The Great Gatsby Chapter Recaps

I don't know about you, but I am OBSESSED with the recaps of allllll my favorite TV shows on Vulture.com and EW.com. So I figured--why not do the same thing with my favorite books?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my faves--and NOT just because one of the movie versions starred a super dreamy Robert Redford. It's got a pretty awesome plot, and it's even short, too!

You can take a look at the whole playlist by clicking here. You'll see that each chapter gets its own video with the highlights described in about 2 minutes or less!

If you want to click on specific chapters, you can do just that below.

I'd love to do more videos, so if you have special requests for book titles, leave them in the comments! A little Catcher in the Rye, perhaps?  :)

 

Sometimes writing is as awful as the first day of school

I’ve been out of school for…well…let’s say a number of years now, but I can still, STILL recall that horrifying sensation of walking into school that first day in September.

You’re wearing new clothes that aren’t quite comfortable yet. You’re carrying a backpack full of recently sharpened pencils and notebooks with no marks in them. You haven’t spotted your friends yet, and you’re trying to be casual and friendly and cool. But not in a way that looks like you actually care about being casual or friendly or cool.

It’s sort of exciting, but sort of awful.

 

When you’re starting any new project, whether it’s a blog or a paper or the dreaded college essay, you often have these same mixed-up feelings. You consider all of the possibilities as you stare at your blank computer screen, but you ‘re afraid to actually commit to any one of them. Which idea is the best? Which will cause you the least grief? Which will get you into your dream school and change the course of your life forever?

 

First of all, take a deep breath.

 

Everyone goes through the same thing.

 

I often talk people off a ledge when they’re trying to start a new project. Heck, I often have to talk myself off a ledge. Starting anything new is not easy, people. So how can you start writing with no pain and a lot of gain?

 

1.       Find the fun.

Think about your assignment (even if it’s self-imposed) and ask yourself this very important question: “What can I write about that will be fun for me?” If you’re having fun writing, your reader will have fun reading. No need to write anything down yet. Just let ideas roll around your brain for a bit.

 

2.       Come up with a list of possible topics.

Write down—yes, actually write down—3 to 5 possible ideas for what you want to continue writing about. Why should you actually write those ideas down? Because it is super incredibly easy to forget a brilliant idea, even if you swear you won’t. And don't worry--you're not committing to anything yet. Stare at your list and consider each possibility. Then give your brain a rest and walk away from your list and watch one episode of House Hunters, or whatever show floats your boat.

 

3.       Scribble a few phrases or sentences about each topic.

Take a look at your list, and think about each idea for at least two minutes. If you were to select that idea, what would you include in your writing? Take notes on your ideas, doodle your thoughts, or even try writing an intro sentence for each topic. If you don’t have much to say about a topic, cross it off your list.

 

4.       Pick a winner.

Look at everything you’ve written down and compare all the ideas. Which idea excites you? Which idea makes you want to write more? If you were pitching these ideas to the Sharks on Shark Tank, which idea would they invest in?

 

If you’ve done all these steps and you’re still confused, show your ideas to a super smart friend (or a writing coach like me). Talk each idea through separately, and ask which topic your friend would want to read more about. But don’t forget that you actually have to do the writing, so write about a topic that you can’t wait to share.

 

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Storytime with Rosie: One Writer's Trash...

In today's Storytime with Rosie segment (personal essays to help me demonstrate what I preach), I attempted to follow my own guidelines about writing a sad story. (Get the secret here.)

My life has been filled with a ton of exciting happy things lately, but there have been a few sad, unsettling changes, including the death of my wonderful Aunt Katherine. I wanted to write a story about the people I love who are no longer around to hug, and to do so, I focused on Secret #1: Focus on Tangible Things.

Let me tell you something, friend. Writing this essay was not easy, and I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I typed. In retrospect, this topic is a little too close and I feel a little too sad to craft the perfect essay. But since writing is often about the effort rather than the result, I want to share with you here.


That's my girl.

 

This vintage Brownie-inspired garbage can has been by my (bed)side ever since I paid $2.50 for her at a thrift store named Second Chance during my junior year in college. I would tell you how many years I’ve had her except that makes me way older than I want to be.

