Friday, July 15, 2022

Dos and Don'ts Every Writer Needs to Know

by Crystal Bowman

Through the course of my writing years, I have kept a list of helpful tips I’ve gleaned from other writers, editors, and mentors. Though some of these tips are pretty basic, they are good reminders and I read through the list every now and then just to brush up. No matter where we are on our writing journey, it’s always good to review the dos and don’ts.

Helpful Tips for Writers
1. Avoid lengthy prologues, forwards, and introductions: Readers are eager to get into the book. If theses features are too long, readers (like me) will skip them. 

2. Less is more: Say as much as you can with as few words as possible. Use strong verbs instead of adverbs. 
Rather than: She walked slowly and quietly past the baby’s room.
Use: She tiptoed past the baby’s room. 

3. Show don’t tell: Don’t tell me Sarah was mad, show me. 
Rather than: Sarah was mad because she thought that was unfair.
Use: Sarah stomped her foot. “That’s not fair,” she said.

4. Punctuation: Avoid the overuse of exclamation points and use only one punctuation at a time!?! (One of my pet peeves!)

5. Don’t go into great detail describing characters: In the picture book, Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak begins the story this way: The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him “Wild Thing!” and Max said, “I’ll eat you up!” so he was sent to bed without eating anything. 
That tells us what we need to know about Max without a lengthy introduction to his character.

6. Keep dialogue attribution simple: Also know as tag lines, dialogue attribution lets the reader know who’s speaking. It’s not the place for descriptive verbs or creative adverbs. The emotion and action need to be communicated in the dialogue, not the tag line. 

Rather than: “It’s time to leave,” hollered Judy angrily. 
Use: “I’ll give you one more minute, then I’m leaving,” said Judy. 

Note: When there is ongoing dialogue between two characters and it’s clear who is speaking, the tag line can be dropped.

7. You cannot laugh or sigh words: 
Rather than: “My shoes are on the wrong feet,” laughed Jonny.
Use: Jonny laughed. “My shoes are on the wrong feet,” he said.
Rather than: “I’m getting tired of this,” sighed Sarah. 
Use: Sarah let out a sigh. “I’m getting tired of this.” (you can skip the tag line)

8. Always use specific words over generic words: The more specific your nouns and verbs, the more your readers can visualize the text. For example: On the fifth day, God said, “Let the waters be filled with living things.” Sharks and whales and jelly fish were soon swimming in the seas. Then God said, “Let the birds fly high in the air above the earth.” And just like that, eagles were soaring through the sky and robins were building nests in maple trees. 

9. Have your work edited before you submit it to a publisher: When an editor at Zondervan was interested in my children’s stories many decades ago, he passed me off to his assistant editor to help improve my writing. Those days are gone. Hire an editor or writing coach to review, edit, and proofread your story. You best friend, spouse, or English teacher don’t qualify unless they are published authors or professional editors.

The publishing industry is constantly changing and so are rules for writing. Stay current on writing trends and invest in a good grammar book or find some online sites you trust. Writing is not for the faint of heart. If it were easy, everyone would do it!


Crystal Bowman is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children and four nonfiction books for women. She also writes lyrics for children’s piano music and is a monthly contributor to Clubhouse Jr. Magazine. She loves going to schools to teach kids about poetry. She also speaks at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups and teaches workshops at writers’ conferences. When she is not writing or speaking, she enjoys going for walks, working out at the gym, and eating ice cream. She and her husband live in Michigan and have seven huggable grandkids. 

A Fun Pinterest Image to Share!


  1. Thanks for this list and the specific examples, Crystal. I'm trying to remember both the reminders and the last sentences of encouragement. :)

    1. I'm glad you found this helpful! Thanks for commenting.

  2. This is excellent advice, Crystal! Thank you for taking the time to share.

    1. You are welcome, Ginny. Sometimes the most basic things are the best reminders.

  3. This is outstanding. So many ways to tighten up our writing. Advice from the best! (Notice I only used one exclamation point.)

  4. I appreciate this email so much! Thanks for this one today. Definitely good reminders and things to put into practice. Thanks agagin!

    1. You are welcome. This blog has many contributors who pass along valuable information for writers. I am honored to be on the team.

  5. Oh my goodness! I will print this out and put it where I can see it. I need all of it. Thank you!

    1. I am happy it is helpful! Thanks for commenting.

  6. Good stuff, Crystal!