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Punctuation Series: 4 Ways to Edit Commas

punctuation series

Four Ways to Edit Commas

 1.  Commas used with adjectives.

If you can place the word “and” between two adjectives before a noun without changing the meaning, then you need a comma separating the adjectives.

Here is an example:

His narrow chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

His narrow [and] chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

His narrow, chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

The two adjectives here act as separate modifiers for the noun “jaw,” and that’s why there is a comma between them.

However, if two adjectives before the noun are considered a unit, then do not use a comma.

Here is an example.

The author had written many famous award-winning articles.

Famous describes award-winning, and award-winning describes articles. Therefore, no comma is needed because the words work together and make sense.

2.  Commas with adverbs.

Generally, adverbs like howevertherefore, and indeed are set off by commas.


She wanted to join the group, however, she had to work instead.

He asked his boss if he could take the week off, therefore, he was able to finish writing.

But if the adverb is important to the meaning of the clause, or if no pause is needed in the reading, then no comma is needed.


The cattle indeed ran through the pasture as a group.

I’ll wait for you however long it takes for you to make a decision.

Even if you’ve written a letter, you are therefore a writer.

3.  Commas with cities and states.

This is an often-confusing issue. When do you use commas and when don’t you?

Always use a comma between the city and state, even if the state is spelled out or used as abbreviation.


Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of several Christian publishing hubs.

Will you visit any museums in New Orleans, L.A., this year?

If the state precedes a zip code, do not use a comma.


Send your book proposal to Your Agent, 123 Proposal Rd., Manuscript, TN 12345.

4.  Commas with compound predicates, dependent clauses, and independent clauses.

Compound Predicates. Do not use commas when you have two verbs that belong to the same subject.

For example,

The writers drove to the writer’s conference and attended every session.

Dependent Clauses. A dependent clause that is considered restrictive cannot be left out of the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence, therefore, use a comma when the dependent clause comes before the main clause.

For example,

When you send the manuscript to the publisher, tell them we can edit if necessary.

A dependent clause that is considered nonrestrictive, and which provides information that supplements the sentence not necessary to the entire sentence does need a comma.

For example,

I’d like to spend the afternoon in the bookstore, if you don’t mind.

Essentially, if you can leave out the dependent clause (“if you don’t mind”), and the rest of the sentence makes sense, then you need the comma.

Independent Clauses. An independent clause is part of a sentence that can stand on its own. If there are two of them together, joined by a conjunction (and, but, or), then a comma comes before the conjunction.

For example,

The instructors prepared for their sessions six months in advance, and they taught several classes at the annual writer’s conference.

The only exception: Short clauses don’t need a comma.

For example,

Sarah ran the signup table and Bill greeted the guests.

Using commas correctly is important because it makes a world of difference in the meaning of a sentence. One wrong comma could mean someone’s life! (Let’s eat Grandma… or Let’s eat, Grandma.)

Next month, we’ll look at some more ways to edit the punctuation in your manuscript, but for now. . .

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

What do you struggle with when using commas?  

Oh! And in case you’re interested, there’s an excellent online writer’s conference going on right now (February 12 — March 5, 2019)! It’s all online — so that means no travel, no hotel, no childcare, no dressing up, NO stress—and the best part is that it’s FREE! 

25 stellar speakers bring you up-to-date industry news, strategies, and encouragement right to the comfort of your living room. I’m presenting two sessions on self-editing, so be sure to click this link >> FlourishWriters Online Conference and register! It’s free!

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How to Think Like an Editor: Part One

How to Think Like an Editor_ Part One

This blog post first appeared on Almost an Author, July 22, 2018.

Writing is a funny art, isn’t it? Agents and editors (freelance and publishing house) tell us to write, write, write . . . and also make sure that our manuscript is edited well. “Edited well?” But what if we don’t like the word editing because it’s too daunting? What if our minds turn to jelly or we seize up when an agent or mentor tells us to edit our manuscript?

Well. Editing may seem daunting and scary and intimidating, but it’s really just one piece of the writing process. Editing doesn’t have to be so intimidating. Every writer should have an editor, but before sending a manuscript to a personal freelance editor or mentor (or even critique group), we need to make sure that the manuscript is fluid. Simply put, editing is just going through a more detailed process to make sure our manuscript is ready for the public eye. So . . . how do we think like an editor when we aren’t one? I’ll give you some quick tips for thinking like an editor. Ready?

Three Rules for Thinking Like an Editor

1. Am I a one-book author?

Now this is a scary question because agents especially want to ensure that the author seeking representation has more than one story or book idea. If you only have one story idea now and you are finding it hard to come up with another one, please don’t panic.

That’s what your critique group or mentor or friend(s) is for. That’s why you see questions on social media, “Would you read a book about flying saucers in the Carribean?” The author is trying to get feedback on their idea. If you aren’t an idea person (but rather someone who runs with an idea after it’s been fleshed out), you may want to sign up for coaching sessions or find a friend who will listen to your idea strain and then ask you questions about it to get you thinking.

