Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
August 23, 2019

Strive for Excellence: Use What You Learn

Margie Lawson

Hellooo, Writers —

I’m excited to share some truly stellar examples in this blog.

I’ve guest blogged for WITS 30+ times and worked hard to make sure my blogs are power-packed with tips and techniques, examples and analyses. Every teaching point is there to help you make your writing bestseller strong.

I’m always impressed by the comments left by so many writers who are excited about what they’ve learned in my blogs.

But sometimes, I wonder how many of those writers remember and use what they’ve read. I can tell you everything I know in blogs, online classes, and lecture packets. I can even work with you one on one and share all my secrets—but your writing won’t be stronger if you don’t use them.

How do teaching points stick in your mind? How do you learn? Do you take notes? Print the blogs you want to remember or save them in a file?

One of the college courses I used to teach was "The Psychology of Learning." Most of us have to review new material several times, and use it, or it’s gone, gone, gone.

Try it with this blog. Review the material. Use what you learn. And keep reviewing and using. Then see how much you retain as you write forward. I think you’ll be amazed at how much stronger your writing has become.

Here are some gems from two of my earlier WITS blogs.

2014:  Get Fresh!

How often do you get fresh…on the page?

Sometimes writers forget about writing fresh. Or they don’t include enough hits of fresh writing.

Fresh hits may be unexpected. But when they fit the POV character like Peter Pan’s shadow fit him, they’re yummy. Those twists of phrases, tweaks for humor, fresh visuals, and more power the reader through your story. They make your book a page-turner.

Some fresh hits are super subtle. Others grab you and propel you through the passage.

Season of Change, Melinda Curtis, Multi-Immersion-Grad

Example 1 -- Melinda Curtis could have written:

Slade tried to swallow, but his throat was too tight.

But she wrote this fresh piece:

Shameful. The word spiraled up Slade’s windpipe, closing it off to vital functions like breathing and calls for help.

Wow. Fresh and powerful.

Example 2 -- Melinda Curtis could have written:

Slade’s stomach clenched.

She really wrote this version:

Slade’s stomach wound up tighter than a slugger protecting home plate.

Ah. An amplified simile. Smart writing. Perfect cadence.

The Pieces We Keep, Kristina McMorris, Margie-Grad

Example 1 – Kristina McMorris could have written:

The room went quiet.

You’ll be glad Kristina worked harder and wrote this line:

The quiet left behind was the type that followed a shove off a cliff.

Boom. That’s a powerful simile.

Example 2 – Kristina McMorris could have been content with this cliché:

In her frenzied state, she’d follow him anywhere.

Kristina didn’t bore the reader by giving them something they’d read before. She treated them to this sentence:

In her frenzied state, he could lead her to hell and she wouldn’t think to object until waist deep in flames.

2018:  Not Your Mama’s Character Descriptions

Does your real or imaginary writing checklist include:

-- Make Character Descriptions Fresh, Unpredictable, Multi-Powerful?

If not, it could.

Character descriptions can add power on multiple levels. They can boost cadence, add a humor hit, strengthen emotion, and slip in backstory.

You can treat the reader to something fresh, something they haven’t read before. You can slip in details that deepen characterization too.

The more important a character, the more attention and power they deserve in the description.

Attention:  Consider the number of lines.

Power:  Be strategic regarding style and structure.


The Scandal, Nicola Marsh, Margie Grad, USA Today Bestseller

Elly wasn’t the type of woman I’d normally befriend Stunning on the surface, from her designer shoes to her flawless make-up, wearing her sexuality like a killer outfit. But the eyes never lie and I knew, with the instinct of dealing with fragile women for years, that Elly’s overt beauty hid a brittleness she strove to hide.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words – stunning, designer, flawless, sexuality, killer, lie, instinct, fragile, hid, bitterness, hide

Deepened Characterization – multiple points

Cliché Play – from her designer shoes to her flawless make-up

Compelling Cadence

A School for Unusual Girls, Kathleen Baldwin, Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller

