Writing Resolutions for 2020

Have you made any writing resolutions for 2020?

notebook and pencil with pencil sharpener and shavings for writing resolutions for 2020
Sharpen Your Pencil and Make Your Writing Resolutions for 2020 (Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash)

Any goal, including a new year’s resolution, needs committed action, discipline and planning.

Below, I give you a couple of my own writing resolutions for 2020. These may help you formulate some of your own and keep you on track with your writing.

Commit to Taking Writing Courses

Just like any job, career or profession, regular learning through writing courses will help hone your craft as a writer.

My #1 Writing Resolution for 2020

Having published my first novel in November 2019, I really wanted to keep up my writing momentum. So before 2019 ended, I registered for the Queensland Writers’ Centre ‘Year of the Novel’ workshops. It’s a multi-part workshop held across five Sundays throughout the year. At the end of it, we will have drafted a full-length novel. Curiously, as we’re on the subject of writing resolutions for 2020, the course description states, ‘Year of the Novel returns in 2020 so you can follow through with your New Year’s resolution to get that book out of your head and onto the page.’

As it happens, I don’t yet have a ‘book in my head’, However, I’m working on it so that I’ll have a clear(er) idea before the first workshop.

Commit to Entering Writing Competitions

Competitions are a worthwhile way of testing your book out on the market. It’s best to approach competitions with the mindset of first putting on your big girl or big boy pants, being prepared for possibly not getting placed. The more competitions you enter, however, the more likely you are to achieve a placing eventually. Make sure you have your manuscript professionally edited before submission, and that it meets all the requirements of the competition.

My #2 Writing Resolution for 2020

Each time I’m researching competitions for my fortnightly newsletter, The Lonely Writer, I find a competition or two that captures my attention. The thought, ‘I’d like to have a go at that’ comes to me often. And, well, until now, that’s as far as I’ve got: just thinking about it.

All that’s behind me now since my zest for writing resolutions for 2020!

If you’d like to subscribe to The Lonely Writer, you can do so here.

Writing Competition for Published Writers!

…and for unpublished and independently published writers.

Over the Christmas break, I had lunch with an old writing friend of mine. He congratulated me on publishing my first novel, and said I should enter it in a competition. All the competitions I’ve researched so far for The Lonely Writer have been for previously unpublished works.

So I was very excited to discover a competition for published writers also. The condition is that you must be a self-published or independently published writer. You are also eligible to enter a previously unpublished manuscript.

The competition that has me so excited is an international one, from the UK. It’s the Bath Novel Award 2020. You can read all about it here.

I encourage you to set a couple of achievable writing resolutions for 2020, more if you can realistically accomplish them, and then take committed action towards achieving them.

Happy and productive writing 2020!

The Editor Becomes a Published Author

You might accuse me of indulging in shameless self-promotion in this blog, ‘The Editor Becomes a Published Author’, promoting my novel released just last week at the Queensland Writers Centre GenreCon2019 literary festival.

the editor becomes a published author. Photo of me at Brisbane book launch
The editor becomes a self-published author at GenreCon2019, Brisbane, November 2019

But I make no apologies. What?! Well, many authors struggle with self-promotion. Many of us are introverts and we suck at promoting our own work. My hope is that this post serves to help other authors take the leap into the great ocean of promotion.

What is the Difference Between a Writer and an Author?

It may seem like nitpicking to some, but it’s generally accepted that an author has published one or more written works, while a writer has not yet published any of their work.

How I Became an Author

I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember. As a teenager, it was those awful self-indulgent journal entries full of angst and woe-is-me. I’ve kept most of what I’ve written throughout my life, but those journals hit the incinerator many years ago. Nevertheless, even they served a purpose, purging the frustrations and doubts of adolescent overload.

Over the years, a lot of my writings have been published, but much of it has been business writing under the auspices of corporations.

This year, finally, the editor becomes a published author with two of my own books, a nonfiction book on several aspects of the craft of writing, Ten Ways to Supercharge Your Writing (released March), and my historical fiction novel Winter in Mallorca, Turmoil to Triumph (released November).

How Does it Feel to be a Published Author?

As any of you who are already published authors know, it feels bloody wonderful! Similar maybe to the sense of accomplishment a climber experiences on reaching the summit of a challenging mountain – simply without the heavy breathing!

Why is that? Because writing and publishing is a mission.

There is much involved.

The Seed

First, you need that seed of an idea, the kernel of inspiration. Then that seed needs to germinate. If it’s a dud seed, it simply won’t. So it’s back to the drawing board.

The Writing

If it’s a productive seed, then the writing begins in earnest. Yet I won’t go into how the writing is done, because it can be so very different for each writer. And please don’t look to me as a role model: from seed to published book took me 24 years! Yes, you read right! I won’t go into the ‘why’ of such a long time frame, but I’m confessing it because again, perhaps it’ll serve to give a boost to other writers whose manuscripts have been languishing for years in the proverbial bottom drawer.

There is hope for you yet!

At the other end of the spectrum, I was recently working with a writer whose first 95,000-word novel took him around 13 months to write, including research overseas. He began writing the book in his spare time while running a business, then he sold his business and dedicated himself to writing, treating it like a job and working from 9 am to 4 pm each day. This is a short time to complete a novel of this length, especially with research involved, but in this case the writing was accomplished and the research thorough.

You might think 13 months sounds a long time. Well, in the writing world, it’s not.

Once the writing is done and you have a finished manuscript…well…what can I say? It’s not finished yet. You might even say it’s only just begun.


Now is the time for revising, revising, revising. In Stephen King’s words in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), it’s time to ‘… kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings’. What does this mean? It means being utterly ruthless with your own writing, recognising that it isn’t perfect, that you need to cull and prune (there’s that gardening metaphor again), and that it may be time for external input.

Show and Tell

On that, it’s very confronting to show your writing to others. Believe me, I know.

I attended the writers’ retreat in Spain in June this year (2019) to finish my novel (and another nonfiction book), and one of the activities was group critiquing. (You can read about the retreat here.) Until then, not another living soul had ever read my manuscript, not even my family. Yes, I’m an editor and a writing coach and I know all the things I should do, but what can I say? Guilty as charged!

Getting feedback on my writing from other serious writers was a hugely valuable experience. I was able to make some fairly minor changes for big improvements.

Some writers engage beta readers (not your family, please) to give them feedback before they finish their manuscript.

All the above is before editing, by the way.

Enter the Dragon

Aka editor.

Once you’ve redrafted your manuscript multiple times and got it in the best possible shape, it’s time to give it to a qualified editor for professional editing.

After the edit, you’ll review your manuscript and then probably need a final edit and proofread. You’ll then be ready to move to the next step.

Yes, there’s still much to do.


You may choose to self-publish, submit your manuscript to traditional publishers, or investigate subsidy publishing. (You can read about the choices here.)

You Have a Book! What Now?

You have your book, your baby, hot off the press, in your hand, ready to show the world.

