C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

A Warning for Writers

I’ve used Google Docs to work with editors and beta readers for most of my books. Not anymore.

In addition to working as a suspense novelist since 2011, sometimes I take on book doctoring projects. I’m collaborating on a paranormal series with the Armand (The Great) Rosamilia and working with Gari Strawn of strawnediting.com on something right now. All of these book projects depend on the use of Google Docs. I got a nasty surprise recently and, if you’re a writer, you need to know about it.

I had just completed my second round of edits on a book project for another author when I discovered that Google docs had failed me. I doubted myself, at first. Then the realization set in: I’d made edits and corrections but the changes I thought were saved came back!

This set off a wave of disappointment, irritation and not a little anxiety. I thought I was nearly done with the project. I’d already pulled my trusty editor, Gari, into the mix. However, the truth could not be denied. We had worked from one master file in Google Docs and we couldn’t trust it anymore.

You can’t trust Google Docs, either.

What to do? What to do? To quote Ed Harris in Apollo 13, “I believe this will be our finest hour.” Gari and the project manager were understanding and supportive, focused on solutions.

I had no choice. I had to switch to an alternative immediately. There are several alternatives to Google Docs. Some are free or have premium options. After reading a recommendation from another book publisher, I decided to try Zoho.

I went with the premium version since I’m managing book projects for myself and others. Fortunately, I could make Gari part of the Ex Parte Press team through the app but the Zoho Writer app is free.

Signing into Zoho, I was a bit frustrated at first. I found the interface a bit clunky and non-intuitive. All I could think about was how I had to get past this problem to meet my deadline. Time was of the essence and I didn’t want to have to deal with a steep learning curve.

Unsure Zoho would be a smooth transition, I tried the free Microsoft’s free online platform. They needed confirmation that I wasn’t a robot so I clicked the button for them to send an email confirmation to activate my free subscription. That email never came. Neither did the text to my phone. While I was waiting or Microsoft to get their act together, I figured out Zoho.

Zoho wasn’t so bad after I did a little bit of checking, experimenting, and googling. Perhaps my initial disorientation was because I was so used to Google Docs. Zoho isn’t terribly expensive for the power user, but it is a primarily a business application. That means it has the mojo for major collaboration, but it’s not built with writers and publishers in mind. (To be fair, neither was Word. Plenty of people used Track Changes in the old days. I always hated Track Changes. Reading those little red squiggles, I thought I’d go blind.)

Because of its orientation toward formal communications in the business world, Zoho’s correction engine throws up a lot of flags you won’t need. It’ll question contractions, for instance. Possessives, like “parent’s house” got a squiggle under it, too. I wish Zoho was integrated with Grammarly. It’s not. If I could make one change, that would be it.

For comments and collaboration, Zoho is better than Google Docs and Word. You’ll get a lot of false positive flags of foreign words, for instance, but at least the notations are clear and easy to resolve. If you leave the browser too long, you’ll have to reload, but reloading is quicker than Google Docs. I found the application was much faster, allowing me to bounce around the document.

There are other alternatives besides Zoho you could choose. (Here’s a link to alternatives to Google Docs.)

Whatever you choose, be aware that the changes you make in Google Docs may revert or fail to save. You could lose a lot of time and effort that way. I sure did. This setback came late in our editing workflow, so I’ll be pulling all-nighters through to the end of June to get back on track.

Fair warning.

~ You write books. Do you read them, too? I recommend that. I recommend you read my books. I’m a suspense novelist who writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out the glories and a whole lotta whatnot on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Looking for more work/life balance? Me, too. More of that on today’s post about the writing life, how I’m battling insomnia, losing weight (and winning).

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, writing, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Writers: Clean your manuscript with these enema tricks

There are mistakes in every book, but there are tricks to avoid some pesky problems. For instance, I’m in the midst of proofing This Plague of Days. In Scrivener, I do a quick and easy

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

Society collapses around a strange autistic boy with a deep love of odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father The plague is coming. Buckle up.

search for odd mistakes that creep in. Here are a few things I plug into the search box to search and destroy:

1. Hit the space bar twice and eliminate those pesky double spaces that find their way into your ebook (and look like chasms on a kindle.)