The headmistress, Miss Emma Stranje, sat behind her desk, mute, assessing me with unsettling hawk eyes. In the flickering light of the oil lamp, I couldn’t tell her age. She looked youthful one minute, and ancient the next. She might've been pretty once, if it weren’t for her shrewd measuring expression. She’d pulled her wavy brown hair back into a severe chignon knot, but stray wisps escaped their moorings giving her a feral catlike appearance.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words: headmistress, Stranje, mute, assessing, unsettling, hawk, youthful, ancient, pretty, shrewd, measuring, severe, escaped, feral

News-of-a-Difference Details:  throughout

Compelling Cadence

Dear Wife, Kimberly Belle, 5-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller, International Bestseller

Amanda Shephard steps through my front door, looking just like she did in high school. Blonde, thin, a complicated sort of pretty—big lashes and acrylic nails and long, heat-curled hair. Her face is caked under a layer of makeup I’ve never seen her without, not even the summer before senior year when our entire class spent every day bobbing in blow-up tubes on the river. All the other girls had shiny cheeks pink from the sun, but Amanda’s makeup was like a mask, flawless and im­penetrable.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words –  complicated, pretty, never-seen-her-without (makeup), mask, flawless, impenetrable

Rhetorical Device:  polysyndeton –big lashes and acrylic nails and long, heat-curled hair

Rhetorical Device:  Alliteration – bobbing, blow up; makeup, mask

Deepened Characterization:  Throughout

Backstory Slip Ins:  high school, tubing in river

Compelling Cadence

Wrapping Up

I hope this blog motivates you to use what you’ve learned. You can make your writing bestseller-strong. You just have to put in the work.

You get a taste of my deep editing techniques from my blogs. But my online courses and lecture packets are each a couple of hundred pages long. And they’re loaded with teaching points and analyzed examples.

Kudos to the Margie grads I referenced in this blog. Impressive writing.

THANK YOU to the WITS gals for hosting me again. Love you all!

THANK YOU for dropping by the blog.

Please post a comment or share a "Hi Margie!" Post something -- and you have two chances to be a winner.

You could win a Lecture Packet from me or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy.

The drawing will be Sunday night, 9:00 PM Mountain Time.

Lawson Writer’s Academy – September Courses

  • Your First Five Pages, Reader Glue – Instructor: Laura Drake
  • Empowering Characters’ Emotions – Instructor: Becky Rawnsley teaching Margie Lawson’s course
  • Deep Point of View – Instructor: Rhay Christou
  • The Sizzling Scintillating Synopsis – Instructor: Suzanne Purvis
  • The Rule of Six – Instructor: Shirley Jump
  • Crazy-Easy Social Media for Authors – Instructor: Lisa Norman
  • New Course! Kidlit Crash Course: Writing and Publishing Your MG-YA Novel – Instructor: Michelle Schusterman
  • New Course! Memoir: For Your Children’s Children – Instructor: Sarah Hamer
  • New Course! Set Up for Success: The Author’s Strategic Plan –           Instructor: Donna Alward

About Margie

Margie Lawson—editor and international presenter—teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com

Interested in inviting Margie to present a full day workshop for your writing organization? Contact Margie through her website, or Facebook Message her.

Interested in attending one of Margie’s 5-day Immersion classes? Click over to her website and check them out.

A personal note from Margie:

Many of you know about the tragedy in my life. My husband died in a plane crash on May 15.

It seems inauthentic to not mention this horror.

I miss my Tom every minute. I’m forever sad. Forever adjusting.

All the notes and cards and flowers are so comforting. I’m incredibly appreciative.

Thank you.

See you in the comments.

84 comments on “Strive for Excellence: Use What You Learn”

  1. Hi, Margie.
    Writers are supposed to have words, but I have none strong enough to express my sadness at your loss. Your writing and wisdom have helped so many, and we feel we know you personally through that. Wishing you strength and peace.
    And doing my best to use what you teach.

    1. Hello Susan --

      I didn't intend to shift the focus to my loss. But it colors everything in my life, so it makes sense it's here too.

      You found the right words. Your words touched my heart.

