Editing Your Work: 4 Easy Tips for Creating Distance from Your Text


Creating Distance from Your Text

So you’ve been writing lots of cool new stuff and now it’s time to think about revision. When you’re in the editing phase, you must find a way to create distance from your text, to see it with fresh eyes. And it’s not always easy to see your work with fresh eyes—it can feel like looking for your sunglasses when they’re on your head! The best way to create distance, of course, is actual distance. There’s nothing more revealing than a month away from your work. But there are other ways to create distance if you don’t have the luxury of time.

Read it out loud. When you use your ear rather than your eye you can “hear” when the rhythm is off. If you stumble over a word in your spoken delivery, chances are that word is awkwardly placed. If you cut or add words in the spoken delivery, cut or add them on the page. If you find yourself amending the text as you read it, pay attention. Your subconscious is giving you clues.

Change the font Sometimes something as simple as a font change can change how we “see” our work. I change the font several times in the process of revision–it’s fun and keeps it fresh. The more distance I need to create, the wilder the font.

Print it out. In our electronic world printing your work out might seem like a waste of paper. Print it out anyway. Just as changing the font allowed you to “see” your words differently, printing it out and holding it in your hand will change the dynamic for you completely and make it a “tangible” thing.

Read it backwards. Not word for word backwards but go backwards in chunks. This is especially good when you are editing at the sentence level. Notice what happens when you read it backwards—and notice how alternate endings start jumping out at you. Pretend that the perfect ending for your story is already in there, buried in the middle somewhere. Watch your sentences come unglued in a good way.

Join me for my Editing Flash Fiction Masterclass
Dec 28–Jan 17
Regular price $149–only $125 until Dec 8–ends TOMORROW!


Writing Flash Fiction Self-Paced Class (DIY)
for $89 in the month of December!
(Regular price $97)

To your success!

Sculpting Flash Fiction May 7-28

May 7-28, 2018


Editing is the most important part of the writing process. As serious writers, you know it’s through the editing process that we begin to refine and sculpt our messages.But just as writing flash fiction requires a different set of skills, so does editing flash fiction.

article-2337449-1a32cffb000005dc-882_634x439In this 3-week intensive we will use the tools of ambiguity and implication; we will learn the different between chipping and chopping; we will learn how to shrink-wrap and swap text. You will learn how to achieve the specific needs of flash fiction as I guide you and other participants to edit your real works in progress.

Participants should have a basic understanding of flash fiction and come to the class with flash pieces already in progress. Each participant will have the opportunity to submit 1-2 stories per week.

This is an online workshop format class with limited availability.

Cost: $125

Contact me with questions at nancystohlman@gmail.com

$20 Quick Edit

Need a short, fast edit from a professional editor?

article-new-thumbnail-ehow-images-a06-va-fh-fold-bill-twin-towers-burning-800x800The $20 Quick Edit
is perfect for flash fiction,short stories, query letters, articles or the opening pages of a longer work. It’s also a great way to test out the services of a professional editor before submitting an entire manuscript.

Send up to 1000 words in a word doc attachment to nancystohlman@gmail.com

Make payment using payment button below.

72-hour turnaround time guaranteed!

Contact me with questions or use the form below.




(Current college students of Nancy Stohlman not eligible. Former students welcome.)

Finish That Manuscript: Free Workshop Preview Tuesday, June 25th

Summer Project #1: Finish That Manuscript

Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And…what’s it costing you to not finish?

Three Types of “Finishing”

1. Crossing the Finish Line. In this phase, you’re creating, allowing, and writing yourself to the finish line of that first draft, where you can write The End and give yourself that well deserved glass of port.

In this phase you need the support, motivation, and commitment to get to the end. A first draft is like a lump of clay—it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to be complete before you can start shaping it into the grand vessel it will become.

2. Alligator Wrestling. In this phase you’ve finished a first draft and now you’re in the revision—re-visioning—process. Re-vision. Seeing again. Sometimes it’s hard to see your manuscript with fresh eyes—like looking for your sunglasses when they’re on your head. Yet the true writing magic usually happens in revisions.