2. Put “the the” in the search box. Take one out unless it shows up as “the theme…” It’s startling how easy it is for the human eye to skip over a brain stutter like the the.

3. Search “awhile”. Change it to “a while” when appropriate. Here’s when it’s right to do so.

4. “Exact same” = A redundant expression we use in spoken language and in the excited flurry of our first drafts. Excise from later drafts.

5. Search “..” Double periods appear occasionally, usually from an edit you did instead of a typo. 

The fewer mistakes you give your editors, beta readers and proofers to find, the fewer mistakes they will miss.

When you get all your revisions back and make your changes, do these searches again (and whatever common mistakes you discover you are prone to.) After the edit, the act of going back to make corrections often introduces mistakes. This is especially true if you’re working with extensive edits using Track Changes. It’s often helpful to bump up the text size so you can better understand where all the little red lines are pointing for edits. I prefer Scrivener and recommend it for writing, editing, compiling and publishing.

Also check the copy again once it’s published. I have had some file management issues in the past with Scrivener where I published an earlier draft, not the final draft. It was frustrating and embarrassing, but fortunately it was easy to fix quickly. Now that I’m aware of that potential, I’m extra paranoid so things keep getting better. Editing and proofing these little details can be arduous but, like a 10k run uphill, you’ll feel great about your work when it’s done.

Related articles


Filed under: Books, Editing, getting it done, grammar, publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

PODCAST: To err is human. To forgive is unprecedented.

As the story of the zombie story writer versus the undead anthology creator emerged this week, lines were drawn in concrete, barricades were built and razor wire was erected around the dignity of being a writer. The writing community was inflamed and things have turned around for the writer. But is there a resolution in sight?

In today’s Self-help for Stoners podcast, I wonder about healing, forgiveness and our capacity to get over the bad stuff. When the world disagrees with us, do we still dig in our heels and somehow convince ourselves the world is wrong? When we’ve won, in our anger, do we keep kicking? Can we move forward, or are all judgments permanent? Are we as good as we can be? And could we, possibly, ever be as good as Batman? After dealing out a savage beating, can we forgive?

Have a listen at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

Writing Exercise: Idea Generation




Last Saturday I attended a great workshop on Editing and Revising with editor extraordinaire Brian Henry.

I’m deep into doing revisions on my own work and that of others, so a refreshing blast of continuing education was a nice change of pace. Brian is on the road every weekend to teach a workshop. He’s a genuinely nice guy and a skilled editor with tons of experience.

(Click here to find out more about his teaching or to receive his newsletter.)

The odd thing is, I did some freelance work for Brian when I worked at Harlequin in 1988/89. I was working in production, proofreading romance and after romance with a few military books mixed in so I wouldn’t grow breasts. (I proofread a lot of the Mack Bolan series back then.)

To pick up a little more cash, I waded into the slush pile for Brian, who was an editorial assistant at the time, to evaluate spec manuscripts. After taking several of his workshops over the last few years, he finally remembers who I am when I see him now. (I think.)

I’ve written a short story in two of his workshops now. I’m not usually a great fan of writing prompts from other people. I’ve got lots of ideas on my own. However, at Brian’s workshops I’ve leaped into the breach and come up with a couple of short pieces, written on the spot, with which I am quite pleased.

On Saturday, here’s what got the ball rolling; Brian called it his Chinese Fortune Cookie Exercise: We wrote a short fortune, say six words. Each participant came up with two fortunes to share. The fortunes preferably had a verb, included two people (implied was fine, not named) and there had to be an element of “tension or strangeness.”

Also, it’s okay if the fortune sucks. It’s just a prompt, not a plan. We exchanged fortunes with people at our table so everyone had something fresh. Then we started writing furiously.