      Glad you're doing your best to use what I teach.

      Hope I get to meet you someday.

  2. I cannot express how awed I am at your strength and perseverance during this tragic time in your life. I would be curled up in a ball in a corner with a case of wine. Yet here you are sharing your expertise and knowledge...One amazing person. Thank you for an enlightening post.

    1. Hello Claire --

      I just pretend to be strong. I spend plenty of time curled up on my bed snuggling my two mini-dachshunds. And I sit outside by my rock garden, my Tom place, and think and cry and wish it would all go away.

      Then I get up and make myself do what I need to do. Until sad rules and I cry some more.

      I don't feel strong. I feel broken.

      Sheesh -- I'm TMI'ing here. But it's my truth.

      And I feel safe on WITS, like I'm surrounded by friends.

      Thanks for your kind words. They help.

      1. Oh, Margie, I know your loss of Tom continues to be devastating. I truly wish I had it in my capacity to say the right words or help you in some way. I love you. I was honored to meet Tom. Plus, Titan and Calypso.

      2. Guess what, Margie? I'm nearing The End on my Oregon Trail novel. Soon I will be spreading those pages out and coloring them. I never go anywhere without my Immersion manual. Even if I don't open it I have a sense of security knowing it's near.
        You continue to make better authors. You continue to teach with methods known to stick. You continue to care.
        I want you to know I will do anything for you if it's in my power.

    1. Big Lovey Hugs to Immersion Grad Jennifer Rupp / Jennifer Trethewey --

      It's been too long since I've had a real hug from you. I saw you at the NJRW conference, not sure which year.

      And your Immersion class was in 2016, but it seems longer ago.

      Hope I get to see you in 2020. Sending love to you.

  3. Hi, Margie, I feel the wind swirling around you sometimes leaving you off balance and sometimes giving you strength. Prayers for your heart as you grieve.

    You asked in this post how we apply the writing lessons we learn. In my experience, I can easily reach overload with input, instruction, or suggestion leaving me frustrated. I find that I can apply one concept at a time and store the rest. In edit mode, I will often zero in on a specific area and focus there. If I live long enough, I may become a competent and compelling author.

    Thank you for your insights.

    1. Hello Michelle --

      I feel that swirling wind knocking the wind out of me.

      Thank you for caring.

      Loved your comments. Smart plan to focus on one area and make it strong.

      I trust you will become a stellar author!

  4. Hi Margie,
    Sending you warm waves of sympathy and love. Thinking of you always. Thanks for the fantastic, fresh examples. Forever fabulous.

    1. Big Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Suzanne Purvis --

      I need all those warm, soothing waves. Thank you.

      I need a hug from you. It's been too long.

      And thank you for being such a stellar writer and stellar LWA Instructor. I appreciate you teaching your classes, and mine. You're amazing.

  5. Great examples as always, Margie! You know I use what I've learned from you - but I have my 'go to' lessons that I use all the time. It helps me to go back to my packets and work on the non-go-to lessons.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Big Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Laura Drake --

      Ah -- You go back to the lectures and dig in.

      Smart. Smart. Smart.

      It works well!

      Miss you...

      And -- so glad you teach for Lawson Writer's Academy. Your First Five Pages class is in September!

  6. Wow, so honored that you shared some of my writing here, Margie. Love all the examples. Lest I depress writers with my "skill" - the power comes in at the editing stage. My crappy first drafts are loaded with flat sentences and notes to myself like "need to power up here." I probably edit through a manuscript too many times trying to land on the right imagery for that character and the emotion they're experiencing.

    Hugs to Margie!

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Melinda Curtis --

      Thanks for sharing about your deep edit passes. Nobody's first drafts are stellar. But several passes later, they can WOW me!

      And you know I'm not easy to WOW.

      So glad I get to see you this fall!

    2. Hugs to Immersion Grad Chris --

      I loved working with you in Immersion. And so appreciate you for hosting the Immersion class.

      You're so creative, your cement mixer is always churning!

      Hope I get to see you in 2020. Miss you...