 

I don't think she's all that pretty, and she certainly doesn't add much to the decor of my bedroom. But I love her for all the reasons that I purchased her: she’s old, cheerful, and unique.

 

I can't say that hanging on to a past-its-prime garbage can for this long is all my fault. It’s genetic. I come from a family of hoardersItalian sentimentalists. We love old stuff that belonged to strangers: vintage maps, formal living room chairs, and even our house (it was built in 1899). And we especially love old stuff that belonged to people we love: Grandpa’s toolboxes, Nonni’s pearls, Great Aunt Mary’s jewelry, and so many more.

 

Recently, my dad had to sell his family’s home, the home where he and his two sisters grew up, the only home the family had ever lived in together. I knew that he had been combing through the house for years, searching for treasures to bring home and donating the rest. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that process was.

 

When I stepped into my parents’ garage, it was like stepping back into that house. There were marble endtables in perfect condition, the cutest baby chair of all-time, 70s style glasses commemorating the 12 days of Christmas, the decorative tin artwork that my grandfather crafted, and gifts from relatives who lived way before my time. The garage was packed to the gills with stuff. And with memories.

 

The thing about stuff is that you can’t keep it all. (Even though I try my darndest!) Standing in that garage, I felt like they were all standing there with me. I don’t want to let that feeling go.

 

Don’t get me wrong—while I adore my funny little Brownie garbage can, it isn’t nearly as important to me as my grandparents’ record player cabinet. And getting rid of my garbage can still won’t allow me to cram the entire contents of the garage into my small NYC apartment, so I know that there are a slew of tough decisions to come for everyone in my family. 


I need to keep reminding myself that stuff isn’t people.

 

Except when it is.


P.S. To learn more about the secret to writing a sad story, click here.

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The Secret to Writing a Sad Story...

Before we get to that answer, I just have to mention how strange it is that I offered you a Dead Poets Society-inspired writing tip the week before Robin Williams passed away. I know that the tip was to eliminate the word “very” from your writing, but I must say that his death is very, very sad.

 

The thing about sad stories is that they can become depressing. And paralyzing. And stay-in-your-room-with-the-shades-down-horrible. I’ve had some sadness in my life recently and it is p-a-i-n-f-u-l. Sometimes you don’t even want to write about it at all—and you don’t have to. Some people prefer to keep their grief private. But since a good chunk of high school seniors choose to write their college essays about the tough stuff in their lives—battling cancer, the death of a pet, family heartbreak—I want to address it here.

 

The secret to writing a sad story is…

 

…to focus on everything but the sad parts.

 

Here’s what I mean by that: When you’re trying to write about how inconsolable you were about an event in your life, it’s surprisingly easy to get caught up in the overdramatic, belly cry version of the story. The problem with all that emotion is that reading about how sad you were just isn’t fun. It’s great for your diary and it’s great for your emotional growth, but it’s not fun to read. After a while, it starts to seem like white noise, generic, and we stop caring.

 

Now that sounds harsh, but let me explain. You know how you always have one friend who is a down-in-the-dumps Eeyore sort of gal? She’s sweet and lovely, but when you ask her how she is, she always says something like, “Well, I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s awful. I just failed my history test, my mom is on my case about everything, and life just sucks.” Of course you want to help this friend, but don’t you get exhausted after a while? If there’s too much gloom and doom, none of it registers. On the flip side, take The Fault in Our Stars. Even though the subject matter is unbelievably tragic, the tone is often light and funny, which makes all the stuff that happens that much more gut-wrenching.

 

So how can you make readers feel your pain in a compelling way?

 

1. Focus on tangible things.

Remember that scene in My Girl when Veda Sultenfuss (great name!) walks into Thomas J.’s wake and says, “Where are his glasses? He can’t see without his glasses!” Man, that scene gets me every time. She mentions a specific detail that was so intertwined with his sweet, nerdy demeanor that you just can’t imagine the character without those glasses. How can he see in heaven without his glasses? Thus, it’s waaaay more touching than if she had just told us how she’s feeling. Maybe you want to write about your Nana’s blanket or the Kleenex your aunt always toted around in her sleeve. Maybe you want to mention that your beloved pooch had a particular way of circling his dog bed before falling asleep. Those details tell us a ton about the person and what you loved about him or her, which makes the loss feel that much greater.