The fortune I focused on was this:

“A relative will vex you.”

What I came up with was short and surprisingly soulful with a murderous sucker punch. My fellow participants were enthused. It is very affirming for any writer to come up with something quick on the spot that works so nicely. Now I have yet another short piece to add to my short story collection (available through Smashwords this summer!)

If you write, go read Quick Brown Fox, too. 

Filed under: ebooks, links, manuscript evaluation, publishing, self-publishing, short stories, Writing Conferences, writing tips, , , , , ,

Writers: Five editing tricks and tips (plus editing marks)


1. Editing onscreen is more difficult and less accurate than printing out your manuscript and attacking it with a pencil. Unless you’re well-practiced at editing pixels, print it out.

2. As you read your manuscript, read aloud. You will pick up more problems that way and if you run out of breath, it’s probably a run-on sentence.

3. Some experts tell you to read your manuscript backwards, one word at a time, to catch more typos. Though it is true this technique works, you must have a form of OCD to act on it. This is advice editors give, but never do themselves. If you don’t believe me, try it with any book-sized manuscript. (Wait! First make sure there are no sharp objects or firearms nearby!)

4. As you edit, read slowly. Your brain is wired to skip over mistakes when you read quickly.

5. Farm it out. You need someone else’s fresh eyes on your manuscript to see the thing you are missing. Hire editors. (Here’s one!)

Filed under: authors, Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

#Editors: Experience is what you get through mistakes

The Associated Press Stylebook

Image via Wikipedia

Last week a friend of mine called looking for advice about becoming an editor. She was looking for a way out of the nine to five grind wherein she could control her time, make a little money and still manage to pick her kid up from school by mid-afternoon. She was doing things she didn’t desperately want to do. She didn’t like her options, even though some of those options could be more lucrative than editing. In short, she’s in a spot many of us have been in: passion versus practicality. She has a tough choice ahead. Let’s talk about her choices, and yours.

We can’t start this discussion off without mentioning that a lot of people don’t have any choice about their employment. They’re just happy to have any kind of employment. Either by circumstance or by a lack of education or preparation, many people in a recession take what they can get. Self-fulfillment in employment is actually a pretty new idea. In the Industrial Revolution (or any time before that) the idea that you have to love your work would be considered a silly idea. However, much of the soul-crushing ennui was made acceptable by the common practice of drinking yourself near-unconscious on the job.

This woman lives in this century and has options. Should she be an editor? She already had a useful teaching background. She played it down, but as we dug into her history, she did indeed have some relevant experiences to draw upon. She also took an editing course recently and explored membership in the Editors Association of Canada (EAC.)

I told her about the meat of the work. We discussed grammar and the common mistakes people make. We talked about the various levels of engagement editors bring to text. For instance, there’s a big difference between a proofreader, a copy editor and a developmental editor. We talked about flow, judicious cutting, client consultation and the merits of the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style.

And I learned something. In coaching someone else, it forced me to evaluate how I’ve been going at the editing business. I’ve had various projects on the go, but I’ve been awfully passive about it. I haven’t stepped outside my comfort zone to go after new book and website projects. For instance, much of my editing work has come about because of my writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been pretty much exclusive to that.

My speech writing arose from my magazine writing. My web page editing came about through my magazine writing. The memoir I’m editing came as an assignment from a friend in need. The e-books I’ve ghostwritten and edited? Same deal. The marketing materials I’ve worked up for another client came to be because I’d interviewed the president of the company for another magazine story.

There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with these sources of work. Work is work, no matter how it finds me. But it’s a clue that I’ve been lackadaisical. I need to solicit work more actively instead of waiting for it to come to me.

I’m busy now, but independent editing is piece work. It can come fast, all at once or not at all, at least for a time. Sometimes, work falls through or gets put on hold for a long time.

