Tips for a Successful Writing Sabbatical

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

For four weeks, I’ve been on a writing sabbatical at our lake cabin. I’ve made significant progress on a romance and my first speculative novel. 

Every night, I email my sister my progress, negatives, positives, and what I’ve researched.

Here’s my sabbatical summary and tips.

Normal World

Responsibilities keep us from writing. Some of mine:

  • Prepare and teach Bible Study (9 hours weekly)
  • Half-day meetings (9 hours monthly)
  • ACFW VA Treasurer Responsibilities 
  • Interruptions: telephone calls, etc.
  • My blog post (5 hours weekly) 
  • Church tasks and social functions (I don’t work on Sundays.)
  • Marketing Tasks (huge consumer)
  • Preparation, travel, and teaching webinars and workshops (approx. one every other month)
  • Short-stay visitors (fun)
  • Housework (moderate—husband does most)


  • Chose July when the Bible study and two half-day meetings break for the summer.
  • Enlisted 3 guests for my blog and set up posts ahead.
  • Completed 3 ACFW VA Treasurer projects ahead.
  • Created Sabbatical daily schedule.
  • Set goals. 
  • Packed printer, ink, writing resources, etc.
  • Packed comfortable clothes.
  • Shopped for soups, frozen dinners, fruit.
  • Set up a desk in the cabin loft.


Workdays: Goal 25; Actual 21

Average Daily Word Count:  

Goal Speculative 2,500; Actual 1,000 

Goal Romance 2,500; Actual 1,300

Goal Total Words 125,000; Actual 48,000

Sample of Negatives:

  • Hadn’t considered research time in word-count goals. Speculative needed heavy research.
  • Scheduled inadequate time for the small weekly tasks I brought with me. So, rose earlier and shaved my 9-hour writing time.
  • Hadn’t realized ACFW VA board would prepare for our conference and contest during July.
  • Returned home to teach a pre-scheduled workshop. Unexpected technical difficulties drained time on two prior workdays.
  • Several unexpected marketing tasks required attention.
  • John’s weekend responsibilities prevented Sunday visits. Worked longer hours to make up for workday visits.
  • Car broke down. Hours spent rectifying that.
  • Made unexpected excursions for TVA approval of our new dock.

Sample of Positives:

  • Read three books. One was a speculative and highlighted issues to consider for my speculative.
  • Didn’t edit. I only performed fixes and rewrites necessary to move forward.
  • Time to print thirteen maps proved invaluable for progress on my speculative.
  • Research lessened word count, but prevented unworkable situations needing rewrites later.
  • Working on two different genres worked well; nine hours on one book would have been grueling.
  • In solitude, I had time to think.
  • A blog post I read during a break gave me a great idea for a scene.
  • Completed solid drafts covering a third of the speculative and seventy percent of the romance. And most research tasks are done.
  • Accomplished more than I would have at home.

Would I Do It Again?

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I thought I’d be protected from time-eating demands. They were partly my fault. But I’m wiser now. I look forward to my next sabbatical.


  1. Look ahead carefully for potential sabbatical crashers.
  2. Schedule sabbatical during a time where your responsibilities are lowest. 
  3. Unless your sabbatical is a nanowrimo, consider the level of research needed and set word-count goals accordingly.
  4. It may be better to do research than major rewrites later.
  5. For long sabbaticals, schedule days off.
  6. If family will visit, maximize visits on your planned days off.
  7. Where possible, complete ahead or remove responsibilities from sabbatical days.
  8. Notify necessary people you’ll be unavailable.
  9. Don’t schedule a quick non-writing project. Too risky for a potential time eater.
  10. Create a writing space where resources are quickly available.
  11. Keep your needs simple: easy meals, minimal clean up, and few laundry loads.
  12. Take breaks and time to unwind during evenings.
  13. Keep a brief daily journal. Recording progress, negatives, and positives will facilitate planning future sabbaticals.
  14. Roll with the unpreventable disasters.

What goals would you choose for a sabbatical?

Buy Link

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

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Create Dialogue That Fits Your Character

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

You may be so into the plot that you have a character say something that doesn’t fit his education, the time period, the area he lives in, his age, his job or hobby lingo, his nature, or his beliefs. 

I had a younger character use the word chum. My editor thought a teen wouldn’t say chum. That word came from trying to write a more unique word than friend, but I pulled in a word from my mother’s era. I knew better, but I was so into what was happening that chum slipped in.

Let’s have fun. Match speakers in the first list with the the most likely dialogue bits in the second list. I’ll put my number/letter combinations at the end.

Dialogue Exercise

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  1. Two WWII GIs
  2. Two 1980s teens
  3. Two Yuppies
  4. Two men in rural Blue Ridge Mountains
  5. Gang members
  6. Hostess and customer
  7. Marketing Rep and his boss
  8. Writer and friend
  9. A woman and her great-granddaughter
  10. Coal miner and class member


a. “Cuz, you strapped?”
“You know I got no gat.”

b. “Man, the sale was a bluebird.”
“That’s what scares me. It was too easy.” 
“It was an emotional sale, but I worked with the guy calling the shots, so it’s solid.”
“Was the guy a gatekeeper or was he the decision maker? We gotta close the deal with the guy that counts.”

image by Pavlofox

c. “I been digging for black diamonds since I was eighteen. Operated an auger.”
“That sounds cool, Mr. Hatfield. I’d like digging for diamonds.”
“Son, the diamonds I’m talking about are chunks of coal. Nothing cool about ’em. Mining for coal give me the black lung.”