In this phase you need new ways of seeing your manuscript differently, both in pieces and as a whole, as well as identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and inviting the potent potential of unexpected possibilities into your work.

3. Becoming a Player. In this phase you and your manuscript prepare to enter the public arena, and the “finishing” has just as much to do with you as a professional. This is the point where we usually long for an agent to swoop in and do all the uncomfortable work of promoting ourselves, but the catch here is that if we want to be taken seriously, we have to start playing seriously.

In this phase you need help with promotional and professional materials including bios, queries, how and why to excerpt, and learning how to avoid the mistakes of looking like an amateur—regardless of your publishing goals.

*Tuesday, June 25th at 7 pm MST, join me for a 30-min FREE WORKSHOP PREVIEW.

Contact me for registration information at nancystohlman@gmail.com


Ask A Flash Fiction Editor: Endings

A brilliant ending should make you go whoa. And reread.  And go whoa again.

Whoa can mean a lot of things: whoa—how messed up, or whoa—how poignant, or whoa—how surprising, or whoa—how perfect. But regardless it should punch you in the heart or the gut or the head or maybe several at once. And even if it’s just a little pinch it should still leave a mark.

I’d like to thank Brenda Morisse for allowing us to use her piece-in-progress, “Mixed Up With Jesus” (full text below) to talk about endings in general and flash fiction endings in particular. Beginnings and endings are like bookends—all the care taken to hook a reader into a story must be utilized in the same way to cast them out—shaken and forever changed. And this is especially true in flash fiction, where a reader is going from beginning to ending in one sitting.

Riding into the sunsetYour ending is the final ringing note of your entire story.

Many writers, even those who begin beautifully, underestimate the importance of endings. How many of us were taught in school that a “conclusion” was just a wrapping up, a clever regurgitation of everything already said? Brilliant endings, if they were discussed at all, were held at a distance like sorcery, admired but not imitated.

Endings used to be a huge struggle for me. I would conceive, craft and execute a compelling story, but once I’d said everything I wanted to, I’d just tack on a “bow” at the end. In graduate school, Danielle Dutton had us separately examine our beginnings, middles, and endings. We first examined our openings, where and how we began. Then we examined our middles, how we kept the tension always pulsing. And then, just as we were getting ready to examine our endings, she threw a wrench in the whole plan and made this suggestion: What if the middle IS the end?

With great discomfort, we turned back to our stories: What if this juicy middle thing I just wrote while under the auspices that I still had more time to “tie it all up” is really the end? What if there is no need for that clever bow, that concluding paragraph…what if it’s just…done?

Because that’s how it happens in real life anyway, isn’t it?

Most writers either over or underwrite their endings. If you are overwriting your ending, then chances are the true final ringing note of your story is actually buried in the territory of what you are now calling the middle. If you are underwriting your ending, it probably means that the most crucial part of the story arc still hasn’t happened yet—the story isn’t done. In that case it’s about turning the knife just one more time and seeing what else happens.

So with all that in mind, Brenda, let’s talk about your work and particularly the ending of your story, “Mixed Up With Jesus.”

But before we talk about the ending, let’s talk about everything else. Everything else is so fun! I believe there is so much “real” in the surreal, and I love reading stories that are able to create the duality of subtext underneath a story that on the surface seems absurd. And I love what you’ve done with the figure of Jesus, putting someone so symbolic and archetypal into the unpleasantry and awkwardness of modern relationships. Did you know that Burroughs claimed 40% of his material came from dreams. Free inspiration, all night long!

But let’s look at your ending, which is still a bit shy of the mark. Let’s consider cutting it back, seeing if your ending is really in your middle. To do that, I looked for what felt like a final ringing moment within the middle of the story, and I landed in this paragraph:

Finally He breaks the silence. “Remember when you wanted to marry me and live in a convent and wear the holy face all day? Remember how you balanced on that slippery rock that glistened under a waterfall in Tannersville, naked? And that time behind the bushes in a park, when the stranger moaned you’ll remember this forever. And you said, I will?”

