The Naked Writer


George was air to his father’s bred shop. The neighbor, who had a women’s close store, said she wanted to brooch a topic with George. First, Gene was very complementary, trying to butter him up.  

She said, “Hay, George. Its so grate to have you hear now. I remember when you were jest a kid. You’ve groan so much since then. Your father told me about all the hurtles you’ve overcome. Do you remember when I used to bring jamb into the store for you to eat with your bred? You all ways peaked inside the packages I brought. ”

George smiled. “Your rite. I never liked plane bred, but I loved the sweet treat you maid. I could have feinted when I eight those. My mother wouldn’t let me half them.”

“George, I would like to sea weather you and I cud go into business together hear. This wood be a grate spot for a mail close store.”

George felt week with anger. “Know,” he tolled her. “And know means know.”

Homonyms are words that sound like other words with completely different meanings. All too often, writers will use the wrong homonym. Most often the ones misused are “there” instead of “their”; “your” instead of “you’re”; and “it’s” instead of “its”—and vice versa. I just wanted to have a little fun with the above.

You probably don’t need the translation, but here it is:

George was heir to his father’s bread shop. The neighbor, who had a women’s clothes store, said she wanted to broach a topic with George. First, Jean was very complimentary, trying to butter him up.

She said, “Hey, George. It’s so great to have you here now. I remember when you were just a kid. You’ve grown so much since then. Your father told me about all the hurdles you’ve overcome. Do you remember when I used to bring jam into the store for you to eat with your bread? You always peeked inside the packages I brought. ”

George smiled. “You’re right. I never liked plain bread, but I loved the sweet treat you made. I could have fainted when I ate those. My mother wouldn’t let me have them.”

“George, I would like to see whether you and I could go into business together here. This would be a great spot for a male clothes store.”

George felt weak with anger. “No,” he told her. “And no means no.”

You’ll find many such pears. I mean “pairs.”

Are you sure you have the correct word? Do you know the difference between “compliment” and “complement,” for instance? If not, look it up.

In addition to this type of uncertainty, I often find writers become confused and will use a word that sounds somewhat similar to the word they’re actually looking for.

For instance: The knife clamored to the floor.

The writer meant: The knife clattered to the floor.

I’m always surprised when writers don’t use the dictionary. I make mistakes, too, but using the dictionary allows me to pretend I knew the difference all along.

Hide your writing flaws. Surgeons can’t usually fix their mistakes. But we can.


Hey, how about downloading my The Naked Writer at Amazon. Or taking one of my classes at Writer’s Digest University. Or getting an edit from me at .


The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

Present Tense Versus Past

When should we use present tense in writing, and when should we use past tense?

In writing for publications, of course, we need to use house style—the standard the publication uses, that is. I once wrote for a periodical that used present tense for articles, which is rather unusual. But of course I did get used to writing as called for.

I’ve had a couple of students who wrote for film and who always reverted to present tense in writing their novels—a reflex action, though both understood that most fiction is written in past tense. Writing fiction in present tense presents somewhat of a barrier to selling, even if that doesn’t make placing a novel impossible. Some short stories as well as some literary novels might sell in present tense, which is thought to be “literary.” Also, young adult fiction can sell in present tense because a few YA novels written in present tense have been exceptionally successful.

Yet another consideration in tense: While writing in past tense, how should we speak of ongoing conditions. This can be slightly tricky.

  •  Reverend Brown came out to speak to the press. Brown is blind, having been blinded by shrapnel in Iraq.

That’s how we would write this for a nonfiction piece about Brown. However, if Brown is a character in fiction, we’d write this differently.

  • Reverend Brown then went out to speak to the press. Brown was blind, having been blinded by shrapnel in Iraq.

In fiction, we mostly stick to past tense—including when referring to conditions and events that might be ongoing. Brown is likely to continue being blind, but in fiction, we write “was.”

