Practical insights for writers from author and developmental editor Jessica Morrell

For what it’s worth; it’s never too late from F. Scott Fitzgerald

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 09•18

For what it’s worth; it’s never too late, or in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things that you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find you are not, I hope you find the courage to start all over again. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

300 new words in Scrabble dictionary

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 05•18

English is an ever-evolving and vital language. Influenced by  everything from hip hop to high tech  to Facebook, it reflects an ever-evolving culture. Proof: Merriam-Webster has just published the sixth edition of The Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary updated with 300 new words. It seems to me that in the Scrabble world that’s a lot. Some of them like yowsa, ew, and ok seem like no-brainers. Others like facepalm, emoji,  bitcoin, hivemind, beatdown, and listicle attest to how times are a-changing, wouldn’t you agree? Then there’s frowny, an old word brought back into common usage. I plan to start using it. Find more information about the new words including 106 two-letter words here.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 02•18

Quick take: secondary characters need to shine

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 01•18

Treat all your secondary characters like they think the book’s about them.” ~ Jocelyn Hughes


Writers can Change the World

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 29•18

Every time I leave home more autumn colors are blazing and flaming, transforming the countryside. A few times when I was in my car on back roads I just wanted to keep driving into the changing light. Like millions I watched the Kavenaugh hearing this week and like many millions I joined the important conversations about sexual assault and who belongs serving on our federal courts. With my thoughts spinning and my mood pingponging, I’ve started writing down ideas and memories, trying to shape my experiences into a meaningful contribution.

Jeff Flake listens to assault survivors demanding to be heard

I’ve also been so heartened by activists demonstrating, citizens marching, phoning, writing, and visiting their representatives. Americans are becoming engaged and taking our roles as citizens and global citizens seriously. While this difficult process unfolds, a midterm  election is fast approaching. There’s so much you can do to contribute, to help candidates and causes you believe in. If you cannot travel to embattled states or districts, you can  make phone calls, you can contact representatives, and you can write and get out the vote via It has all the how-tos you’ll need including templates you can download and inspiring examples. I’ve been buying the plain, pre-stamped cards at my post office and these days I’m sketching in blue waves.


Word of the day: glean

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 25•18

The Gleaners, Jean-Francois Millet 1857

GLEAN: Original meaning was to gather grain left behind by reapers after the harvest (Middle English). These days it has come to mean gathering information or other resources bit by bit, with some effort or to gather gradually.

With thanks from Robert MacFarlane.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep collecting words

Word by Word: Is Anglo-Saxon the answer?

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 13•18

We had our first significant rain since June on Tuesday and yesterday a rattling, loud downpour smashed down along with thunder and lightning and made you grateful for your roof. Phew. As you can imagine, nothing is more welcome during wildfire season. I’ve also got friends and family in the path of Hurricane Florence, so like many people, I am weather-obsessed these days.

I’ve been working on projects about the tools of writing–solid nouns, words that resonate, verbs that power sentences. As I’m working I’m scribbling and underlining in every novel and article I read, analyzing authors’ techniques, and building words lists. My idea of fun. And I’m reading a translation of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney. Beowulf was written in about the eighth century and it’s been years,  make that decades, since I tackled it.  Back then when my eyes were younger I read the original. The basic story is about a hero defeating three monsters and then dying. Heaney’s translation is laden with footnotes, printed in small typeface, contains photographs, and essays written by experts.  Next I’m hoping to compare it with Tolkien’s translation and reread The Canterbury Tales because I want to wallow in Old English.  Well, actually Chaucer lives in the fourteenth century so his language is called Middle English.

Since I began teaching I’ve been advising writers to lean on words of Anglo-Saxon origin, but lately I’ve been revisiting this concept. One problem with this advice is that there aren’t that many of these words still in use.  The English language, or Old English, originated from Germanic tribes in northern Europe who invaded Britain between the fifth and seventh century. It was mostly a spoken language and Britain was populated with Celts though Roman influences still lingered. The Anglo-Saxon impact lasted about 600 years. The  Vikings raided and settled in parts of England and brought Old Norse, also a Germanic language, between the eighth and eleventh century.

The Norman Conquest  in 1066 and the conquerors brought William as king and Old French.  French is a romance language with roots in Latin and borrowings from the Greeks. It was also called Romance English. Old French began dying out in England and was replaced by Middle English from about 1100 to 1500.

English has always been an adaptive, vital language and was influenced by the King James Bible, the Renaissance which flooded the language with new words, and Shakespeare, who added more than 4,000 words and phrases. Modern English and American English in particular  resulted from borrowings, gleanings, and adaptations–a mongrel language. Which is one reason why you’ll find a list of synonyms for many words.

But words of Anglo-Saxon origin have always been considered more down-to-earth and concrete. They’ve also been considered more working class, crude, and simple.  Words of French (and Latin) origin are considered softer, elevated,  elegant and sometimes pompous. For example:

Anglo-Saxon                            French

  1. gut                                         intestine
  2. fire                                         flame
  3. ghost                                     phantom
  4. buy                                        purchase
  5. earthly                                   terrestrial
  6. stench                                   odour
  7. heaven                                  celestial
  8. wild                                       savage

So how is a writer to choose? Generally opt for punchy, potent, and plain diction. Old English makes readers pay attention. It is typically literal as in ‘bone house’ for the human body. Or ‘whale road’ as one word that describes the sea.  Anglo Saxon words are leaner, single syllable words that are:

  • terse
  • easier to read
  • punchier
  • less formal
  • ‘of the body’

Examples: blood, sweat, tears, toil, stone, wood, bless, wish

French and Latin words are usually

  • formal
  • more abstract
  • harder to read
  • multisyllabic
  • ‘of the mind’

Examples: Excrement, intercourse, cogitate, enquire, imbibe

But, and this is an important but; it all depends on voice, tone, and purpose. Is your viewpoint character a professor or modern-day Huck Finn?  Is  your character 55 or 12? Are you writing for kids or adults? Humorous tone or deadly serious?

Rely on Anglo-Saxon if you’re writing: picture books, YA, humor, adventure, thrillers, fantasy. Use it when you want to reveal emotions and get into your character’s body.

Rely on French or Latin origin words if you’re writing: romance (cherish, desire, infatuation),nonfiction, science fiction (alien, dystopia, alchemy) technical writing and documents.

It’s always helpful to know a word’s etymology. And you’d be silly to omit the offerings of Yiddish (chutzpah, glitch, schmooze), Italian ( facade, vista, replica, bizarre) or Old Norse (dazzle, ransack, berzerk). So many treasures, endless tools.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, collect words

Bonus: A link to the prose style of George R. R. Martin.

Fun bonus: From The Guardian, writers on words they love best.


Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 01•18

Jeanette Winterson’s 10 Rules for Writing

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 29•18

I write lists, I love lists, I live by lists.

Writers’ lists of advice distill hard-earned wisdom and common sense.  I don’t always agree with their suggestions, but am always curious about what other writers have learned about craft and butt-in-the-chair sticktoitness. I’ll be adding some of my own lists here in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, check out Jeanette Winterson’s advice:

  1. Turn up for the work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline means no freedom.
  2. Never stop when you are stuck. You might not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.
  3. Love what you do.
  4. Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.
  5. Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went into the drawer, it will be just as bad when it comes out.
  6. Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.
  7. Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda. A lot of men still think women lack imagination of the fiery kind.
  8. Be ambitious for the work but not the reward.
  9. Trust your creativity.
  10. Enjoy this work!

Keep writing, keep dreaming, enjoy this work



Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 23•18