Take a snapshot of your words to clean up your writing

Several weeks ago, I pumped my Facebook page into a social word cloud website that tallied up all the words I used and formulated it into a nifty word cloud. I was heartened to see that “Thanks” was front and center and horrified that “like” and “just” were also prominently displayed. (Immediately, I vowed to use better words like “love” and “bedraggled” more often! After all, my image as a writer was at stake!)

Do I really sound like a teenie bopper whose vocabulary has been reduced to creative combinations of crutchladen utterances?


After a few deep breaths, I reminded myself of the source of the words for the cloud: Facebook. A place where I engage in social dialogue with friends, friendly acquaintances, and family. A place where I will write “like” in the comments to underline how much I enjoyed a picture, a meme, a rant, whatever. But what’s the excuse for “just”? Well, there is none (especially since I’m pretty sure that I haven’t discoursed on issues of fairness, equity and honor–not that much, anyway). “Just” is a verbal crutch–like “well,” “so,” “still” and “y’know” (this last one, I use mostly in speech–not in my writing).

A fellow aspiring author* on the internet turned me on to the idea that these word clouds can be useful editing tools–a great way to get a snapshot of the words you use most frequently. She shared an online tool called Wordle, which I immediately used to dig up crutches in my writing. You can see her blogpost here.

I word clouded a chapter of the novel I’m editing these days…

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And I was so relieved to see that many of the “crutch” words that plague my Facebook page aren’t as prominent in at lease one chapter (about 1,000 words) of my work. 🙂 In fact, I think the above word cloud, does a nice job of summing up a few elements of my story.

But if you really want to clean up your prose…

I’m thinking you might want to cut and paste smaller 300-word chunks of your writing from three different parts of your work into Wordle. Then, as you paste the terms into the Wordle field, try removing character names and other pronouns. (For example, the words “Little” and “Bit” above are actually pronouns, which is why they are so frequently used, and capitalized.)

Take a snapshot of your words and find your crutches! #amediting #wordcloud @cynthiatluna* This blog post idea was inspired by Sacha Black, also an aspiring author, working on dystopian fantasy novels — which I’m very much looking forward to reading upon their release! In her post, she pointed her readers to one of her secrets for the quickest edit one can do. Make sure you check out her blog and Wordle!


Five ideas to get your novel from “Once upon a time” to “The End”

Now that I have completed the first draft of my first novel, other writers are asking me how I did it — what I did to go from “just started” to “The End”. Here are five things that I did to go from zero to 70,000 words.

  1. Consistently scheduled, daily writing segments. I used to think I was a night owl, but really, I’m an early bird. Sure, I can write in the afternoon, or the evening, or even late at night — but my most productive, best copy happens in the morning. In fact, now that I have a first draft down, I can tell that the first third was written during any other time of day. (Basically, it needs work.)file2361274239655
  2. Go with the flow, and plot only when it’s time, and only as far as it feels right. (Trust me, you’ll know when this is.) When I started writing my story, I just started writing. I had a place, some characters and no real plot–hardly even a vague idea. So, I just started writing, not knowing where the story was headed really. This surprised a lot of my writer friends who always knew whodunnit from the get-go. So, they got me worrying. Too early in the game, the planner in me tried to figure out how it all would end — I wanted to force myself straight to the destination without taking the journey, and the result was something a bit too contrived. Doing that got me so confused I had to put the story aside for nearly a year, before I approached it again. When I looked at what I had written, the ideas started flowing so fast, I started to jot down bullet points of the next few moves/scenes in a clean Word document. (Read my blog post about plantsing here.)
  3. Don’t think about “The End” until you get to it. With my first novel, I managed to reach an end — but it turns out that it isn’t the end yet. I have tied up some loose threads, but there are others that will have to be addressed in newer stories. As it turns out, this story idea I had a couple years back is not a one-novel wonder. 🙂
  4. Ask for, and accept, help. Whether it’s talking to friends who like to read stories, watching movies in your genre, finding a book on writing, or taking a class — it’s all good. I’ve done all these things — and, mind you, the activity doesn’t have to address your story, specifically. Sometimes, I would help a friend edit her writing and provide constructive feedback over coffee. In fact, one time when I helped a friend in overcoming her writer’s block, I also stumbled on a solution for my own writing wrinkle. (Win-win!) Another time, I joined a class and learned so much from everybody else’s creative writing exercises.
  5. Commit to one 30-minute writing segment each day like it’s a religion. In a 30-minute writing segment, I can write an amount ranging from 250 words to 1,200 words. (I think once I even hit around 1,800 words — but I think I also think I lost track of time.) More importantly, 30-minutes is a short-enough time period to fit into a busy schedule. I tried scheduling one-hour into my day, but other priorities managed to take over — and I would postpone my writing for the weekend, or vacation, or whenever. This way, I always get some words on a page.
Getting to the end...
Getting to the end… (you’ll know)

When plotting turns to plodding…

It’s probably best for me to begin this blogpost by confessing that I’m not expert in the area of plotting. That’s because the writing style I employ is commonly referred to as “pantsing it”, which means, that I improvise, go with the flow, and I don’t look back. (The term comes from the expression “flying by the seat of one’s pants” — which, is totally comprehensible to me as a native English-speaker, but I would not be able to explain the origin of that second expression to someone learning English…)

I don’t look back… Until, that is, I don’t know what to look forward to.

pantsing it, writing, don't look back, Living in Cyn

It’s pretty common that once a person has written about 25 to 30 percent of her story, the writing slows down. This is where you start slicing into the main course of your story. At this point, writers should be pretty clear on the widget/problem their protagonists must find/solve in order to ensure order is restored after a period of page-turning entertainment.