 

2. Focus on joy.

I just discovered the photo essay of Duke’s last day. Have you seen it? Duke is a black lab who had to be put down. His family decided to celebrate and memorialize his last day by doing all of his favorite things and capturing them on film. Now, I’m not a dog person (by a long shot!), but these pictures made me sob. And the pictures that made me cry the most were not the sad pictures at the end. The pictures that made me cry were the happy pictures of the family with Duke at the beginning of the day. Highlighting joy often increases the impact of loss on your audience. And joy tends to be a much more engaging read than grief.

 

3. Focus on actions, not feelings.

Don’t tell me how you felt, tell me what you did. Instead of writing, “I was sad and angry,” write, “Even though I was crying so hard I could barely see straight, I punched that refrigerator box over and over and over and over until the box, and I, could barely stand.” The best way to do this is to think of your essay as a movie trailer. You know, the kind with all the short clips spliced together with a dramatic voiceover. If your essay were a movie and you were the star, what would you be doing in those short clips? Laughing about the good times? Hugging your mom? Putting on a black dress? Looking at a photo album?

 

 

Writing a sad story is extremely difficult. It’s tricky to allow people inside your head and show them what you’ve experienced. You might need to write a few paragraphs (or pages!)  about how you’re feeling before you’re able to step back and write a story that shows how you’re feeling. The two are very different. Some sad things just can’t be shared, and some you don’t want to analyze over and over as you write and edit. There are some things that have happened to me that I know would make awesome essays, but I am just not capable of reliving them on paper.

 

When you choose to tell a sad story, know what you’re getting into. And when in doubt, focus on joy.   : )

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This one word tells me you haven't edited your writing enough...

I was planning to give you a writing tip this week, but as it turns out, Dead Poets Society already took care of it for me:

 

Can you guess which word means that you haven’t edited your writing enough?

 

In case the “wooing women” portion of the quote is throwing you off, I’ll answer for you.

 

VERY.

 

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the word “very.” I use it all the time.

 

Have a very merry Christmas!

Thank you very much!

You’re very welcome!

 

But when you are writing a blog or an essay with a limited word count, every word is vital to your story, and “very” just doesn’t cut it. Why? Because there are so many more interesting words out there.

 

The music isn’t very loud. It’s deafening.

The hot air balloon isn’t very big. It’s enormous.

The cross-country drive isn’t very long. It’s endless.

 

Don’t those second sentences give you a much better idea of what’s actually happening? Occasionally, you do want to use “very.” But make sure you’re using it intentionally and not because you’d rather watch pre-season football than think of a better word.

 

So when you are editing your writing, give it a quick [control + F] and take a look at your use of “very.” Are there any more interesting, specific, or descriptive words you can use instead?

 

If so, your audience won’t just be very happy to read your writing. Your audience will be ecstatic

 

 

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A Word Nerd, Her Sister, and Harvard: My Origin Story

Hello, hello, hello!

I am very pleased to present the very first installment of Storytime with Rosie, a special posting at the end of each month.


It occurred to me that while I throw tons of writing advice at you, I should practice what I preach and write some of my own stories for you. Each installment of Storytime with Rosie will contain an essay of 500-650 words in length (perfect for a college app!). It will help me show you some of the writing tricks I've been telling you about, and it will help you get to know me a little better.


So let's start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start!) Here is the story of how Write with Rosie came to be. 


TODAY'S TIP: Starting a story in the middle of the action helps cut out a lot of filler. Click here for more on that.




“Will you pleeease write my essay for me?”

Sigh.

Pleeeeeeease? You can write this stuff in your sleep.”

“Okay, okay, okay. I won’t write it for you, but I’ll help. When is the application due?”

Pause.

“Three days from now.”

Death glare.


Little did I know that this moment of eye-rolling annoyance would be the birth of my business.


You see, my highly intelligent sister had randomly decided that applying to Harvard would be a fun idea. She already had an undergrad degree in Education from SUNY Geneseo and a grad degree in Higher Ed from Boston College. She really didn’t need a second Master’s degree.


But who wouldn’t want to go to Harvard?


Over Christmas break she hatched her plan. And on New Year’s Day, she dragged me into it.


