two questions at the start of every new project: How do I go about writing this book? and Will anyone read it?

These questions become even more daunting when you have a gut feeling your book is going to be . . . long. Suddenly, you have to worry about organizing tens if not hundreds of thousands of words into a coherent whole without getting overwhelmed. You need to keep your characters, settings, and timeline of events straight. And, somehow, you need to stay steady and motivated through it all.

It’s not easy, but it can be done! If you’ve got an idea for a long book, I’ve put together a few tips on getting started, staying motivated, and seeing your project through from page one to the end.

Make a game plan

One of the trickiest things about writing a long book is making a clear game plan. Before diving in to Chapter One, you need to prepare by making sure you have a thorough understanding of the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the story you’re telling.

Start by writing a brief summary of your book’s premise. Keep it short, maybe four or five sentences, but be sure you cover the inciting incident of the story, its central conflict, and its resolution. From there, draft a rough outline of events that will carry you from that inciting incident (Point A) all the way to the conclusion (Point B). Along the way, make note of any particular scenes you want to include. When you’re finished, you’ll have a timeline of events to use as a roadmap for your manuscript.

If your story includes a large cast of characters, you may also want to create a detailed character list or family tree to help keep track of them. Sketching out a map of your setting can also be helpful, especially if your story is geographically complex.

Once these tools are in place, you’re ready to start drafting!

Establish a writing routine

One of the best ways to stay on track during any writing project is to set a regular writing routine that complements you and works with your schedule. Are your creative vibes strongest in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening? Do you like writing at home, or are you more of a wanderer? Do you prefer a laptop or pen and paper? How much time can you commit to writing each day?

Once you find the writing niche that enlivens your creative spirit, commit to blocking out a certain amount of time each day or week to your project. You’ll be amazed at how much progress you make, no matter the length of the book.

Set manageable goals

At the start of a writing project, it can be very tempting to think, Oh sure, I bet I can write three, four, maybe even five chapters a day! When you’re excited, your project is new, and your motivation is at its peak, it’s easy to imagine sitting down and whipping out your manuscript in record time.

Yet, the painful reality is that at some point, especially if you’re tackling a long and complicated subject, you will experience writer’s block. There will be days when you sit down at your desk and stare at a blank screen or page without a clue of where to go next. The important thing to remember is that all writers experience slumps like this, and they do pass eventually.

There will also be days when, no matter how hard you try to sit down and follow your writing schedule, life gets in the way. Don’t let frustration set in—life happens! If you aren’t able to return to your regular schedule after things settle down, work to find a new writing schedule that fits..

The moral of the story is that while goals are great for keeping you motivated and productive, they must be realistic and achievable. There’s nothing more discouraging than consistently missing your goal.

So don’t beat yourself up if you do happen to fall short; instead, concentrate on the progress that you did make. And, pat yourself on the back and celebrate the days when you exceed your goal!

Join a writing group

When it comes to writing, two, three, four, or five heads are almost always better than one. One thoughtful comment can break through writer’s block or spark the key idea you’ve been searching for to complete your book.

Sometimes, we can get this feedback from close friends or family members, but local writing groups are another great resource for testing your book and getting authentic feedback. Writing groups are also a great source of inspiration and motivation. Your fellow members will help keep you accountable to your writing goals and provide moral support when you find yourself in a writing rut. There are writing groups all across the country; do a little research today to find the one nearest you!

Partner with a professional editor

When your manuscript has made it through this gauntlet, partnering with an editor is often the next step toward publication. A good editor will offer a fresh perspective and can catch the little details that you, as the creative engine behind the project, may not have been in the right frame of mind to catch. At the Write Place, we offer several levels of editing to fit each author’s budget and preferences.

Writing a book is hard; at times it can seem almost impossible task, especially when you find yourself writing a particularly long book. However, in spite of the challenges, it can also be a rich and rewarding experience. So don’t be afraid to become the author of a 500+- page book! With planning, determination, and support from friends, family, and fellow writers, you can make it happen.


“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” – Ray Bradbury


Photo credit:

“The Chipped Table of Dakar,” – noodlepie,, via,



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Don’t be afraid to scare your readers

Happy_Halloween!Eleven more weeks in our contest countdown! Does that fact fill you with anxiety? Go ahead and embrace it—it’s the perfect day to do so.

Every year I celebrate Halloween by “enjoying” a scary book (I have a low tolerance—about one a year is my limit). While looking for recommendations on what to read this year I ran across this list of the 50 scariest books of all time. What struck me was how many of the books on the list weren’t what I’d consider “scary stories”―like 1984 and Lord of the Flies. Sure, they are frightening, but not because they feature killer clowns hiding in sewers. Both scare their readers by shining a light on the terrifying parts of human nature. They also make you care about their characters, and then put them in dangerous situations. To make a reader genuinely afraid for the safety of a fictional character—I’ve always found that to be the mark of a great author.

So, in honor of Halloween, take a look at the fear, suspense, unease, anxiety, or outright terror in your novel. Does the reader care enough about the characters to feel afraid for them? Is the scary thing—the monster, the disaster, or whatever the threat is—completely unexpected and shocking? Or does the reader know it’s coming? That can be even scarier. Remember watching a character in a horror movie descend into a dark basement. You know something bad is going to happen, you just don’t know exactly when or what. You can do the same thing in your writing, even if you aren’t writing in the horror genre. Through foreshadowing and tone, you can create suspense for your reader, and keep them flipping those pages.

Fear in nonfiction deserves attention as well. If you are writing about a crime or a disaster, the reader might know the ending. Still, you need to develop characters and build suspense just as if it were fiction.

