Overcoming writer’s block . . .

Get rid of the fear of the blank page once and for all!

A blank page.

A cursor blinking.

Typed words begin to appear: I don’t even know where to start because my head is filled with more false starts than good ideas but maybe if I just start typing, something will eventually come out and it will be fantastic because there is a chance it will lead to questions, uncover buried thoughts, giving me more ideas (“let your mind run fast and free” so says the writer’s handbook currently sitting on my lap), or at least I will have some words on the page to justify my time sitting in front of this computer and calling myself an author. . . .

via giphy.com


Brain barfing, as my six-year-old calls it (or “brainstorming” as it’s more formally called), is one way of overcoming writer’s block. But the best way to get rid of that blank page altogether is . . . research.

So let’s go back a bit. What inspired you to write your story?

Was it something you read in an article or heard on the news? Some new knowledge you obtained? A setting? A “what if” question? A personal experience?

Maybe you can’t even remember how you came up with the idea, but you will know this one: What is your story going to be about? That is, what is your story’s arc?

For example, who is your protagonist? What is their challenge? What is the resolution?

Writing is a process of uncovering. Opening your senses. Finding out answers. Divulging into the human psyche. It is also simply a process, following a series of steps to get to the finished product.

So take a deep breath and step back to that place where your story began. What experience and authority do you have to tell this story? According to bestselling author Elizabeth George in her upcoming book Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel, this is where research comes in because not only will the background information you acquire give you dominion and accuracy, it will also inspire plot elements you would not have considered, even giving rise to the characters who will people your world.

In this case, research doesn’t mean scouring the Internet. There, you may only expose the surface. And you might miss the emotions evoked when physically encountering a situation, walking through a setting, or listening to someone recount their experience. If your research is in depth, your use of it will be seamless and, as George says, it will “eliminate the fear of the blank page.”

4 Reasons to use a style sheet . . .

What is a style sheet? And why use one?

A style sheet is a document editors and authors use to record all the style decisions they make for a particular manuscript, often different from those found in a style manual or in-house style guide. They inform the author and editor about spelling choices, punctuation, numbers/dates, capitalization practices, abbreviations, and so on. You can also use it to list characters names, acceptable dialogue tags, formatting choices, hyphenated/unusual compound words, and foreign words, as well as anything unusual that should be noted.

For example, an author of a science fiction book may decide that the computer’s dialogue is always in Courier font and underlined. Another example might be the spelling of “okay”—perhaps the author wants “okay” to be always written as “OK.”

A style sheet is important because it:

  • ensures consistency—in both text and design;
  • maintains the author’s voice;
  • provides a reference for anyone working on the manuscript; and
  • can be used for all the books in a series.

Here is a sample of a style sheet that you are welcome to use:

Style Sheet

Consider gender-neutral pronouns . . .

A Review of A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson

“. . . we’re trying to create an environment where all are welcome in our lives and spaces . . . and this will eventually become the norm.” — from A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson

Recently, I saw a job description that used the masculine pronoun and then noted at the end of the text: “N.B. The masculine is used only to lighten the text.”


Language is changing every day. As editors and authors, we have the responsibility to pay attention and keep up with these changes. When editing non-fiction, one of the jobs of the editor is to advocate for gender-neutral language.

Gender neutral pronouns are not something new, yet, for some, the practice of using them in our everyday lives and writing is still a hurdle. Why? This is a loaded question. But perhaps one of the reasons is because we forget the power of a pronoun.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns reinforces the importance of using gender-neutral pronouns and lays out a plan of action in comic book form. It is a great resource for everyone and an asset to every workplace. As the title says, the guide is quick to read and easy to understand with simple charts, scripts, and examples to follow.

If you are still having trouble writing with gender-neutral pronouns after reading this book, then please rewrite the sentence to avoid pronouns all together because, as authors Archie and Tristan say, “nothing is a cool as being an empathetic and respectful person.”

Here is another worthy source to have handy when choosing which gender-neutral pronoun to use.

Review Sept 2018 

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson

What authors should know about copyright laws . . .

Copyright protects original works in fixed form — that is, copyright protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. Copyright applies to all original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works.

However, copyright does not last forever. Authors, editors, and publishers should have a thorough knowledge of the copyright laws of their country of origin.

If you decide to incorporate into your book a published or unpublished work or piece of work that is not your own, you must get written permission from the rights holder (the author or publisher) of that work — unless the work or piece of work is in the public domain. It would also be worthwhile to understand the concept of fair dealing (Canada) or fair use (United States). If you are interested in sharing your work with the public on conditions of your choice rather than reserving all rights under copyright law, you might consider using Creative Commons licenses.

Here is a short summary of the copyright laws in Canada and the United States gathered from their respective legislation:

Copyright in Canada

Unlike many other countries, in Canada, creators do not have to register their work. As soon as an original work is in a fixed format, it is protected by Canada’s federal parliament. The Copyright Act gives the creator the sole right to prohibit or authorize the production or reproduction of a work, or substantial part of it, in any form.