If you have a handful of exceptional one-sentence hooks, that’s a good indication to an editor that you’re not a one-book author.

2. Will my book sell?

Another big question, but an important one. As the author, you will have done your research on other books in the market in the past year that are similar to yours in subject, theme, timeline, and content. If you find many like yours, that’s good. It only means that your idea is being published. Now the trick is to make sure that your hook is ear-grabbing enough to catch an agent’s or editor’s attention. Hooks like “A woman struggles to sell her house but can’t because there’s a hippie living in her basement who refuses to move out” might work. Doesn’t that raise all kinds of questions?

On the other hand, if you can’t find a book like yours out on the market, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it may mean that your book isn’t ready for publication quite yet, or that your genre or subject is too narrow. That said, consider broadening your subject focus or story question. And keep writing!

3. Will I work with an agent or editor to meet deadlines, manuscript edits, and other details?

While the other two questions were super important, this one probably outranks them. Why? Because agents and editors crave for authors who are easy to work with and who aren’t afraid to make necessary changes for the book’s best interest for the needs of the readers. I am not saying you should make every single change that an agent or editor want you to make, for you know where your book stands as far as its core message, and there will be things you will not want to change. However, you can graciously explain why a change cannot be made but keep an open mind in case the suggested change is a good change. A good change will enrich your story, grow you as a writer, and really wow your readers.

If an author can meet deadlines, make clear edits, work with the publisher’s marketing team, and do their part in getting the book into readers’ hands, then that’s the author an agent or editor wants to work with. That’s exactly what thinking like an editor is all about, and chances are, you’ll never be without a writing project or a published book available on your favorite bookstore shelf.

Next month, I’ll share some more tips on how to think like an editor.

But for now, please join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

Take a few minutes and ruminate. What are some other ways you can think like an editor? Drop a line in the comments!

Winner of last week’s giveaway for The Southern Belle Brides Collection:

Jennifer L. Congratulations, Jennifer! You have been contacted.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this month’s giveaway!

Check back next month for another author interview and giveaway that has something to do with Jane Austen!

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ACFW 2016: What is Success? Part 2

zinsser hard writing is easy writing

In an ACFW conference session about writers developing a thick skin, Steve Laube had asked us to define success.

In my quest for defining success, I learned the real value of writing and strategy.

The process for writing one or a hundred books will be different for every writer from every different level. Some may crank out four novels a year, and others one novel every two years, or even four years. Steve’s blog post Praise Slow Writing really made me think. However, in my reply to his post, I did not think well enough. Well, I did not choose well enough.

Steve’s gracious reply:


I must be very clear that this post is in no way a criticism or critique of those who write and publish much faster.

I represent Susan May Warren and know that she has a gift. She is very deliberate and careful in her writing but she can do it at a speed that makes it appear easy. Her manuscripts go into her publishers very clean and her readers love her writing.

Sure, Susie’s output is prodigious. But it is not slap-dash or haphazard. We just had a meal together last week and talked about her work strategy. She has spent a long time working long hours to get to this point. It just seems like she “cranks ’em out” when in actuality that is part of the strategy!

But remember it is a gift honed through years and years of discipline and learning.

I have clients who write one novel every three to four years.
I have other clients who write one novel every three to four months, or even faster.
Both are right in their methods.

I also know how hard Ted Dekker works on his books and how he wrestles with the text and the plots to make them impact his readers.

So, let’s be careful that we don’t fall into a comparison of volume in output as being somehow less literary than what I wrote here and called Slow Writing.

My intent is to challenge each of us to consider our words and make sure they are the right ones to put on the page. If they come at lightning speed it still may be Slow Writing because it too[k] years to get to the point where you can create quickly but with quality.

Other writers are gifted with the ability to write slowly. Neither is wrong in their approach. Merely different.

Uh-oh. I’d committed the cardinal sin for writers! Totally botched my word choice!

One word! Did you find it?
My  c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y  thought-out reply:

Thank you for the clarification, Steve, and for teaching me this deeper value of writing/strategy.

My word choice “haphazard” is incorrect, as I did not intend to or even want to slam writers who write quickly and label them as uber pansters who don’t care for their readers and the written word. I do apologize, for the word choice gave the impression that this post was criticizing fast writers. And I didn’t even take it that way! Ugh, words. Guess I should have rolled that one around in my tongue a little longer. 😉

I attended Susie’s and Rachel’s post-conference session this past weekend at the ACFW conference, and greatly admired their knowledge and writing ability.

I guess I’m just one of those Slow Writers. 🙂

Again, thank you.

It’s all about choosing the right word or definition. In a sea of a million. And even then, the above reply has some issues. (Maybe I’m in the wrong profession?) Haha. Just give me a paper cut and pour lemon juice on it!

Granted, this barely touches the definition of success (still working to define it as it pertains to my writing). 😀