Ella’s Story, Chapter 12 *FREE READ*

This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


Dawn came early to Skyhill the next morning, or so it seemed to Ella. How many minutes of sleep had she managed? she wondered as she splashed cold water on her face.

“Good morning!” Sanela stepped out of a communal shower and greeted her. Behind her she could see Fyadarh and Abuili rinsing off soap. In the dry room, Tuval was already tugging her livery on over half-damp hips and torso.

“Good day to you, ladies,” she replied. One, two, three, four: all the female early kitchen shift were up and moving. They set off for work as she stepped into the hot running water herself.

Namyra came in, followed by her two young kids. The mother shepherded them under a shower and greeted Ella sleepily before stepping in after them. Sigi, padding up the women’s quarters hall, said hello as Ella began her morning round. Five, six, seven, eight.

Dry, dressed, combed: into action. She made her way down the corridor, along the broad windows looking out onto the interior garden, still dimly lit by early dawn’s light.

“Deela, time to get up!” She pulled aside a curtain to announce the break of day.

“Good morning, Abia.”

“Wake up, Isa!” Nine, ten, eleven.

Into the married couples’ hall. “Up and at ’em, lovebirds!” Twelve, thirteen.

Two toddlers were already bouncing on their parents Bis and Lamit. “Breakfast-time!” Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen

“Ella, Ella, c’n I go to Cinorra with Talat today?” Ten-year-old Wilig never missed a beat. His fuzzy grayish hair stood up in clumps where he’d been sleeping on it.

“Go take a shower and we’ll talk about it at breakfast.” Eighteen…

She trailed the herd into the dining hall, where, while she stood in line to collect a breakfast plate, she counted heads again and made a mental note of anyone she didn’t see. Later, if one or another of her charges was missing, she would track them down electronically, quiz them, and find out why.

There in the cavernous basement kitchen and chow line, delicious odors perfumed the air: broiling meat, kettles of grains simmering in broth or milk and adorned with pickled fruits and vegetables, freshly baked sweet and savory breads, flavorful aromatics sautéed in oil and offered up to those who liked to spread them over their foods… If she wasn’t hungry before she got there – which, come to think of it, she surely was – within about five minutes of entering the hall she would be.

Windowless, the glowing paneled walls echoed with the sound of pots and pans clattering, grease snapping, people chattering, kids carrying on. Ella loved the sound of children’s voices – hadn’t realized how much so until she was brought here from Zaitaf and set down in the middle of a big houseful of singles and families.

Talat, a young mechanic, had agreed to take young Wilig on a field trip into the city, which meant she would have to dream up some supposed achievement for which she could claim he was rewarding the kid. Or, failing that, some extra chore with which he could pay for the privilege. Probably, she reflected, the latter would be best.

“You can go into town,” she told the boy, “if you do all your studies this afternoon, and you clean the swimming pool tomorrow as soon as you get out of class.” The estate’s children were instructed in a spectrum of vocational skills ranging from reading and basic math to mechanics to electronics, requiring daily classes until they reached apprenticeship age.

“Naww, Ella! We have a game tomorrow afternoon!” The largest estates organized their prepubescent boys and girls into sporting teams, a much-loved late-in-the-day activity, and the teams would compete against each other. This time of year was kickball season, and Wilig was one of Skyhill’s star kickers.

“Them’s your choices: E’o Cinorra today or the game tomorrow.”

“Well…lemme talk to the guys…”

“Better make up your mind pretty quick. Talat has to get going soon.”

The kid sulked off toward his friends. The women and older girls, already beginning to assemble in the big front hall back at the dormitory, would soon be waiting..

As the adult workers were finishing their meals, she gathered the children, took roll, and consigned them to Fihr for exercise and play before the teachers arrived from town. Fihr was apprenticing to be a teacher himself and, Ella expected, before long would have to be sent into the city during the day to attend courses and further training for the job. That meant she’d have to find someone to take his place…a little challenge she put on the back burner today as she did every morning.

Now she had to hurry to meet her women in the servants’ quarters gathering room. The big stone fireplace, she noticed, needed to be cleaned; made a mental note to assign that chore to someone, if Dorin hadn’t already foisted it on one of the men.

Here she took another roll—a formal one, calling names and checking off those present. As usual, everyone reported: to Ella’s mind a waste of time. It was part of the routine, though, and routine was key to holding these folks on-track. Then a round of announcements: birthdays, anniversaries, meetings, reminders, upcoming events. Ella made the day’s assignments, and, having sent the on-campus crew to their day’s work, lined up those who were going off the estate for contract jobs or various errands so that she could program their implanted passcard chips with the transit permits.

Sigi, a work belt around her full hips and a canvas daypack slung over a shoulder, stepped aside from the outflowing line and waited for Ella to finish sending off all the others.

“We were going to work a pass for me to do a little project for Dorin?” she asked when Ella finally could stop long enough to signal her with an assenting glance.

“Did you ask for a day off the job you’re doing now?

“Yeah. They said I could take off any time—just give them a day’s notice.”

“Well, all right. But…how long do you expect it’ll take to finish that job?”

Sigi’s earth-brown eyes grew distant as she figured up the work remaining to do. “Prob’ly two, three weeks. Some of the hired help he came up with aren’t too bright. Sometimes I have to ride herd more than do my own work.”

Ella snuffed an empathetic smile: she knew that routine well enough.

“Is there some hurry to do Dorin’s task?”

“Not an awful lot, I don’t guess.” Ella gave her a look. “I’d just like a break,” she admitted with a shrug.

“Mm hm. Why don’t you finish up what you’re doing for the customer—I’ll talk to Dorin and be sure he doesn’t mind. Then when you’re done, I’ll give you two freedays before you have to start on the next job.”


“Sure.” This appealed, Sigi made no secret of it. “So…” a calculating smile crossed her lips. “When are we going to start building this hospital for the new guy, that doctor?

“More like a little clinic, I think.”

“Here? At Skyhill?”

“I suppose. Dorin has in mind clearing out a storage room for the place. At least, so he says. You and he will have to talk about that.

“But you’ll need to work with the new man to decide what’s going to go in there and how it’s going to be built. And just now he’s in no condition to do much deciding about anything.”

“Heard he was in pretty bad shape…”

“He’s hurting. He’ll need to get back on his feet before we can build him a place to work. That’s going to take awhile.”

“How long do you think it’ll be?”

“Oh…probably three weeks or so. Just about right, eh?”