How do you get it out there?

The Great Ocean of Promotion

Book promotion is a whole area on its own, and I have to admit to still being a novice at it. I expect I’ll be learning a lot, very quickly. Despite being a novice, I have some ideas to share with you. I’m working on making a download available on my website. Meantime, get in touch and I’ll be happy to send you some tips.

Thank you for indulging my shameless self-promotion. I hope the post ‘The Editor Becomes a Published Author’ has also given you some insight into the process of writing and publishing.


King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2012, Hodder & Stoughton, London.

Books by the Editor

If you love historical fiction, or you’re a musician with a penchant for Chopin, or you like a romance with a twist, or you’re looking for a gift for someone like this, ask me about Winter in Mallorca: Turmoil to Triumph. There’s a $20 special until 25 December when it reverts to $24.95 (postage applies beyond Gold Coast).

the editor becomes a published author. cover of Winter in Mallorca, Turmoil to Triumph

Want to improve your writing skills? Look no further than this entertaining, easy-to-read eBook Ten Ways to Supercharge Your Writing Skills: With bonus chapter on self-publishing. It’s just $11.95.

the editor becomes a published author. cover of ten ways to supercharge your writing skills

Help With Your Book from Go to Whoa (and anywhere in between)

Want help from go to whoa with your writing project? Never written a book before? Need to write a book to position yourself as an expert in your field? Check out WriteDesign Publications’ self-publishing packages.

It’s Just for One Summer

When you go on holiday, most often it’s just for one summer. Will that be the case for the family in David Baldacci’s novel One Summer?

A Book Review

From Crime to Tragi-Romance

David Baldacci is best known for his thrillers and crime fiction novels. When I was looking for a light read, it therefore came as a surprise to discover a tragi-romance (a made-up genre, but you’ll know what I mean!) by this prolific writer of crime.

Have a Good Cry

They say that literature has a cathartic effect: it helps release strong emotions and provides relief. Basically, you have a good cry and feel better afterwards! Well, I cried buckets. And I felt good afterwards. Because in the end, like all good tragi-romances, things turn out okay.

War Vet

Jack Armstrong is a thirty-four-year-old veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s married to and deeply in love with his wife Lizzie, and father to three children, two sons, two-year-old Jackie and twelve-year-old Cory, and rebellious teen daughter Mikki. Sammy is part of their family too. He’s a sixty-something Vietnam war vet, single, Jack’s best friend and business partner in their building contracting business in Cleveland.

But wait. Jack is dying.

Not of war wounds, but of a cruel fatal illness that robs him of breath and strength. Unable now to climb the stairs to their bedroom, he is confined to a hospital bed downstairs in the den. He’s attached to an oxygen line, an access line for pain meds and an IV drip to take care of his food and hydration needs. Not even able to share the bed with his beloved wife, his life is ‘being dismantled, brick by brick’.

The Beach House

In one of their last conversations, Lizzy tells Jack she’s been thinking about taking the children to her family’s beach house in Channing, South Carolina after Jack is gone. It’s just for one summer, she tells him. It’s a place that holds both good and unbearably sad memories for Lizzie, and she has not visited there in many years. Jack, pleased that Lizzie is ready to face her past and that she is thinking of the future, encourages her to go. The beach house property includes a lighthouse where Lizzie spent many hours as a child, searching the heavens for something that was lost to her.


But wait. On Christmas Eve, when Jack is writing his seventh and last letter to Lizzie, in the hope it will comfort her after he dies, tragedy unbelievably strikes their family another blow. Lizzie is killed in a car accident.

Jack is forced to watch on helplessly as his mother-in-law Bonnie takes over the running of his family. She moves the children away from Cleveland and their father, and places each of them with three different family members. Jack is moved to a hospice where he will die alone.


Against the odds, Jack begins dragging himself from the brink of death after realising his oxygen line has come loose and he has been breathing on his own. At first, he hardly dares believe it is possible. He mentions it to no one, building up to being able to breathe without the machine and taking walks around the ward at night when he is alone. Initially cautious about being too hopeful and afraid his gradual and seemingly miraculous recovery might be temporary, he begins building up his strength and feels that he is no longer going to die. Some weeks later, to the disbelief of the medical staff, Jack is discharged and begins to reassemble his life, including getting his children back.

Life in the novel, as with life in reality, does not always go smoothly. Jack becomes a temporary hero after a newspaper picks up his story, then just as quickly turns anti-hero when other papers print lies about his being responsible for Lizzie’s death. Mikki his daughter, left with the responsibility of housekeeping and caring for her younger siblings while her dad returns to work, is snappy and irritable most of the time, and critical of his imperfect parenting skills. His grieving mother-in-law Bonnie is distant, reproachful and obstructive.

Better fortune seems to come their way when Lizzie’s grandmother Cecilia, who always had a soft spot for Jack, dies and leaves him the rambling old beach house. Uncertain about whether to take it on, Jack nevertheless decides to visits it with the family and Sammy after Cecilia’s funeral, amid grumbles from Mikki that it’s a ‘dump’ and he better not be thinking of moving there because she doesn’t want to leave her friends behind.

It’s just for one summer …

… he tells her.

Surprisingly, the whole family including Mikki settle into life in Channing over the summer. But just as things are turning around for the family, a perilous storm threatens to snatch Mikki from them, and Jack with her as he tries to save her. Lizzie’s lighthouse plays an important role in the drama.

But I’ve told you enough and I don’t want to ruin the story for you. I’ll leave you to read the book and see how life turns out for the family. Will it be just one summer at the beach house?

We have recently launched an exciting new end-to-end service for self-publishing authors who are business owners. Three packages with various inclusions are offered: ‘The Whole Enchilada’, ‘Edit and Publish’ and ‘Assess ’n Edit’. Check out the details here: WriteDesign Publications services to self-publishing authors. Or call us on 0405 695 534.

Writing and Editing Internships

Writing and editing internships inhabit the blurred line between education and employment, allowing students to gain experience in the workplace while still studying.

writing and editing internships student wearing blue shirt holidng books
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Writing and Editing Internships and Industry Experience

I am Brienna Cottam, and this semester as part of my bachelor’s requirements I have undertaken an external industry placement, otherwise known as an internship, work experience or even practical placement. So, for the last 10 weeks I have been interning under Gail Tagarro at editors4you/WriteDesign Publications, learning more than I had thought possible and expanding my knowledge of the industry.

Writing and editing internships are invaluable for several reasons, whether it’s a university requirement, high school assessment or even just to get a head start in your chosen field. However, finding a suitable position and business to host your internship is not always easy.

It took me a few weeks to both find and organise an internship suitable for my course, however some of my peers took months and others never managed to find one at all in the allotted time. The availability and chances of gaining an internship can depend heavily on the time of year, your chosen industry role or career and the requirements you need to meet. Finding a position that was solely focused on the editorial aspect of the industry was quite difficult as I couldn’t find many editing-specific businesses. Publishers, magazines and news outlets seemed to be the most popular among my peers, and my research throughout the initial stages reinforced this.