d. “What’s buzzin’, cousin?”
“See that dame over there waving at me. She said she’d marry me.”
“That’s swell.”

e. Gary nodded. “Let’s do lunch sometime. Thursday?”
“I’d like that.” Sharon smiled. “I’ll pencil you in.”

f. Was Camden raised in an orphanage?”
“Grams, they don’t call them orphanages anymore.”
“Sounds like you don’t know his background. I don’t want you marrying
a goldbrick on the make.”

g. “I can’t join you for lunch and shopping, Kitty.”
“I thought you worked from home. And it’s Saturday.”
“I need to work on the galley for one book and the edits for another. I have to prep for a book signing, update my website, and answer interview questions for a blog. Working as a writer isn’t as easy as you think.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to travel forty minutes to and from work like I do.”

image by Robert-Owen-Wahl

h. “Take a break. I booked that party of five. I’ll seat them.”
Shelby gathered menus and turned to the group. “Follow me, please.”
The redhead sat and opened her menu. “Do you have any items besides salads that are without meat?”
“Yes. We have vegetarian options on page two.”

i. “Hey, mall chic. You in the orange blouse.”
Heather cocked her head.”You talking to me?”
“Yeah. You want to go, like, get a burger in the food court?”
“Gag me with spoon.”
“Nah. It’d be totally tubular.”

j. “She don’t like me.”
“If you’d stop hog-tying your tongue and talk to her, maybe she’d find out whether she likes you or not.”
“Would you put in a good word for me with her?”
“Might could.”

In what movie did you especially enjoy the dialogue?

Answers: 1d; 2i; 3e; 4j; 5a; 6h; 7b; 8g; 9f; and 10c

How to Format Words from the Communication Revolution

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Please welcome Denise Loock, my guest today. As an editor, she must keep abreast of the currently accepted ways of formatting what I call cyber words. Learn more about Denise after her post. Here’s Denise:

A revolution began in 1972. The word internetwork entered the English language that year, referring to “the linked computer networks of the US Defense Department.”[1] Few recognized the potential power of such a network, which now affects every aspect of our lives.

image by kreatikar

Shortened to Internet in 1984, the word was capitalized for almost forty years because it referred to something particular and novel. But by 2016, the term had become so commonplace that the Associated Press Stylebook de-capitalized it. The 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and the 4th edition of The Christian Writers Manual of Style (CWMS) also lowercase it.

Born in 1990, the World Wide Web has expanded and changed our communication in astounding ways. Even though CMS still recommends uppercase letters for World Wide Web, other related words are lowercased: the webwebsite, and web page. Cyberspace and social media have coined hundreds of words. The 2019 additions to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (M-W) include page viewscreen time, and unplug. Words added in 2018 include airplane mode and Instagramming. None of these web-related terms existed in 2000: selfie, photobomb, hashtag, and unfriend

image by Simon

Nouns have morphed into verbs (inbox), adjectives into verbs (unlike). Maybe the most famous noun-verb transformation is Googol. As a noun—“a number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeroes”—the word dates from 1940, first used in Mathematics and the Imagination, written by Edward Kasner and James Newman.[2] The domain was registered in 2000. Although M-W lists the word as both an uppercase and lowercase verb (Google or google), most dictionaries lowercase it.

E-mail was born in 1982, its cousin snail mail in 1983. Most dictionaries now list email as a non-hyphenated word, but e-commerce and e-book remain hyphenated. Expect those hyphens to disappear soon.

image by 200degrees

Many writers wonder how to format emails and text messages. Format an email’s content the same as a letter’s content (roman font, block quotation). Some publishing houses format text messages as dialogue, but very few use an alternate font. As for emojis and emoticons, both CMS and CWMS advise authors to omit them in both print and e-books. Some social media abbreviations are now included in the dictionary (LOL, BRB, and OMG). But CMS cautions “the mere presence of a word in the dictionary’s pages does not mean that the word is in all respects fit for print as Standard Written English” (CMS 5.250). 

Cyberspace and social media have changed not only the way we communicate but also the way we write about communication. Keyboard functions are such an integral part of our lives that CMS has created capitalization protocol for these terms. Here are two examples:

  • On a Mac, the Option key is similar to the Alt key on a typical PC. 
  • Save the file as a PNG or JPEG, then press Send.

Keeping up with communication trends and practices is a lifelong learning experience for writers. My best advice? Consult the dictionary often and read writing blogs—like this one.

[1]“Internet,” Online Etymology Dictionary, Accessed 8 March 2019,

[2]“Google,” Online Etymology Dictionary, Accessed 5 April, 2019,;

Former high-school English teacher and college professor Denise Loock is an editor, author, and inspirational speaker. She is a general editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, based in Raleigh, NC. She also accepts freelance editing projects from writers who want to submit clean, concise, and compelling manuscripts to publishers (

She is the founder of Dig Deeper Devotions, a website that encourages Christians of all ages to dig deeper into the Word of God. Two collections of devotions from the website are available on Amazon: Restore the Joy: Daily Devotions for December and Restore the Hope: Devotions for Lent and Easter.

She is the author of two devotional books that highlight the scriptural truths of classic hymns and gospel songs, Open Your Hymnal and Open Your Hymnal Again. Her articles, stories, and devotions have appeared in various publications, including Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations, The Upper Room, and Vista.

Denise teaches two online PEN Institute courses: Sentence Diagraming 101 and Editing Devotionals 101. She also writes “Mind Your MUGS,” a grammar and usage column for Christian Communicator.