  7. Margie, our time together last fall was priceless. A real turning point on my writer's journey. Know that you're helping your wide circle of friends succeed in ways we haven't even imagined yet. That said, success is not for the lazy. So thank you for these WITS posts for getting our creative cement mixers churning again,

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Chris --

      I loved working with you in Immersion. And so appreciate you for hosting the Immersion class.

      You're so creative, your cement mixer is always churning!

      Hope I get to see you in 2020. Miss you...

  8. Margie, I am so sorry to learn of your loss of your beloved husband. Treasure your memories of the time you had together. Thank you for sharing your writing knowledge.

  9. I'm so sorry for your loss, Margie.

    Thanks for the article. I always learn so much from you.

  10. I love these reminders. I'm going through my WIP now and trying to rewrite some bland writing. Starting off with finding all the grins and smiles and shrugs. 😀

  11. I'm so thrilled and honored to see the wifey up there, Margie - thank you!! I edited a big chunk of that book on your couch in the scary-I-mean-cozy room ❤️

    1. Hugs to 5-time Immersion Grad Kimberly Belle --

      Kimberly and Jenny -- You two know the Cozy Room is only scary for the first minute. Then Immersioners want more and more and more time with me in the Cozy Room.

      Love you two!

  12. Rich and I were blessed to have known Tom, even for a short while. And now to watch you carry on is as inspiring as your writing wisdom. Thank you.

    1. Hello Jeanne K --

      Tom and I had such fun taking you and Rich on the Flying Getaway. Happy memories.

      Carrying on, missing Tom.

      I just pretend I'm strong.

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Rebecca Hodge --

      I'm excited about seeing you in Immersion again. This time, on Sullivan Island.

      Can't wait for your debut novel, EDGE OF SAFETY, Feb. 11th!

  13. Hugs, Margie. I love the examples here. I'm so glad to have your techniques in my toolbox as I strive for excellence. I love the comment Melinda Curtis made, too. That she applies your lessons and adds power at the editing stage (I call them Margieisms). Thanks for the reminders and the encouragement!

    1. Big Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Sheri Humphreys --

      I know you use your deep editing tools you learned from me. I see them on the pages of your books.

      Kudos to you!

  14. So much great writing advice and examples here. The kind of advice that greatly improved my writing. Thank you for that and for all you do, Margie. My heart breaks for you and your family. It is a loss beyond words. I'm so deeply sorry.

    1. Lovey Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Diana Munoz Stewart --

      I love your stories and your writing. I know you use what you learned.

      So many hearts broke when Tom's plane crashed. Mine shattered.

  15. I'm so glad to see you here, Margie! These are great reminders and I will use them. ((hugs)) and my condolences to you in this difficult time.

    1. Big Lovey Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Piper Huguley --

      I know you'll use them. I see your smart deep editing on your pages.

      I appreciate the cyber hugs. Looking forward to real ones from you.

  16. Margie, you know you hit my Mom-o-Meter so yes, I hear you in my head and I use your lessons. And I ache with you about losing Tom, the love of your life. Of course it colors everything. I'm hoping the outpouring of love and support from your community can color in at least a few of those spaces that feel empty now. *blinks eyes, resolves not to cry*

    BUT...to get back to your stellar post, here are some ways I apply your lessons:

    When I know a scene isn't working and I don't know why, I get out my multiple highlighters and EDITS the hell out of it. That always tells me why it's "wrong."

    When the emotion of this memoir is too much for me, I think about you and Tiffany and all the families that need this story, and suck it up.

    When I want to be lazy or I hate a sentence, I hear your voice telling me that cliches and boring sentences are an invitation to readers skip or put down a story.

    When I don't want to write, I hear you in my head saying "NYT! NYT!" and it draws me to the keyboard to "earn me some of that."

    Thanks for posting with us here at WITS so the people who haven't had the joy of Immersing with you can hear a version of your voice in their heads too. 🙂

    1. Big Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Jenny Hansen --

      You're eloquent and lovey and smart, smart, smart.

      I love all your words, and you.

      So glad you hear me in your head.