And sometimes, only greater self-awareness comes through helping someone discover their own path. I’m pleased she’d thinking of joining the ranks of editors. She loves language and believes the proper use of words matter. I warned her it can be a hard journey if she’s not prepared to be a go-getter.

And now I know I need to take my own advice.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, rules of writing, Useful writing links, , , , , , , , ,

Writers & Editors: Top 10 Editorial Considerations

 Here’s the follow-up from yesterday’s post on appropriate use of tense:

Editing considerations (as I revised my short story, The Dangerous Kind)Chicago-Manual-of-Style

1. One component I took care to delete were instances where the narrator says things like “I was surprised,” or when he made blatant judgements about his brother. This is overwriting and it’s easy to fall into. You want to give the readers enough to paint a picture but not so much that they can’t draw their own conclusions.

2. Try to avoid clichéd caricature. Don’t tell. Show character’s traits through their actions and dialogue.

3. Give your villains depth, so though the narrator of this story is the protagonist, he’s capable of evil and his mean big brother isn’t all bad, either.

4. This is a long short story at 8,500 words. The details are what’s going to draw readers into the slow build as the narrator discovers the evil of which he is capable. Show special knowledge along the way the reader might not know or detail that deepens the experience.  (For instance, on the hunting trip, the reader learns or experiences details about the feel of moss underfoot, the sound of a rifle bolt slamming home, buck fever and what it feels like to be carried in your mother’s arms.)

 5. Dialogue should advance plot, deepen character and, preferably, do so memorably. If the dialogue is neither of these things, it can often be summarized in narrative without quotes around it.

 6. Revising means “seeing anew.” Evaluate what the story is really about. At first I kept present tense because I wanted to maintain mystery as to whether the narrator would survive the story (See yesterday’s post below.) As I unearthed the story, the plot took a turn away from that storyline. Instead, the stakes are not whether the narrator will survive, but will he allow his brother to die, get the inheritance and escape rural Maine for the bright lights of New York? Once the core of the story changed, past tense opened up to me so I could achieve a more subtle and nuanced story than I had originally intended. That’s okay for a short story. For a longer piece of fiction I’d do more planning, plotting and outlining ahead of time so as not to lose too much time backing and filling.

7. Vary sentence length and sentence construction.

 8. Cut where you can without becoming terse or overwriting.

 9. The most common failure of overwriting is to describe character features in detail. Don’t tell me in detail what anybody’s wearing and definitely avoid the trope of getting a character to describe him or herself in a mirror.

 10. Dialogue should sound real, but without the ums and ahs of a transcript. Avoid dialect where possible as accents slow(and annoy readers.) Read your dialogue aloud to determine if you can believe someone saying your dialogue believably.

 Below is the first-person present-tense excerpt from The Dangerous Kind and then the revision.

Compare these excerpts…and please ignore the formatting. That’s a text to screen issue 🙂

 …I ask Jason if he cleaned the barrel. He shrugs and says he can still smell the gun oil so it is probably okay. He slings the rifle into the crook of his elbow and walks off toward the woods. I carry the pack, heavy with Jason’s beer. He does not have a hunting license. “Shouldn’t need one when you can get to the woods from your own back step.”

Halloween was the warmest I have ever known in Poeticule Bay, but this morning’s November chill cuts at my lungs. The forest goes quiet as we step into the tree line, as if the birds hear Jason coming and know they should be afraid. A squirrel rattles an alarm and skitters away as we push through a weave of dogwood.

 The glass bottles give muffled clinks as I walk. We hike to the old logging road where trees bow and touch overhead. Grass fills the middle so high, the trail looks like two narrow paths, as if parallel by coincidence.

Jason puts a finger to his lips. Staying quiet is all Jason knows about hunting. I try to tread carefully so the bottles don’t knock against each other. When I start to fall behind, my brother curses me for falling behind.

The sun burns off the gray cloud cover. The trees cast another forest of shadows, adding another thickness and plane to the landscape. The pack’s straps pull at my shoulders. Despite the sun and the cold air’s green taste, my footsteps become heavier as we push on. The sweat trapped under the backpack sucks my shirt to my skin.