Sigi nodded. “Just about.”

“So if you’d get going, sister, maybe you’d get done sooner. And then you might even wangle some more time off.”

With Sigi, the last of the bunch, shoveled out the door, Ella drew a deep breath, relaxed, and headed off toward Dorin’s office at the other end of the slaves’ living quarters.

To get there, she decided to walk through the building’s sheltered interior atrium. If she couldn’t go outside just now, at least she could take in a moment of peace in her favorite garden. The morning sun was just climbing toward the low eastern roof, barely awaking the tiny, light-loving blue and white flowers that lined the pathway. The fat violet and red fish in the bubbling pond had noticed, though—always hopeful for a handout, they didn’t miss her passing.

Neither did Talat. He must have spotted her from inside the glass-walled passageway along the men’s quarters. Lo! Out he popped from the far door.

No rest for the wicked, she thought. He looked a bit vexed.

“Hello, boss,” he said. A friendly enough smile chased the cloud from his face.

“Talat. Good morning, brother.”

His blocky, tall frame blocking her way, she paused.

“Did you tell the boy that if he goes into the city with me today he can’t play in tomorrow’s ballgame?”

“Not exactly.”

“Well, that’s what he thinks.”

“I told him he’d need to clean the mistress’s pool tomorrow if he was going to take off from his lessons today.

“The only time that he could do that job tomorrow is while the big game is being played. He’ll have to go to lessons in the morning, and then he’ll have to stay long enough to catch up with whatever he misses today.”

“Ah. Well, then. I suppose you could say that’s what I said. More or less.”

“Boss. That’s not very kind.”

The glance she gave him flickered razor-sharp but then softened before – she hoped – he felt it.

“Yeah, you’re right.” She sighed, a nearly unnoticeable breath. “It is kind of harsh. I’m sorry. I’ve been feeling a little touchy lately.”

Talat smiled, sensing a win.

“But,” she continued, “y’know, kids need to earn this kind of extra treat. If the other young folks see that Wilig gets to go trotting off to Cinnora for no other reason than that he asked a pal who’ll take him along, then of course they’ll think they should be allowed this or that special favor, too—just for the asking. And Wilig hasn’t done anything obvious to be singled out for a day on the town.”

“Sure. I understand. But if the team loses tomorrow, the boys will say it was because he wasn’t there. Instead of earning the privilege, that’s going to be more like paying for it with a punishment, don’t you think?” She raised an eyebrow, about to speak, but Talat barreled on: “Why can’t he clean the Kaïna’s pool the day after tomorrow? It’ll still be there – and besides, she’s busy. She’ll never notice a few extra leaves.”

She gave up, as she knew she should. “All right. The day after tomorrow…it’s not going anywhere. Will you get him out of class and bring him by Dorin’s space so we can set his pass chip?”

With a grin and a thanks, Talat hustled off toward the outbuilding that housed the schoolroom and gym.

Through the door on the far end of the garden she went, pleased to have that conundrum settled. Around the corner and in through the open door to Dorin’s quarters and office at the top end of the men’s quarters. He was already at his desk, wrestling with the day’s tasks.

She slid into the chair next to the table.

He glanced up at her. “Ever get any sleep last night?”

“Some. I suppose.”

“I’m sorry,” he said commiseratively, eliciting a weary smile.

“How’s our new boy this morning?”

“That one, I don’t think got any sleep at all.”

Not good. She frowned. What you needed most, after the ordeal that baptized you into service, was sleep. As she recalled all too well, you don’t even start to recover until you sleep through most of a night.

She produced her record of the morning’s roll, transit permits, and work assignments, which Dorin merged into his own and stored to a central archive.

Dorin and Ella each enjoyed certain privileges of rank, not the least of which was a generous share of living and working space. Like Ella’s, Dorin’s place occupied two of the servants’ quarters rooms, with two instead of one small window near the ceiling. About two-thirds of the are accommodated a desk, monitoring and reporting equipment, and several seats – enough space for several people to meet in private. A neatly made bed and small table stood along the far wall, a videospot installed conveniently on the adjacent wall, where it could be viewed while the proprietor lounged.

He poured her and then himself a cup of hot bazheflower tea from a pot parked on a hot spot at the back of his desk, then leaned back in his chair. This was the moment they took in a little slack preparatory to a day that might or might not be pretty busy.

Almost. Before brew could be lifted to lip, footsteps and a knock on the doorframe signaled Talat and Wilig’s presence.

“We’re ready to leave,” Talat announced. “Would you set Wil’s passkey so we can get out, Dorin?”

“Sure.” Dorin glanced tentatively in Ella’s direction.

“That’s fine,” she said. “And you’re going to make Her Splendor’s pool perfect, right?” she asked Wilig. “The day after tomorrow.”

He grinned. “Yes’m! You bet.”

“How long do you expect to be gone?” Dorin asked, his coder in hand.

“I dunno. Until dinnertime?”

“Well, that’ll be a full day.”

“Mm-hmm. There’s a lot to do.”

“No doubt.” Dorin glanced skeptically at Talat. “So, you’ll need something for the two of you to eat.” He unlocked a cubby in the side of his desk and drew out a 30-deen paycard.” Sweeping the coder over a set of symbols on the card, he gestured for Talat to hold out his hand and then entered the code in Talat’s embedded passkey. “Bring the card back to me this evening.”

“Thanks, boss!” Talat’s day was made.

He ought to sound pleased, Ella thought. Thirty deens, for godsake. Five of those would buy a fine midday meal for the two of them. That would leave twenty-five for whatever attractions and games they chose to diddle away their time on.

“Spoiling that pair,” she remarked as the two disappeared up the hallway.

“Probably. But Willy’s already ruined and Tal is working on it.”

She chuckled. “That boy of mine is sure not ruined. Have you ever seen a kid who goes and goes like that one?”

“Long as he likes what he’s doing.”

“Speaking of going to town: Sigi is anxious to get off the job she’s doing for that shop down in the Redfield District. She says you have some project for her here?”

“Uhmmm…I do?”

“That’s what she claims.”

“Oh—yeah. It was something she suggested.”

“Why did I think as much?”

He chuckled. “I don’t know. Why?”

“Is it anything that can’t wait awhile?”

“It would be a nice touch. But no: there’s no hurry.”

“Good. Let’s have her finish the customer’s job before she gets a break. She says she’ll be done in about three weeks, which I expect is about when you want to start working on this clinic thing?”