  17. Margie,

    You've helped me SO much. I owe my new confidence all to your time with me last December in our immersion. You are the voice in my head.

    Know that I keep you close in my heart as you go through this life-changing time. Sending virtual hugs.


    1. Lovey Hugs to Immersion Grad Amy Pffaff --

      Ah... New confidence from Immersion Master Class. Yes!

      So proud of you.

      I'll take your virtual hugs -- and look forward to some real ones too.

    1. Big Lovey Hugs to Immersion Grad Christie Craig --

      The way you use my deep editing goodies WOWS me.

      And thank you for your comforting email.

      Looking forward to seeing you again, hopefully next year.

  18. Hi Margie. I’m touched reading all these comments of love and gratitude for you. And still really really sad for you. I’m glad you are so authentic. Authentic is surely your middle name. You put it on the page and colour our pages and lives with your authenticity. My eyes were opened to the power you teach at Omega Sydney 2017, and I’m running with it.
    My daily go-to is your EDITS colours. And reading everything aloud. Golden wisdom. Stellar yellow, for Margie’s hair, head close to the sun. Thoughts. Thoughts of you every time. Huge hugs and thanks. Xxxx Jay

  19. Margie, I know Tom's light will keep you warm and show you the way forward. I think of you often, using your many lessons to put new words on paper. Stay strong and know all of us are standing with you in heart, mind and spirit.

  20. I forgot to mention the main thing which helps me stay tuned to everything with my Margie mind/ear switched on: I read (mostly listen to) books written by Margie grads, or those of Margie’s oft-quoted authors in her fabulous lecture packets. So many to choose from. NYT bestseller authors with lines that make you gasp and sigh and strive to reach.

  21. Hello, Margie,

    I try to take notes. I previously saved the post notifications on my computer, but then I realized there was a search box for WITS, so I deleted all the clutter and look up as needed.

    No words can ease your loss, but I hope your memories will sustain you as you go forward. My deepest condolences on the loss of your husband.


  22. Dear Margie,
    It seems so superficial to write how sorry I am to hear of your loss. I wish I could give you a tight hug.
    I think of you whenever I have a pen in my hand!
    Your lecture packets taught me the fundamentals and then learning in person from you was another boost to my writing.
    Love across the seas and hope to see you in Australia in 2020.
    Sarah x

  23. Hi, Margie. You’re absolutely right - incorporating your tips takes work. A lot of hard work and commitment. It’s a bit like changing your golf swing; at first, everything feels awkward and unnatural . . . but stick with it! The improvement is well worth the pain. And, even when you get good at it, it won’t all appear in your SFD. You’ll have to add it layer by layer. Again, do the work!

    As everyone here attests, Margie’s techniques make the difference between OK and great. And great sells! So do the work!

    Wrapping you in love and hugs from afar, Margie. I keep having this image of Tom smiling at your strength and cheering, “That’s my girl!”

  24. Loved the examples, especially, Season of Change and The Scandal. Enjoyed this whole post but when you brought up about your husband's tragic death, my heart along with my breath paused in shock. Boy, did that throw me for a loop. Right away prayers were said for you and your husband. Stay strong and God Bless.

  25. Your advice is always timed right for me. I count you as a blessing in my life. You gave me awesome tools to follow my dreams and you gave me awesome friends to help me along the way. A kiss on your forehead and a deep hug to you. I love you Margie.

  26. Dear Margie, you are so right about exercising our writing muscles. Use it, or lose it! Thank you for the reminder about keeping things fresh. I loved all the examples, but this example was killer, 'In her frenzied state, he could lead her to hell and she wouldn’t think to object until waist deep in flames,' from Kristina McMorris.

    Lots of hugs as you mark 100 days without your incredible man. You are a treasure and we're all standing with you. xxxooo❤️❤️❤️

  27. Hello Margie! Thank you for the stellar post and inspiring examples. I strive to be half as good as the examples you shared here.

    Every time I write, every time I edit, every time I read a novel, your lessons run through my mind. I think EDITS colours and Deep Editing techniques are ingrained in my soul 🙂 I am forever thankful to your brilliant, insightful teaching. Your lessons and teaching style are powerful and fun and I love being part of that world. Huge thanks for helping me pull my writing up to a whole new level.

