Writing Tips: Watch What You Write

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by Suzanne D. Williams

It isn’t enough to write a book. I must write it well, and “writing well” means watching what I write by choosing each word carefully.

I look back at when I started and would change so much of what I produced. Glib to be writing at all, I paid little attention to what I was actually saying. I know better now and have found, both in my writing and in the writing of others, a handful of frequently used word choices that should be avoided.

1. Repetitive words: As, When, Then, and certain Adverbs

These are tough to avoid, but working to avoid them will make you a better writer. “As” as a comparison isn’t so bad: She is AS thin AS a blade of grass. It is “As” used as action that I refer to in particular. “I did this AS I did that.”

I once read on a writing tips website that most of the time “As” used as action isn’t even true. Usually, the two things happening didn’t happen at the same time. This stops me from using it a lot. “When” follows the same rule. Did both actions happen together or not, or could you have enrichened the scene by dropping it entirely?

Here’s another thought. If you find yourself saying, “It’ll be okay to use it right now. It’s only this once,” then chances are that’s EXACTLY the moment you need to remove it. Don’t be a lazy writer.

Regarding adverbs, I don’t think they should be eliminated entirely, as some people say, but you do need to sprinkle them in only when they make the scene better. Be careful, too, not to use the same ones over and over. I know I tend to use “clearly” a lot and have to stop myself.

2. Overused Verbs

Along this same line, every writer has verbs they use often. I read a review recently that complained the characters smirked too much. In another story, I remember an editor complaining because the main character always had her hands on her hips. I, myself, tend to use coughing too much as a space filler.

Again, watch what you write. Pay enough attention to notice your writing patterns then, when you find something you are in the habit of doing, make the effort to stop. Don’t make your editor’s life harder than it should be. A sloppy writer who depends on the editor to always “fix things” isn’t a good writer at all.

3. Words out of the time period: Historicals with modern words; specific scenes that don’t feel like the time period.

I ran into this in a secular novel that had several racy scenes. The story itself had a good plot and likeable characters, but whenever they became too sensual, the story fell out of historical context and became modern.

Sometimes the word we choose in a historical novel didn’t exist then. Or it could be an object that wasn’t around, a song that couldn’t have been sung. You think you’ll slip it in there and no one will see it, but I assure you, someone will. I joke that I hate research, but when I have a question about the use of phrases in a historical story, I always take the time to make sure it’s accurate. I don’t want anything to pull the reader out of the scene.

4. Genre missteps: A detective story where the protagonist does little to no detective work. YA that isn’t YA because of adult content.

These bug the stew out of me, as we’d say in the south. Again, in a review, the reviewer complained that the female protagonist simply overheard a remark and told her boyfriend about it and that didn’t make the story a mystery or the girl a legitimate detective. From my point of view, there was nothing wrong with the author’s choice of storyline. If the girl simply overheard a remark, that’s fine, but the author shouldn’t have pumped up the character as a detective of any sort in the blurb.

In young adult novels, many are actually written for adults. JUST STOP IT. If the story is too dirty for anyone under 18, then IT ISN’T YA. It is possible to write about relevant issues in a way that someone 12-18 can read it.

And here’s an advanced warning, if your book comes across my desk and it falls into this category, you WILL receive a negative review. I am very open-minded about book content, can read squeaky clean to a certain level of heat, but get your genre right and don’t sell it to me as young adult fiction when its something erotic.

5. Cursing

This is a Christian blog, and I am a Christian writer, so you’d think cursing wouldn’t be an issue. But, writers, in and out of Christian fiction, include lots of it.

I refuse to believe people talk that way all the time. Regardless, if you, as the writer, cannot tell a story without spitting curse words at me every other sentence, then you are not a good writer. Curse words aren’t necessary and can be avoided almost one hundred percent.

I have yet to hear one reader say, “I wish this book had more cursing in it.”

Here are a few other things to look out for: Outdated slang. Know the time period of your book and don’t show yourself as ignorant (especially if you’re writing YA). If you grew up in the 60s, but your book is set in 2012, then you need to use terms popular in 2012, unless all your characters also grew up in the 60s.

Words specific to a region of the country. I read a book written by a British author, but set in America, and she had numerous terms incorrect. It didn’t really detract from the overall feel of the book, but it did make me stop and ask why she didn’t talk to someone first. Myself, I grew up in the Southern U.S. and distinctly remember referring to someone “dipping” their plate. My New Jersey friend asked, “In what?” My family still laughs about that, but I have stopped using that term, since most people won’t know it.

Writing is meant to be fun, but great writing is also the result of hard work. When I write, I edit as I go, knowing my personal writing habits and working to sidestep those that will hamper the story. The best compliment I ever get is when my editor says there wasn’t much to correct. That means I’m paying attention and doing my job well.

Now Available!

Billionaire Boys Club: Robin

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She was, in everyday terms, a gold digger, but she liked to think she had a good heart. Maybe she didn’t though. Maybe in latching onto the idea she could become more than stupid Parker Rousch, the thought she could be in the stories Martina had told about her brother, maybe at that moment she’d lost what heart she had. Because fairytales didn’t happen in real life and girls that daydreamed about falling in love with Prince Charming via entertainment magazines were sure to be disappointed.


Twenty-two year old cartoonist Parker Rousch dropped out of college and moved to Florida to chase an impossible dream – to meet billionaire Robin Spelding. She’s spent hours, days, daydreaming about living the rich life, devouring everything there is to know about him. Landing a nearby job at a well-known editorial newspaper came as a huge break. Never mind, it’s the competition, the owner with a beef against her fantasy man.

Robin Spelding went from a boy walking to school, picked on by bullies, to the man he is today through determination and hard work. Running one of the largest security companies in the nation, having clients like Atlas Bellamy, has put him on the map. He is somebody now with the power to have anything he wants, including a taste for married women.

But when cute, perky Parker drops into his life, his secret trysts prove to be far more public than he knew and the man he’s become, ugly and sordid. Changing his public reputation is possible with her by his side, though, and maybe sharing a piece of his heart as well. Unless the danger that brought them together, an overheard threat at her place of employment, snuffs out their promising future.

Book 5 of 7 in the BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB series by best-selling author, SUZANNE D. WILLIAMS.


Suzanne D. WilliamsBest-selling author, Suzanne D. Williams, is a native Floridian, wife, mother, and photographer. She is the author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She writes devotionals and instructional articles for various blogs. She also does graphic design for self-publishing authors. She is co-founder of THE EDGE.

To learn more about what she’s doing and check out her extensive catalog of stories, visit http://www.feelgoodromance.com or link with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/suzannedwilliamsauthor or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SDWAuthor.

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