My sister had written two successful college applications before, but when the time came to do it again, she completely panicked. I understood. The same thing happened to me when I was applying to college. It happened again when I wrote my grad school application essay. And I was an English major—I was supposed to be able to write a brilliant essay in my sleep. Even writers have a hard time writing sometimes.


I had agreed to help my sister, and I certainly wasn’t going to abandon her. So for two days, we talked nonstop about anything and everything that had happened to her that might make a Harvard-worthy essay. She talked and I took notes. I edited and she took notes. She cried. I threw my arms up in the air. We didn’t speak for one very tense family meal.


In the end, we created a charming, polished, successful essay. She got in to Harvard.


On that not-quite-relaxing holiday break, I realized that there are tons of people like my sister out there: people who are very successful at a ton of different things but have a mental block when it comes to writing about themselves. It’s not that my sister couldn’t have done this on her own. She just needed a real live person to bounce ideas off of. She needed someone to help refine her words and point out sentences that could be jazzed up. She needed an editor.


Luckily, she had an editor in the family.


I’ve been a word nerd ever since I was a teeny tiny first grader reading Little House on the Prairie. My parents couldn’t force me to go out and play. I spent my summer days trotting to and from the local library, and I spent many a family picnic reading. Inside.  (I was a very pale child.) When I ran out of things to read, I started to read my favorite books over and over and over again: the Ramona books, the “Shoes” books, the Narnia books. I didn’t realize it at the time, but rereading books really helped me figure out how the authors were crafting their stories, which, as you can imagine, is an essential element of being an editor.


I am still obsessed with stories. I love meeting people and hearing those fascinating little tidbits that make them unique. I am drawn to theater because I enjoy watching truly talented actors create a whole world before my eyes.  I watch (a little too much) reality TV because I love trying to distinguish the “real” elements from the manufactured stories the producers dream up.


I love hearing my clients’ stories and helping them shape those stories into essays, blogs, and even resumes. It’s funny—people often say, “I am a terrible writer,” or “I have nothing to write about.” Half of my job is convincing them that this is simply not true. Everyone—and I mean everyone—has a unique, hilarious, heartwarming story to share. Sometimes they just need someone to help figure out the best way to share it.


In a nutshell, I owe my entire career to my sister and her whining. Now, ain’t that a great story? 


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FORCED Creativity?

Can you force creativity?

 

The short answer is YES.

 

(And sometimes…no.)*

 

Here’s what I mean…


We all think of creative pursuits as super fun things to do in our spare time, right? Inspiration strikes and we come up with the hook to a new song on the guitar. Or we write ten pages of our novel. Or we hand-letter the heck out of that practical yet memorable quote we dreamed up that a billion people are destined to Tweet to their followers.


Sometimes creativity does work that way.


But most of the time it doesn’t.


I mean, really, who on earth has endless time to dedicate to working on their passions? I don’t know about you, but I am BU-SY. I get up at 6, go to morning yoga, work for at least eight hours, run errands, say a brief hello to family/friends, watch an hour of reality TV, and collapse. I don’t have hours to spend daydreaming and thoughtfully writing my epic novel, like Jo March in Little Women. I barely have time to breathe. Chances are that you have an insane schedule yourself. It ain’t easy.


So how on earth does anyone have time to be creative anymore?


The truth is that pretty much all creative folk—especially those who work at creative jobs for a living—have to figure out how to force themselves to be creative. If they sat around waiting for inspiration to strike, they’d be sitting around for a looooong time.


What do I mean by that? Well, I publish a blog every week.


Does inspiration strike me every week?

No.


Do I feel like a creative genius every week?

No.


If I don’t force myself to create something before my deadline, will anything appear on my blog?

No.


So if you’re not in a particularly creative mood, how can you motivate yourself to get going?

Just like running a marathon, you have to put one foot in front of the other to inch your way to the finish line.


Start by giving yourself really easy fake deadlines. Kind of like hitting snooze on your alarm clock. So for example, I’ll say to myself that my only job is to think of a blog topic by Sunday afternoon. If it takes me until Sunday night or Monday morning, I’m probably still in good shape.