We walk another half hour and salt sweat burns my eyes before I ramp up the courage to complain. My breathing is heavy. “We’re going too far, Jason.”


…I asked Jason if he cleaned the barrel. He shrugged and said he could still smell the gun oil so it’s  probably okay. He slung the rifle into the crook of his elbow and stalked off toward the woods. I carried the pack, heavy with Jason’s beer. He doesn’t have a hunting license. “Shouldn’t need one when you can get to the woods from your own back step.”

            That Halloween had been the warmest I have ever known in Poeticule Bay, but this morning’s November chill cut at my lungs. The forest went  quiet as we stepped into the tree line, as if the birds heard  Jason coming and knew they should be afraid. A squirrel rattled an alarm and skittered away as we pushed through a weave of dogwood.

 The glass bottles gave  muffled clinks as I walked. We hiked to the old logging road where trees bowed to touch overhead. Grass filled the middle so high, the trail looked  like two narrow paths, as if parallel by coincidence.

 Jason put  a finger to his lips. Staying quiet is all Jason knew  about hunting. I tried  to tread carefully so the bottles wouldn’t knock against each other. When I started  to fall behind, my brother cursed  me for falling behind.

The sun burned  off the gray cloud cover. The trees cast another forest of shadows, adding another thickness and plane to the landscape. The pack’s straps pulled  at my shoulders. Despite the sun and the cold air’s green taste, my footsteps became  heavier. The sweat trapped under the backpack sucked  my shirt to my skin.

 We walk another half hour and salt sweat burns my eyes before I ramp up the courage to complain. My breathing heavy, I said,“We’re going too far, Jason.”

There are a lot of small changes here. Aside from changing the tense, there are a few other tactical changes worth noting. There’s a lot of walking through the woods in this story, so where appropriate I looked for more engaging verbs than “walking.” Instead I used “hiking” and “stalked.” Don’t touch your thesaurus , though. That’s a sign you’ve reached too far.

Careful use of uncommon verbs (like “skitters”) can be used to light the reader’s imagination as long as you don’t go over the top. If you overuse uncommon verbs, it’s usually for comedic effect. In the larger document I found other economies which I condensed into today’s Top 10 list.

 Related Articles

Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, My fiction, short stories, writing tips, , , , ,

Writers: On Editing Yourself


RULE #1: Writers must have a product to sell.

RULE#2: Writers must keep submitting their work until someone recognizes their genius.

I repeat these rules to remind myself to put them into practice. I wrote a (long) short story that has bugged me. I did submit this piece to One Story because the length was suitable for them. Unfortunately, they didn’t bite (no hard feelings.) As I reviewed the story, I began to figure out why it wasn’t fully baked yet. I realized I needed to do another revision. 

In editing myself, I hadn’t been as objective as I can be with others. I found some sentence constructions awkward. I reworked the opening paragraph to amp up the mystery and intrigue. I added some here and there where characters needed fleshing out. I cut some sentences down for economy and easier reading.

Editing yourself is difficult (Yes! Even for people who are also editors!) If you aren’t going to hire someone to help you with writing issues, the second-best option is time. Put it in a drawer and give yourself time to fall in love with the next project. That way, when you pull out the manuscript again, it’s kind of like being clear on the faults that plagued your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend.

I have found new places to submit the piece and this time I’m submitting with more confidence, not with the giddy frisson of a drunk at a Vegas craps table.

Today’s book recommendation:

The Artful Edit by Susan Bell.

Filed under: Books, Editors, My fiction, rules of writing, short stories, , , , ,

Bestseller with over 1,000 reviews!
Winner of the North Street Book Prize, Reader's Favorite, the
Literary Titan Award, the Hollywood Book Festival, and the
New York Book Festival.


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

Join my inner circle at AllThatChazz.com

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,096 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: