Since I joined a couple of writer critique groups back in the early 1990s, I learned a lot of basic guidelines for good writing. The majority of them made a lot of sense to me. And as a reader as well as a writer, I now notice some awkward, clunky writing that miss the following points.

• Stay in point of view—no head-hopping inside a scene.
• Write as much as you can in active voice; don’t be passive.
• Leave out the boring stuff.
• Use modifiers sparingly (some say not at all, but I don’t agree with that—see below).
• Never use a semi-colon in fiction. (I break this one every so often, just because I’m a rebel.)
• Learn and use all the rules of grammar.
• Spell check over and over again.
• Get critiques and edits.

Then there were other rules I had trouble with:

• Show, don’t tell. In my opinion, this can lead to choppy writing and lack of interesting details. Yes, show action, but tell descriptions.
• No prologues. Come on. Sometimes they’re exactly what’s needed. They can pull the reader in and explain some backstory so there’s no “info dump” later on. I agree, though, that they need to be done very well. Many best-selling authors use them. Why shouldn’t the rest of us?
• No epilogs. I have two reasons for using them in my Paula PI books—one is that as a reader myself, I like to know what happens with some of the characters later on. In a mystery in particular, it’s hard to wrap up all the loose character threads during the hopefully action-packed ending. The second reason was simply because it was a senseless rule. (There’s that rebel again).
• Don’t use he said/she said. Have the character do something instead (cough, sigh, drink coffee, drink beer, whatever). Sorry, after a while of reading all these small actions (especially the coffee drinking) it gets old AND intrusive AND boring. He said/she said is invisible to most readers. It doesn’t stop them. So, why not use it? I do both the saids and the small actions, mixing it up.
• Split infinitives are evil. Only if you’re an English teacher who hasn’t kept up with the times. When Latin was in use, this was a necessary rule. It’s not one for those of us who speak English. And sometimes splitting the infinitive makes the sentence much stronger: “to boldly go where no man has gone before’ has a much better cadence than “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” Right? Right. When we were motorhoming I found a great bumper sticker that we promptly put on the couch: “Boldly going nowhere.”

But I digress.

One warning about head hopping:

If you do head hop between scenes, be sure the reader knows right away whose head you’ve hopped into if you’ve changed it since the last scene. The book I’m reading currently has made this mistake several times, and it always make me stop in order to figure out I’m in a different head.

So, the biggest rule is to do what works. What works is smooth writing that doesn’t in any way make your reader stop reading to figure something out. This is okay for non-fiction. Not so much for fiction. Thus the rules about using good grammar and spelling in particular.


She’d say, “Take it easy. With baby steps.”

• Pick an area that needs de-cluttering. The corner of a room. Your home office. A closet.
• Discard or put away two items. Then stop.
• Discard or put away two items every day from now on (okay, take the weekend off, or at least Sunday).
• If you’re on a roll one day and feel like doing more and have the time, go ahead until you want to stop.
• BUT, the next day, discard or put away two more items. No resting on your laurels.
• Repeat until done.

Then you can pick another area to work on.

To keep the clutter permanently gone from the areas you’ve worked on, be sure to discard or put away any items that have accumulated in that spot before you go to bed every night. After a while this will become such a habit that you won’t be able to go to bed without having everything put away.

This is how I do it. I have two hot spots. Home office and kitchen. I make sure all surfaces are clear before I head off to bed every night. The rest of the house I keep up with as I use the space—the closet, for example, or the table next to my chair.

I hope this will help anyone who has trouble with excess clutter. Let me know how it goes if you use this system. And if you have any other tips, please leave a comment.

ORG small


My novel, Organized to Death, is the first in the Tina Tales mystery series. Tina lives in Newport, Rhode Island, with her mother and great uncle in an old Victorian home. Her first job as a professional organizer goes horribly wrong when she and the home owner discover a dead body.

Here’s an excerpt from later in the book (on-line booksellers just give you the first few pages). I hope this will intrigue you enough to purchase or borrow the book, if you haven’t already. It’s available in print, for Kindle, as well as other ebook formats for your iPhone or Nook, Kobo, etc. Here goes:

ORG smallTina grabbed her winter coat from the hall closet and stepped out the front door. A shadowy figure leaning against the old maple tree in the front yard straightened up as she approached. Hands in her jacket pockets, Tina’s grip on the pepper spray tightened. The urge to turn around and run back inside was strong, but she made herself keep walking.
“Hello, Tina,” the man said.
Gooseflesh rose on her arms. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Ted Hockmann.”
“Who?” Tina shivered in the cold night air.
“Ted Hockmann.” He stepped into the light, and she recognized Dr. Hockmann. He’d taken over old Dr. Stevenson’s practice a few months ago, and she’d gone to see him for her yearly exam. She blushed. She so did not want to talk to Dr. Hockmann.
“Oh, Doctor,” she said, realizing he’d called her by her first name. Since she’d become an adult, she didn’t like that. She admitted he was one of the most handsome men she’d ever met. Way over six feet, slim, and elegant with fine, chiseled features and piercing blue eyes. Blond hair. Yum. Except for some reason, he creeped her out. He stood there, not saying anything more. Her hand tightened on the pepper spray. Her mind told her she was being ridiculous, but all her mother’s past warnings clanged in her brain.
“Nice to see you,” he said, finally.
“Um, you too,” she squeaked.
“Going for a walk?”
“Mind if I join you?”
Yes, her mind screamed. “No,” she said. “That would be fine.” He was a doctor after all. They knew each other, sort of.
They fell into step. “I live just two doors down from you, you know, in the conversion to condos,” he said.
“No, I didn’t know that.” Her voice was still too high.
“Yes. Just moved in a week ago. Do you often take walks at night?”
He’s just being friendly, she told herself. “Sometimes.”
“Interesting neighborhood. I hope eventually all the homes are renovated.”
“That would be nice.”
“Would increase the value, of course, but the main thing is how wonderful it would all look.”
He was just being friendly, making conversation, she told herself again. They were neighbors, after all. They walked in silence for a while.
“You work?” he asked abruptly.
“Yes. I’m a professional organizer.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“I go to people’s homes or offices and help them clear out clutter and organize their space so they can put things away easily and find things when they need to, and just so it generally works better for them.” She was babbling. She hated feeling this nervous.
“You do offices?”
“Yes,” she said cautiously. He hadn’t been in practice long enough to need organizational help, had he?
“I could use your help then.”


And here’s the description:

Back in her hometown of Newport, RI, Tina Shaw, twenty-nine, is picking up the pieces of her shattered life. She begins her first job as a professional organizer in a house filled with cardboard boxes and clutter, only to discover a dead body in an eerily neat baby nursery. She fears this career move may be a short one until the handsome but spooky new doctor persuades her to reorganize his office left in disarray by the former physician. Ignoring the doctor’s obvious interest in her, Tina begins seeing her former boyfriend. When he protests against her new profession, she realizes what a control freak he is. Then there’s another old flame who is making her hotter by the minute. As she works through the office clutter, she learns the doctor has a possible motive for the killing. But when someone else is shot, the doctor has a solid alibi–Tina herself. Drawn unwillingly into the case, she searches for answers as her list of suspects multiplies. When the killer begins targeting Tina and her friends, she works harder to learn the murderer’s identity before someone else is found dead.

Okay, enough advertising. Next time I’ll post something entirely different.


Authors generally love to do research. (Secret: It’s a good excuse for procrastinating—don’t tell anyone!). I’m no exception. That doesn’t mean I enjoy researching every single subject. I might look up some information on guns, for example, which don’t interest me much, but I don’t want to make any errors about how they work because people who do know become incensed if a writer gets something wrong. Many times I simply become vague. She pulled out her gun—not she pulled out her [brand of gun] [name of gun] and inserted [type of bullets] into the [cylinder/chamber/magazine/whatever], screwed on the silencer [make sure type of gun allows for this] and pulled the [safety/hammer/whatever] . . . Well, you get the idea.

But when something does interest me, I can get lost in the details.

Take wardrobe trunks, for example. Also called steamer trunks. They could be huge—as big as a telephone booth. They were great for keeping clothing in good shape because you could hang it up. Drawers kept other things organized. You didn’t have to unpack—just open up the trunk, and there was everything you needed.

Only problem—you wouldn’t be able to put it in an overhead bin, or check it at the airport. It took at least two men to carry it around.

But they could be the perfect solution for someone who likes to be super organized, like Tina Shaw, my protagonist in her professional organizer series. In Cluttered Attic Secrets

clutteredatticsecrets-08an old wardrobe trunk plays a small part in the story. Researching them, I found out they could have ironing boards:


Fold down desks:


And be as big as telephone booths:


Isn’t the internet great? I could find all this information in a matter of minutes. What have you been researching lately?