Wednesday, January 30, 2013

According to Writer and Editor Margo Dill, Writing Is Elementary (Part I)

Last Saturday I attended the monthly Saturday Writers meeting, which featured an exciting presentation by teacher, editor, blogger, and writer Margo Dill. Margo has a freelance editing business called Editor 911 and is a contributing editor and teacher for WOW! Women on Writing.
The room was packed! In fact, the staff had to add additional tables and chairs to accommodate more than 50 writers who turned out to listen to Margo talk about "Everything You Need to Know about Writing You Learned in Elementary School."
Margo's presentation was energetic and informative and filled with helpful hints for writers to use the tools they learned many years ago, but may need a nudge to remember. She focused on the 6+1 traits of writing: Ideas, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Voice, Organization, Conventions and Publication.
Here are some notes I jotted down during Margo's presentation: 
* Ideas. Sources for ideas can be your life, the Internet, newspaper articles or cartoons, books, just about anywhere. According to Margo, you don't only have to write what you know. You can research a topic or talk to other people. She used the example of traveling to Vicksburg to research her recently released book, Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg. One fascinating tip was using the "potato" method for generating ideas. Don't use the first idea that comes to mind; dig a little deeper to get something fresh beneath the surface. She also talked about how, like potatoes, ideas can become rotten if you don't do anything with them.
* Word Choice. For advice on word choices, Margo recommended reading On Writing by Stephen King, who cautions writers about overuse of adverbs and adjectives. Instead, use specific nouns and verbs. Watch for passive voice. Use word choices that fit your genre. For description of a chacter, don't be like a J.C. Penney catalog, but mention distinct characteristics. When using colors, be specific, don't overuse, and have a reason why one color is mentioned several times. (I took that to mean that, for example, does the color red signify an angry or passionate character?) Send overused words to the "word graveyard, where words go to die." Overused words include: very, good, bad, happy, sad, just, little. Also, watch for repeat words. I found this humorous list on AskMen of overused words, some of which I use more than I should.
* Sentence Fluency. Vary the length and type of sentences, and vary how your sentences begin. During the editing process, study your manuscript. Watch for the first word of each sentence. Always read your work out loud. If writing in first person, watch for starting sentences with the word "I." For third person, don't repeat the character's name too much. Instead, use pronouns--although to avoid confusion, when characters are speaking in dialogue and both are the same sex, it's okay to use their names. To build suspense use shorter entences and action words. Longer sentences help readers catch their breath.
In my next post, I'll share what Margo had to say about: Organization, Voice, Conventions and Publication.


  1. I like the potato comparison and will definitely think about that during the writing process. The "word graveyard" is funny, but also apt. Great post, Donna.

  2. I love the thought of an idea going rotten like a potato! And specificity in word choice is what I aim for in general, but especially in flash/micro fiction.

  3. I love the dig a little deeper advice! Now we just have to write a great manuscript to apply these ideas to.

  4. Margo's presentation was chock full of tips, which as she said, are as valid as ever. Very enjoyable too.

  5. Donna--Thanks for posting this, and I'm looking forward to the next one. I was driving halfway across the state with a Boxer (heading to his forever home) and had to miss Margo's presentation.

    I too like the potato comparison. Maybe I should check my drawer to see if anything is stinking things up? ;)

  6. Hi Lisa,
    Thanks. It was a fun presentation.

    Hi Madeline,
    After reading some of your flash fiction works, I know how skilled you are at choosing the right word.

    Hi Janet,
    Same here. ;-)

    Hi Marcia,
    margo was great!

    Hi Sioux,
    You are welcome. I was wondering where you were on Saturday. I had to leave during the Q&A, but I got down most of the presentation. I thought the potato comparison was unique and memorable.


  7. I'm so sorry to have missed Margo's presentation. We were dress shopping for daughter's wedding. She finally found what she was looking for!

    Critter Alley

  8. Sound advice. I look forward to hearing the rest. The only thing I think I've nailed is the idea factor. I can write about almost anything. This makes me want to grab On Writing off my end table and read it again.

  9. Donna, thanks so much for highlighting my talk on your blog. :) It's interesting to read what I actually said--I had notes but you know once you start talking. . .

    I have to say that potato idea is not my original idea--the fact that they can turn rotten without getting them out into the world--that's my idea--but the original term "potato" idea is from the 6 +1 traits people. :) Don't want to take credit for something . . . Okay, I'm excited to read what else I said. :) LOL

  10. Sounds like a great event. I miss these things living in provincial Spain. When I'm in Oxford it's out of term so not much is happening there either! Ah well, Bukowski said that solitude is a gift. . .

  11. Hi Pat,
    Congratulations on your daughter's upcoming wedding. You will make a lovely mother of the bride!

    Hi Val,
    I'm with you about re-reading On Writing.

    Hi Margo,
    You are welcome. You had so many good suggestions, I hope I got them all down.

    Hi Sean,
    Sounds like your life is very exciting, but as you mention solitude is a gift. And from what I've read of your writing, you have used it well.


  12. Wow, I was SURE I left a comment here...Maybe someone else also wrote about Margo's presentation...??
    Yes, Margo's presentation was wonderful. Besides the advice she gave, she's so's all the more interesting!

  13. Hi Becky,
    Maybe you read something about Margo's presentation on Facebook?

  14. I remembered....I left comments on Karen's Bookland
    She also wrote about Margo's presentation!


Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...