So Why are Writing and Editing Internships Important?

Firstly, you are able to take your academic knowledge and all the research you have completed and apply it in the real world, allowing yourself to experience firsthand exactly what you’ve been learning about. This in turn gives you the opportunity to decide on your future career path and see where you can go within the industry. You experience the different roles and skills that can be achieved and are able to decide whether you want to continue in the industry now that you have personally experienced it. Depending on where and who you intern under, you may also find invaluable industry contacts that can be useful when it comes time to start your career.

The life experience and knowledge garnered from undertaking a writing and editing internship aren’t just another thing to throw on your resume and forget about. An internship can greatly enhance your employment chances. For most, work experience is simply something that looks good on their resume, and that they must complete throughout their schooling. Very rarely do people expand on their experience and use it to their advantage.

Who Can Undertake Writing and Editing Internships?

Internships are not always just about trying to get a good grade point average, or meeting course requirements. They can also be immensely helpful for those looking at a possible career change, or wanting to experience different roles within their current industry. This can benefit the internee in many ways, from widening their knowledge to advancing their chances of a promotion. That said, most internships are unpaid, which can affect the hours and availability of many who choose to undertake them.

Balancing Work, Study and Writing and Editing Internships

Trying to balance university or school with a job is hard enough. However, throw an internship into the mix and you better have some decent time management skills and a passion for what you’re doing. Having a set schedule for work is extremely helpful in situations like this, however like me, many students have casual work and struggle to manage work, an internship and study.

I found the first few weeks of both the semester and my internship quite stressful, as I started a new casual job at the same time as my internship and it was also the beginning of my final semester of university. Many institutions specify the time per week they expect students to spend on course content and assessment, the average being approximately 10 hours per class. This all made it quite hard to organise my weeks in advance, however I benefited vastly from my job’s 24/7 operating hours and their system that allowed me to roster off certain times and reserve it for study or internships. Many may not be as lucky but with careful planning and full awareness of your obligations, it can be done.

Looking for Writing and Editing Internships

It is often challenging to find an internship in your preferred field at the time you need it, especially one as specific as a writing and editing internship. I was incredibly lucky that I found mine in time. It is always helpful to know the requirements and type of internship you would like or need to undertake long before it comes time to look for one. This gives you the opportunity to look, research and decide on the internship that is best for you. It may take many weeks or even months to find an internship that works for you in a business that is willing to take you on.

Within my cohort, many only managed to find placement with newspapers or magazines, rather than with a business that they were more likely to enter after graduating, or that they preferred to work in. That being said, approximately half of my cohort never managed to find a placement at all, and as such had to complete an on-campus internship. This may not always be an option; it depends entirely on the way your learning institution has structured the course and what their requirements are. Many may assist with the process of finding external placement. However some, such as mine, require the student to source their own.

Internships with a self-employed freelance editor are quite rare and I was incredibly lucky to land one with Gail Tagarro at editors4you. It provided me with much more one-on-one learning and involvement and I have been able to observe how an editorial business is managed.

Some people may look into writing and editing internships for the sole purpose of getting their own manuscript to another level. This is a valid reason, however they would benefit more from writer coaching than an internship. (See here for more about writer coaching: https://editors4you.com.au/book-writing-coach/).

Tips for Approaching a Business

The prospect of approaching a business can be quite daunting, especially for a student or young adult. Even the simple thought of sending an email can be nerve-racking for some. Researching the company beforehand is a vital part of the process, and if you are looking into the publishing industry, research what type of publisher they are. (See the following links for more information: https://editors4you.com.au/how-can-i-publish-my-book-what-are-my-options/ and https://editors4you.com.au/how-to-get-your-book-published/).

It is important to understand the business you are approaching and how they prefer to receive enquiries. Some may prefer email contact while others may prefer calls or meeting in person. It is also useful to know what they are looking for in an intern and details of the role they can offer. Here are some tips when it comes to that dreaded initial contact.

  • Always be professional and courteous.
  • Research the business and understand what they do.
  • Use your applications and email correspondence as an example of your character and your work. Showcase your ability to be professional, your excellent grammar and punctuation and of course your attitude towards the industry and internship.
  • Always be punctual with replies and follow up on any queries you may have. This demonstrates your eagerness in and understanding of the role.


Rarely will an internship follow the clichéd portrayal as seen on television or in the movies, media and books. Many of these show them as mindless minions running errands and fetching coffee. This should not be the case. My writing and editing internship taught me far more than sitting in a classroom ever could. It opened my eyes to the complexity and fulfilling roles I can achieve within the industry. I was introduced to more than I ever thought was involved in editing, and this reinforced my decision surrounding my future career path. There have been ups and downs and roundabouts, juggling the internship, study and work, and I am still learning and figuring out my way through the wide world of publishing and editing. However now, I have a clearer direction than I had before my internship.

Logo for Institute of Professional Editors
Gail Tagarro, IPEd Accredited Editor (AE)

Ask about our WRITING and SELF-PUBLISHING PACKAGES. From go to whoa if you like, and anything in between, our packages can be tailored to include Book Coaching, Writer Coaching, Editing, Book Layout and Design, and Book Printing.

WriteDesign Publications (WDP) is a writing and self-publishing consultancy. It is affiliated with editors4you (established 2006), which provides professional editorial services such as book editing and proofreading. Together, WDP and editors4you provide an end-to-end service to writers and business owners.


question mark for blog what on earth can I write about

Nine Ideas For What to Write When You’re Out of Ideas

Every week now, I take one day off for business development, to work on my business as the marketing experts say, rather than in the business.

Over the past few months, this day has mostly been taken up with writing for my website: blog posts, developing a fortnightly newsletter and book reviews.

Today, when faced with a topic for a blog, I came up blank. ‘What on earth can I write about,’ I pondered from downward dog position in yoga class this morning. ‘What can I write about’ I asked myself when driving home afterwards. ‘What am I going to write today’ I repeated in the shower. And this went on right up to the moment I sat down with my laptop in the café to have breakfast and get stuck into a productive business development day.

Still nothing.

I toyed with the idea of writing about the seven story archetypes, or literary devices or explaining obscure terms like pleonasm and prolix. But they all failed to inspire me today.

For fun, I Googled What on earth can I write about and came up with nothing to do with writing. Instead, my search returned existential results like factors that support life on earth, why is life possible on earth, how does earth support life, and five interesting facts about earth. I did find a writer, Daniel J. Botha, whose post Why on earth do I write?  at least contained the words ‘earth’ and ‘write’ in the same sentence.

So, I decided to write about what to write about when you’re out of ideas.

Here are nine ideas. I’ve written my own take on each one. You’ll have to excuse the unfinished nature of them. I was ‘just writing’, freeing up my creative mind. I hope you find at least one that’ll work for you when you’re clean out of ideas.

