Friday, April 10, 2015

Writing Sisters: Four Surprising Tips to Tighten Your Writing

Betsy Duffy and Laurie Myers

Find and replace.  We all have it on our writing programs but don’t often use it in the editing process. Using search features allows us to quickly find and replace words that aren’t necessary.
Here are four tips for using Find and Replace in rewriting, with some examples from our book The Shepherd’s Song.
1. Find every use of the word “thought”. Is it necessary?
FIRST DRAFT:  A brief memory of her car plowing into another vehicle flashed across her mind. ‘A car accident,’ she thought. ‘I’ve been in a car accident.’
Evaluate each use of the word. Often you can eliminate it. Extra words take the reader out of the character’s head. There’s no need to tell the reader that the character is thinking. Just say it.
FINAL DRAFT:  A brief memory came – her car sliding on the slick road, the sound of breaking glass and crunching metal. A car accident.
2. Find every place you use the word “said”. Can you take it out?
FIRST DRAFT:  He picked up the receiver and said, “This is John McConnell.”
The tag (he said), slows down the action and reminds the reader that it is a written story.
FINAL DRAFT:  He fumbled for a moment with the receiver, then got it to his mouth with shaking hands. “This is John McConnell.”
3. Look for the word “felt” when used to describe a character’s feelings.  Remember: show don’t tell.
FIRST DRAFT: She felt confused and out of control.  
This is okay for a first draft but needs rewriting.
FINAL DRAFT: “What’s your name?”
She tried to focus. Her name?
“Kate . . . McConnell.” She gasped out each word.
“Your birthday?”
She tried to come up with the answer, but it was too confusing. Tears welled up.
“It’s all right. Just stay with me.”
“What hap…?” She wanted to finish the sentence but could not.
4. Look out for the word “saw.” Show us what the character is seeing instead.
FIRST DRAFT: He slipped the phone out of his pocket and saw the text message from his dad.
We don’t need to explain that the character saw something.  Show it from the character’s POV.
FINAL DRAFT:  Matt slipped the phone out of his pocket.
‘Emergency. Call me.’
A text from his dad. That was unusual.
These simple tips help us with our writing. Do you have others to share?

The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars.  They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, The Shepherd’s Song,  is being released in paperback  April 2015.
You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books. Contact them at  and find them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Back Copy:

Follow the incredible journey of one piece of paper—a copy of Psalm 23—as it travels around the world, linking lives and hearts with its simple but beautiful message.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

Shortly before a tragic car accident, Kate McConnell wrote down the powerful words of Psalm 23 on a piece of paper for her wayward son. Just before she loses consciousness, Kate wonders if she’s done enough with her life and prays, “Please, let my life count.”

Unbeknownst to Kate, her handwritten copy of Psalm 23 soon begins a remarkable journey around the world. From a lonely dry cleaning employee to a soldier wounded in Iraq, to a young Kurdish girl fleeing her country, to a Kenyan runner in the Rome Invitational marathon, this humble message forever changes the lives of twelve very different people. Eventually, Kate’s paper makes it back to its starting place, and she discovers the unexpected ways that God changes lives, even through the smallest gestures.

With beautiful prose evocative of master storyteller Andy Andrews’s The Butterfly Effect, this story will touch your heart and remind you of the ways God works through us to reach beyond what we can imagine.


  1. Thank you Writing Sisters, for sharing these tips. A refreshing break from the common call to surgically remove that, some, very, ... Lol
    Good stuff!

  2. Welcome to Write Right, Laurie and Betsy! I so enjoyed your post, and agree wholeheartedly with ever point. Very well illustrated too. :)

    1. Thanks for having us on Write Right, Delia. It's always fun to share with outer writers. We all need each other! Laurie and Betsy

  3. Thank you for your real life examples. Those help a lot!

  4. You are welcome! Thanks for your response. Laurie and Betsy

  5. It's good to read your words. Best wishes with your new book and blog tour :-)

  6. Good examples! Could you please tell which program has find and replace?
    Thank you.

    1. Gerlinde, I use Microsoft Word. It does have a find and replace feature.