If not, your writing is going to hit a productivity wall, and in little time, you will be stepping out of the marathon altogether, blaming writer’s block for twisting your ankle near the first water station.

plodding while writing, plotting, Living in Cyn, How I Write, Cynthia T. Luna

Turn plodding to plantsing!

For a writer like me — who gets so caught up in her storytelling, she becomes more of a documentarian of her characters’ actions — creating an outline is like burying MacGyver six-feet under in a water-filled coffin, and then emptying his pockets and making him spit out his gum. (Basically, you’ve stripped him of any chance of escapting a hopeless situation, you’ve stripped him of even the smallest details that make him MacGyver.)

But on the first day when I feel like my writing is going nowhere fast, I open up a clean Word document, write the title, “What you know is…” and start outlining what I’ve already written into the story. In bullet points.

It might look something like this:

  • Sidney St. Claire is a PR flack in Washington D.C. who is unlucky in love.
  • Her best friend Cherri tries to help Sidney out, but Sidney might be beyond help.
  • Sidney’s boyfriend is a hot, French journalist, whom she rarely sees because he’s presumably working the graveyard shift.

Doing this might be all I need to for new ideas to present themselves. And all I need to do is write the next couple scenes.

  • Sidney’s boss, Patti, gives her a project that will force her to put off the wedding plans for at least six months.
  • Her boyfriend has been busy lately. And then Sidney finds him cheating on her!
  • Cherri helps Sidney throw herself into her work and into the local bar scene.

running lucho-33

The next time I hit a wall, I will pull up the same Word document (the one with the outline), scroll down to the bottom, and in big bold letters I’ll write, “What you don’t know is…” 

  • Pierre is a spy who was trying to get his intel through tried and true pillow-talk, espionage techniques. He loves Sidney, but can Sidney live with his career?
  • Patti is part of an espionage intelligence-trading network.
  • Sidney has no idea how in-deep she really is!
  • There’s going to be a love interest for Sidney, but will she be able to trust him, or is his work at odds with hers?
  • Something serious is going to happen to Cherri.

This will usually help me round the corner. And it’s enough to get me writing more scenes. I don’t need to get too detailed with my outline, because my characters tend to take over the script. (You can read more about the term, “plantsing” on the blog of another fellow pantser-writer, Stephen D’Agostino.)

How about you in your writing? Do you pants it, plot it or plants-it?

What’s Your Next Chapter? Here’s How You Can Take Your First Step to Live Deliberately

What I enjoy about writing is that there’s a certain deliberateness that comes with crafting a story. You start with a handful of characters, and you make their lives as enjoyable or as challenging as you want them to be. Then, you come up with solutions to improve their lot — help them fall in love, land the job, find the bad guy, have fun, and grow and become better people. (At least that’s what I want for my characters.) 🙂

One day, I wondered, “what if living my life could be more like writing the life of Sidney St. Claire (the fictitious protagonist in my novel — in the editing stages now)?” That concept seemed really cool to me; and I realized that the law of attraction material I had discovered in 2007 was at play here.

So, I started applying the next (or first) step principle to everything I do.

Designing your life is not harder than taking the next, first step.

I've created a closed Facebook Group called Write Your Next Chapter. Message me on FB if you're interested in joining!
I’ve created a closed Facebook Group called Write Your Next Chapter. Click the image to see it. Message me on FB if you’re interested in joining!

For me, the only rule in determining my next step is for me to ask myself, “what would be a fun first step?”

I know, it sounds cheesy, but stay with me here.

There are some things I just know I enjoy doing:

  • meeting up with friends or like-minded people (exchanging my learnings),
  • going out to eat/drink/socialize,
  • staying at home and writing,
  • crafting (like making collages and knitting/crocheting), and
  • reading.

There are more, but those are my Top Five.

So, I try to incorporate one of my fun Top 5 favorite things into my next, first step.

This means, I’m doing at least one of the things I consider fun at least once daily!

Do you deliberately incorporate fun into your day at least once daily? How do you go about writing/crafting “your next chapter”?

It’s Ready!

I can hardly believe I am sharing this in the blogosphere, but I have finished the first draft of my debut novel! The feeling is absolutely incredible, and after years (I kid you not) of telling people that I was working on a novel, I sometimes wondered if I was ever going to have the damn thing written.

Now, I’m in the editing stages, but I have polished the first ten pages, so that they would be ready to submit to agents etc. In the meantime, if you’re interested, I would love to share the sample pages with you, too!

Sign up to follow my blog and let me know.