ONE: Sit in a Café and People-Watch

Here’s what I wrote in the café after breakfast. I just wrote for five minutes (I timed it).

The rainbow lorikeets in the palm trees are going nuts. I think they must feel the storm coming. They’re smarter than the people meandering along Surfers Paradise’s main drag oblivious to the soaking they’re about to get. It’s turned so dark in this outdoor café that the staff have just turned on the lights. I can smell the rain in the air.

At the table opposite, a man with close-cropped grey hair wearing a grey hoodie slowly stirs his cappuccino, licks the spoon, picks up his cup by the rim between his thumb and middle finger, and sips. He’s with a mate, who’s also wearing a grey hoodie, but they’re not talking. His mate is drinking a green juice from a bottle through a straw and scrolling through his phone.

TWO: Sit in a Café (with Free Wi-Fi) and Google Something You See

Here’s what happened for me when I did this.

I looked across the road and saw a sign for a boutique called Posha. Googling the word, I found many things. One of them is a name originating from India with the meaning ‘flower’ that can apply to both females and males. In Indian astrology, the article says, when the letter ‘P’ is the first letter of a person’s name, this is significant. It means that person has the power of philosophical thought.

THREE: Use a Childhood Memory

Here’s what I did:

I didn’t write anything today, but I’ll refer you to a story I wrote about my memories surrounding the old shed at my childhood home. Scroll to the last story on the page, The Shed, and download it for free. Enjoy the read: https://editors4you.com.au/gail-tagarro-author/

FOUR: Free-Write

Just write anything. It can be any old jumble. You’re just trying to free up your creativity.

Here’s what I wrote. Just five minutes:

It’s almost mid-October and we’re well into spring, which on the Gold Coast is nothing more than a dress rehearsal for summer. But today, I’m cold. A watery kind of sun showed its face for a half-hour or so this morning, but it’s hiding now. We’ve reverted to wintry weather for a few days. Most people have ditched their sleeveless tops and flip-flops for jackets, jumpers and trainers. I like feeling cosy, so I dressed for a day that the Bureau of Meteorology app told me would reach a high of 23°.

See? This is no literary masterpiece, but I’m writing. And that’s the main thing.

FIVE: Use a Writing Prompt

I used the beginning of a sentence as my writing prompt, ‘She sat in the car…’ Here’s what I came up with. This is as far as I got in five minutes:

She sat in the car gazing at the beach through the raindrop-splattered windscreen. She’d parked under a spreading Norfolk pine. It was raining steadily now, the rain from the soaked branches above tapping out a constant rhythm on the car roof. No one was swimming or surfing today. Somehow, when the sun wasn’t out, the beach no longer held appeal for people. The grey-green water looked uninviting. But it was the same water, she thought. Odd. A bit like a meal: you could have exactly the same food in two different bowls, one a hodgepodge and the other beautifully presented, and you’d swear the beautiful looking one tasted a thousand times better than the hodgepodge.

The patter of the rain against the car made her shiver, although it was warm inside the car. She liked coming to the beach on a weekday when there was no one around. Easy to find a park. Quiet. She could drift into a daydream, mesmerised by the breakers and white water…

SIX: Write Dialogue

Write a conversation between two people. I wrote for about seven minutes.

‘So, how did your little holiday in NZ go?’ Meredith asked her friend, who’d just returned after a week-long break.

‘It was just what I needed. I didn’t realise how much until I was away.’ Jo smiled. ‘The weather was shocking, good old Auckland, but it didn’t matter.’

Meredith nodded. ‘You really did need the break, so I’m glad you enjoyed it. Did you visit any of the old stamping grounds?’

‘Sure did. I was staying with my friend Mary and we went to some of those cafes we used to go to, remember? Down on the waterfront?’

‘I remember. We’d go down most days to one or the other.’

‘Mary and I went out for drinks a couple of nights, and we went to the movies on one of the most miserable days. I even visited our old house. They’ve painted it black now!’

Meredith held her breath. Jo mentioning her old house and saying ‘our’ meant she was going to start on it again.

‘Bastard,’ Jo said under her breath, and then began recounting the thousand and one things her ex had done wrong over their forty years of marriage, the last one trumping them all: an affair with his first wife, for whom he’d left Jo. Then she added, ‘You know what my psychic said? That it isn’t going to last. He isn’t happy. That he’ll end up leaving her…’

For the first time since The Great Breakup, Meredith didn’t let her go on. ‘Jo, you’ve got to start letting this go, you know.’

‘It was forty years,’ Jo snapped.

‘I know.’ Meredith touched Jo’s arm. ‘And I’m not saying it won’t take time to get over. But going over and over what he did and said isn’t going to change anything. It’s over, you’ve said so yourself. You wouldn’t have him back even if he asked. And if it doesn’t work out between them, it’s not your concern. Thinking about it doesn’t help you move on.’

SEVEN: Write a Scene from a Movie or TV Show You’ve Watched Recently

My daughter and I have been following a Spanish TV series on Netflix called Cable Girls. Here’s my recollection of a scene in which an accidental murder takes place:

Mario pushed Angeles up the stairs to the rooftop, where she stumbled and fell to the ground.

‘You bitch! You f… bitch! You thought you could just run away from me? With our child? I’m going to kill you, you bitch!’

Mario was at least six foot and although lean, he was strong. Angeles was no more than five five, slim and fragile.

With practised hatred, he began kicking at her slender form on the ground of the rooftop. With each agonised cry he raised from her, his kicks became more furious.

‘Why? Why did you try to leave?’ he shouted.

‘I hate you. I’d rather be dead than take any more of your abuse, your beatings, your insults,’ she whimpered.

That earnt her more kicks, one in the head this time. Blood was tricking out the side of her mouth.

Then the door to the rooftop flew open and Angeles’ three friends from the telephone exchange were tackling Mario. Carlota managed to wrestle from him the baseball bat he’d just picked up to finish off his wife. She threw it into a corner, out of reach.

With Mario thus distracted, one of them helped Angeles up. Blood was streaming from her nose and she was gasping for breath. Now he turned his fury on Lidia, who had jumped on his back and was trying to overbalance him. He managed to get her off and was now holding her by the throat, throttling her near the edge of the rooftop.

Frantic for her friend who was close to choking under her husband’s brutal iron grip, and afraid for the others, Angeles acted on instinct, seizing the baseball bat.

What happened next seemed to play out in slow motion. The backward swing of the bat. The forward swing of the bat, with a strength she didn’t know she possessed. The crack as the bat connected with her husband’s skull. The sigh as he slumped forward, already dead. The slowly spreading puddle of red around his head.

She dropped the bat.

EIGHT: Describe Something That’s Thoroughly Familiar to You

Write about it for someone who’s never experienced this thing before. Use all five physical senses to describe it (what does it look, sound, taste, feel, smell like).

