Writer's Toolbox

Writing, one bit at a time

Dear Geist,

Can you recommend a straightforward short book or series to help our writing group get better at writing? Thanks!

Which editor?

Dear Geist,Is it cricket for a book publisher to assign a full-book copy-edit to an editor who has no knowledge of the book? Okay, it’s my book, and I want someone who cares. Is that bad?

Words all over

Dear Geist,When a new word gets accepted, who accepts it? And once the word is in use, whose job is it to preserve it—spelling, meaning, punctuation and all the rest? It seems like words just fly around and do what they want!


Dear Geist,What is a dangling modifier, and how can I recognize one?

Then and Now

Dear Lit-Lorn Readers,Last week as I sorted some of my older books on writing and publishing, I found a little section in one book, titled "The Complex Writing Demands of the Digital Era." Yes, this one goes back a bit.

Zoom Doom

Dear Geist,...my friend tore a strip off me for "hogging" the agent, even though everyone in the room was encouraged to talk to others and all of us were busy every minute. I apologized all over the place but it wasn't enough.

Reading the Great Ones

Dear Writers,The following excerpt, which has appeared in several works by the writer Joan Didion over some years, is one of many wonderful passages she has written in describing her writing and her process as a writer.

Starting with however

Dear Geist,Where do you stand on the question of whether it’s okay or bad form to start a sentence with the word "however"?

Three Little Words

Dear Geist,You are the most tolerant editors I’ve ever seen! But now there’s a new expression exploding everywhere, that I’m guessing you don’t want to invite to the literary party. That little squib is “to be honest.” Amirite?

Conscious talk

Dear Geist,You have mentioned the very interesting "Conscious Style Guide" a few times, and our editors have taken advantage of their many fine articles online. Is there a volume writers and editors can purchase?

Hopping Mad

Dear Geist,Is it okay for a writing colleague to discuss an interesting book idea with a writer friend, at length, then pitch the idea to a well-known editor who has bought stories from both writers?

Barn Balm

Dear Geist,Why doesn’t anyone in North America say barmy for balmy? According to my research, Barmy came first and still enjoys a jolly life. But most North American dictionaries don’t even mention the earlier Scots barmy. Why not?


Dear Geist,Is it generally known that our dictionary bigwigs aren’t the only word-lovers who bring in new words and turf old ones? I just found this new word, nubber, which the Scrabble people elevated to the most prestigious list of main stops!

More Manners

Dear Geist,After reading your Lit-Lorn post “Manners” in Geist, I was both sad and relieved to find that I am not the only writer who’s been startled by poor manners in the writing world.


Dear Geist,Is it bad manners for a writer to include no acknowledgements in a novel, even though he spent hours picking the brains of five young men for shared memories, to be used in his book?

Double what?

Dear Geist,Is my learned friend pulling my leg when he says I should look up a goofy common literary error called “double bobbles”?