  • Dan took the kids to the Hudson River, which was clean enough to jump in and swim.

While this is pretty true today, in fiction, we’d have this in past tense. We don’t want to jerk the reader from past to present back to past tense.

Yet some facts are so present tense in our bones, we have to write them in present tense, regardless of other considerations.

  • The family traveled on the subway down to New York Harbor and from there took a boat out to where Lady Liberty stands.

Even in fiction, we wouldn’t put Lady Liberty in past tense. And we would protect other icons similarly.

  • The family caught a train to Washington and hurried from Union Station to where the Washington Monument stands.

We wouldn’t say “where the Washington Monument stood” unless we were writing some kind of post-apocalyptic story.


Past, present, future. Read my post-apocalyptic novel, Question Woman & Howling Sky, available on Amazon, where you can also buy my YA novel that time jumps, but is written in past tense—The Heroine’s Journey—and my middle-grade fantasy, Strings, based oh so loosely on string theory.

Or if you want to learn more about writing, download my The Naked Writer for your Kindle or take a class with me online at Writer’s Digest University. Need a line edit for an article, story or novel?

The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

One Mother, One Father, One Sister, One Brother

No, this isn’t a religious piece or about family matters. This is about a certain comma…

That is, when we write:

My mother, Suzanne,


My husband, George,

we need commas.

Why? Well, generally, we have only one mother or one husband. Though, of course, this particular person might have more than one mother or one husband, for some reason having to do with social mores or… I can’t guess.

But when we have one of someone named in a relationship, we need a pair of commas.

That is:

My mother, Suzanne, cooked roast beef last night.


My husband, George, went bowling with the guys.

The same would be true of any relationship, and not just family relationships.

My boss, Steven, asked me to redo the report.

If, however, we have more than one of same—no commas.

My brother Eddie took the kids for a walk.

But if Eddie is special:

My oldest brother, Eddie, took the kids for a walk.

Definitely we don’t use a comma if we have more than one of a type.

My friend Argone returned to his home country.

Or, again, if the person (or whatever) is noted as special, yes, commas:

My Turkish friend, Argone, returned to Turkey.


My brown and white cat, Frieda, has been fighting with my other cats.

What if we don’t know how many others might be around?

Larry’s brother, James, went with him to the circus. I don’t know if Larry has other siblings, but James is the only one Larry has mentioned.

Just another reason we use commas—a rule that puzzles many people.

If you’re confused about this or other comma rules, you can download my style guide, The Naked Writer, at Amazon for your Kindle.

Or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University.

Or see how I punctuate in one of my novels, such as Question Woman & Howling Sky or Strings (a middle grade fantasy adventure) or The Heroine’s Journey (a young adult fantasy).


The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

Comma for Direct Address

“Thank you Miki,” my students often write. You’d think I’d be gratified. But no, I’m not. I’m in turmoil. Where is that comma for direct address? Where did these people go to school? Why, now, as adults, don’t they know that a comma is always used for direct address? Why isn’t the comma as automatic as that thank you?

Please, dear students, write, “Thank you, Miki.” Ah. I like the thank you but if they don’t use the comma for direct address, the lack of a comma makes me wonder what else they’re doing while my back is turned.

Could they be writing, “Joe glared at his mother. ‘Mom please don’t tell Iris you spoke to me”  when they should be writing “Mom COMMA FOR DIRECT ADDRESS…” If I’ve told that student once, I’ve told him ten times or more.

Which brings a second complaint of mine to mind. Why is the student not paying attention? As I said to my friend who teaches a martial art, “We need to have classes somewhere in how to learn.”

Most, really most, students don’t appear to want to absorb correction, and most, really most, have the patience of gnats: That assignment didn’t go well, so I guess this writing thing isn’t for me.

Oh well… But try the comma for direct address, students. Really, I mean it.


All the uses of the comma are explained in The Naked Writer, my style and composition guide from Curiosity Quills, which you can download at Amazon.