Here’s what I came up with:

The Sea, The Sea

The sea is blue or green or grey or black, depending on the depth and whether it’s day or night, sunny or cloudy, and it’s so vast you can’t see the end of it. The breaking waves sound like the wind and the rain, constantly chafing against sandpaper. It tastes like the salt on your food. It feels wet, just like when you have a bath or a shower or you go out in the rain. It makes your skin go taut when it dries. It smells fresh and clean and sometimes, it smells strongly of iodine.

NINE: Use the Dictionary

Take out your dictionary (or use an online one) to find a word you’ve never heard of before. Use it in a sentence.

Here’s a good one: jejune. According to the Macquarie Online Dictionary, it’s a rare adjective that means ‘unsatisfying to the mind; dull; boring’.

He attended the play expecting it to be uplifting or at least engaging, but it was a jejune story about a man and a woman who met on a bus.

TEN: Here’s a Bonus One to Try Yourself

Go somewhere unfamiliar, even if it’s just to a local café you’ve never been to before. What you’ll see with be through fresh eyes. Describe the place, just as it is, avoiding flowery language.

The next time you ask yourself, What on earth can I write about, try some of these ideas. I hope they’ve helped inspire you.


Botha, Daniel J., Why on Earth do I Write? The Story Behind my Stories Part II, 2018. https://medium.com/@danie2life/why-on-earth-do-i-write-3e048cc5e3ad Accessed 11/10/19

Macquarie Dictionary, 2019, Macmillan Publishers Australia.

Moonastro, Baby Name Posha Meaning and Astrology, https://www.moonastro.com/babyname/baby%20name%20posha%20meaning.aspx Accessed 11/10/19

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Roman History … that’s Actually not Boring

The Reach of Rome, By Alberto Angela

A Book Review

If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know I’m a history buff. This blog, ‘Roman History … that’s Actually not Boring’, was inspired by Alberto Angela’s book The Reach of Rome.

You’re not fascinated by history? That’s okay. Before you relegate this blog to the annals of unread words, bear with me. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I’ve never formally studied history – unless taking Greek History 101 as an elective at uni as part of my languages degree counts.

Sadly, the classics department at my university has long since been laid to rest. Yet we can learn so much from history.

I might have got my fascination with history from our dear old dad. In his retirement, he joined U3A (University of the Third Age) and every week, trotted off to Roman history classes.

How Does the Author Present Roman History … that’s Actually not Boring?

Alberto Angela is, as described in his book, ‘an Italian palaeontologist and scientific populariser’. He’s, ‘Admired in his native Italy for his ability to bring history to life through narrative.’

Ah. In the same way that Carl Sagan popularised science and the cosmos, Alberto Angela popularises ancient history.

I was attracted by (a) The cover – covers do sell books! (b) The subtitle of his book, especially the final three words (I’ve italicised them): ‘A Journey Through the Lands of the Ancient Empire, Following a Coin’ and (c) The fact that this is Roman history … that’s actually not boring.

cover of Alberto Angela's book The Reach of Rome

Historical Fiction

Here’s my shameful secret. Up until a couple of years ago, despite my fascination with history, I’ve only ever enjoyed it by reading historical fiction.

But … getting an insight into the Roman Empire by following the journey of an ancient coin? Peeking into the daily lives of ordinary people who lived during that time? That really got my attention. Angela constantly ‘translates’ the details of life then with life now, bringing it to life.

A Bit of History

The book is set during the time of the most powerful man in the Roman Empire, Emperor Trajan, and begins at the end of the second century CE.

The first chapter includes the ‘birthing’ of the coin we are to follow on its journey, a sestertius. While it’s very difficult to know the value of the sestertius in today’s currency, it’s likely to have been worth around $3US.

The coin we will follow on its journey is forged in the Roman mint. According to Angela, the ‘mint’ looked more like this …

Dante's inferno
Dante’s Inferno

than this …

photo of Royal Australian Mint
Royal Australian Mint

Operated by sweat-soaked slaves working half-naked in oppressive heat, enduring the constant clang of metal and thick smoke billowing from the furnace, the mint looks like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.

The slaves are forging ‘our’ sestertius, a bronze coin that has a defect, a crack, caused by the damaged die that stamped it. Thanks to this defect, we are able to follow its journey throughout the Empire as it changes hands from soldiers to merchants to prostitutes to slaves – until it is revealed in the 21st century on an archaeological dig, 1,896 years after it was forged.

Yes, it is a real coin that actually exists and now resides in a museum in Rome.

While the author has had to use poetic licence in many of the stories that surround the coin’s journey – after all, it’s impossible to know every detail of Ancient Rome – he includes stories that feature real people who lived during those times. These stories are backed up by archaeological evidence.

Are you fascinated yet?

Did You Know…?

Did you know that tourism was popular during the time of the Roman Empire? Egypt was part of the empire, and tourists visited the Nile and the pyramids, just as we do today.

Did you know that Roman roads were built with three layers of stones, from large to small, so that rainwater filtered off the surface of the road? Engineering ingenuity.

Did you know that for the Romans, the colour purple was highly prized? And that it was extracted from a mollusc? Each mollusc contained just a drop of the pigment, and so the Romans took the production of the dye to an industrial level. Then, like now, their globalisation had a devastating impact on the environment. The prized little mollusc was wiped out from whole areas of the Mediterranean.

Did you know that while the Roman Empire was brutally efficient at conquering lands and peoples by force of arms, they also ‘conquered’ peacefully? In the interior of North Africa, the Empire founded a city in the desert (a place that’s now called Timgad). Angela compares it to the modern-day desert city, Las Vegas. The goal of Timgad was to conquer the foreign population through luxury, as it were. Imagine, then, travelling days through the heat of the desert landscape, and then coming upon a vision: a city with twenty-seven baths, aqueducts, public buildings, streets, temples and markets. Culture.

Did you know that very few people who lived during this era knew how to swim? About the only people who did were sailors (hopefully for them) and people who lived near the sea. Most people then were deathly afraid of the sea. Their fear was well founded. Unless you travelled overland, you had no choice but to board a ship. The Roman Empire stretched from Britain to Egypt, so if you were a soldier at the beck and call of the Empire, or a merchant selling your products far and wide, you had to go by ship. Further, Angela tells us that a conservative, hypothetical estimate for the Mediterranean alone is that there were three shipwrecks a day. A veritable underwater museum of ancient buildings and monuments exists in the Mediterranean.

Did you know that if you’d lived during the Roman Empire, you’d have been crazy not to make a will before strolling the streets of Rome at night? Rome was a violent place where street gangs and thieves roamed, alcohol led to brawls and violence and domestic violence was widespread. Nevertheless, unlike in the Middle Ages, when private vendettas were commonplace – remember the Montagues and the Capulets in good ole Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio, a friend of Romeo’s and neither a Montague nor a Capulet, cries ‘A plague o’ both your houses!’ as he is dying? – the Romans during the Empire were a civilised lot who relied not on their fists or their weapons but on their justice system. They took their grievances to court.