    Thinking of you always and sending warmest, loving, healing hugs.

  28. Love your classes you teach us to dig deeper into ourselves and find the best author we can be, just like you live your life to be the best. Still sending you prayers each day for your loss the hurt will never leave but it will soften in time.

  29. This is another great post, Margie. I'm striving to write fresh. I really am. It can be tough. Very tough. At times I nail it, and other times when my editor gets my MS I'm given a WTF??? in the comments LOL, which means getting rid of what I thought was "fresh" and restoring to the tried and true. But the more I do it, the better I'm slowly getting at it.

  30. My heart goes out to you, Margie. I’m sorry I didn’t know but I will treasure meeting your dear Tom, truly a lovely man.

    “Strive for Excellence: Use What You Learn” - thank you for this timely blog, Margie and btw thanks for introducing me to WITS and the delightful group of writers who are so on my wavelength.

    "Get fresh" resurfaces every time I sit down to write. I can see you saying it and I thank you for it and the all the teaching points that have made a huge difference to how I write; plus the added enjoyment of doing what seems to me, a better job. It’s been a joy to majorly revise my class notes and tap into the treasure-trove since I’m editing my MSs from the bottom drawer. They needed the light and are gratefully gasping the fresh air.

    I zoned in on this thought from your blog, “Every teaching point is there to help you make your writing bestseller strong...but your writing won’t be stronger if you don’t use them.”
    Hugs, Margie x

  31. Hi Margie, I have learnt so much from many of your courses and your strength and resilience amazes me. Thankyou for keeping going with your unmatchable writing coaching and inspiration.

  32. Margie, your workshop at a GRWA conference is the one that stuck most in my brain and heart. I'll never forget it. I am so sorry for your loss.

  33. Margie, I think of you every time I edit my second or third draft. I look for or insert power words and look for fresh ways to write a scene. I have the list of writing tools you gave me to help me make my writing more powerful. Your class at WTWA started me on my path to being an author, and I will always be grateful to you for that. I wish you peace and comfort and lots of students to help like you did me.

  34. Hi Margie, I always enjoy your blogs and reading the examples from these stellar authors.

  35. I always learn the most wonderful things from you and the classes you offer. I have a sheet I made with all the rhetorical devices from your class packets pinned to my wall by my computer. I am continuing my quest to write fresh as you say.

    On a personal note, I admire your strength. I know losing your husband was devastating for you, but you show so much grace and fortitude I can't help but admire you for it. Hugs and prayers to you.

  36. Class notes (most from your classes) in binders get reviewed and then I put ideas into practice; those are my preferred ways to apply new skills. Hugs, Margie!

  37. Happy Sunday, Margie! Thanks for these cool writing samples. Thanks for everything you do and share to continually inspire students. You make such a difference!

  38. Hi Margie! I can never get enough of your wisdom. I love reading your lectures and blogs. I also hope you know that I think about you every day and send you love from Chicago. What you've been through this year is unthinkable and I wish there's something I could do to take a little bit of your pain away. For tonight, I'll just remind you how loved you are.

  39. Thank you, Margie, for sharing your knowledge, but more importantly, your heart. With your classes I feel like I keep getting closer to sharing my dream with the world. Thank you and my prayers that your soul and heart find peace.

  40. We met many years ago at a workshop you gave in Nanaimo British Columbia. You were inspiring and motivational - just as you are today.
    There are few words to describe your loss which will adequately describe your pain. Hang on, hang on. ????

  41. Margie, you may not realize it, but you are such a light for so many, a beacon that reminds us there is a path we can take and how to find it again. It's why I come back to your teachings and your lessons (and always, always have a full set of highlighters in my house) when I need that gentle tug back out of the weeds. (Kind of where I'm at right now. lol)

    I love reading these posts with so many great nuggets of gold. Thank you for continuing on, for sharing and know that we are supporting you no matter where you are in your journey. hugs from here. 🙂

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