“I suppose. Assuming Darl is well enough by then to explain what he needs and help design the casework.”

Ella subsided, hovering over her half-empty mug of tea.

“Would you like a warm-up?” he asked.

“I should go to work.”

“Shouldn’t we both.”

Breathing a quiet sigh, she held out the cup.

“What?” he demanded.


“What is on your mind?”

She shrugged.

“Out with it.”

“Well, I don’t know…just… Does Rysha know about this guy?”

“Of course. It was her idea that we should buy him. The whole clinic-in-the-boondocks idea came straight from the Kaïna herself.”

What could the woman be thinking? “But I mean, does she know he murdered his wife?”

“I expect so. She’s seen all his paperwork.”

“For godsake.”

He fell silent, lifting the cup to his lips.

“Why wasn’t he put down?” Ella persisted.

“Who knows? There must have been some extenuating circumstances. Maybe she tried to kill him first.”

“Yeah, well…

“There’s some things you don’t want to know.”

“Yeah: most of them!”

Arrghhh! Missed one of Ella’s posts!

Actually, I missed not one but two beats with Ella’s Story.

In the first place, this week’s post was supposed to go up Monday, not tomorrow (Wednesday).  But that’s just the frosting on the cupcake.

Far more brain-banging is that I skipped a whole chapter, posting chapter 10 as chapter 9 and dropping the real (mercifully short!) chapter 9 altogether. Yes. So that means Chapter 10 is actually Chapter and…and…and math is over my head anyway.

In the Small Mercies Department, just one chapter (“After her shift one evening…”) had gone up before I noticed this little lapse. And, conveniently, Ella is the only one of the three presently serialized books that lacks a table of contents. Hence: just one chapter has to be renumbered and no (0.00) complicated internal links have to be coded in.

So, here’s what we’ll do:

Publish the Real Chapter 10 right here in this post, and also install it in its rightful place in the full running narrative. Renumber the post published last week, giving its rightful place as Chapter 11. The new copy appears shortly after the remark that Lohkeh “didn’t seem to realize she herself had been a ranking member in the organization back on Samdela. No doubt, she figured, because he hadn’t noticed her.” Tomorrow: Chapter 12.

And so, herewith, the Genuine Chapter 10…


Months passed quietly. An airless moon is by its nature a quiet place, even when partying aristocrats decide it looks like a vacation spot.

Ella stayed quiet, herself. She worked steadily, did what was asked of her, sometimes even added a little more.

Bhotil had her reading Varn fluently in just a few months. He practiced her with every form and document and instruction manual he could think of, making her read aloud some of the driest data in creation. Then he gave her things to read in her spare time, stories and image tales and even poems. These she came to enjoy. As for the rest, it wasn’t long before she was writing those boxed words and entering data on her own.

She moved into a more responsible job, keeping track of supplies and moving linens, tools, and provisions from site to site within the colony. Her skill at managing information and organizing projects becoming evident, before long she was scheduling deepspace ship arrivals, offloads and transfers of freight, shipments to and from the planet’s surface. And she was keeping all the records of supplies and needs…that is to say, she was doing mostly what she did for the bosses back on Samdela.

Well. Except for arranging the travel and the female companionship. Or male companionship, depending.

She grew closer to Vighdi, who told her she was proud of her, who often gave her small gifts for milestones or sometimes just for general progress. Did these lead her to work harder? Probably not. Work was in her veins.

If You Asked Me… Young Girl Harassed in Public: How to Handle It?

This book is a work in progress. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy


My 11-year-old daughter is getting stares when we go out in public. What should I do?

She wears shorts and bright colors. She refuses to wear black, dark gray, or dark blue. When it gets cold, she wears an oversized green hoodie.

Here’s my take on this, as a woman who was SO relieved to hit the age of 40 and have the ugly stares and the lewd catcalls come to an end:

You can go on all you want about how women should be able to wear whatever they want in public (even flimsy knit booty shorts with “Property of the GDU Athletic Department” stamped across the backside) and look however they want and go wherever they please without harassment. That’s all very nice, but the reality is there will always be men who WILL harass women and girls, and there will always be predators who give away what they’re thinking by the way they stare and the remarks they make.

If she’s bothered by this behavior—and most normal women are, because at best it is intrusive and embarrassing, at worst it can presage an assault—then you need to teach her how to protect herself. That does not entail fantasy martial arts scenarios in which she is going to beat back a predator like Xena Warrior Queen. Good luck with that.

It entails keeping your wits about you at all times. As you’re walking around, know where there’s a crowded store or restaurant you can dart into. Be confident enough to walk up to a strange but reasonably safe-looking man and say “someone is following me—would you mind if I walk with you until we get to (fill in the blank).” Train yourself to yell “FIRE,” not “POLICE” or “HELP” if assaulted or threatened: people will always come out to watch your house burn down, but most of them don’t want to involve themselves in a violent confrontation. Do not wear revealing clothes (it appears your young woman doesn’t . . . but just in case, advise her). As you’re driving, know where the nearest police station, fire station, or hospital emergency room is and if pursued, don’t be shy about driving up to the door and leaning on the horn. Lock your car doors, and keep the doors and windows in your home locked. If your living circumstances make it possible, keep a large dog and take it for a doggy-walk whenever you go places on foot.

Does that limit her freedom? Darn right it does. But everybody’s freedom is limited. You could argue that disallowing covetous gazes and lewd remarks limits men’s freedom. It’s a commonsense trade-off you make for your safety.

I speak as the escapee of three attempted rapes, two home invasions, and an attempted carjacking. The best way to cut this kind of behavior short is to keep alert, always have an escape plan, and avoid getting into risky situations in the first place.

The Complete Writer: Revising with Reader Feedback

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 9
Revising with Reader Feedback

Many professional and would-be professional authors work with a beta reader: a nonprofessional reader who agrees to review and comment on a work, for little or no pay. Ideally, the beta reader should represent a fairly typical member of the work’s audience: she or he should share cultural values, interests, and socioeconomic status with the kind of people who could be expected to read the story or book.

One advantage of using a beta-reader or friend—as opposed to an editor or a teacher—is that you can control the amount of feedback you get and when you get it. If you have plenty of time and you have the temperament for it, recruiting someone to read and comment on your work early on can be very useful; it also provides you with comments during several stages of the process, as you work through your thinking on a subject.