Monty Python and the Roman Empire

Roman history is humorously presented in Monty Python’s ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ In The Life of Brian, they parody the very real debt that modern society owes to the Romans. So apart from roads, aqueducts – the means to carry lifegiving water to cities from faraway points, irrigation, medicine, sanitation, public baths, education, law and order, wine, and yes, they even brought peace, what did the Romans ever do for us?

Honorary Degree

In June this year, Alberto Angela was awarded an honorary degree in archaeology by the University of Naples. This was mainly for his ‘extraordinary capacity of synthesis between competence and communication, or between the values ​​of scientific knowledge and the methods of transmission of knowledge in the age of new media’ (napolike.it) – in plain English, for telling Roman history … that’s actually not boring.

Acknowledgements for Roman History … that’s Actually not Boring

Alberto Angela, The Reach of Rome: A Journey Through the Lands of the Ancient Empire, Following a Coin, 2013, Rizzoli Ex Libris, New York (411 pages).

Monty Python https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo

Napolike.it https://www.napolike.com/alberto-angela-degree-honoris-causa-in-archeology-in-naples, 19 June 2019, Accessed 26 September 2019.

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What Can A Book Editor Do For Me?

Throughout the extensive process of writing, some writers may question the need for an editor. They may wonder if they can edit their manuscript themselves and ask, ‘What can a book editor do for me?’

While it’s certainly prudent to redraft a manuscript several times and self-edit before considering the next step, it’s worthwhile pointing out what value a professional editor can add to your manuscript.

Many people may not know the true extent of what an editor can do for them. Editors are far from simply professional spell-checkers and proofreaders, as many may assume. While that is part of the process of editing, it is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

post-it note about editor qualities, editor queensland, editor australia, writing coach gold coast, writing coach brisbane, writing coach queensland, writing coach australia, publisher submissions gold coast, publisher submissions brisbane, publisher submissions queensland

What Exactly Does A Book Editor Do?

An editor corrects errors, and improves and polishes a draft manuscript, refining sentences and wording to ensure they are precise, clear and effective. They look for consistency in the storyline, cut what doesn’t work – which often first involves a discussion with the author – and suggest rewording or repositioning to ensure the audience gets the most out of the read and that the point of the narrative is maintained.

Publishing Knowledge

Editors with many years’ experience are likely to have ties throughout the writing world, including with publishers, literary agents, book design services and book promotion services. They’ll be able to advise on the different types of publishing, including what may suit you and your manuscript best, and explain the different aspects of the publication process.

An editor who is invested in the success of your manuscript will provide you with an improved manuscript and a better chance with submissions and possibilities of publication. Next time you ask, ‘Do I need an editor?’ or ‘What can a book editor do for me?’ keep this in mind.

Later, you might like to read this blog for more information about publishing: How Can I Publish My Book: What Are My Options? https://editors4you.com.au/how-can-i-publish-my-book-what-are-my-options/

Copyright, Legal, Ethical Issues in Manuscripts

What writers may not know is that an experienced editor can also alert you to any potential red flags within your manuscript, ranging from copyright and legal issues to ethical dilemmas, and refer you to the appropriate experts for further advice.

Did you know, for example, that it is a breach of copyright to use song lyrics in a book without seeking permission to reproduce? No matter how much you love the song, no matter how well it suits your story, it is still another artist’s creative effort and as such, it is subject to copyright.

The above is just a brief overview of what an editor can do for you. Check out these other blogs by editors4you that may help answer more of your questions: Questions to Ask Book Editors https://editors4you.com.au/questions-to-ask-book-editors/ and Four Things Writers Need to Know About Book Editors https://editors4you.com.au/four-things-writers-need-to-know-about-book-editors/

What Doesn’t A Book Editor Do?

What a professional editor does not do is attempt to change your author’s voice. After all, that is one of the features of your manuscript that makes it unique.

An editor should also critique not criticise your work, providing firm but kind, respectful, valuable, objective suggestions and advice.

Do I Need A Book Editor?

If you plan to publish your book, quite simply an editor is vital – whichever type of publishing path you decide to follow: mainstream publishing house (not so easy), subsidy publishing or self-publishing. You’ll find more information on these options here: How To Get Your Book Published https://editors4you.com.au/how-to-get-your-book-published/

An editor is your first reader and your first critic. They ensure your manuscript is up to publishing standard to satisfy discerning readers and publishing houses.  

Time Frame For Editing

In case you’re wondering, the answer to ‘how long will it take to edit my manuscript?’ is not ‘how long is a piece of string!’ Previous clients have occasionally told me that they have submitted their precious manuscript to an editor and then months later, the edit had progressed so little that they cut their losses, asked for it back and went searching for an editor who would give them a definite and realistic time frame and just get the job done.

A professional editor will need to sight your manuscript to give you both a time frame and a quotation.

Variables to consider:

  • Word count
  • Level of editing needed to bring the manuscript to publishing standard
  • Availability of your chosen editor.

A structural or developmental edit will take longer than a copy edit (see here for types of editing: https://editors4you.com.au/book-editors-gold-coast/book-editing-australia-accredited-editor/).

Regardless, of the above variables, an experienced, professional editor will be able to give you a definite time frame for when you can expect your edited manuscript to be returned to you for review.

Does The Editor Check Every Change With Me?

The simple answer to this is ‘No’, as it would be a very inefficient way to work. You need to trust your editor and know that they know best.

While I haven’t reached the celestial heights that author Stephen King implies in his excellent and very readable book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, I do love his words: ‘The editor is always right. The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor’s advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection. Put another way, to write is human, to edit is divine.’

In the same book, King gives us a writing and cutting back formula: ‘Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.’

While the editor won’t check every change with you, a good editor will communicate with you during the edit if they come across passages that need to be discussed with you. The editing process may unveil additional issues they were originally unaware of.

Don’t be surprised if your editor suggests a second edit and final proofread after you have reviewed the edited manuscript. Most often, rewording and sometimes new writing are needed. The editor will need to check this before your manuscript hits the reading world as a book. Proofreading is the final stage of the editorial process.

Collaboration Between Author and Editor

The better the relationship and collaboration between an author and their editor, the better the manuscript will be. The blog The Writer–Editor Relationship explains the process in more depth.

The relationship between the author and their editor is vital to the editing process. Perhaps the question, ‘What can a book editor do for me?’ should be followed by, ‘What can I do for my editor?’

How Much Should I Expect To Pay?

Is editing expensive? This is one of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the editing process. The answer depends on various factors, including:

  • The editor you choose to work with, their skills, qualifications and experience
  • What level of work your book needs to bring it to publishing standard
  • The variables mentioned earlier
  • Whether you have an urgent deadline.

Some Australian editors charge a per-word fee, some charge by the hour. However they charge, it’s important to obtain an overall figure for the edit. You want and need to know up front how much the edit is going to cost you. Some editors offer payment plans, so it’s always worth asking your editor of choice if they can help you out in this way.