Next, set a very easy-to-accomplish goal to ease into the work. The hardest part is getting started, amiright? Once you start doing something, it’s easy to keep going, but it’s just sooooo hard to get the ball rolling. For example, isn’t it MUCH harder to pick up that first dirty shirt from your bedroom floor than it is to pick up the tenth dirty shirt? (Hypothetically, of course. I’m sure your room is spic-and-span.)


Finally, reward yourself for your blood, sweat, and tears. I don’t know about you, but I love Doritos. Like, LOOOOOOVE them. And I’ve loved them ever since I was in fifth grade and would devour half a bag after CYO cheerleading practice. They’re terrible for you, obviously, which is why I only allow myself to eat them as a treat. So once I’ve completed a particularly hard task, I dig into a bag of Original Nacho Cheese Doritos, not caring if that delicious fake cheese gets all over my fingers and gives me a stomachache later. (Can you tell I’m hungry?) When you’ve finished writing your paper or updating your resume or editing that darn blog post, give yourself a pat on the back for all your hard work.


Did I feel particularly creative when I sat down to write this blog post?

Absolutely not.


Did I enjoy myself once I started writing?

I definitely did.


Am I happy it’s over and I can now reward myself with Doritos?

You know it!



*The one caveat to all of the above is that if you really, really, REALLY feel as if all your creative juices have been squeezed out of you, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes you just need to take a breather and regroup. The best way I’ve found to hydrate my creative soul is to do something I really and truly enjoy, like taking a walk, or calling my folks, or watching one of my favorite shows. Just make sure you’re hitting snooze—not turning your alarm off completely. 


P.S. Hey there! Did you notice my new pics? They're all thanks to photog goddess, Janelle Carmela. If you're interested in boosting your brand with some fabulous pics (or if you just want to capture your little ones at their cutest), check her out at JanelleCarmela.com


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how to edit your writing in 7 slightly fancier steps

Last week we took a look at editing basics: 7 simple steps to editing your writing. (If you haven't read that yet, take a peek.)


I know that lots of you already know the basics. You're not satisfied with an A on your work--you want an A+. I feel you, friends. I feel you.


Why settle, right? 


Let's assume that you've written a first draft and you've done all of the simple steps of editing. Now the good stuff begins. Unlike the 7 simple steps, these steps can be done in almost any order. You can pick and choose. Just try them out and see what feels best to you.


Experiment with your opening. 

When we tell a story at a party, we tell it in a very linear fashion, meaning that we generally start at the beginning and list details in chronological order. Even though this is a really logical method, it's not always the most fascinating. Sometimes our stories get way more oomph when we start at a spot other than the beginning. Take a look at the sequence of events and consider whether it might be more exciting to start with the end of your story, or somewhere in the middle. Click for more details...


Vary your sentence structure.

All this means is that your sentences shouldn't all look the same. If you realize that you have two sentences in a row that look alike, try flipping the second sentence around or rearranging it to start with a phrase. Combine sentences. Break sentences up. Switch things around so that each sentence is set up in a slightly different way.

So instead of this: I went to the mall to buy a new dress for my sister's baby shower. I went into Banana Republic and tried on five dresses. I bought a dress.

Try this: I went to the mall to buy a new dress for my sister's baby shower. At Banana Republic, I tried on five dresses, and I bought one of them.


Be specific.

Details are the spice of your story. They make people interested enough to read more. So don't just write that you broke your arm--write about breaking your arm in the middle of a third-grade kickball game that time your non-athletic best friend accidentally kicked the ball hard enough to knock you over. I would read that story.


Use sensory details.

Sensory details are descriptions of things that you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. When you incorporate sensory details into your writing, you bring the reader into your world. You give your writing a tangible burst of energy that excites readers. Click for more details...


Banish the passive voice. 

That is a fancy way to suggest that you eliminate "is" and "was" and "are" and "were" from your writing as much as possible. Doing so brings a more active, vital feel to your writing. And who doesn't want to make writing feel vital and important? Click for more details...


Be concise.

I know how hard it is to get words on the page. And it's even harder to delete those words we worked so, so hard to write. But you should take a critical look at each paragraph and delete any sentence that doesn't move your story or argument forward. It's just filler--that stuff in a crabcake that is not crab. It's not necessary, and it gets in the way of appreciating the good stuff (that delicious crab!). Once you've determined that all of your sentences are necessary, take a look within each sentence to see if you can eliminate unnecessary words. More crab, less filler! Click for more details...