You don’t have to restrict yourself to one reader—Peter Elbow recommends two or even three people. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that you may have to coach your reader by asking very specific questions, and sometimes by interrupting him or her at set points in the reading and asking for certain responses as they proceed. This is time-consuming.

Who can these readers be? Some people would never allow their spouses to read their work; others would never let anyone other than a spouse read an early draft.

A writer’s workshop can be a source of beta readers—people who are committed to writing have enough interest in the process to enjoy reading and replying to you.

If you take writing courses, classmates may be helpful, since they allegedly understand an assignment; if you find willing readers in a college course, make friends now and don’t lose track of these folks! Adult children, if they’re far enough beyond adolescence to see you as a human being, may be helpful. And you might consider trusted friends, co-workers, or brothers and sisters, assuming the subject doesn’t treat certain issues in a way that might blindside or hurt them.

Parents are a lot like spouses—too close to you, and you have to keep on living with them.

Whomever you select, the advantage of talking the story over with someone else is that it gives you an opportunity to re-envision the subject and its treatment in a new light—to see it through someone else’s eyes.

Your needs, your temperament, and the time available to you determine how much feedback you will seek:

Minimal feedback: At the very least, get some help in eliminating errors in grammar and usage from a final draft that needs to be very polished.

A little feedback: You don’t have much time, or for whatever reason you don’t need a thorough critique You ask the reader to look for spelling, grammar, and usage errors, and for any awkward or unclear sentences. Though you don’t want to involve yourself in ornate discussions, you’d like to know if there are any places where you sound like an idiot. You get one round of feedback at the end, and that’s it. In spite of this determination, you can still benefit:

This kind of feedback can help you revise clumsy language or language, restructure ideas, clarify or explain points; change tone of voice; insert transitions or introductions to help retain the reader’s attention.

Medium feedback: You don’t want to rethink your whole position, but you’re willing to consider major revisions of structure and strategy. You take the opportunity to understand what is confusing or bothersome to a reader and revise accordingly.

Lots of feedback: Everything is open for discussion, from start to finish.

Decide how much of this process you want to buy into.

Working with a reader who is a friend and not, like a teacher or editor, an imagined “adversary,” can build confidence and clarity, and help you cut through the abstraction.

Elbow describes two kinds of reader feedback: what he calls “criterion-based” and “reader-based.” Let’s review the high points of these

Criterion-based response

This is the schoolmarm stuff: basic qualities of content, organization, language, and usage. Solicit comments in these four basic categories:

  1. The content of the writing: Ask the reader about quality of the ideas, the perceptions, and the point of view. Is your basic idea or insight valid? Do you support your point by logical reasoning and valid argument? Does the reader feel your support includes evidence and examples, and are you’re really making good points ?
  2. The organization. Ask about the work’s unity, whether the parts are arranged in a coherent or logical way, whether the beginning, middle, and end hold together, and whether paragraphs seem coherent and logical.
  3. Effectiveness of the language: Ask whether the sentences are clear and readable, and whether the word usage seems correct. Does it sound like correct English?
  4. The correctness and appropriateness of the usage: How are the grammar, usage, spelling, typing, and style?

Reader-based response

In Elbow’s world, eliciting a response to writing boils down to three basic questions designed to test how your words affect the person who reads them:

  • What happened to you, moment by moment, as you were reading the writing?
  • Summarize the writing: what does it say or what happened in it?
  • Make some images for the writing and the transaction it creates with readers.

It’s important to know what is going on inside the reader’s mind and heart. Some people have enough insight to recognize and articulate their reactions as they read a work. But many people find it difficult to describe what’s going on in their minds as they’re reading.

So, you need to elicit these reactions by careful questioning. To find out what was happening to the reader, ask him or her to read just a couple of paragraphs. Elbow posits these questions:

  • What was happening as you read the opening passages?
  • What words struck you most?
  • What impression did you get of the writer?

Have the person continue reading, maybe marking the manuscript with notes or lines. Half or three-quarters of the way through the piece, ask again what is happening with the reader, with questions like these:

  • Please narrate your response to everything in detail, even if it seems irrelevant.
  • Has your attitude has changed since you began reading—for example, were with the writer at the start and now opposed? Why?
  • Please point out passages that you liked and ones you didn’t understand or resisted.
  • What do you think will happen next?

After the reader has finished the document, again ask what is happening:

  • What is your reaction?
  • What seems the most important thing about the piece?
  • How would you describe the ending—is it abrupt, warm? unnoticeable? other?
  • What aspects of the reader does the piece bring out—a contemplative side? curiosity? helpfulness? other?

Finally, ask the person to reflect on the piece and talk about its implications. If you can, get the person to read it again and report the differences between what happens on the second and the first reading.

Ask the person to give a very quick, informal summary, and then to summarize what she thinks the writer is trying to say but not quite succeeding. A reader’s summary of the writing gives you a lot of insight into how well your meaning is understood.

A third useful exercise is to ask the reader to devise some images for the writing and for the way it affects him or her. Don’t push the person too hard to explain or interpret the imagery; take it instead as a clue to the direction and effect of the writing.

A variety of questions can elicit this kind of response. Ask the person what other writing it reminds you of—what forms of writing: film? departmental memo? journal entry? love letter? Ask the person how someone else might respond to it—how would his mother like it, or some mutual acquaintance. How does the person view the relationship between writer and reader—familiar? distant? reading from a stage? shaking his fist? Is the writing trying to do something to the reader, like beat her over the head or trick her or make her like the writer? Ask the reader to describe the tone or voice—is it intimate, shouting, jokey, tense, other? Try asking the person to describe the writing in terms of other media—does the camera move in, fade back, create foreground or background, other? Draw a picture of what you see or think.

Working with a beta reader has a number of advantages:

  1. Because you have to give the reader time to think about the copy, it forces you to start on the work well in advance of the deadline.
  2. It makes you slow down and think about your work carefully before you consider it “finished.”
  3. It lets you see how well your message is understood by a real reader.
  4. It allows you to think of your work as open to change.
  5. It gives you new insights.

If You’d Asked Me… Pest wants to love up my dog

This book is a work in progress. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy

13. If a stranger insists on following and touching your dog even though you clearly say “No” and try to leave, . . .

is it self-defense to push, kick, or strike them when they refuse to leave you alone?

I find that walking briskly as though you had someplace to go will discourage people from approaching you and petting your dog. If you look like you’re loafing and taking the afternoon air, they feel free to socialize. If you don’t want to socialize, look like you’re on your way somewhere. The appropriate response to someone who wants to dote on the dog (or you) is “please be careful: my dog bites.”