Are My Editing Expenses Tax Deductible?

If you are selling your book, then any of the costs related to producing the book are likely to be considered a business expense – not only editing. Check with your accountant and ask the question.

Editing is An Investment

It’s important to consider editing an investment. A professional edit will increase the chance of your book either being accepted by a mainstream publisher, or being embraced rather than reviled by the reading public in the case of self-publishing. Be realistic: editing is one of the major costs in producing a book, as the authors of the self-publishing ‘bible’ APE: How To Publish A Book state: http://apethebook.com/

Parting Words

A professional editor is a vital part of the publication process and frankly, the difference between being selected for publication or turned away, or spurned by your reading public if self-publishing. A good editor will take your manuscript to a new level, allowing your voice to shine through, possibly brighter than before. ‘What can a book editor do for me?’ is a great question with a multitude of answers.

I hope you have found what you came here for and are able to see the rest of that pesky iceberg.

Acknowledgements for ‘What Can A Book Editor Do For Me?’

Atwood, Blake, The Write Life: Looking for a Book Editor? Here’s How Much You Should Expect to Pay, 24 Feb 2017: thewritelife.com/how-much-to-pay-for-a-book-editor/ Accessed 12 Sept 2019

Hill, Beth, Duties of an Editor & How Editors Help Writers, 3 April 2013: theeditorsblog.net/2011/02/01/duties-of-an-editor-how-editors-help-writers/ Accessed 12 Sept 2019

Irvine, Melinda J, Tax Tips for Australian Writers, 2018: melirvine.com.au/2018/03/06/tax-tips-for-australian-writers/ Accessed 12 Sept 2019

King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000, Hodder & Stoughton, Oxon UK.

‘What Can A Book Editor Do For Me?’ is a collaboration between Brienna Cottam and Gail Tagarro. Brienna is a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast where she’s studying the course Bachelor of Creative Writing. She is currently undertaking an internship with Gail Tagarro at editors4you.com

Stuck with your writing? Need some guidance? Finished your manuscript and need a professional edit before making those publisher submissions? Give me a call on 0405 695 534!

Ask about our Writing and Self-publishing Packages.

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The Orphan Sky

A Book Review

book cover of the orphan sky

The Orphan Sky, by Ella Leya

Leila Badalbeili is a fifteen-year-old classical pianist, a child prodigy and the darling of Soviet society in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in 1979.


Azerbaijan, a country bounded by the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, is at this time in the grip of Soviet communism. Its culture is a fusion of Turkish, Persian and Russian influences.

An only child, Leila is the beloved daughter of her papa, Halil, an oil baron enjoying a privileged lifestyle even under communism thanks to the legacy of his father, a great communist hero who sacrificed his life to the cause. Her mother, Sonia, a stunning woman and a renowned paediatric surgeon, is elusive and distant with Leila.      

Wrapped in a cottonwool world of political brainwashing, public adulation, family privilege and paternal adoration, Leila is unaware of the political machinations of the regime, or of the betrayals occurring around her. Then her eyes begin to open, in unexpected ways, when she is required to spy on a young man whom the Communist Party suspect of selling ‘decadent’ Western music in his recently opened shop. Delighted at being given such responsibility within the Party, she zealously sets out to entrap the suspect.


Inexplicably drawn to the young man, an artist, whom she privately nicknames Aladdin – at their first meeting he is sitting cross-legged upon an Afghani rug enveloped in a cloud of hashish smoke – she finds herself tussling with her long-held beliefs. Tahir, his real name, and Leila form an immediate connection, instinctively understanding and communicating with each other as fellow artists.

On the outside, they are worlds apart, she a privileged member of the social order because of her family connections, he an outcast regarded with hatred and suspicion because of his.

Leila develops a double, even triple life. In her political life, Leila is confused and repulsed by the increasingly sexual advances of her superior, Farhad, who takes advantage of his position and her innocence. He aspires to be part of the dreaded Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB, and to claim her as his wife when she is of age. In her family life, she sees a different side to her father when she attempts to defy him over Farhad’s successful petition for her hand in marriage. The times she spends with Tahir are the only occasions she really feels herself.

Collision of Worlds in The Orphan Sky

When, inevitably, all three worlds collide, Leila is forced to choose between them and to make an awful decision with far-reaching repercussions.

Against a backdrop of poetry and music, art and ideals, politics, propaganda and corruption, The Orphan Sky spans almost four decades. Leila experiences public and personal falls from grace, tragedies and betrayals, impossible decisions: will she be able to reconcile her very different worlds and finally find meaning in her life – even love?

The author cleverly and subtly foreshadows significant events in The Orphan Sky so that the reader only becomes aware of these later.

A beautiful, lyrical, heart-in-your-mouth read.

The Orphan Sky, Ella Leyla, 2015, Sourcebooks Landmark, Illinois.

About the Author of The Orphan Sky

Ella Leya is a composer and singer. She was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and moved to the United States in 1990.

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Want to enhance your writing techniques and skills? Brush up on your grammar? (Maybe! You can skip the chapter if you wish.) Learn how easy it is to self-publish your book? See my easy-to-read and entertaining eBook Ten Ways to Super-Charge Your Writing Skills. You can download it for just $11.95. Now that’s a bargain!

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Welcome to the very first newsletter for The Lonely Writer.

Writing is a lonely job. Or pastime. The Lonely Writer aims to connect with you, the lonely writer among other lonely writers, in this monthly newsletter. We understand you’re busy. So the newsletter generally has just four or five main items of content. A brief but satisfying read.

  • Write Here, Right Now: What’s Happening in Writing? Includes trends, festivals and competitions
  • Word of the Day. An unusual word to keep your writing fresh
  • Fun Fact
  • Writing Inspiration Quote

Write Here, Write Now: What’s Happening in Writing?

Psychological Thrillers

…are on the rise this year, from films to novels. Two that are making their way up the lists of bestsellers for 2019 are The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and One Fatal Mistake by Tom Hunt.

Festivals and Competitions

The Brisbane Writers Festival

…is drawing ever closer, running from 5 to 8 September. Connecting writers, readers and anyone in between through debate, exploration and imagination as well as celebrating the greatest achievements in the writing world for the year, this festival will be well worth your effort. Check it out here: https://bwf.org.au/2019

The Furious Fiction Competition

…run on the first weekend of every month by the Australian Writers’ Centre, starts on 6 September. Details here: https://www.writerscentre.com.au/furious-fiction/

The Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Writing Competition

…closes on 2 September. You’ll find out all about it here: https://fawnsw.org.au/sydney-hammond-memorial-short-story-writing-competition/

With the ServiceScape Short Story Award

…closing on 30 November, you could be in to win $1,000, so get cracking on that writing. Details here: https://www.servicescape.com/short-story-award

Word of the Day


Pronounced yoo·kuh·ta·struh·fee

Defined as ‘a sudden and favourable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending’.