And to see commas in action, buy a hard copy or download Question Woman & Howling Sky from Portals Publishing at Amazon.

Or if you want me to chide you personally for your comma use, take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University.

The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer



It seems to me that a lot of writers start their sentences with an “it” that has no specific meaning. I try to end this type of errant behavior in students when I spot it. Actually, I’ve tried for years, but to little avail. I’m pretty sure you do this terrible thing, too, so let me attempt to stop you here and now.

Go back to the first sentence above. Why do I say “it seems”? I must have all the time in the world and can delay getting to the sentence subject. I must have all the space in the world, too, and can slip in as many useless words as I want.

Would the sentence suffer very much if I said, “I’ve found that…”? Actually, I think that would be a more direct means of stating my case—and a word saver, too. Let’s save words. That is, I mean, let’s be economical.

Day in and day out, I see sentences that start with “it.” People apparently go unconscious when they come to their use of the word as a subject. Let me put the case this way: “It” is a pronoun that stands in for something. Yes, the “it” can stand in for a concept or for something concrete.

When “it” stands in for a concrete antecedent, more power to the cute little word.

I attempted to jump over the fence. It caught me by the trousers and wouldn’t release me.

We know in this sentence that the “it” stands in for “fence.” We could state the situation in a grander way, but this will suffice.

I had gone with him to the music festival every year. It had become a habit.

What had become a habit? Yes, I know, but would restating the obvious be so very terrible?

I had gone with him to the music festival every year. Our going together every April had become a habit.

Might that not be a little better? We can expand the meaning and clarify with the restatement.

“It” is used oh so very often to stand in for complex concepts. A rewording of the idea can give a slightly different view of the matter and relieve the readers’ worries that they might have misunderstood.

In some instances, I’ll pass by the dreadful ‘it was” sentence start: It was raining. It was July. It was late.

But still, I do think these can be better set forth as well.

The rain began to come down in sheets. Ugh! Of course, rain could be expected here in July, our local monsoon season. Now, at eight at night, I hoped the downpour would end so I could go home without being drenched.

I can just about always find a quite serviceable, even delightful, substitute for the “it.” So can you if you understand why that makes your writing better and if you’re not lazy.

Don’t be indolent. Take a class with me. I have several coming up at Writer’s Digest.

07/21/2016 – 10/13/2016 Fundamentals of Fiction

07/28/2016 – 09/22/2016 Revision & Self Editing

07/28/2016 – 09/18/2016 Writing the Mystery Novel

08/11/2016 – 09/22/2016 The Art of Storytelling 102: Showing vs. Telling

08/25/2016 – 10/6/2016 Writing the Mystery Novel

Okay, just lie around and read if you like. Have a look at Question Woman & Howling Sky. Or study up on writing style by downloading The Naked Writer for the Kindle (the publisher still swears it will come out in print).

FYI, the publisher at Denouement Literary Agency, which publishes two traditional imprints, is looking for editors who are good at grammar and mechanics. Email

The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

Basic Punctuation for Dialogue/Quotes


I met a mechanical engineer who teaches at Columbia University. I said I’d been reading a lot about Isaac Newton.

“Ah, Newton—80 percent genius and 20 percent nut.” He said.

(Let me quickly insert the correct punctuation: “Ah, Newton—80 percent genius and 20 percent nut,” he said.)

What drives me crazy here is not that my neighbor doesn’t understand where Newton was coming from—few do—but that type of dialogue or quote punctuation.

While on this occasion I’m the one who mispunctuated—because I wanted to make a point—I see this sort of punctuation all the time.

Let me first explain that the “he said” is part of the same sentence accusing Newton of being something of a nut. Now, I’ll return to my premise (see my other blog pieces below) that if you read the writing out loud, you’ll understand why we don’t come to a full stop between one part of the sentence and the next. Well, you’ll understand the thesis should you know how punctuation “reads.” A period represents a full stop, and a comma represents a fairly short pause.