IMHO it would not be self-defense if you struck or attacked someone just because they were petting your dog: your dog is not your self. If the person tried to block your way and stop you from leaving, that would be a different matter.

Once in a park habituated by drug addicts, I was walking with a young German shepherd and my small son. Two derelicts came strolling toward us. One, an older man, looked like true bad news. The other was a young man who appeared to be intellectually disabled. He also had the homeless look about him and clearly had taken up with the older guy, who appeared to feel pestered by the kid.

The instant the young fellow spotted us, he was drawn by the dog. Child-like, he came marching toward us and asked if he could pet the dog.

By now I had kicked into gear and was steering my son away from the playground as fast as we could go.

I said, “No, I’m sorry: she bites.”

This dog had never bitten a soul in her life.

He ignored me and continued moving toward us. When he reached out to pet the dog, she turned and snapped at him. She probably would have bitten him had she not been leashed and under my control, more or less.

Scared the bedoodles out of the apprentice bum. He and his mentor left forthwith.

Elle’s Story: Chapter 11 *FREE READ*

This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


After her shift one evening she wandered over to the lounge where the great arm of the galaxy sparkled through the clear domed roof. She’d missed the chow line’s last full meal of the “day,” but she could get a hearty snack at the lounge’s food bar. If she wanted an alcoholic drink, which she did, she’d have to pay for it from the pennies she was given for consistent good work, but that was fine. She had quite a few such pennies.

Plenty of other workers were sitting around, taking in the slack. Formless music and relaxed chatter filled the air. Stars like sand scattered across black velvet glittered overhead. She sat at one of the small bars intended for singles or small groups, nursing the remains of a bowl of stew and a mug of dark ale. Tired, she wasn’t ready to go to bed but neither did she feel like socializing. She just wanted to eat and sit quietly for awhile.

No such luck.

She felt him come up to her before he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.

“Hello, babe,” he said.

She looked at him, surprised. “Hello there, butch,” she replied. “Do I know you?” She did, of course – everybody knew who he was. Everybody knew who everyone was: the colony was like a small town.

“Well, we haven’t had a formal introduction. Your name is Eliyeh’llya, right?” He spoke Samdi with a smooth NorthCity accent. “They call you Ella here.”

“Mm hmm,” she gave him a vague smile and an assenting nod.

“My name is Lo’hkeh jai-degh Inzed Mafesth. ‘Lohkeh’ to the overseers.”

“I’ve heard the name,” she allowed. “Good to meet you, brother.”

Handsome fellow, this one. Sandy hair spread a golden late-afternoon shadow across his sturdy jaws, his green-flecked brown eyes framed with black lashes under dark brows. He wore a red gem in his ear-stud. Whether it was real or not, she could not tell, though she assumed it was glass.

She wondered at this. The blacksuits took away every piece of jewelry or decoration on a newly convicted felon, especially the ear stud that marked a Samdi man’s coming of age. Once in service, he could buy another one – if he managed to earn enough…if his owner agreed to it.

So…sure, he bought himself a stud. But did they – the overseers, the management here – know what the red jewel signified?

Depended on the shade of red, o’course. His had some deep orange overtones: imitation garnet, she figured. That would make him…what? A midlevel boss in the Syndicate’s transport and communication business. Way over her head, that much was for sure.

But why would they let him make a statement like that, about his past life? They must not know, she thought. The blacksuits and the overseers where always dumber than you expect, Teryd used to say. Once again, he was right.

“Would you like another drink?” he offered.

She would. Careful, she thought…take it slow. “Thanks,” she said. “But I’m pretty beat and it’s getting late – don’t think I should.”

“Next time, then.” He smiled and leaned back in the chair, displaying a finely muscled torso.

“All right.” She returned the smile, trying not to look over-eager.

“So, Ella. You’re pretty well settled in by now, no? You’ve been in-colony for awhile.

“Yeah… I’ve kind of lost track of time, without real days or months.”

“Mm hmm. It’s been a year or so, give or take. Samdi time, that is. How are you getting on? Service suiting you all right?”

“It’s good enough,” she said. “I’m getting used to it. They treat me pretty well.”

“Yeah, they do. If they like you.”

She made no attempt to answer this odd remark.

“The work’s decent. The bed is warm. The food’s edible. What more could you want?”

He laughed. “What more?” He raised his mug to her.

He continued, after a swallow of beer. “I understand you were a lieutenant in the Tullsta Band. Back on Samdela.”

“Well, yes. I worked for the Zaïn. For B’jadaram.”

“Mm hmm.”

“How did you find that out?” she asked. One’s past life, as she had been firmly instructed, was to be left in the past: dead and buried. Never mentioned again.

“I know a guy who knows things.”

“Nobody has any secrets, hm?”

He smiled and allowed as to how that was so. After some small talk, he said, “I’m going up to Takrai in a couple of days. Would you like to come along?”

The mining colony was at Takrai, and Ella had also heard there were some exotic extra-planetary geological features near there. “Sure,” she said. “If we do some sight-seeing, too?”

“Absolutely. That’s the whole idea.”

“I’ll have to get time off from my boss. And I guess I’d need to clear it with my overseer, too.”

“Don’t worry about that—I’ll arrange it. Ask Vighdi for a pass tomorrow – wait till after mid-day. I’ll meet you here first thing, next day after tomorrow.”

He had noticed her.

The Complete Writer: Two Kinds of Revising *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 8
Two Kinds of Revising

In his classic guide to nonfiction composition, Writing with Power, Peter Elbow describes four kinds of revision: quick revising, thorough revising, revising through feedback from a reader, and cutting-&-pasting. Let’s consider the techniques and merits of the first two, which you can do in the solitude of your garret, without anyone else’s help.

First: quick revising

  1. Consider the audience and your purpose in writing to the audience.

Visualize the audience; strive to produce a piece of writing that is good for your purpose with this audience

  1. Go through the draft and find the good parts.

Mark them in the margin. Don’t worry about criteria for choosing these—your assessment may be intuitive. If the passage feels good, mark it.

  1. Figure out the main point, and then arrange the best passages in the best order to support that point.

For a short piece, you may be able to number the supporting passages in the margins.

For a longer work, make an outline: express each of the points as a complete sentence with a verb.

  1. Write out a clean but not quite final draft of the whole piece, which may exclude the beginning.

If you don’t yet see how to start, just begin writing with your first definite point. You can even start with your second or third point.