Read your essay out loud.

This was my best suggestion for basic editing, and it's my best suggestion for fancy editing. Notice a pattern? Nothing else is this easy or works so well. Read your writing out loud, slowly and carefully, as if you are presenting it to a small group. If you get tripped up, chances are that you should rework that sentence. Seriously. You may feel a little strange doing it, but it's the absolute easiest way to edit!


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How to edit your writing in 7 simple steps

Whenever I'm working with clients, I always, always, always stress that they should schedule time to edit their writing. 


But it's recently occurred to me that a ton of people have no idea how to edit.


Maybe you run out of time. 

Maybe you think your writing sounds pretty good as is.

Maybe you read what you've written and correct spelling errors.

Maybe you rely on Microsoft Word's grammar check.

Maybe "edit" sounds like a scary word and the best way to deal with it is to ignore it completely.


In any event, we're going to clear up that editing mystery right here and now. Because if you don't think you need to edit your writing, you're dead wrong, my friends. Everyone--everyone--can benefit from editing. Even if you're John Green. (Speaking of, feel free to tell me your thoughts on The Fault in our Stars. I mostly loved and slightly hated it.)




Step 1:

Walk away.

Yes, that's correct. Your essay needs room to breathe. And your brain needs some distance to gain perspective. So seriously, walk away for a day, an hour, or even five minutes so that you can come back and look at your writing with fresh eyes.


Step 2:

Reread and look for the big picture.

It is very, very easy to get pulled into fixing minor spelling errors and checking your grammar in this step. I fall into that trap often. But this read-through (and yes, you should read what you've written from start to finish) is your chance to look at the big picture. What point are you trying to get across? Have you done that successfully? Sure, you can make notes for yourself to check errors later, but make sure your writing is communicating your thoughts clearly. And, of course, make sure those thoughts make sense. 



Step 3: 

Use logic. (not the math kind)

Unless you are writing a completely creative essay, you are generally trying to be persuasive in your writing. You may be persuading your professor that there's a ton of religious imagery in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or you may be persuading a potential client to "like" your Facebook business page. In any and every case, make sure that your reasons for persuading your reader are logical ones. For example, I would never promise you that you will become the world's greatest editor by the end of this blog post. That's just not possible. And you probably wouldn't believe me. But I can persuade you that if you read this blog post, you will gain a ton of insight into the editing process.



Step 4:

Check your transitions and flow.

Once you are confident that you've written a lot of great things, you can dive in a little deeper. Look at how your essay is arranged. Do your paragraphs flow from one into the other? Or is there a giant leap between ideas? (Check out The Cut-and-Paste Essay for more ideas on this one.) Once your paragraphs are in the best order, look at the sentences within each paragraph. Does the order make sense? Do you need to match the last sentence of a paragraph more closely with the first sentence of the following paragraph?



Step 5:

Look at each individual sentence.

This probably sounds a little tedious to you, but honestly, this is generally the difference between a B+ and an A. Look at each sentence you've written. Does it say what you want it to say? Is it well-written? Does it make logical sense? (Notice how many times I'm saying "logic" and "make sense"?) Is there an even better way to say it? Are there any words you can eliminate to make the sentence tighter? 



Step 6:

Read your writing out loud.

Yes. OUT. LOUD. I fully admit that this is awkward at times (especially if you have a roommate), but it is the best, best, BEST way to catch errors in your writing. If you stumble over your words, chances are that the sentence and/or its main idea need adjustments. This is honestly the fastest, best way to edit.



Step 7:

Check for grammar and punctuation errors.

Friends: Don't. Rely. On Microsoft Word. I know it's tempting, but just don't do it! Here's why. Microsoft Word's grammar and spelling check is a fantastic FIRST line of defense for your writing. But it is often, often, often wrong. And it often doesn't catch every error. So absolutely use Word to help you out...but then go back and do a final check for errors on your own. 



And there you have it, folks! How to edit your writing in seven simple steps. Now, of course there are lots of different ways to accomplish each step, and we'll definitely review some of those in the weeks to come, but this is your blueprint for getting started. As always, if you have questions, comments, or panic attacks, you can find me on Facebook!

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