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Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Hi everyone
It has been quite a while since I wrote a post for the website, so apologies for neglecting you all. It has just been a busy year. I’ve had a fabulous time working on all the various short stories, novels and non-fiction pieces of work this year, in every genre from fantasy to memoir, science fiction to inspirational non-fiction.

However, we are at that time of year again, one week from NaNoWriMo. Now, if you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, here’s your chance. Join tens of thousands of other writers, possibly hundreds of thousands, in a 30-day challenge to write 50K words. That’s only 1,666 words per day. Yes, I know, I said ‘only’!

Anyway, several of my clients have done this and have produced novels from it, and some have repeated it each year. Now it’s my turn to join them! With the proofreading and editing business going so well, I figured it was the only way I was going to manage to write another novel! So, I am still outlining at the minute, but come 1 Nov, I will be poised like my peers to get that word count up. (I love that NaNoWriMo lets you input your word count – motivational!)

So, I was wondering if any of you are participating this year. If so, feel free to add me as a buddy on the NaNo site. I am under soozbuch. And here’s the NaNo site – https://nanowrimo.org/
For now, all that remains is for me to reblog my tips from last year on NaNoWriMo – check out the article below
Top 10 Tips for #NaNoWriMo – An Editor’s Perspective by @perfect_prose #MondayBlogs
And good luck fellow NaNoWriMoers!!


Apart from the eloquent and poetic usage of repetition in writing, it is viewed as something writers should limit.

e.g. ‘It was a veritable masterpiece, a masterpiece which would endure for centuries.’

When editing authors’ work, I often come across repeated words. Word processing packages don’t always pick up that an identical word has been put down twice: ‘than than’ springs to mind. It’s so easy to think you’ve only typed a word or even a phrase once, but you’ve actually written them twice. It’s not unheard of to see something like:

‘He was a quiet man by and large by and large, and he had the biggest heart.’

So whilst editing watch out for words or phrases that might mistakenly be there more than once.

I tend to advise my clients if a word is repeated within three or four lines. Of course there are exceptions. And although you might be able to get away with certain words like ‘with’, ‘more’, and so on being used more than once in a sentence, I suggest that the less common the word, the more sparing you should be with repeating it. If I came across ‘cumbersome’ twice on the same page, without good reason, I’d be having a quiet word in the author’s ear.

It’s not uncommon to see a writer use the same verb twice in just a few lines and then the noun form of that word too. If there’s an alternative which doesn’t jar (important!) it makes sense to use it.

James caught the edge of his jacket on the door. Glancing at his watch he saw it was ten to five. He’d have to run if he was to catch the train. As he left the building it started to rain. He hurriedly opened his umbrella. The last thing he wanted was to catch a cold. 

Now, the first instance ‘caught’ could easily be changed to ‘snagged’ or similar. Likewise, ‘to catch the train’ could be ‘to make the train’. Not so easy to get around the idiom ‘to catch a cold’. But I’m guessing your reader would notice the two usages of ‘catch’ in that short section. If your work was littered with examples like this, it could eventually grate on the reader’s nerves.

I mentioned that it was important the word didn’t jar. Quite. If as a result of changing the word simply to avoid repetition, the sentence sounds stilted or doesn’t fit the context as well, then you shouldn’t substitute it, or you should find another way of saying what you are trying to.

An easy way to get around repeating a noun is to use its pronoun. This may sound really obvious, but surprisingly not everyone does it all of the time.

‘She picked up the mug, drank from the mug and placed the mug back on the table,’ would sound odd. It would be more natural to say, ‘She picked up the mug, drank from it and placed it back on the table.’ And it would sound wrong to hear, ‘She picked up the mug, drank from it and placed the tankard back on the table.’