Do the same if you haven’t identified exactly what your main point is. The lead and the main point will probably come to you as you write the draft.

As you’re writing, you should be led to think, “What I’m really trying to make clear to you is. . . .” That’s the main point.

  1. Now that you have a draft and a clear statement of the main idea, write whatever is needed for an introductory paragraph.

This should almost surely give the reader a clear sense of where you are going—that is, of what the main point is.

  1. If don’t have it by now, write the wrap: a satisfactory conclusion that summarizes things with clarity and precision.
  2. Next, read the draft not as a writer but as a reader. Read it out loud. Clean up places that are unclear or awkward or lacking in life.
  3. Get rid of mistakes in grammar and usage.

This eight-step process is essentially an act of cutting. You leave out everything that isn’t already good or easily made good. You’re not creating a work of art: you’re building a product that contains the best of what you can produce on a deadline.

Thorough revising

The first three steps are basically the same:

  1. Get your readers and purpose clearly in mind.
  2. Read over what you’ve drafted and mark the important parts.
  3. Identify the main point.
  4. Think more about who will read the words. Look not for a general point but for the best emphasis that will get through to those readers.
    Moving on…
  5. Summarize each of the good points in one sentence, each of which asserts something. This may help clarify ideas.
  6. Write more draft content, as freewriting or timed writing.
  7. As a last resort, invent a “false” main point or take the opposite point of view. Make up an outline of assertions supporting this. Sometimes this kind of distorted summary will produce the idea you want.
  8. Take another vacation from the stuff.
  9. Make a draft. Sometimes you can cut and paste large chunks of the original draft; you usually have to write a fair amount of new material. Here, the goal is not perfect language but to get the thoughts out.
  10. If you have a mess, deal with it.
  11. Take a break
  12. Think of opposing arguments
  13. Write more material
  14. Pursue an apparent contradiction to its logical end
  15. Describe the apparent confusion and proceed with the essay.
  16. Tighten and clean up the language

Goals: precision and energy

Look for correct words, and zero in on precise meaning.

Energy is usually gained by cutting. This saves the reader’s energy and keeps her or him from giving up.

Read the copy aloud.

Cut through extra words or vagueness or digression. Listen for places where the words get boring.

  1. Say the sentence aloud. It must sound strong and energetic.
  2. Think in terms of energy. Cast sentences so the syntax emphasizes what is important or most interesting.
  3. Simplify. Break long sentences into shorter ones; make verbs active and lively; cut out extra words; keep sentences from dribbling to a flabby end.
  4. Use active verbs; avoid the passive verb and too much of the verb “to be.”
  5. Keep Strunk & White’s Elements of Style in mind.
  6. Get rid of mistakes in grammar and usage.

Obviously, the second strategy will be far more time-consuming. If you’re not tossing off a blog post or newspaper squib on a deadline, if you’re writing something that matters or that needs to impress someone, then you will need to factor in enough time to do the job right — which requires twice as many steps as the quickie approach.

The last two elements — reaching for precision and energy and reading the copy (listen to it!)  — apply to any writing process, whether you’re cranking out hack copy or trying to write the Great Document of the Western World.


If You’d Asked Me: Kicking Out the Kids *FREE READ*

This book is a work in progress. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy

12. My fiancée says it’s not cruel to kick one’s child out of the house on their eighteenth birthday for no other reason than “they are now an adult, and they have to be reliant on themselves.”

What’s the whole story here? To come up with a sane answer, we’d need to know . . .

  • What country are you in?
  • What culture did she grow up in?
  • How old is she and how much experience of life does she have?
  • Does she now have a teenager?
  • If so, is that teenager misbehaving in ways that put undue strain on the rest of the family?
  • Will the kid be out of high school when s/he turns 18?
  • Can the kid make a living? If not, why not? If so, is it enough to support him or her?
  • Does she want to have a family, or does she just want to procreate?
  • Does she even understand what “family” means, in the context of your culture?
  • Have you already had a child with this woman?
  • If so, what is your stand on the matter?
  • If not, are you willing to do so, given her thinking on the matter?

If her philosophy conflicts powerfully with yours, why are you engaged to her, suggesting you seriously intend to marry her?

Are you willing not to have children so as to get around this heartless “philosophy” of hers?

If I were in love with a person who took this attitude, I would look for another love interest. Real quick.

If she’ll treat her own child like this, just imagine how she’ll treat you, once the romance wears off!

Ella’s Story, Chapter 9 *FREE READ*

This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


By then Vighdi had been her direct boss for several months, long enough to register that Ella was fairly bright and to take a shine to her. She—Vighdi—put Bhotil up to teaching Ella to read and write Varn.

He knew she was literate in Samdi, far from a given with felons deported from her world. Though he’d made a mental note to get her some training in Varn, he was a busy man. If it wasn’t written down, he soon forgot it.

Reminded, he arranged for her to come up to his office each day for an hour or two of tutoring.

Like most things Varn, she found the written language bizarre.

“Why,” she asked, mystified, “do they put every word inside a box?”

“So as to show it’s a separate word?” Bhotil responded, puzzled by her puzzlement. This seemed obvious to him. Each word was represented by sets of more or less phonetic symbols arranged in patterns within rectangular borders, according to fairly rigid conventions.

“Then…when you read something in Varn, it’s like a ball bouncing across the street, not like water flowing down the road? In your head, it goes Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah, not Blahblahblahblah?”

“Well. It flows together. I mean, when you take it all together.”

“No, it doesn’t. It chatters along like rocks tumbling down a hill.”

He chuckled. “I think it all comes down to the same place.”

“That’s what they say,” she replied. “But…it doesn’t, does it?”

“Sure it does. You understand what it means. I understand what it means. We understand what it means.”

“But I’ll bet what we each understand is different. I’ll bet what you think what it means is different from what I think it means. Because you’re Varn and I’m Samdi.”

He looked at her in surprise. “But we’re not different, really. Varn and Samdi come from the same genes, the same people.”

“Naw, Bhotil! That’s a fairy tale.”

“’Tis not. It’s science. And history. That’s why you could have a child by a Varn. Or an Ondai,  or even a Michaian.”

“Sure. Because we’re all fairies.”

He sighed gently and gave her A Look, attenuated. Don’t get smart with me, please. She dropped her gaze, silently apologetic.