If you appreciate how long we halt when we have a period, as opposed to how long we rest when we have a comma, and you can read the above sentence out loud to yourself, you’ll grasp that the “he said” is part of the quote (or bit of dialogue if you’re writing fiction), and you’ll know why we use a comma with a word of citation instead of a period. (This last sentence is long, but not what’s considered a run-on. You ought to be able to read this easily while breathing sufficiently because of the punctuation.)

This may also lead you to understand why we don’t use a comma in front of verbs—or other peculiar sorts of marks here and there.

“Ah, Newton, 80 percent genius and 20 percent nut,” he looked around for a way to escape the conversation.

(The correct punctuation: “Ah, Newton, 80 percent genius and 20 percent nut.” He looked around for a way to escape the conversation.)

Read that out loud as well and you’ll easily hear that “he looked around for a way to escape the conversation” is not a part of the main sentence. Thus, we need a full stop.

Most of you don’t make this mistake, of course, but enough of you do that I felt ought to help out you (common variety of) error-makers.

For lots further help, see my ebook The Naked Writer for the Kindle. Allegedly, the print version will come out before… Hmm, what comes next? The national conventions? The elections? Terrorists on the watch list denied the right to buy guns?

Or you can take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University—I have many classes coming up.

Or read in print or ebook, or listen to, Question Woman & Howling Sky. That might not help you with your own writing, but at least the book should entertain.



The Naked Writer


The Cruel Comma Splice

The comma splice is perhaps a tad bit cruel because this error will make you look a little not so smart. (I couldn’t use a cruel word here.)

Here’s a comma splice: I was going to eat dinner, Joe insisted on joining me.

What you might write instead:

  •  I was going to eat dinner. Joe insisted on joining me.
  •  I was going to eat dinner; Joe insisted on joining me.
  •  I was going to eat dinner, and Joe insisted on joining me.

You understand this easily enough if you comprehend what a sentence is. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know the characteristics of a sentence.

Yet I think most people would grasp what a sentence is if they read their writing back to themselves.

Here’s the comma splice again: I was going to eat dinner, Joe insisted on joining me.

How would you read that? How would the comma sound in the reading? I don’t know exactly, but to me it’s obvious that the stop—the pause—required by the comma isn’t sufficient for the contents of the combined, new (incorrect) sentence.

I believe that many writing failures are reading failures, that if the writer were a better reader, such a writer would come to realize what a sentence is and how to punctuate.

Now, to go backward and tell you what a comma splice is. A comma splice occurs when only a comma is used to join two independent clauses. What’s an independent clause? An independent clause is a full sentence. A full sentence is a clause that can stand on its own, having both a subject and a verb:

  •  She went.
  •  Birds fly.
  •  Alchemy is said to have been the precursor of chemistry because it had as its (supposed) goal not just the discovery of pure scientific fact, but the creation of something called the philosopher’s stone, a substance that would allow the alchemist to change metals such as copper into gold.

A sentence—an independent clause—can also have dependent clauses, clauses that can’t stand on their own.

Here’s the comma splice once more: I was going to eat dinner, Joe insisted on joining me.

Let’s change the second independent clause to a dependent clause: I was going to eat dinner, but then Joe insisted on joining me.

Obviously, “but then Joe insisted on joining me” isn’t an independent clause—a standalone sentence. That’s evident, isn’t it?

So you have another possibility for changing the comma splice to an acceptable written format.

With so many choices on hand and easily accessible, why would you use a comma splice and make everyone groan?

You wouldn’t unless you wanted to sabotage yourself. Think about it. Can you learn?

If you do want to learn, download a copy of The Naked Writer at or take a class I teach at Writers Digest University.

Next up are : 06/16/2016 – 09/08/2016 12 Weeks to a First Draft and 06/23/2016 – 08/04/2016 Writing the Mystery Novel .

See you there.