Likewise your reader will notice if you overuse certain words throughout your entire novel. Your aim is to engage your reader, so anything that might annoy them needs to be vetoed! I often notice this with dialogue tags. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with having a different dialogue tag to ‘said’ or ‘told’, it might detract from the reader’s enjoyment if you use ‘countered’ or ‘harrumphed’ or ‘huffed’ three times a page for two hundred pages. Each of us I am sure has pet dialogue tags or words we overuse – mine is smiled.

And be aware of how your paragraphs start. If you have several paragraphs in a row starting with ‘she’ or ‘he’, it’s maybe time to rejig things a little.

As a final example, you might repeat a concept four pages later in your novel without being aware you are doing it.

P139 – He put his feet up on the desk and stretched.

P143 – He stretched his arms over his head and placed his feet on the desk.


So what’s the solution? Read your drafts out loud. Use a thesaurus. Make a list of words you know you overuse and keep it handy when you do your second and subsequent drafts.

Next week: Ellipses and suspension points – by special request!









Italics, Quotation Marks or Capitals?

Italics, “Quotation Marks” or CAPITALS? Have you wiped the sweat off your brow yet?

It’s a minefield – truly.  As with most things in writing, one of the most important rules is to be consistent.  Often there isn’t only one way – as a future post on ellipses and suspension points (to laymen – the 3 dots) will show.

But for today, we’re talking about italics.  And the reason I’ve lumped quotation marks and capitals into the name of this post is because if you aren’t meant to use italics, apart from when you are using them for emphasis, you could well be using capitals or quotation marks.

Fact!  Most people tend to overuse all three.

But when should you use italics?  Did you like what I did there?

Well, I’ve already mentioned their usage for emphasis, although your prose (company plug!) should mainly be able to carry that off on its own, although not always.

Many writers, at least those who go to the effort of checking, frantically look up ‘italics’ on Google along with the item they are searching for, or they pick up a reference or grammar book when they are at the editing stage, just to be sure.  I don’t blame them.  In many cases there is more than one right answer.  However, I tend to go with the New Oxford Style Manual for British English and The Chicago Manual of Style for US English.  Even they don’t cover every eventuality.

But, I digress; let’s look at some examples of where italics should be used as per best practice.

This list is not exhaustive:

  • titles of books and magazines – Far From The Madding Crowd, Catch-22, Hard Times, Vogue
  • film titles – Dirty Dancing, Armageddon, Jaws
  • names of ships, aircraft, spacecraft and trainsHMS Beagle, Air Force One, Challenger, the Hogwarts Express
  • music album titles – Up To Now, Achtung Baby, Rattle and Hum
  • orchestral works – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major
  • operatic works – Madama Butterfly, Turandot
  • paintings – Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam, Starry Night
  • foreign words and phrases which haven’t been absorbed into the English language (my take on this is if it doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, it goes in italics). But there’s a caveat – more on that later. Me llamo Susan. Non trovo la casa.
  • titles of plays – A Streetcar Named Desire, The Taming of The Shrew

But be careful not to put punctuation in italics unless it forms part of the title of the work/item. So those pesky commas, full stops and question marks afterwards should be in roman type.

Talking of roman type, if you want to emphasise something which is already in italics, perhaps for one of the above reasons, then the way to do that is to put the part to be emphasised in roman type.  Alternatively this can sometimes be conveyed by being put within quotation marks. Do you see now how difficult it is to talk about italics without talking about other punctuation types too?

And here are a couple of examples where italics are generally not used

  • song titles – are conveyed by quotation marks around them. “Rhythm is a dancer”, “Stay”, “Angel of Harlem”
  • band names – capitalised only – Snow Patrol, U2, Duran Duran (yes, you can see my musical tastes are not particularly up to date)

With regard to foreign words and phrases, it’s normally only on the first instance of using the foreign word that it’s italicised, unless the sense is still ambiguous in subsequent occurrences.  In addition, words like vol au vent and tête à tête are not italicised from the outset, as they are in the English dictionary and readily understood.

Tune in next week for a post on Repetition