“Look. If we took a drop of your great-grandmother’s blood and a drop of my great-grandmother’s blood,” he resumed, “and we ran some tests on them, we’d see that from way back in the darkness of time, they both had some ancestor that carried genes from Varnis. That’s why your people walk on two legs, just like mine, and why we both have two hands with five fingers and one head with two eyes.”

She laughed. “Sometimes I think I need two heads to keep up with you!”

“You do just fine at that,” he remarked.

“In the Way-Before Time, before the Second Empire covered the galaxy, before the first dynasties of the Kaïnas, the people of Varnis had spread across all the starfields they could reach. But that was before they knew how to move through hyperspace, so there was only so far they could go in one person’s lifetime – or two lifetimes, or ten.

“But they could tell – they had the science to tell – where in the galaxy there were worlds that could support life like ours. And what kind of creatures were evolving there. So they sent out capsules bearing Varn genes, only engineered to be taken into the creatures’ bodies and blend in with their existing genetic material. And guide them to evolve, over many tens of thousands of years, into thinking, speaking Varn-like creatures.”

Blend in? Do you mean “infect”? She restrained herself from expressing the thought aloud.

“And that’s why now we have the peoples of Samdela and Kana and Tamehal and Michaia and all the other worlds that belong to the Empire. We can prove it by comparing our genetic make-up. And it’s written in the ancient historic records.”

If it’s written down, it must be true, hm? “Can you read those things, sir?”

“Me? No, of course not. But there are translations. Would you like me to order up a copy for you?”

Oh, dear gods . . . will there be a test? “Mmm. . . no, sir. I think that would be over my head.”

He smiled. “I doubt it.”

What an idea, she thought, that the people of Samdela, her Samdi, were somehow, in any way or in any part, the same as the dusty-skinned gray-eyed aliens of Varnis. And yet, yes. She did know a few individuals who supposedly had sprung from a Varn and a Samdi. Supposedly.

Why, one could not imagine. But…strange things happened.

This man, this Lohkeh that she had seen across the base, saw him every now and again: he surely was all Samdi, solidly built and authoritative in gait.

He was, she had learned, indeed a capo. It wasn’t easy to find out. But by now she knew a guy…one who had access to state records.

He, on the other hand, didn’t seem to realize she herself had been a ranking member in the organization back on Samdela. No doubt, she figured, because he hadn’t noticed her.

The Complete Writer: 6 Steps in Revising & Editing *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer is a work in progress, published a chapter or two at a time here at Plain & Simple Press. To read all the chapters online so far, go to the Complete Writer page. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 7
Steps to Revising and Polishing

In my universe, revising consists of a half-dozen steps. It goes like this:

1. Reflection

Now go away. Do something else. If possible, let the material sit for a day or so. If that’s not possible, go to lunch or get a cup of coffee and, for a short period, let it be. You need some transition between the process of putting words on paper and the process of thinking about those words.

If your work is coherent enough to present to another person, this is a good time to ask someone you trust—preferably not a spouse, unless it’s a very unusual spouse—to read and comment on it. More to come, in the next chapter, about how to get the most useful responses from a reader.

2. Returning to the Draft

At every step along the revision road, you need to listen to the prose. Reread what you have written. Preferably, read it aloud. If you are going to have someone else read it and comment, you may want them to read it here, or you may want to wait until you have done a preliminary revision—when the work is a little closer to presentable.

At this point, consider two things: what you have left out, and what you can get rid of. In other words, at this stage there are two kinds of revision you can do: revising by adding and revising by cutting.

3. Revising by Adding

As an editor and writing teacher, I’ve found that beginning writers, in particular, tend not to say enough. We tend to be abstract, to leave out specific details.

Have you said the forest was full of trees? What kind of trees were they? What did they look like? Were they leafed out? Were the leaves green or frosted orange and red? Were they young trees or old? Crowded so they blocked out all the sun from the forest floor, or logged out so that no two trees were close enough to string a hammock between them? What did they smell like? How did they feel? Who was there to see them? How did those people respond to them? When did this happen? What time of day? What time of year? What time of life? Where exactly was this forest? How high, how low? How far from civilization? Why were you there? Why are you telling us this? How did you get there? How do you expect to get out of there?

One way to get at these details is to ask yourself the classic journalist’s questions: who what when where why and how. The answers to those questions will usually contain the specifics you need to fill in the details that paint a vivid, accurate picture in the reader’s mind. You want to use language and details that allow the reader to visualize exactly what you’re talking about.

We’ve looked at Hayakawa’s abstraction ladder as a way of thinking about how writers clarify ideas in their readers’ minds. You should make a practice of running up and down the abstraction ladder—be sure to bring your reader as far down to earth as possible, particularly when you must explain a difficult or new concept.

So, one phase of revising is to look at your work and ask yourself what details you can add. Remember, though, that the details need to be significant. They really need to add to the reader’s understanding, and not to fill space with puffery or irrelevant chatter. They need to be relevant and meaningful. If you sense that the copy lacks solid content, go back to the library or Google to find some concrete, credible facts.

Usually, though, you can give examples that illustrate an assertion you’ve made. Ask yourself, too: Can you show how some abstract principle or procedure you’re explaining applies to the life of a real human being? Have you used the most specific term for the thing you’re talking about? Have you said how it looks? How it feels? How it smells? How it sounds? How it matters? Go through your work and add to clarify, as needed.

3.a. Digression! On the all-important verbs

One way is to produce more concrete, less abstract copy is by using strong verbs and nouns.

First, as we’ve seen in chapter 1, a good writer uses verbs that show action and that carry a lot of meaning. Often one word will do the job of two or three words. Consider a young woman who is perambulating, at her leisure, across a college campus. Your first impulse might be to say:

She walked slowly across the campus.

That’s all very nice, and…plain vanilla. It doesn’t tell us enough.

What single word means “walk slowly”? When a group of thirty people brainstorm for answers to this question, we find terms like these:

Notice the vivid difference between “she ambled across the campus” and “she trudged across the campus.” These more specific terms not only give us a clearer picture of how the subject looked as she proceeded, they even give us a clue to her state of mind. This is what is meant by the rule to use strong action verbs.

While we’re talking about verbs, let’s mention four principles remember about verb use:

1. Let your verbs and nouns carry the weight of your meaning. Many people are fond of hiding their verbs in long, wordy constructions:

Be simple: simplify

Use simplicity: simplify

As a teenager, I was barely cognizant of the Vietnam War: As a teenager, I barely knew about the Vietnam War.

