Friday, June 21, 2024

Ten Friendly Tips to Help Writers Stay on Track

by Crystal Bowman

Throughout my decades of writing, I’ve learned much from editors, mentors, writers’ conferences, and seasoned writers. I have kept a list of helpful tips that I read now and then to brush up and refresh my writing brain. No matter where we are on our writing journey, it’s always good to review best practices.

10 Dos and Don’ts for Writers
1. Avoid lengthy prologues, forewards, and introductions: Readers are eager to get into the book. If these 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 Jimmy was mad, show me. 
  • Rather than: Jimmy was mad because he thought his dad was being unfair.
  • Use: Jimmy stomped his foot. “That’s not fair,” he 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, creative adverbs, or action.
  • Rather than: “We need to leave now, or we’ll be late!” Josh hollered angrily as he looked at his watch. 
  • Use: Josh frowned as he looked at his watch. “We need to leave now, or we’ll be late,” he said. 
  • 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: “I wore two different shoes,” laughed Jonny.
  • Use: Jonny laughed. “I wore two different shoes,” 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. Use specific words over generic words: Using specific nouns and verbs allows the reader to visualize the text. For example: On the fifth day, God said, “Let the waters be filled with living things.” Sharks and whales and jellyfish 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. Your best friend, spouse, or English teacher don’t qualify unless they are published authors or professional editors.

10. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.


Crystal Bowman is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children and families. She also writes lyrics for children’s piano music and is a monthly contributor to Clubhouse Jr. Magazine, Arise Daily, and Christian Children's Authors. She enjoys coaching children's writers as well as teaching at writers conferences. When she is not writing or speaking, she likes going for walks and spending time with her huggable grandkids. She and her husband live in Michigan and Florida and try to avoid snowstorms.


  1. This is an excellent list, Crystal. I’m going to share it with my Word Weavers group one month. Thanks so much!!??!!

  2. LOL! Love those extra punctuation marks!!! I'm so glad you found this list helpful and am honored that you can share it with your Word Weavers group. We writers need to help each other out anyway we can. Thanks for commenting!