My hunch is your ending might be hovering around here—there’s something about this moment in the exchange that feels the most rich with opportunity. The characters are heading into some potential final knife twist—maybe you haven’t nailed the exact wording yet, but it feels like it’s just a phrase or two away from the “whoa”. Because here’s the problem with humor—as soon as we “get” it, we’re over it. Comedy—like drama—consists of an ever growing escalation of surprises. In this story, we love the novelty and parody of Jesus in such a non-Jesus situation. But the humor needs to continually change or else it will be like the same joke is stretched too far. So maybe in these final moments the story goes into another level of weird. Or maybe it stops and becomes incredibly poignant. Or maybe it gets outrageous. Perhaps in these final moments one last thing is revealed. Or perhaps it happens in the silences.

What currently follows—the spot on the dress and the idea of singing karaoke—that’s funny, you can keep it if you choose—but rearrange it to come earlier rather than leaving it in the privileged final slot.

The good news about endings is the work is often just excavating and shaping—and realizing that the perfect ending may already be there, fully formed, right in front of your eyes.

Happy Writing!

~Nancy Stohlman

Thanks again to Brenda Morisse and to all the writers who have shared their work-in-progress so far, including: Peter Cowlam, Diane Klammer, Cath Barton, M, Rosemary Royston, Nicholas Michael Ravnikar and Ellen Orleans. I believe the difference between an amateur and a professional is the professional writer’s willingness to always be a beginner, and each of these writers has been incredibly generous with their process—thank you.

(Do you have a  flash fiction piece in progress you’d like to submit for a future conversation? Email me at nancystohman@gmail.com or find me on Facebook.)


Mixed Up with Jesus

By Brenda Morisse

There’s been no dancing since the flood because the earth is still starved and quick to tug at my tango. So when Jesus waltzes into my dream, I try not to worry, even though death seems to follow my callers and suffering through another Good Friday waiting on God’s travel arrangements is more than I can bear.

I nonchalantly check for stigmata, offer cocktails. “Make yourself at home, at least take off your gloves,” I say. He shakes His head no, but after reading my mind, He shrugs. “Believe what you want to believe, I know who I am and I like to dance, too.” Before I can demand references or a parlour trick to raise my dog, Tallulah, from the dead, He asks if I can Hustle.

“The Hustle? I didn’t do the Hustle when I did the Hustle. You should know that!” I scold. I roll my eyes at Him and then He rolls His eyes, and I roll my eyes back. “You’re funny.” He laughs. “I’ve always known you’d look like Anthony Quinn,” I whisper. He tells me that I’ve never learned how to let things die.

“You would have given the canary mouth to mouth and what if you had swallowed its head? Even the soap. Look at how you tape all the other last breath slivers together. And your new habit of spitting on old words.”

“True, but you’re the one who won’t die.”

“Relax your grip,” He says. I inch my vintage opera gloves up over my arms. “Lovely.” We small talk until dinnertime when He snoops around in the kitchen for a snack. “Sorry I haven’t cooked since the disaster,” I say.

“Want to grab a bite?”

I ask, “Like on a date?” And He says, “Sure. How about the Dominican restaurant across the street?” We’re seated at the darkened table in the corner with first date awkwardness crowded between us, so I glance up and notice that the patrons and waiters are staring at us. I look at Him and He’s glowing, and then check my reflection. I’m glowing too. So there we sit, glowing face to face into each other’s eyes.

Finally He breaks the silence. “Remember when you wanted to marry me and live in a convent and wear the holy face all day? Remember how you balanced on that slippery rock that glistened under a waterfall in Tannersville, naked? And that time behind the bushes in a park, when the stranger moaned you’ll remember this forever. And you said, I will?”

We only pick at the fish dinner but we drink wine until we’re tipsy and the wineglass tips. I ask Him to clean the spot on my dress. He says, “Just because a god rises from the dead doesn’t mean He’s at your beck and call Him when you need the laundry done.” I change the subject with a sigh and then read the sign at the bar, aloud. Karaoke esta noche.

“Do you know the words to it?” He asks.

“Yes! Do it. Do the hustle. Ooh. Do the hustle.”