The duration of copyright in Canada is the life of the author plus 50 years after the author’s death. However, exceptions include:

  • Multiple authors: The duration of copyright is from the life of the author who dies last plus 50 years after the author who dies last.
  • Posthumous works, anonymous works, and movies: The duration of copyright is 50 years from the end of the calendar year of first publication, or 75 years from the end of the calendar year of the making of the work.
  • Works published, performed, or communicated to the public by telecommunication 50 years immediately before this section (7) of the Act: The remainder of the calendar year in which this section (7) of the Act comes into force and for a period of 50 years following the end of that calendar year, whether or not the work is published or performed in public or communicated to the public by telecommunication after the coming into force of this section (7) of the Act.
  • Works published, performed, or communicated to the public by telecommunication more than 50 years before this section (7) of Act: The remainder of the calendar year in which this section (7) of the Act comes into force and for a period of five years following the end of that calendar year, whether or not the work is published or performed in public or communicated to the public by telecommunication after the coming into force of this section (7) of the Act.

For more information on the copyright in Canada, click here.

Copyright in the United States

In the United States, the duration of copyright is 70 years after the death of the author for any works created and fixed in a tangible medium after or on January 1, 1978. However, exceptions include:

  • Multiple authors: the duration of copyright lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death.
  • Works made for hire and anonymous and pseudonymous works: The duration of copyright is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter (unless the author’s identity is later revealed in Copyright Office records, in which case the term becomes the author’s life plus 70 years).
  • Works already protected by January 1, 1978: The 1909 Act and 1976 Act allowed for renewal of copyright when the first term was up (With renewal, this meant a total of 56 years from registration under the 1909 Act, and total of 67 years from registration under the 1976 Act). Therefore, the maximum duration of copyright is 95 years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 67 years). Applying these standards, all works published in the United States before January 1, 1923, are in the public domain.
  • Works originally copyrighted after 1922 and renewed before 1978: All of these works have an extended copyright term of 95 years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 67 years) from the end of the year in which they were originally secured copyright. Works originally copyrighted between January 1, 1950, and December 31, 1963. Copyrights in their first 28-year term on January 1, 1978, still had to be renewed to be protected for the second term. If a valid renewal registration was made at the proper time, the second term will last for 67 years.

For more information on copyright laws in the United States, click here.

Copyright in Other Countries

According to the Legislative Summary of Bill C-1, the Copyright Act of Canada is not enforceable outside Canada’s borders. However, the summary states that international conventions and treaties expand the rights of Canadian creators to the territories of other member countries and include enforceable penalties for copyright infringement.

To see the list of these international treaties, click here.

Why are styles in Microsoft Word important?

Don’t leave your manuscript without style . . . at least put some “clothes” on it!

I receive a lot of manuscripts from self-published authors that have been manually formatted. That is, the manuscript is littered with unnecessary extra returns, spaces, tabs, etc., all used in an attempt to format.

If you want your book to look like a professional publication, you need a consistent and cleanly formatted book. The best way to do that, if you are using Microsoft Word, is by taking advantage of MW’s Built-in Styles. (Click here for a video tutorial.) Plus, formatting with Styles means you can create a Table of Contents using MW’s TOC feature, which automatically creates hyperlinks to each chapter or section—great for eBooks, amirite?

Most professional editors know how to use MW’s Styles and will happily format your manuscript using Styles for you. However, if you have a limited budget, you can shave hours off the editing process (and thus, the cost of editing) by formatting your own book before you send it to your editor.

Even if, in the final stages of editing, you want to (or you want your editor to) customize the format, it is so much easier to modify the Style already in place than to go into the manuscript, delete all unwanted paragraph returns, spaces, tabs, etc., and then add and modify Styles.

Think of it this way, if MW’s Styles were clothes, then without them, you’d be sending your editor a naked manuscript. . . .

I am a reader, and I judge a book by its cover.

I did not edit the book in this image. The book was published by Random House, but I posted it here because it is a pretty awesome book cover.

I know that for self-publishers, coming up with a cover image for your book may be difficult and expensive. But just a stroll through your local bookstore can give you ideas of what to do and not to do. The goal is to try to make your book not look amateur.

If you can’t afford a designer, my best advice is keep it simple.  Make sure the title of the book and your name are not obstructed by the image (if there is one). Use colours well to create contrast (click here for information on the colour wheel) so that the title of your book is legible from far away. Choose an image that has meaning to the book (for free images, click here). Avoid glossy covers. And make sure your jacket copy has been edited!

So the next time you go to your local bookstore (or art gallery even!), bring a paper and pen (or your phone) and make note of the designs you like best and, more importantly, why you are drawn to them. Don’t forget that readers really do judge books by their covers.

You need an editor. I can edit.

Welcome! If your document needs professional editing, please contact me. My specialties include speculative fiction, mysteries, and spy and crime novels. I also welcome young adult and children’s fiction and travel memoirs.