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?

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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

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries

Find Worthy Rewards for Meeting Manuscript Word-Count Goals

image by geralt

I’d never used word-count goals in writing, until my current manuscript. To complete my story by my deadline, I need to write a certain number of words per week.

For the past month, what has helped me make my goal each week  is a reward. I heed two rules concerning rewards.

Reward Rules

1. I don’t get the reward if I don’t make the word count goal by the day I set. No errant thoughts like: “I can catch up next week, so I can have my reward.” Or, “I’m only a few hundred words short. I deserve my reward when I’m so close to my word count goal.”

2. Rewards have to be something I really enjoy.

My Reward

We recently bought a cabin on a lake an hour and a half away from our home. We are fixing up the cabin retreat and clearing the woods down to the lake to open a view of the lake. I have fun with my husband shopping, painting, putting up new fixtures, and clearing trees.

The cabin has already become a getaway from deadlines, marketing, and other platform work. I want nothing more at the end of a week than to go to the cabin. So, I’ve designated trips to the cabin to be my reward for meeting my word count.


  • For a month, the progress on my book has pleased me. And I’ve enjoyed my two days with my husband working on our cabin. Someday, we’ll be able to offer retreats to family and groups of a dozen writers or friends.
  • I’ve noticed that I don’t allow frivolous tasks to waste my time as much as I used to.


  • image by sik-life

    Sometimes, I view such things as doctor and hair appointments, service meetings, new marketing events, and unexpected work tasks as threats to spending Friday and Saturdays at the cabin. My desire for my reward must not usurp a healthy balance of activities during my week.
  • I must be careful not to sacrifice my aspiration for excellence because I want my reward.
  • My reward may not always be my husband’s choice. Maybe some weeks I need a second worthy reward. Perhaps taking a day off to do something he wants to do.

A worthy reward may be the best plan to meet weekly word counts and a book’s deadline. Click to tweet.

What reward would keep you on task to meet a book deadline?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

3 Great Ways to Use FIND Before You Submit Your Manuscript

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.— Samuel Johnson

by geralt
by geralt

First, consider these two cautions in using the find and replace feature of your word processor for editing:

  1. Look at each occurrence from the search results to make sure a change works. Automatic replacing can cause problems. For example, consider the paragraph: “He sat next to her. In his grief, he was beside himself.” If you perform a find on next to and replace all with beside, you’ll have: “He sat beside her. In his grief, he was beside himself.”
  1. Replace in moderation. If the change works, do it. Your aim is to reduce repetitions and weak words and phrases, not eradicate certain words.

3 Ways to Use FIND on Your Polished Manuscript


  1. Peruse novels or keep an eye out for well-written phrases. When you find better or more concise phrases, search for a key word that’ll lead you to your ho-hum or wordy phrase and replace the ones that need a change.

by Pescador
by Pescador


If you mention a steering wheel often while characters drive, search on “steering wheel” and try a phrase like the following I found:

Before: He turned the steering wheel and left Main Street…

After: He turned off Main… 

  1. Check counts. If you use an individual word (other than expected high-frequency words, such as the, he, a character’s name) in an 80,000-word novel over 200 times you should work on reducing them. Once, I used up 417 times. I cut the occurrences significantly. Check the words mentioned in 3. below. Using some of these over 25 times may be too often.

To obtain a count:

  • PC = option + f and enter the word
  • Mac = command + f and enter word
  • Scrivener (get a count on every word in your manuscript) =
    • Select desired scenes
    • Click on Editor screen
    • Click on Project, Text Statistics, and Word Frequency
    • Click on desired column to sort

Screenshot 2015-07-14 11.41.59

  1. Search for these words or characters.
  • Your favorite word. In one manuscript, mine was while.
  • Exclamation marks. Use these for shouting in dialogue and thoughts. Your choice of words should show excitement.
  • Ellipses (…)
  • Filler words like uh or um.
  • by HebiFot
    by HebiFot
    Weasel words such as just, very, and some. Here’s an excellent post on words, phrases, and characters to search for: Editing Your Own Writing on Darcy Andries’s website. This is a must read. It covers:
    • Unnecessary and Redundant Words
    • Weak Words:
      • Dull Drab Diluters
      • Filtering
      • Colorless Verbs
      • Modifiers

Before sending your manuscript to a publisher, use FIND and search for these. Click to tweet.

What is the word, phrase, or character you have grossly overused in your manuscript?