2. Look for hidden verbs. Whenever you see a long wordy construction that appears where a verb should stand in the sentence, look for a single verb that will take its place. Chapter 1 describes this concept. Review it and keep it in mind while revising.

3. Avoid the passive voice. If you don’t recall the discussion in Chapter 1 or didn’t understand it, look up it up on Google.

4. Use action verbs, not verbs of being, whenever possible. Avoid, too, those verbose constructions like “there is and there are,” or “it is x that blah blah”

There are many hard-working adults enrolled at the Great Desert University.Many hard-working adults have enrolled at the Great Desert University.

Many hard-working adults attend the Great Desert University.

It was Oliver Boxankle who wrote our textbook.

Oliver Boxankle wrote our textbook.

When you’re adding details—and when you’re revising the material you’ve already put on paper—use these principles to strengthen your prose.

4. Revising by Cutting

You’d be amazed at how much immaterial stuff people put into their writing. One cause of this: the teacher or professor who asks you to write three pages or five pages or ten pages on whatever subject. What do you do when you’re assigned to write a ten-page report and you only come up with eight? Naturally, you pad, pad, pad! This trains you to fill space with inconsequential material, irrelevant remarks, and the like.

So—the first thing to do is get rid of that stuff. If necessary go back to the library or the Internet and find some material that is relevant.

Another source of unnecessary verbiage is redundancy. In conversation, we routinely repeat ourselves. But in writing, that’s unnecessary. Look over the entire piece and notice whether you’ve said the same thing twice. Often, writers will make a remark in the opening that gets repeated deeper in the story. Get rid of it. Sometimes a writer may introduce a quotation by writing, for example, Oliver Boxankle says things are tough all over. In the next sentence, Boxankle is quoted saying, “Things are getting very rough for everyone these days.” Let quotation carry the content, if you’re going to use it, and delete the redundant comment about it.

Some material may not be strictly relevant to the subject. Ask yourself: does the reader really need to know this?

You do not have to unload everything you know about a subject onto the reader. Indeed, you should not. Ideally, you should know a great deal more than you let on. In most instances, a piece of nonfiction will contain about a third of what the writer has learned in doing research on the subject.

Even in a piece of fiction: if you have fully visualized your characters, you have imagined each person’s childhood and the lives of his or her parents and the things that have molded the personality. But you don’t recite all this background to the reader: you simply show the fully thought-through character in action. Many of the character’s actions will be predicated on what you know of his or her background, but you don’t have to detail all the ancient history on paper.

Share with the reader what she needs to know, and stop at that. Do not unload a lot of irrelevant material that doesn’t help the person to understand your message.

On the sentence level, you can cut a surprising number of words. One way to do this is to change passive verbs to the active voice. Look for verbose constructions—search for hidden verbs, for example, and get rid of those “there is/it is” structures. Cut adverbs. You rarely need an -ly verb—let it stand only if you really need it. Words like “very,” “quite,” and “rather,” which modify adjectives and other adverbs, can almost always go. And often you can cut adjectives, too. If an adjective doesn’t add much to the message, get rid of it.

One final fillip at this stage of revision: be sure you have the facts correct. If you’ve shot from the hip, look up the basis of your assertions in an encyclopedia, in a source at the library, or on Google Scholar. If you’ve used numbers, be sure they add up. Once, in writing about a hike through Aravaipa Canyon, I said, “The terrain has three types of paving: loose, polished river rocks in dry floodplain; loose, polished, slimy river rocks underwater; ankle-deep mud with the lubricating power of axle grease; and ankle-deep sand.” Add these up: 1) loose polished river rocks; 2) loose, polished slimy river rocks; 3) ankle-deep mud; 4) ankle-deep sand . . .

If you’ve said there are 4,831,244 people in Zambia and 4,910,003 people in the Congo for a total of 9,741,247 people, get out your calculator and double-check. If you’ve claimed that you can drive across Arizona from Prescott to Kingman on State Route 89A, look at the map to be sure you have it right. If you’ve remarked that the Pilgrims brought three copies of the King James Bible over to Plymouth Rock, be sure the King James Bible was in print when the Pilgrims crossed the ocean blue.

5. Reconsideration

Now is an ideal time to get someone else to review your magnum opus, especially if it’s a book or a research document to be published in an academic journal. Chapter 9 describes some strategies for eliciting useful responses from volunteer readers, sometimes called “beta readers.” However, for short, informal pieces, that’s not always feasible. In the absence of a reader, you’ll need to give yourself some intelligent feedback.

Remember, the essence of professionalism is willingness to change and revise what you’ve written. Your words are not your babies. They are not graven in stone with a diamond stylus. Even after they go to print, they are not necessarily set into the collective consciousness for all eternity—indeed, they most likely are on their way to the recycling plant.

Don’t be shy or vain about recasting and revising your stuff, or even about throwing some of it out. After you’ve revised by cutting or adding, as appropriate, it’s again time to set the material aside and let it cool off. Go away. Do something else. Go to the state fair. Watch a baseball game. Have dinner. Deflect your consciousness in some way from the intense activity of focusing on the piece.

Come back to it later. Print out a hard copy—most people find it easier to recognize flaws in copy that’s on paper than in copy that’s on screen.

Now read it aloud. Listen to it. How does it sound? Does it sound like English? Is it coherent? Does it contain any redundancies or repetitiousness? Is it verbose? Does it paint a clear, concrete picture of what you’re trying to say? Is the point clear—if you were reading this for the first time, would you understand why its author thinks the material is important?

Look at its organization. Is it logical? Can the reader follow the argument from one point to another without getting lost? Have you left anything out? Have you left the reader with an opportunity to say, “Hey! What about this?” If so, fix it. Have you been fair?

Does the piece have an effective beginning and an effective ending? Is the material in between interesting and coherent? Does it carry the reader along?

Have you said anything inane? Out with it! Have you made a broad generalization that cannot be supported by facts? If so, either get rid of it or support it.

Are there any organizational redundancies? Have you said anything more than once? If so, tighten.

6. Editing for Grammar, Spelling, Style, and Syntax

The final step is to clean up the surface errors. Be sure it sounds like English and that you have written in the tightest possible style. Then run the spell-checker.

After that, proofread with the brain! This is a crucial step. Do not leave it out! Your brain is smarter than the computer, no matter what Bill Gates says. You can bet you’ll find something the computer missed in the final read-through.