Most of us would automatically attach negative connotations to this word, however its meaning is opposite! Could you find a way to use this in your writing, or even casual conversation? It will raise more than a few eyebrows.

Fun Fact

The very first manuscript for Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck was eaten by his dog. Perhaps this is where the old phrase ‘the dog ate my homework’ came from?

Get Inspired

‘You flourish one hushed breath at a time. Imagine all you can build word by single word’―Laurie Seidler, 22 Shelters: Lessons From Letters.

This first issue of THE LONELY WRITER is a collaboration between Brienna Cottam and Gail Tagarro. Brienna is a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast where she’s studying the course Bachelor of Creative Writing. She is currently undertaking an internship with Gail Tagarro at editors4you.com

‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ and Other Idioms

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of ‘A penny for your thoughts’ and other idioms that populate the English language?

Do You Know What You’re Saying?

Idioms Explained

Wait. What’s an idiom?

Idioms are expressions peculiar to a specific language with meanings that are different from their literal interpretations. The word ‘idiom’ was coined in the late 16th century, from the French and Latin words (originating from Greek) meaning ‘peculiar phraseology’ and ‘make one’s own’.

English is filled with idioms that may seem wildly out of place in the language of our era. They flavour our conversations and add further meaning to our sentences. They amplify our communications and have become so deeply ingrained in our language and culture that they are sometimes difficult to recognise as idioms.

Let’s look at some of the more common idioms and how they came to be.

Ah, history. You know my penchant for it. As always, I promise to keep it brief (says Gail).

‘A Penny for your thoughts’ and other idioms

Break a leg

This saying is used to wish someone luck or give them encouragement. The idiom came about in theatres and performance houses in relation to the old belief that uttering ‘good luck’ to a performer would instead bring bad luck – therefore, the opposite must also apply.

Its true rise to popularity came in the early 1920s, the golden age of theatre and ‘talkies’ movies that introduced sound.

Another use of the idiom is to encourage a person to put in the most amount of effort possible to the point of ‘breaking a leg’. This was also common throughout the early 1900s. Some speculate that this version of the idiom also has links to the assassin and actor John Wilkes Booth, who broke his leg attempting to leap onto the stage of Ford’s Theatre following the murder of Abraham Lincoln.

Beat about the bush

This common idiom has been around for centuries, tracing back to the 1440s in the poem Generydes – A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas:

‘Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo, Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.’

As the poem suggests, the idiom has evolved from the original literal interpretation of beating around a bush, irritating the birds within and thus, enabling the hunting party to catch the birds as they fled. The earliest recorded version to include ‘about’ within the phrase is found in the 1570s.

Reaching peak popularity at the beginning of the 1900s, ‘beat about the bush’ is used to tell someone to hurry up. It also formed connections with the next idiom we discuss, ‘cut to the chase’. The two are often used in conjunction with each other despite the time difference between their origins.

Cut to the chase

Brienna (see end of post) says that as someone who often rambles on, she has heard the phrase ‘cut to the chase’ – get to the point – more than a handful of times in her life. Yet another idiom that has found its way into everyday conversations, media and writing, this phrase has its early origins in the silent film industry, especially comedies, which often reached their climax in chase scenes. It seems that inexperienced screenwriters or directors would stretch out a film with unnecessary dialogue, boring the audience and drawing out the time before an exciting chase scene. Movie studio executives used ‘cut to the chase’ to mean that the film should get straight to the interesting scenes.

An earlier version of the phrase (1880–1940) was ‘Cut to Hecuba’, used in matinée performances of Hamlet to mean to cut the long speeches before the reference to Hecuba.

‘Cut to the chase’ is relevant in today’s world of instant messaging and live news and media, with many people preferring to get straight to the important and relevant pieces of information: instant gratification.

A penny for your thoughts

Meaning ‘tell me what you’re thinking’ and usually said to someone who’s off with the fairies, this idiom first appeared in the written language c.1522 in The Four Last Things by Sir Thomas More:

‘In such wise yt not wtoute som note & reproach os suche vagaraunte mind, other folk sodainly say to them: a peny for your thought.’

However, ‘a penny for your thoughts’ wasn’t popularised until after 1562 when it appeared in The Proverbs and Epigrams of John Heywood. The idiom originated in an era when a penny was worth a great deal more than its current value.

The use of this idiom has noticeably declined over the last few decades and is more commonly used by older generations. Will this strange idiom weave its way out of our language completely?

To kill two birds with one stone

Despite its somewhat negative connotations, the 17th-century idiom ‘kill two birds with one stone’ appears to have a figurative origin. It means to achieve two objectives with one action. In our age of multitasking and deadlines, its meaning maintains its relevance.

The Oxford English Dictionary records a 1655–56 exchange of views about free will between the philosopher Thomas Hobbes and the Anglican Bishop John Bramhall:

‘T. H. thinks to kill two birds with one stone, and satisfy two arguments with one answer.’

An earlier version of the idiom appears in a 1632 book A Complete History of the Present Seat of War in Africa Between the Spaniards and Algerines.

There is also speculation that the phrase has its roots in the Greek mythological tale of Daedalus and Icarus. With both men trapped, and hungry birds flying above waiting for their demise, Daedalus uses stones to strike down the birds in order to create their own wings to escape on. He consequently discovers a throwing motion that allows him to kill two of the birds with one stone. Who knows?

The last straw

The last idiom we explore, fittingly, is ‘the last straw’, sometimes ‘the final straw’, an idiom that expresses anger and frustration. It’s the final tiny irritant or burden on top of a series of other seemingly minor burdens that causes what may appear an extreme reaction.

The idiom refers to the proverb ‘the last straw that breaks the camel’s back’. Variants of the proverb include ‘The last drop makes the cup run over’ (1655), ‘The last feather that breaks the horse’s back’ (1677), and the oriental proverb ‘It is the last straw that overloads the camel’.

The earliest recorded use of the phrase is in The Edinburgh Advertiser (1816):

‘MR. BROUGHAM remarked, that if it [a tax on soap] were only 3d. a head, or 4d. and 5d. upon the lower orders, yet straw upon straw was laid till the last straw broke the camel’s back.’

‘The last straw’ has fluctuated in popularity over the centuries. Nevertheless, it remains a valid and colourful way to express irritation and anger.

photo of penny for ‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ and Other Idioms
Photo by Mark Bosky on Unsplash

As we’ve seen, idioms have wormed their way into our our everyday language and vocabulary. They add vibrancy to our communications and often a little humour as well.

Will you notice the next time you use an idiom?

After all, the devil is in the details …

Acknowledgements for ‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ and Other Idioms








The post ‘A Penny For Your Thoughtsand Other Idioms is a collaboration between Brienna Cottam and Gail Tagarro. Brienna is a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast where she’s studying the course Bachelor of Creative Writing. She undertook an internship with Gail Tagarro of editors4you.com and WriteDesign Publications for several weeks in 2019.

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