What do you think? Are there any books or stories that have taught you how to write about fear? What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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First things first

The first week of our contest submission period is officially over. Don’t worry, though, there are still 12 weeks left to polish up your prose! If you are mostly finished with your manuscript, you might be wondering what you can do to improve it. If you’re just starting—I admire your ambition. Either way, a good place to start is at the beginning.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that first lines are hard to write. If you’re lucky, the first line will come to you in a burst of inspiration. If not, you’ll spend hours of your time wracking your brain and working through constant revisions to find the perfect combination of words. Stephen King admits to spending months and even years coming up with his opening lines.

Clearly you want your first line to intrigue the reader enough to get them to buy the book…and keep reading once they’ve started. Here are a few tricks I’ve found useful in my own writing.

  • Just start. Don’t stress about word choice or sentence structure, just start telling your story as if you were talking to a friend. You can go back later and tweak your prose, but it may turn out that simple and straightforward is better anyway.
  • If an opening just won’t come to you, wait until you’ve finished writing everything else before writing the first line. Inspiration could very well strike while writing.

Sometimes I  wonder if more heartache is spent on first lines than they deserve. Some of my favorite books have unassuming first lines—Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre starts, “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” No fluff, no fuss, she just starts right into the story.

Alice as she appears in John Tenniel's original illustrations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice as she appears in John Tenniel’s original illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

To finish up, I thought I’d share one of my favorite first lines. If you feel inspired, share yours in the comments!

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

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Prepositions You Can Be Proud Of


Apparently this man started the “no prepositions at the end of a sentence” myth. Thanks a lot, John Dryden.

Did that title make anyone flinch? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised—most of us are taught in school that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition.

Turns out, this is a myth. Both everyday usage and the laws of grammar say that it is perfectly fine to end a sentence with a preposition. According to Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage, “recent commentators…are unanimous in their rejection of the notion that ending a sentence with a preposition is an error or an offense against propriety…And not only do the commentators reject the notion, but actual usage supports their rejection.”

The rule apparently originated with John Dryden, 17th century poet and dramatist, who decided since you can’t end a sentence with a preposition in Latin, the same should be true of English. Of course, English is not Latin, and different rules of grammar apply.

So, as a modern-day writer, what should you do? I’d say that it depends. There is still a large portion of the population that believes this is a rule, so if you are writing in a professional context, it’s better to just re-write the sentence to keep the offending preposition away from the end. Sometimes, though, that just sounds awkward (imagine I’d reworded the title of this post to be “Prepositions of Which You Can Be Proud”). In those cases, you can be sure you have grammar and historical usage on your side. If somebody questions you, refer them to these prestigious examples:

“Mrs. Bennet had many grievances to relate, and much to complain of.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“He had enough money to settle down on.” – James Joyce, Dubliners

 “I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.” – Oscar Wilde


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Ode to Style (and Grammar)

Tips for strengthening your writing, part III: Use the active voice.

So you’re reading through a particularly important passage of your manuscript, and it seems a little bland. Try the active-voice remedy—it can make your writing come alive.

Another famous advocate of the active voice was Winston Churchill: “What if I had said, instead of ‘We shall fight on the beaches,’ ‘Hostilities will be engaged with our adversaries on the coastal perimeter’?”

First, a SUPER-QUICK GRAMMAR DEFINITION: You can determine an active vs. a passive sentence by looking at the verbs. A verb is in the active voice when its subject is the doer of the act. It is in the passive voice when the subject is acted upon.


  • Active: The author [subject] burned [verb] the manuscript [object].
  • Passive: The manuscript [subject] was burned [verb] by the author.

In this example, both sentences are grammatically correct. But the passive sentence is, as Strunk and White say in their Elements of Style, “less direct, less bold, and less concise.”

Warning: the active-voice remedy is not a cure for every sentence. Some sentences work better in the passive voice. Even Strunk and White admit that the passive voice “is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.” Here are two cases when you might want to use the passive:

  • When you want to emphasize the receiver of the action (by making it the subject). 

Passive: I was seriously injured as a result of your negligence. (I is emphasized.)
Active: Your negligence seriously injured me.

Here’s another example: This proposal is based on a careful analysis of all available research studies. (The basis for the proposal is emphasized and the name of the person who drafted it is not important.)

  • When the doer of the action is not important or is deliberately not mentioned.

The decision was made without consulting any of the board members. (Emphasizes how the decision was made and omits the name of the person responsible.)

Mistakes were made. (A good example of a non-apology apology. No one has to take the blame!)

Thanks to The Gregg Reference Manual, 11th edition, for some of the examples and the useful information on active and passive voice.

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Tips for Conquering Writer’s Block

Writer’s block: at some point, it plagues every writer. Says Kathie Evenhouse, Write Place writer and graphic designer, “Sometimes if I get stuck I just turn off my screen. That way, I’m not distracted by how my writing looks and what it sounds like. I don’t try to edit. I just type!”

Here are some other ideas to get those creative juices flowing:

Write a Six-Word Story

Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest authors of all time, was once challenged to write a complete story in just six words. Never one to shy from a challenge, he wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” What would your complete six-word story be?

Start Writing, Don’t Stop Until You’ve Hit 1000 Words

What should you write? Anything. What is your inspiration? Whatever you want. In “Finding Forrester” the character played by Sean Connery asks his young student to take an existing piece of work as a starting point. The student transforms it into something unique. Start with a famous passage from a book, or the opening of a movie. But take it somewhere entirely different. When you hit 1000 words, stop and read it. You may have just surprised yourself.


How do you conquer writer’s block? Leave a comment and let us know!


Our thanks to for the six-word story and 1000 words ideas!

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Filed under Writing tips